Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase 3m4f 97y Haydock Saturday – The three contenders we highlighted in last week’s preview of the Betfair Hurdle, Ballyandy, Movewithetimes, and Clyne put up excellent performances filling the first three places, but of the trio, the very lightly raced Movewithetimes, has to be the one to back wherever he goes next. Considering it was only his fourth race over hurdles, (he did show his inexperience with some deliberate jumps in midfield), the way he moved up effortlessly in the straight was most impressive. He again looked “novicy” when asked for maximum effort from the last, hanging slightly, but keeping on strongly to go down by 3/4L. It was the performance of a high class animal, and as his pedigree would suggest that he will be well suited by further, some of the fancy prices available about him for the 21f Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival look very tempting.
As a trial for the Grand National, Saturday’s Haydock contest hasn’t been a great success, as the last winner to go on to Aintree Glory, was the Fred Winter ridden Sundew in 1956, who collected the big one a year later. However the roll of honour does boast three other Grand National winners, Freebooter, Red Rum and Party Politics who all won this after success at Aintree. Perhaps a more interesting stat is that victory here foreshadowed two Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, Cool Ground and Master Oats. The contest was suspended from 1985-1990 and since it’s reintroduction in 1991 weight has proved no bar to success. Two animals have carried the maximum burden of 11st12lbs to victory, and a further nine have defied 11st or higher. Lucinda Russell, with three wins has been the most successful handler and for this years renewal her sole representative is the 9yo, Kilbree Chief. However, from 9lbs out of the handicap and needing a few above him to come out, perhaps he can be safely ignored. The fairer sex have been responsible for the last three winners, and as there are three other lady trainers, besides Ms Russell represented, Kerry Lee, Sue Smith, and Venetia Williams, all of whom have trained the winner of this in the past, and all fielding likely looking types, we may see this female dominance extended.
Last year’s winner, the Kerry Lee trained Bishops Road was withdrawn on Tuesday, but the talented Herefordshire handler has another strong candidate with her 9yo Goodtoknow. Blinkers have sparked a revival in his last two races, finishing second off a mark of 136 in a valuable 29f Grade3 Warwick Handicap in January, and then winning a Hereford Handicap off a 1lb higher mark, seventeen days later.
He is set to carry 5lbs extra for that win on Febuary 1st, and if the blinkers continue to work, this tough stayer has to be considered. A slight reservation would be the poor record of contenders carrying a penalty in recent renewals, as Heltornic, ten years ago, was the last to get his head in front.
Sue Smith trained Last Fling to win in 2000 and is represented by the 8yo, Wakanda. A winner of six of his sixteen races over fences, including over the course, he ran a nice race last time, finishing second to the useful Definitly Red, off a mark of 149, sixty days ago. Only 1lb higher on Saturday, this son of Westerner, out of a mare by Indian River, (sire of Hennessy winner Madison Du Berlais) should be suited by the step up in trip and as a course winner is worth considering.
Venetia William’s best chance of a second victory would seem to lie with her gallant warrior, Houblon Des Obeaux, but, despite getting some respite from the Handicapper, he looks well held by Goodtoknow.
The great Martin Pipe won this twice in his illustrious career, but son David, has yet to hit the back of the net, and he will be hoping that his Beecher Chase winner, Vieux Lion Rouge can correct this state of affairs. Last season he showed that stamina was his forte when finishing 6th in the 4m National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and then putting up an excellent performance in the Grand National for a seven year old, to finish seventh. Backed in to 8/1 fav for the Beecher Chase over the National fences on his reappearance eleven weeks ago, he stayed on with great resolution to get up in the shadow of the post off a mark of 142. Only 4lbs higher at the weekend he has to be fancied to give the younger Pipe his first win in the contest.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Blaklion has always looked a stayer and could find Saturday’s first attempt at this 28f trip right up his street. He has a bit to find with Wakanda on Wetherby form in December but as a Grade2 winner over hurdles and a Grade1 winner over fences he has that touch of Class and I feel that we haven’t yet seen the best of this eight year old.
Selection : Blaklion
E.W. : Vieux Lion Rouge