First run in 1947, the race was suspended between 1985 and 1990 but was reintroduced in 1991. The contest hasn’t been the greatest guide to success in the big one at Aintree, as Sundew in 1956, remains the only winner to bring off the double in the same year. Weight has proved no barrier to success, with two winners carrying top weight of 11-12 in the last decade, ten defying 11-0 or higher since 1991, and indeed five of the last ten to pass the post in front, (including Oddsguru’s E.W. selection last year, Vieux Lion Rouge) carried 11-6 or more to victory.
The David Pipe trained Vieux Lion Rouge won last years renewal by 3L from Blaklion, and meets him on 5lbs better terms at the weekend, but in his three subsequent races he has been well beaten, and has finished behind Blaklion on all three occasions. However, what does bode well for both animals, is that horses who go well in this contest, often do so again, as instanced by Rigadin De Beauchene, who was runner up in 2013 and went one better the following year, and Lucinda Russell’s Silver By Nature who won back to back renewals in 2010 and 2011.
The tough, and Uber genuine Blaklion, went on to finish an excellent fourth in The Grand National (looked the most likely winner at the second last) and put up another impressive performance on his reappearance in November, getting to within 1/2L of his top class stable mate Bristol De Mai at Wetherby. He topped that with a most taking performance five weeks later, when running away with the Beecher Chase (3m2f Heavy) at Aintree. He has been hit with a 9lbs rise for his impressive victory, leaving him with 11-12 to carry on Saturday, and he will need to be nearly up to Gold Cup standard to succeed. With one eye on Aintree, his shrewd trainer will surely have left plenty to work on.
The Colin Tizzard trained 8yo, The Dutchman, put up an eye catching performance over the course, (3m1 1/2f Heavy) four weeks ago when tackling a trip beyond three miles for the first time. He took it up at the14th, and despite getting the second last wrong, drew clear on the run in, to beat the useful stayer, Captain Redbeard by 13 lengths. He has paid the price for his facile win by being raised 13lbs to a mark of 148, giving him a racing weight of 10-13 at the weekend, but as a full brother to the talented duo, The Pirates Queen and Katie Too I’m sure there is plenty more to come from the Tizzard horse, particularly over staying trips.
The 10yo Mysteree was transferred from Linda Russell’s (triple winner of the contest) yard, north of the border, to the training operation of Michael Scudamore, her partner Peter’s son, before Christmas, and was quietly fancied for the Welsh Grand National. However he was never going well in that rescheduled event, and was pulled up at the 12th. Every cloud has a silver lining, and having avoided a slog in the Chepstow mud, we should see a fresh animal line up on Saturday. As a course and distance winner on heavy ground, with only 10-3 on his back he has plenty to recommend him.
One that did complete the Chepstow marathon is the Paul Nicholls trained 9yo Silsol, who kept on well over the final two furlongs to finish fifth racing off a mark of 147. That was only his fifth race over fences, and for a horse that was good enough to beat Native River and L’il Rockefeller in the Grade2 Great Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby last season, he looks well treated on Saturday off a mark of 144, giving him a racing weight of 10-9. Silsol has clearly been difficult to train, but as a winner of a Chase over the course, who handles heavy ground, and will stay the trip, has to be considered.
If David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge doesn’t come up to scratch, he has a strong looking second string to his bow, with the progressive 6yo, Daklondike. A winner of three of his five chases, he impressed last time off a mark of 133. Stepped up to 3m2f (Newbury Heavy Dec30), he put Grand Vision, and the 133 rated knockanrawley firmly in their place. He has been raised 7lbs to a mark of 140 giving him a nice racing weight of 10-5 which looks quite generous, and I doubt if we have yet seen the best of this full brother to the classy Great Endeavour (rated155). Despite the poor recent record of younger horses in the contest, (no winner younger than eight in the last ten renewals) the 12/1 available at the time of writing looks tempting!
The Philip Hobbs trained, Three Faces West, has won twice over the course, including a Chase on heavy ground, and he was travelling nicely in the lead over the track before Christmas when tipping up at the 12th. The yard was in the doldrums at the time, but is going much better now, and the 10yo doesn’t look badly treated on 144. A serious concern however would be the trip, as he was well beaten on his only foray beyond three miles.
Selection : The Dutchman
E.W. : Mysteree (if abs) Silsol