As a pointer to the winner of the big one at Aintree, Saturday’s race has been something of an irrelevance as none of the last ten winners of this have been involved at the business end of the National. Indeed with this years renewal being run before the weights for the big race have even been published, one has to assume that Aintree in April will not be uppermost in connections minds.
However it is a very valuable and competitive affair which certainly stands on it’s own merits. As would be expected at Haydock this time of the year, with the surface invariably testing, Saturday’s trial is going to put a huge emphasis on stamina. All previous winners had winning form over at least three miles. Weight is also significant with only two, Silver by Nature, ( 2011 ) and Miko de Beauchene , ( 2008 ) managing to carry more than 11st to victory over the past decade. Both carried 11st12lbs. Lucinda Russell has been the most successful handler, scoring twice with Silver by Nature over the same period. Age has been no bar to success, with two eleven year olds and a ten year old winning in the last ten years, but significantly these older animals had been relatively lightly raced, contesting less than fourteen chases.
Paul Nicholls who won with Shotgun Willy in 2003, is represented by the current favourite, (5/1) and top weight Benvolio (11st 10lbs). He ran a super race in the Wesh National, where having disputed the lead for the entire distance (3m 5 1/2f), in stamina sapping conditions, he was just run out of it in the final stride, going down by a shd to Emperors Choice, with Saturday’s opponent Glenquest 2 1/2l back in third. Now 6lbs higher and 4lbs worse of with Glenquest, he has his work cut out on Saturday. However he has been given a six week break to recover from his Chepstow exertions and coming from this yard is hard to dismiss.
Nigel Twiston-Davies trains the lightly raced 10yo Benbens, who has had only nine races over fences and certainly looks interesting. He ran Saturday’s opponent, Samstown, to a nk over the course four weeks ago, ( 3m1f chase ) and meets that rival on 9lbs ( including Ryan Hatch’s 5lbs claim ) better terms on Saturday. He finished like a train to make up 5l from the last on the winner, and while some would argue that Samstown was idling in front, a 9lb pull looks significant and he is shortlisted. Samstown on the other hand, has no record of carrying big weights in handicaps and with a welter weight of 11st11lbs this out and out stayer is reluctantly passed over.
Having finished fourth in both the Hennessy and the Welsh National Michael Scudamore’s Monbeg Dude deserves consideration . He is 8lbs better off with Benvolio for the 8 3/4L he was behind him at Chepstow, and this sometimes careless jumper, might well be suited by Haydocks less demanding obstacles. A winner of the Welsh National on heavy ground two years ago he certainly should’nt fail on the stamina front, but is another burdened with 11st11lbs.
Twice a course winner, David Pipe’s Broadway Buffalo certainly seems to enjoy the Lancashire air. He looked the finished article when trotting up over the course ( 3m hvy ) in December, off a mark of 129, only to disappoint six days later at Wetherby. He can easily be forgiven this lapse as in all probability the race came too soon. Being by a son of Theatrical, out of a Le Bavard mare, he is bred to stay all day, so returned to his favourite track ( two wins from two outings ) he is another for the shortlist.
Lucinda Russell runs the relatively lightly raced 11yo, Lie for It, who has raced eleven times over fences. He put up a strong staying performance at Kelso last time, ( 3m2f hvy ) beating a rejuvenated Harry the Viking by 2L. Both animals will appreciate the extra two furlongs at the weekend, particularly Sandy Thomson’s 10yo, who boasts a second in the 4m National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Certainly if the weather stays dry Harry the Viking on 5lbs better terms must have prospects of reversing the Kelso form.
Only 1lb higher than when finishing a close third in last years Scottish National, Tim Easterby’s Trustan Times looks well treated. A winner of the Cl 1 Gd3 fixed brush hurdle over the course a couple of seasons ago, ( £45,000. To the winner ) he hasn’t shown much in his three outings since his fine third in the Scottish race. However the stable has been badly out of form since October, and only recently has shown signs of a revival. Indeed the horse himself showed some promise last time at Musselburgh, so it would be no great surprise to see a prominent performance at the weekend.
Alpha Victor is an out and out stayer who has a 100 0/0 record over the course. He finished second off a mark of 138 in a 3m1f hurdle and races on Saturday off 133, giving him a nice racing weight of 11st. He thrives on heavy ground, so if conditions deteriorate,he would be well worth considering.
Gas Line Boy looked progressive when winning twice in November. He won off a mark of 128 at the beginning of November, and 18 days later hosed up by 13L from the subsequent Welsh National winner Emperors Choice over the course ( 3m5f ) off a mark of 132. He was pulled up in the Welsh National, possibly because of the attritional conditions, off a mark of 147, so doesn’t appear too badly treated off 142 on Saturday. Given decent ground at the weekend, another worth a second look.
Selection: Broadway Buffalo