As a Grand National trial the Grimthorpe has been pretty significant, providing three winners of the Aintree Spectacular, Ben Nevis, Corbiere, and Amberleigh House. It requires a touch of class to carry big weights with only two winners, the very talented duo, Cloudy Lane and Grey Abbey managing a burden over 11st in recent renewals. All recent winners have boasted decent form in their penultimate contests, with the exception of last years victor, the 11yo Wayward Prince, who had the unflattering figures of F-6PP before his name. Age isn’t a significant factor with winners coming from the 8-11yo age bracket over the last decade, but stamina has been of paramount importance. Doncaster on the face of it isn’t a testing course but these handicap chases tend to be run with the throttle out, and if they go for home from the four furlong marker it takes a strong stayer to win. Previous successful protagonists with contenders at the weekend are Kim Bailey, who won way back in 1994, Paul Nicholls (2000) and Nicky Henderson (2010). Having been in the racing Doldrums for many years, since the halcyon days of March 1995, when taking the Champion Hurdle on the Tuesday with Alderbrook and the Gold Cup two days later with Master Oats, Kim Baileys fortunes have taken a very welcome turn for the better in recent seasons, and he fields the likely favourite for Saturday’s contest.
His 8yo The Last Samurai was no slouch when trained by Donald McCain, last year winning three of his fives starts, and he has continued to progress under his new handler. He is now on a mark of 149, 12lbs higher than when leaving the Cheshire yard. Last time out (27 Dec Kempton 3m Gd-soft) he showed a nice blend of speed and stamina when quickening nicely after the last, he ran on well to win comfortably off a mark of 140. This was a £25,000 contest run at a decent clip so despite the form not working out I suppose the 9lb rise to 149 is justified. He is certainly prominent in most ante post markets for the Aintree Spectacular so should be to the fore off his new mark.
Charlie Longsdon’s 8yo stayer, Drop Out Joe is another on a sharp upward trajectory, and is now on a mark 18lbs higher than when winning off 133 at Chepstow (2m7 1/2f Good) last October. He went on to take the Badger Ales chase in November at Wincanton (3m1f soft), staying on well to beat Royal Palladium by 1/2L off a mark of 143. He is obviously a much improved performer since coming second in this last year, off a mark of 132, when a well backed 9/2. He does seem to have it all to do off a 19lbs higher mark, but in his favour he has won on all three occasions following a decent break, and with the Longsdon stable going well is considered.
The stable also runs the 7yo Coologue and if turning up, this will be his fourth consecutive course appearance. He has run well on all three previous occasions particularly last time when going down by 3 1/2L, off a mark of 139, to the useful Ziga Boy, who was receiving 6lbs (3m Good). He was staying on nicely that day and had that good yardstick Buywise 1/2L behind in third, so on only a 2lbs higher mark, giving him a nice racing weight of 10st9lbs is well worth considering.
Alan King’s 8yo Sego Success was an impressive winner over the course (3miles) off a mark of 139 in December, indeed he looked as if he could go around again, and was subsequently sent off the 7/1 fav for the Gd3 3m5f chase at Warwick five weeks later. In what was a ludicrously fast start for such a marathon he came a cropper at the second. His shrewd trainer wisely avoided a marathon slog in the Haydock mud a few weeks ago so comes here a fresh horse only 7lbs higher than for that impressive win on his last visit.
Nicky Henderson’s Bears Affair is well suited by a flat left handed track on good ground and a repeat of his Aintree win (3m1f) last May would make him interesting. He had Drop Out Joe 3 3/4L back in 4th and meets him on a stone better terms. The winner did have the benefit of Freddie Mitchell’s 7lbs claim, and the fourth horse has improved since, but the Henderson runner still looks reasonably treated.
Paul Nicholls Grand National hope, the 8yo Wonderful Charm will be well served by better ground than he raced on at Cheltenham last time out (Dec11 3m 2f Soft). He was a well beaten 2nd off a mark of 159, 17L behind the winner Aachen, to whom he was conceding 31lbs. As the winner was just pipped off a mark of 146 next time, and considering Wonderful Charms preference for a drier surface, the run can be considered in a very positive light, so Saturday’s mark of 158 looks fair. Three times a winner at Gd2 and Cl1 level, he has that touch of class that may enable him to become the first since Grey Abbey in 2004 to defy top weight of 11st12lbs.
Selection : Wonderful Charm
E.W. : Sego Success