I hope you managed to have a few quid on our e.w. selection, Smad Place, in last weeks Hennessy Gold Cup. Hugely impressive, he got to the front before halfway, and jumping like a stag, showed no signs of tiring, and drew right away from the third last. This was a performance with Gold Cup written all over it, and adds yet another dimension to what was already building up to be one of the most intriguing renewals of the Cheltenham Classic in many a long year. Saturday’s Becher Chase at Aintree is highly unlikely to even contain a Gold Cup contender, but may well have a future Grand National winner lurking in amongst the contenders. To date two winners, Amberleigh House (2001) and Silver Birch (2004), have gone on to glory in the big one, and the victor in 1998, Earth Summit, had come home in front in that years renewal.
With three winners, Paul Nicholls has the best record in the race and runs two at the weekend, Unioniste, and Mon Parrain. The latter hasn’t been seen since finishing 11th, 56L behind the winner in this years National, but doesn’t look badly handicapped on some of his form. Unioniste’s season is likely to be geared towards another crack at The Grand National despite coming down at the fifth this year, so Saturday’s race looks the ideal starting spot. He has gone well fresh in the past, and despite carrying top weight of 11st 12lbs doesn’t look too badly handicapped. (A running on 10L behind Gold Cup winner Coneygree to whom he was conceding 5lbs at Newbury over an inadequate 2m7f last Febuary reads quite well.) Four horses have defied a burden of 11st12lbs or more since the races inception, so Unioniste goes there with decent prospects.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has won two previous renewals and both his runners, Algernon Pazham, and Foxbridge are of interest. The former is only six, but has looked a very safe conveyance, and ran a very solid race on his seasonal debut at Bangor three weeks ago. Having his first run for over six months, he was just run out of it close home by What A Good Night, going down by a neck, with that good yardstick, Restless Harry, 10L back in third place. Although raised 7lbs on Saturday, he will be helped by Ryan Hatch’s 3lbs claim, and goes to post with a nice racing weight of 10st7lbs. One for the short list!
The second string from the Naunton yard, Foxbridge, is one to consider if the heavens open. His three chase victories have all come on heavy ground at Ffos Las, a surface reputed to be some of the most testing in the country when the rain gets in. He ran a fine race on good ground in an amateurs race at Cheltenham on his reappearance, beaten a neck by Knock House, three weeks ago, and despite being 5lbs out of the handicap at the time of writing, given his optimal conditions at the weekend, he is worth considering.
The late Dessie Hughes won the race twice, and his daughter Sandra would seem to have good prospects of adding to the family record with her impressive Irish National winner Thunder And Roses. The 7yo was put away after his Fairyhouse triumph and made a satisfactory reappearance at Thurles when fifth in a handicap hurdle three weeks ago. He is 11lbs higher than for his Irish National win, but it is more than likely that after only seven runs over fences he has plenty more to give.
Saint Are, who was our e.w. selection when running such a fine race in this years Grand National, (2nd at the rewarding odds of 25/1) loves Aintree and seems to reserve his best for the course. He was given a well deserved rest after his National exertions, and didn’t reappear until the November Cheltenham meeting where he finished sixth in the cross country race, proving if nothing else, his current wellbeing. He is only 5lbs higher than April, so another forward display is anticipated, although testing conditions would be a definite negative.
Last April Sue Smith’s 8yo No Planning was 1L behind behind Algernon Pazham at Haydock (2m7f) and meets the Twiston-Davies horse on 5lbs better terms on Saturday. Sue trained Ardent Scout to take the Becher thirteen years ago, so certainly knows what is required, and it will come as no surprise if her strong stayer, competing over Saturday’s 26f is in the mix as they come over the last, and battle up Aintree’s long attritional run in.
Selection: Thunder And Roses
E.W. : No Planning