Age or weight seems to have no strong relevance when trying to unearth the winner of Scotland’s favourite National Hunt race, although it is worth bearing in mind that 28 of the last 40 winners have carried 10st 7lbs or less. We have also seen Grey Abbey (2004) carry 11/12lbs and last year the novice Godsmejudge 11st 3lbs in the last 10 years. In the same period we have seen three Joes Edge (2005) Hot Weld (2007) and Iris de Balme (2008) win from out of the handicap.
So what of this years race? As back to back winners (Barona 75,76 Androma 84,85) are not unknown last years winner the Alan King trained Godsmejudge is worth considering. Generally disappointing in his three runs since last years victory he is not at the time of writing a certain runner. However, to quote his Scottish born trainer “I have left him in because he is coming back to himself and if he works well mid-week I will let him take his chance”. He is not harshly treated with only 6lbs more than last year and if turning up is definitely one for the short list.
The current favourite Lucinda Russell’s Green Flag seems a likely candidate. By Milan out of an Un Desperado mare his pedigree is all about stamina and this has been borne out by his racecourse performances, particularly in his last race. At last months Cheltenham Festival he stayed on stoutly up the hill to finish a respectable fourth to Holywell, Ma Filleule and The Package. As the first two went on to impressive victories at Aintree the form is top drawer. As he races just off the pace another for the short list.
The Tim Easterby trainer Trustan Times ran a fine race in the Pertemps Final, a hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival 3mls. Here he was a running on fourth a nse and two necks behind the classy Fingal Bay. Perhaps, even more interesting he was only a neck behind last weeks Grand National hero (who we advised e/w ) Pineau de Re to whom he was conceding 4lbs. Here he tracked the leaders and with his chase mark 13lbs lower than his hurdles rating he must be considered.
For a runner from the Paul Nichols stable Pougnach is a massive price for a horse who stays so well. Last time giving 23lbs to the winner over 3m5f at Taunton he was a very creditable staying on second.at the moment he is 2lbs out of the handicap but in the event of Tidal Bay defecting the weights would rise 19lbs giving him a nice racing weight.
If Tidal Bay defects another interesting contender would be the Jonjo O’Neill trained Storm Survivor. By Milan out of a Presenting mare he is bred to stay all day and will relish the 4m 1/2f trip. He ran well last time at Doncaster where he was 5L second to Night in Milan 3m 2f in a cl 2 handicap. However, he is usually held up in his races and for that reason is passed over.
Edmund Kean from the David Pipe stable is worth a second look. Disappointing in his last race at Newcastle in February where he was attempting to complete a hat-trick of wins over fences he got bogged down in the very heavy ground. Prior to that he seemed a progressive young chaser who raced prominently and given that he will be one of the freshest in the field should be considered.
Harry Fry has a strong candidate in the ex pointer Mendip Express. Winner of three of his four chase starts under rules on the last of them, he got stuck in the mud in Newbury in February behind Smad Place and Sams Winner. Prior to that he had been very progressive and looked an out and out stayer when beating Alfie Spinner over 3m 2 1/2f at Cheltenham on New Years Day off a mark of 139 easily. He does not seem at all badly treated off his mark of 147 but as he is another hold up horse he is reluctantly passed over.
Selection: Green Flag