Preview: Scottish Grand National 4m Ayr Saturday – Last year’s winner, Vicente did the Oddsguru proud when coming home in front at the rewarding odds of 14/1, and racing off the same mark this year, a repeat is certainly not out of the question, as it is a contest that has been good to those who have performed well in it before. For example, Godsmejudge followed up his win in 2013, with a second in 2014, and Merigo, sandwiched in a second, between his two wins in 2010 and 2012. However, it has to be said that Vicente, having come a cropper at the first in The Grand National two weeks ago, doesn’t seem to be in the same form as last year, when running a race full of promise in Cheltenham’s 4m National Hunt Chase to finish fifth, prior to coming here. On the plus side, this is definitely his time of year, and there seemed to be plenty of confidence in him at Aintree before his unlucky fall at the first. His early exit will have saved him from a hard race so is not one to lose faith in, and he could yet join the elite band of Queens Taste, Androma and Barona who have won this in consecutive years.
The Nicholls yard have another strong contender with the 7yo Novice, Arpege D’Alene. By the same sire, Dom Alco, as Vicente, he also demonstrated his stamina credentials, when staying on to finish 4th in this years renewal of the National Hunt Chase. Hampered after three out, he rallied under pressure to finish six lengths behind the winner, Tiger Roll. He races close to the pace, always a plus in this contest, and will enjoy the likely decent ground, but I just wonder if his burden of 11st6lbs might find this Novice out.
Nicky Henderson has never won this, or indeed any other “National” but does have a really strong looking candidate with Premier Bond. A 7yo son of Kayf Tara out of that terrific race mare, Celtic Native, who won ten times for Philip Hobbs, and ran third to the great Barracouda in the 25f Longwalk Hurdle, should find Saturday’s 4m test right up his street. Beaten 14L by his super star stable companion, Might Bite, over an inadequate 19f last December, he put up strong staying performances to win his next two Novice chases. Sent off a 9/1 shot for the 24 runner, 26f, Kim Muir Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, despite being hampered at the first, he stayed on strongly in the closing stages to finish 3rd, 1 1/2L behind the winner. He races on Saturday off a mark only 2lbs higher than Cheltenham, giving him a nice racing weight of 11st, and the 7yo might just prove to be the first to bring a “National” home to the Master of Seven Barrows.
The Neil Mulholland trained Southfield Royale ran a fine race in that 2016 renewal of the National Hunt Chase, won by Minella Rocco, with subsequent Gold Cup runner up Native River in second, and Ayr hero Vicente back in 5th, to finish 4th, but the wheels seem to have come off since. Well beaten at Punchestown in April, he trailed in 12th of 14 on his reappearance in January. Connections seem to have kept the faith, because he was sent off a well backed 7/1 shot for the Kim Muir, where he fell at the ninth fence. I suppose he remains an animal of some potential, and as a son of Presenting, should be well suited by decent ground at the weekend, but one has to wonder if his jumping will stand the test.
The Warren Greatrex trained, Missed Approach, certainly didn’t look a 50/1 chance when putting up a great performance to finish 2nd in this years renewal of The National Hunt Chase. Having raced prominently throughout, the 7yo was 8L down after the second last and stayed on stoutly to get within 3L of the winner Tiger Roll. A prominent racer with bags of stamina is what is required for the Ayr fourmiler and the Greatrex contender certainly qualifies on these two fronts. However weight is a negative and with top weight of 11st9lbs to shoulder he has it all to do. However Missed Approach is clearly an animal on the “up” and might well give pilot Leighton Aspell a Scottish National to add to his two Aintree triumphs.
Jonjo O’Neill’s Another Hero, should enjoy the step up in trip, and will like the good ground forecast for weekend. He stayed on into fourth place in a 3m Ascot Handicap in December and again ran well over Doncaster’s 3m in January to finish 3rd. There was money for him in the Kim Muir at the Festival, but badly hampered at the 9th fence, he never got back into the race and finished 13th. By Kalinisi out of a Strong Gale mare, 4miles on good ground should suit and with his nice racing weight of 10st10lbs is worth considering.
The Nicky Richards trained, Looking Well, has won four of his thirteen starts, and all four victories have come in either April or May. He is another with a nice racing weight of 10st12lbs and he looked a strong stayer when winning over 26f at Kelso last May off a mark of 122. He ran another solid race when finishing 2nd to Ziga Boy off a 10lbs higher mark in January over 3m. He can be forgiven his last run on unsuitably soft ground in March and should find conditions in his favour on Saturday. With useful 3lbs claimer, Ryan Day in the plate worth considering.
Selection : Premier Bond
E.W. : Looking Well
: Another Hero