Run as a Grand National Trial, it has produced three winners of the Aintree showpiece, Ben Nevis, Corbiere, and Amberleigh House, all going on to their place in racing’s hall of fame after winning here. It requires a touch of class to carry big weights in this with only two, the very useful Cloudy Lane, and Grey Abbey, managing to win with more than 11st in the plate in the last ten runnings. Nine of the winners in the last decade have been aged eight to ten with an eleven year old also collecting. Recent form is important, with nine of the last ten winners managing at least a fourth place in their previous race. Doncaster, on the face of it, is not a testing course, but handicap chases here tend to be run at a fair clip and if they go for home early, which they very often do, it can be a stamina sapping last four furlongs, so an ability to stay is of paramount importance.
While the older animal has fared better statistically, it is worth noting that none of the last ten winners had contested more than thirteen handicap chases. Donald McCain and Keith Revely are the only two of Saturday’s trainers to have hit the target in the last ten years, but Tim Easterby did win with the only runner he has ever had in the race, Skillwise, (2002). Venetia Williams can be considered unlucky not to be on the score sheet as her Pentiffic fell at the last three years ago, and Renard finished third for her last year. Favourites have a poor record with only one obliging in the past decade, but it hasn’t been a race for big outsiders either, Night In Milan (14/1) being the only winner outside the top five in the betting in the same period. So what of this years renewal?
Tim Easterby will be trying to maintain his 100 % record in the race with the 9yo Trustan Times,his first runner in the contest for thirteen years, and if the gelding can recapture his form of last April when a close third in the Scottish National, He would have excellent prospects of doing so. The 9yo hasn’t shown much since the Scottish race,but there have been excuses. The stable has been very badly out of form since last September, but has recently staged a renewal and the winners are beginning to flow. Trustan Times should certainly not fail on the stamina front,and considering he is one of only four in the field ( the others being Across the Bay, Wayward Prince, and Carlito Brigante ) to have been successful at CL1 level he looks quite well treated off a mark of 138 on Saturday. Well worth considering!
Mark Walls’ very talented ex point to pointer Theatre Queen, is of definite interest. A winner of six of her seven starts between the flags, the 8yo Kings Theatre Mare transferred all her ability to the racecourse when winning her first hunter chase, at Cheltenham. Her second appearance confirmed the good impression made, when hosing up in the highly competitive final of the champion novice hunter chase at Stratford. She reappeared at Taunton at the end of December with high expectations, but disgraced Herself, refusing to race. However all was forgiven next time, when equipped with a hood at Ludlow, she was much more amenable and finished a respectable second to a well handicapped animal in Tony Star off a mark of 125. This mare who like many of her gender, come to themselves in the spring, is bound to be much better suited to the galloping nature of Doncaster and the two extra furlongs to travel on Saturday, and is shortlisted with her nice racing weight of 10st2lbs. (Including M.Walls 5lb claim)
Last years winner off a mark of 136, Night In Milan, clearly enjoys the South Yorkshire air as he has won twice, and been placed three times from his seven course appearances. He finished an honourable third, albeit beaten nearly ten lengths, here, off Saturday’s mark of 146, over an inadequate 3miles, five weeks ago, and will certainly require a best ever performance to defy Saturday’s impost of 11st10lbs. However this properly bred National Hunt horse may well be up to the challenge and is not easily dismissed.
Charlie Longsdon’s Drop Out Joe looks interesting. A 7yo,with only three outings over the larger obstacles, his credentials for this aren’t immediately obvious. However he has jumped around Carlisle, ( won 2 1/2m ch sft) Cheltenham, ( 3rd btn 4l and25l by Kings Palace and Sausalito Sunrise 3m1/2f) and last time put in a remarkable performance at Ascot ( 2m51/2f gd/sft dec 20 ) where, virtually tailed off at the 13th, he ran on to such effect that he was only a shd and a hd behind the second horse, the very useful Thomas Crapper, at the finish. The performance of a stayer! Of definite interest if this 131 rated hurdler, assessed at 132 on his handicap debut turns up at the weekend.
Ian Williams’ Super Duty’s last appearance in a steeplechase was the 2013 Hennessy, where he ran off a mark of 148. Sidelined for thirteen months, he made his comeback in a 3ml 1f hurdle at Wetherby four weeks ago, and proved his wellbeing when finishing 6th in a truly run race. If he retains his old ability he doesn’t look badly treated off his mark of 141 on Saturday, and is worth considering.
Rebecca Curtis’ Champagne Rian put up an improved performance when winning a Cl4 chase ( 3ml sft jan 23 ) over the course, off a mark of 112. Raised 9lbs the 7yo has it all to do in a much better race, but lots of improvement can be expected, as that was only his third attempt over fences, and coming from this talented handler it would be no surprise to see this gelding with his featherweight, who is out of a Strong Gale mare ( should appreciate anticipated better ground at the weekend )involved at the business end.
Selection: Trustan Times
E.W.: Theatre Queen