Top Notch looks a worthy red-hot favourite to land back-to-back runnings of the 2m 4f Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday (14:05).
Trained by Nicky Henderson, this nine-year-old is an ultra-tough and classy dual purpose performer who has a tremendous 64 per cent strike rate over fences with nine victories in 14 starts over the larger obstacles.
He ran really well first time up last season when a 5 3/4 lengths third to star staying hurdler Paisley Park in the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot, before easily landing the spoils in this by five lengths from Black Corton.
Top Notch was then not at his best in two subsequent starts, but has looked as good as ever in winning both his starts this season.
After showing tremendous guts to dig deep and beat Roksana by a neck in a class 2 hurdle contest at Aintree, the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned son of Poliglote landed the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon last month for a second time.
Top Notch travelled well before being produced to take up the running two from home. He then only had to be driven out to beat Kauto Riko by three-quarters of a length.
As he was well on top at the finish and value for more than the winning margin, there’s no reason why the runner-up or the fourth home Born Survivor should reverse the form.
Top Notch is officially rated 7lb below his main market rival Frodon. Unlike that one, however, he comes into the race right at the top of his game.
He also has his optimum conditions, so cramped odds of 4/5 with Paddy Power look fully justified and Top Notch is fully expected to land the hat-trick.
Frodon feared in Silviniaco Conti Chase if bouncing back
The aforementioned Frodon looks the only conceivable threat to Top Notch on paper, but needs to bounce back to his best following two below par efforts.
This Paul Nicholls trained eight-year-old is a course and distance winner who progressed at a rate of knots last season when winning four of his five starts.
In the third of those, Frodon jumped well and made all to gamely beat Elegant Escape in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
He then enjoyed his finest hour at the Cheltenham Festival a month later, when showing tremendous battling qualities to get back up under a power packed ride from regular pilot Bryony Frost to beat Aso by just over a length in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase.
The form of those races read very well in relation to the Silviniaco Conti Chase and command Frodon the utmost respect.
However, the son of Nickname has performed well below par in two outings this season and now has questions to answer.
After running a lifeless race to finish a 14 3/4 lengths third to Forest Bihan in the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase at Aintree, Frodon was beaten out of sight when trailing in a 46-length third to Lostintranslation in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Aintree,
This is far less competitive than the latter, but Frodon hasn’t shown any sparkle whatsoever and will need all of Nicholls’ magic to get him back on track.
If he can, then odds of 11/4 with Unibet will look generous. However, backing Frodon in his current mood carries a warning – so he has to be opposed on this occasion.
Kauto Riko needs to back up last run
Kauto Riko ran a remarkable race last time out when sent off 100/1 and chasing home Top Notch in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
It surpassed anything he had achieved in his career by a country mile, but he was ultimately flattered to get so close and Tom Gretton’s charge no needs to back it up and show that it wasn’t a flash in the pan.
Silviniaco Conti Chase odds of 11/2 with Ladbrokes therefore look plenty short enough for the nine-year-old. Kauto Riko will need the main two protagonists to seriously underperform if he is to land the spoils.
The same applies to Born Survivor, who was beaten just over seven lengths when fourth in the Peterborough.
This Dan Skelton trained nine-year-old is a 16/1 shot with Bethard and – on all known form – faces a mountain to climb.
Keeper Hill completes the five-runner line-up and is the rank outsider at 22/1 with Coral.
This Warren Greatrex trained nine-year-old battled well to bet the better of the useful Midnight Shadow – a winner of the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase since – on return to action at Haydock.
He then ran an absolute shocker when making a series of mistakes before being pulled up in the Capsian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
It’s nigh on impossible to make a case for Keeper Hill in the Silviniaco Conti Chase, despite the fact that he is officially the third highest rated in the race.