Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase 3m 2f Kelso Saturday

With the big Aintree Jamboree scheduled for next week it’s not surprising that this Saturday’s fare is of a fairly low order, but lovely Kelso, in The Scottish Borders, does host their biggest meeting of the year, so let’s hope the awful weather relents, and allows this interesting card to go ahead. The most valuable heat of the day is the Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase over 3m2f, and with heavy ground a near certainty, stamina is going to be the order of the day.

One who will love the conditions is last year’s winner, Yala Enki (pictured). In a small field of only seven runners, he won by 7L from the re-opposing Seldom Inn. yala-enki-oddsguruHowever, it was all downhill for the Venetia Williams trained 8yo in his next five races, until getting his act together at the sixth time of asking, he came home 54L clear of Blaklion on atrocious ground in a Haydock Grade3 Chase, (3m4 1/2f Heavy) in February. He also ran well enough last time, finishing 6th of eighteen runners behind Coo Star Sivola at The Cheltenham Festival. There is plenty in his favour but it’s worth noting that his win in last year’s renewal was achieved off a relatively light campaign, (only one run in the previous three months) whereas this time he has had four tough races on attritional winter ground in the same timespan, and he is racing off a 6lbs higher mark.

With three wins, and three places from seven starts at Kelso, the course record of last year’s runner up, the Sandy Thomson trained Seldom Inn, speaks for itself. He has been mostly campaigned at around three miles but did show in last year’s contest, and more recently, when finishing a close 2nd in a Kelso 3m2f Hurdle on heavy ground that Saturday’s trip is within his compass. Off a 6lbs lower mark, (12lbs better off with Yala Enki), he has a good chance of keeping the prize in Scotland.

The Nicky Richards (pictured) trained Baywing could only manage 4th in last year’s renewal, finishing 11L behind Yala Enki off a mark of 147. Put away for the season, he failed to shine in any of his first four races this term, but, dropped to a mark of 140 last time, he looked much more the finished article when winning the valuable Eider Chase by 4L from West Of The Edge at Newcastle. Nicky-Richards-oddsguruThe handicapper has done him no favours, raising him to a mark of 149, but this will be partially offset by regular partner, Ryan Day’s 3lbs claim. He looked a more assured jumper in the Eider, and as a horse who has had the pace to win over hurdles at 2 1/2m, the drop back in trip shouldn’t be a problem. Looks one for the shortlist!

The Donald McCain trained mare, Lastbutnotleast, has got quite a progressive look about her. The 8yo has won a PTP, a Bumper, and all three of her races over hurdles including at Class1 level over 3m1/2f (Doncaster Soft). Her three races over fences have been a mixed bag, pulled up in her first, winning her second by 36L and trailing in last in her third. Both defeats can be relatively easily explained, as the first of them was her first run for nearly ten months, and the second followed in a race, where in all probability she hadn’t recovered from her win on truly attritional ground only 24 days earlier, ( despite her winning margin of 36L, she finished legless ). She has had a nice 74 days break since, and looks quite well treated on a mark of 135 giving her a racing weight of 10-9 for this her handicap debut. A slight concern would be Saturday’s trip as her dam, the useful Lakill Princess was best at around 2m on soft/heavy ground. However her sire, Flemensfirth is a strong influence for stamina.

As well as Baywing, Nicky Richards also has the 9yo Takingrisks entered here, and if taking up the engagement, (also entered in the 3m2f Hurdle race on the card) would have to be of interest. With two wins, both on heavy ground, from three Kelso appearances, he clearly likes the venue, and added to his appeal last time when staying on strongly to beat Saturday’s opponent, Indy Five, by 2 1/4L. (Ayr 3mHeavy) four weeks ago off a mark of 127. He is only 4lbs higher on Saturday giving him the nice racing weight of 10-4, and although he has never won beyond 3m1f the way he put that Ayr contest to bed would strongly suggest that the step up in trip will suit.

The ex French trained Chic Name put in a great performance that certainly belied his odds of 100/1 when finishing 5th in the sixteen runner 3m6f Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.He was still there with a shout at the second last but could only stay on at the one pace. Mild heat stress was diagnosed post race making his effort even more commendable, and it may well be that the 6yo’s future career lies over staying trips. With only 10-4 on his back, and ace 3lbs claimer, James Bowen booked, he’s definitely worth a second look.

Selection : Baywing

E.W. : Chic Name

John Gray

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Smarkets Challenger Staying Chase Series Final (Handicap) 3m1 1/2f Haydock Saturday

The main focus of attention for jumping enthusiasts this Saturday is Haydock Park, where the betting exchange company, Smarkets, host their finals day. They generously sponsor all seven races on a fascinating card but the heat that catches the eye is the final of the Smarkets Challenger Staying Chase Series.

When one considers the historically high strike rate of the Pond House Operation, one has to conclude that so far, it has been quite a disappointing season for David Pipe and his staff, but with two winners in the past fortnight, including that convincing victory of Rathlin Rose at Ascot, the corner may have been turned. If it does prove to be the case, the master of Pond House must have a serious chance of landing the valuable Challenger Staying Chase Final with his lightly weighted 8yo, Abracadabra Sivola. A veteran of 25 chases, he drew a blank in his seven starts since landing a Taunton Class3 Handicap last March off a mark of 129. However, dropped to a mark of 112 he showed that he was no back number when winning over Kempton’s tricky circuit 14 days ago. He made all, travelling well within himself, and put the result beyond doubt with his best jump of the round at the last. A course winner at Haydock over hurdles, his new mark of 117, gives him the featherweight of only 10-1 to shoulder, and he looks seriously well treated.

The Charlie Longsdon trained, Shanroe In Milan didn’t manage to catch the Judges eye in his two PTP’s or his seven races over hurdles but did get off the mark last time out in his third attempt over the larger obstacles. Racing off a mark of 117 in a Class4 Doncaster Handicap (3m Soft) he held on gamely to beat Bako De La Saulaie by 1/2L nine weeks ago. There is nothing special about the form but the Longsdon 6yo was always bred to be a chaser and having broken his duck could move on to greener pastures.

The Lucy Wadham trained Potters Legend looked a tad unlucky when coming down at the last at Fakenham 15 days ago. Having delivered a sustained challenge from two out, he had just taken it up when falling in the Class3 event, and off just a 2lbs higher mark, with the yard amongst the winners, the 8yo is certainly worth a second look.

After six attempts over fences, the one time winner over hurdles, Behind Time, got his head in front over the larger obstacles for the first time two weeks ago. The Harry Fry trained 7yo came home 4L clear of the useful Big River in a Class2 Uttoxeter Handicap (3mChase Heavy) off a mark of 120. He had been prone to making the odd mistake in his previous races and the fitting of cheek pieces may have helped. If they work the Oracle again, he doesn’t look badly treated on a mark of 127, giving him a racing weight of 10-13.

The Fergal O’Brien trained 10yo, Jenny’s Surprise is a pretty consistent mare who has won six times and been placed six times from her nineteen starts under National Hunt Rules. She battled on bravely to land a Class3 Ffos Las Handicap (3m Heavy) six weeks ago where she had Behind Time, 3L and a neck back in third. She meets Harry Fry’s charge on the same terms at the weekend so connections must be hopeful of landing this very nice pot.

The Nick William’s trained 10yo, Horatio Hornblower, a winner of three of his previous eighteen starts over fences, just failed to make it four, when going down by a neck to the redoubtable 14yo, Pete The Feat, in a Sandown Class3 (3m Soft) three weeks ago. With form over The Lancashire Track, (2nd brush Hurdle April 2014) and racing off his Sandown mark he could be interesting.

Wicked Willy is another contender with course form, (placed in both of his track appearances under NH rules). He put up a solid performance last time when finishing 4th in a Class2 Sandown Handicap (3m Soft) eight weeks ago. He was 6 3/4L behind the winner, the useful Ballydine, but would have been closer had he not made a costly mistake at the second last. 3rd in the Staying Hurdle Final of this series last April, he will enjoy Saturday’s likely better ground, and off the same mark as Sandown he looks to have a serious chance in what will only be his 6th race over fences.

The Sue Smith trained Delusionofgrandeur’s only course appearance was pretty inauspicious, finishing 4th of five runners, 30L behind the winner, politologue, in November 2016. However he has developed into a decent chaser winning four of his twelve starts. He may have found the 4m1f trip at Musselburgh last time beyond him, but prior to that was an excellent 3rd, only 1/2L behind the winner, Get On The Yeager, in a Class1 Grade3 Chase in December. As the class act in the field he has plenty of weight, (11-10), but will benefit from any drying of the ground, and coming from this yard I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved.

Selection: Abracadabra Sivola

E.W. : Wicked Willy

John Gray

Preview 32Red Lincoln Handicap 1mile Doncaster Saturday

Three 6yo’s have won this in the past decade, two of them trained by master trainer, Richard Fahey, (Gabrial 2015, and Brae Hill 2012) and it’s not impossible that the Malton genius will bring up the treble with his son of Clodovil, Third Time Lucky. The 6yo showed that he stays beyond a mile, (always a useful attribute in The Lincoln) and can cope with the demands of a large field handicap, when winning the Cambridgeshire in 2015 (1m1f) Of a mark of 95, and indeed finishing 4th in the following years renewal. Since returning from a 218 days break last November, he has been campaigned exclusively on the All Weather, and put up a decent performance last time, when unsuited by the steadily run contest, he finished a respectable 3rd in Wolverhampton’s Lincoln Trial a fortnight ago, racing off a mark of 95. Arguably a better horse on turf, he will be much better suited by Saturday’s pillar to post gallop on ground that will suit, and off a mark only 2lbs higher than for that Cambridgeshire victory, has to be of interest. (25/1 available at the time of writing).

While experience counts for plenty in The Lincoln, the three times winning trainer (from only seven runners), Willie Haggas, has won on two of those occasions with animals that had raced fewer than six times. This has to make his sole entry, the lightly raced 4yo Addeybb, of interest. Unraced as a 2yo, he has won three of his five starts, winning his first Handicap, last July (Ascot 1m Good) off a mark of 88. Failing to see out the 1m2f trip next time (Goodwood Soft) he only finished 3rd, but dropped back to 9f for a Class2 Newmarket Handicap eight weeks later he won by 1/2L and a Short Head from Saturday’s opponents, Affak, and Fire brigade. He hasn’t been seen since, (176 days ago), but as seven of the last ten Lincoln Winners were making their seasonal debuts, it shouldn’t be a problem, and the vibes from Newmarket are all positive. The Haggas yard is in form and as a son of Pivotal whose offspring thrive in soft ground, Addeybb has plenty going for him.

The Michael Bell trained Fire Brigade meets his Newmarket conqueror on 2lbs worse terms at the weekend, but he did show improved form when taking a Class2 Leicester Handicap off a 4lbs higher mark a month after that Headquarters heat, and intriguingly, Ryan Moore has deserted Addeybb to take the ride on The Bell horse. Fire Brigade is much the more experienced of the two, and likes it soft (has won over Newmarket’s testing mile on soft), so perhaps Ryan has made the right choice, and might just add a first Lincoln Handicap victory to his C.V.

Top handler, David O’Meara won last year’s renewal with the 20/1 chance, Bravery, and his talented 5yo, Lord Glitters has the ability to go close for David again this year. A winner of four of his nine starts in France, he was purchased for €270,000, and came to the Upper Helmsley yard last October. He has collected nearly £200,000 pounds in prize money from his three starts in England ( a win, and runner up twice) since his arrival, and showed an impressive change of gear to get up in the final strides at Ascot on soft ground (1mile) to collect a monster £155,000 first prize. He is now on a 5lbs higher mark leaving him with top weight of 9-10 to shoulder, a burden last carried to victory by Babodana twenty years ago and obviously faces a stiff task, but I feel we have yet to see the best of this son of American sire, Whipper.

Another French import who has done well since leaving his homeland is the Henry Spiller trained 6yo Leader Writer. Transferred to the Spiller yard last July he won a Class2 Ascot Handicap last September (1 Mile Soft) off a mark of 92. Following a 133 day break he made a satisfactory reappearance on the All Weather at Lingfield, finishing two lengths behind the winner in fourth, off Saturday’s mark of 97. A son of Pivotal he thrives in soft conditions, and there is nothing, up and coming young trainer Henry Spiller, (took over from veteran trainer, Willie Musson at Saville House Stables in 2016) would enjoy more, than victory in such a high profile heat.

The last time a horse older than six prevailed in The Lincoln was when the 8yo Hunters Of Broara won twenty years ago, but if the Robert Eddery trained 7yo Donncha manages to get his head in front on Saturday, he won’t be winning out of turn. He was only beaten a neck in the Doncaster Mile in 2016, and he finished best of all in last years renewal of The Lincoln to come 3rd. He had to be switched at the furlong marker, and flew home, only to be denied by a couple of necks. He only ran four more times after Doncaster, and has been off the racecourse since last July. The handicapper has been generous and dropped him 3lbs, leaving him with a nice racing weight of 9-0. He suffered “the unkindest cut of all” last November, which hopefully has had a beneficial effect, and left the son of Captain Marvellous a more tractable animal, ready to strike a blow for the older horse.

Selection : Fire Brigade

E.W. : Third Time Lucky and Leader writer

John Gray

Preview: Matchbook Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle 2m Sandown Saturday

There are some very strong trends for Saturday’s Imperial Cup, not least the poor record of the more mature contender, as only seven horses older than six have passed the winning post in front in the last thirty three years. In the same period the lighter weights have also dominated, with only five carrying 11-0 or more to victory. The most successful training establishment has been the Pond House Operation of the Pipes with dad, Martin, winning on six occasions, and son, David, collecting three times. They have also been terrifically successful at targeting the bonus, (£100,000 this year) for doubling up with the winner at next week’s Cheltenham’s Festival, landing it three times, with Olympian in 1993, Blowing Wind in 1998, and Gaspara in 2007, all of which makes David’s contender this time, Friday Night Light, Of particular interest.

A 5yo son of Air Chief Marshal, Friday Night Light, won just one of his ten starts, (12f Heavy) on the flat when trained by Elie Lellouche in France, but since joining the Pond House operation last August, he has proved progressive over hurdles. He was successful off a mark of 111 in his third race for the yard, a Newbury Class4 Handicap, (Jan 17 Soft), and put up a decent performance two weeks later to finish second in a Taunton Class3 off a 10lbs higher mark. Stepped up to Class2 level three weeks ago at Ascot, (2m3 1/2f Soft) he was only beaten 1L by Saturday’s opponent, Le Patriote, off a mark of 123. He meets the winner on 3lbs better at the weekend, and with one eye on that bonus, (has two entries at The Festival) it could be close between them.

Another French import is the Alan King trained Fidux, and he also did all his racing in France on the flat, winning two of his nine starts for handler, K.Borgel, before joining the Barbury Castle operation in November 2016. He won his first two races for Mr King, lboth Novice Hurdles. He has drawn a blank in his eight races since, but did seem a tad unlucky unseating his 10lbs claiming rider, Kevin Dowling, at the last when looking the most likely winner of a course and distance heat, (Good/Soft) last November. The winner that day, Maria’s Benefit, is now rated on a mark of 147 and was receiving 7lbs, (Not including Dowling’s 10lbs claim) which does make the King horse look well treated on a mark of 134 at the weekend. He again showed his liking for the track a month later finishing 4th in a Class1 Handicap and can be excused his last run at Taunton,( 2m3f Soft) where he pulled far too hard. He wouldn’t be suited by testing conditions but if the ground is reasonable is one for the shortlist.

One who won’t mind testing conditions is the Dr Newland trained Le Patriote, and as his talented handler trained the 2015 winner, Ebony Express, he will know exactly what is required. Yet another French import, the 6yo son of Poliglote never raced on the flat in his home country but did win two of his seven starts over hurdles, both over 2m2f on testing ground, before joining the Newland yard last November. Taking a very strong hold on his first run for the stable in January, he travelled well but faded before the last (2m5f Kempton Soft) and finished 7th. He was a respectable 4th at Cheltenham a fortnight later but looked much more the finished article when winning that Ascot race from Friday Night Light three weeks ago( 2m3 1/2f ). He is 8lbs higher on Saturday but we may not have seen the best of Le Patriote yet.

The John Quinn trained 6yo Master Of Irony, rated 81 on the flat, won two of his first three Hurdle races last winter, and was second in the other, to leading Stayers Hurdle hope, Sam Spinner. He won comfortably at Wetherby in October and put up his best performance to date two months later, when getting to within 2 1/4L of the very useful High Bridge in the Class1 Gerry Fielden at Newbury. Improved for the addition of cheek pieces he doesn’t look badly treated on a mark of 133 giving him a racing weight of 10-7 and is worth considering.

Assuming Nicky Henderson leaves top weight, Call Me Lord in the race, his other contender, Whatswrongwithyou, will be left with just his original burden of 10-13 to shoulder. The very lightly raced 7yo has only run three times over hurdles, winning the last twice and getting to within a length of the useful Ainchea over Saturday’s course and distance first time up. He was quite impressive when winning his second race from that good yardstick, Ok Corrall, under a largely hands and heels ride, and as the runner up won next time out by 7L, the Henderson horse looks well treated on a mark of 139. It does seem a big ask for such an inexperienced animal to tackle such a competitive heat, but bear in mind that thirteen of the last seventeen winners were Novices, and seven of the last ten had run only five times or fewer over hurdles. Additionally Whatswrongwithyou had no problem dealing with the demands of a sixteen runner point to point, a race he won easily.

Selection: Whatswrongwithyou

E.W. : Friday Night Light

John Gray

Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup 3m2f Chase (Grade1) Cheltenham March 16

With racing prospects looking extremely doubtful for the weekend due to the Arctic weather, it is an opportune time to look forward to Cheltenham’s Blue Riband in just sixteen days time.

Nicky Henderson, who trained the 2011 winner, Long Run, and the 2013 Victor, Bobsworth, is hoping to bring up the treble with current market leader, Might Bite, and following a highly satisfactory racecourse workout at Kempton Park last Saturday, the master of Seven Barrows expressed himself highly delighted with the condition of his challenger. Currently available at around the 4/1 mark he has won his last five races, three of them at Grade1 level, culminating with victory in the 3m King George V1 Chase last time. However his win at Kempton, again raised some doubts about his stamina, as his seven lengths advantage over the 50/1 runner up, Double Shuffle, turning into the straight, was reduced to a length at the post. Pilot, De Boinville, is convinced that the horse wasn’t tiring, only idling in front, a view I’m inclined to agree with, remembering the courageous way he fought back in last year’s 3m 1/2f RSA Chase at The Cheltenham Festival, where having got the last wrong, and hanging violently right, he still found the reserves to get back up in the shadow of the post. However the fact remains that the furthest he has won over is 3m1f and that was over the flat Mildmay course at Aintree, and despite his stamina laden pedigree, ( By the stayer Scorpion out of the Presenting mare, Knotted Midge, whose own dam, Bula Beag, got that strong staying chaser Drombeag ) the jury remains out, and its anyone’s guess how he will cope with the demands of a Gold Cup, invariably run at an attritional pace.

The record of Irish stables in the first twelve renewals of the new millennium, with only two wins, Kicking King 2005, and War Of Attrition 2006, was hardly impressive, but the last four years has seen a dramatic improvement in the fortunes of The Emerald Isle runners, with three of the last four Gold Cups going across the Irish Sea, and with messers Harrington, Mullins and Meade, fielding strong challenges, it wouldn’t be long odds against the trend continuing this year.

Jessica Harrington runs both last year’s winner, Sizing John (pictured), and her impressive Irish Grand National winner, Our Duke. The former marked himself down as a really exceptional performer last term when becoming the first horse to achieve the amazing treble of winning the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, The Cheltenham Gold Cup the following month, and The Punchestown Gold Cup in April. He carried on the good work on his reappearance seven months later in December, beating Djakadam by seven lengths at Punchestown, but was a bitter disappointment eighteen days later in The Christmas Chase at Leopardstown, trailing in 32L behind the winner, Road To Respect, in seventh place, at the cramped odds of 9/10. As well as the race coming “too soon” and some other non specific illness being blamed, no one really knows what caused the upset, but given a complete rest, he is reported to have put his problems behind him, and delighted Jessica with a scintillating workout last Tuesday. If he is indeed fully recovered, he will make them all go on the 16th.

Mrs Harrington’s other contender, Our Duke, was a hugely impressive winner of last year’s Irish Grand National, winning the 3m5f contest by 14L from Bless The Wings. He let his supporters down badly when trailing in 51L behind Outlander, when sent off the 5/6 fav for a Grade1 Chase at Down Royal, on his reappearance, seven months later. However a back problem was diagnosed and the 8yo subsequently underwent corrective surgery. He was less than convincing again with his jumping, three months later in The Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, making a real howler at the penultimate fence when in contention. However he did show what an engine he has, by getting going again, and running on to finish fourth. Obviously short of match practice, Jessica ran him again two weeks later over an inadequate 2m4f at Gowran Park, where despite some sticky jumping he got the better of the evens favourite, the talented Presenting Percy. Our Duke was foot perfect in the Irish National, a race run at a good even clip throughout, and outstanding trainer Harrington, feels that given the pace at which The Gold Cup is invariably run the son of Oscar, wont have any trouble at the obstacles, and if she proves to be correct, it will take a good one to beat him.

The one glaring omission from the Mullins C.V. Is The Cheltenham Gold Cup, and Willie would dearly love to emulate father, Paddy, who won with the great mare, Dawn Run, in 1986. His two likeliest candidates look like being Djakadam and Killultagh Vic and as the former, despite some brave efforts, runner up twice, and fourth last year, doesn’t seem to quite get up the famous hill, his best chance of correcting the deficiency in the C.V. would seem to lie with the lightly raced Killultagh Vic. Considering it was only his third race over fences, Killultagh Vic was in the process of running a super race when coming down at the last in The Irish Gold Cup, when travelling like the winner. He has gone well over Prestbury Park’s undulations in the past, finishing 5L behind Silver Concorde in The Champion Bumper in 2014 and winning over hurdles at the 2015 Festival. A strong stayer, (outstayed Thistlecrack to win the Grade1 3m Hurdle at the 2015 Punchestown Festival) if fully over his fall at Leopardstown, could be the one to end the Mullins “Drought”.

The Noel Meade trained Road To Respect beat Baron Alco by 6L in a Grade3 Handicap Chase (2m5f) at last year’s Cheltenham festival off a mark of 145, and four weeks later, took the step up to Grade1 level in his stride, winning by a neck from Yorkhill at Fairyhouse ( 2m4f) earning a rating twelve pounds higher. He made a highly satisfactory return six months later, winning comfortably at Punchestown, (3m1f) and two weeks later, was sent off at 7/2 for a Down Royal Grade1. Clearly uncomfortable on the right hand track, and never jumping fluently, I thought he put up an excellent effort to only go down by 1/2 L to the enigmatic Outlander, earning a mark of 163. Further progress was made when he won the Grade1 Christmas Chase at Leopardstown comfortably from Galway Plate Victor, Balko Des Flos, and he is now rated 22lbs higher than he was for that Cheltenham victory. Clearly an improving animal, shrewd trainer, Noel Meade has kept him away from the exhausting winter ground, and he will be one of the freshest animals lining up at the start on the 16th.

Selection : Road To Respect

E.W. : Sizing John

John Gray

Oddsguru Preview Betfred Eider Handicap Chase 4miles Newcastle Saturday

Unfortunately, our selection in the Grand National Trial at Haydock, The Dutchman, broke a blood vessel, and had to be pulled up after jumping the tenth. However trainer Tizzard, reports him still to be “very much on course for Aintree” so bear him in mind come April. Happily our Second suggestion, Mysteree, plugged on at odds of 9/1 to finish third and save the E.W. cash.

First run in 1952, The Gosforth Park marathon hasn’t been a great heat for young chasers with only seven 7yo’s prevailing in the entire history of the contest and we still await a win by anything younger. That said, not many have tried, and if David Pipe runs his very progressive young chaser, Daklondike, we might just see this particular stat consigned to the history books.

A late withdrawal from last Saturday’s Grand National Trial, the son of Goldwell, (An unraced half brother to super stallion, Montjeu) is a winner of three of his five starts over fences, and was particularly impressive last time, when, racing off a mark of 133 in Newbury’s Mandarin Chase (3m2f Heavy Dec 30) he put Grand Vision, and last year’s Eider Chase runner up, Knockanrawley, firmly in their place, staying on strongly from the last. As Grand Vision won easily at Wincanton next time out, (now rated on 141), and the fifth horse home in the Mandarin, Tanit River, won at Sandown on Friday, the form looks pretty strong. A full brother to the classy Great Endeavour, (rated155) there is surely plenty more to come from Daklondike and he looks well treated on just a 7lbs higher mark at the weekend. His excellent trainer, David Pipe, who won the race with subsequent Grand National Hero, Comply Or Die in 2008, must fancy his chances of taking the prize home to Nicholashayne for a second time.

newlandThe Dr Richard Newland trained 10yo, West Of The Edge was beaten 3 1/2L by Saturday’s opponent, Emperor’s Choice (Haydock 3m3 1/2f Heavy Dec30) but reopposes on 7lbs better terms at the weekend. A winner over Warwick’s tricky fences, (3m5f soft) his sound jumping will certainly be a considerable asset, and with the Newland Yard firing in the winners, the son of Westerner is worth considering.

Trainer, Neil King, will be hoping to again secure the services of Jockey of the moment, Bryony Frost, for his 11yo, Milansbar. The veteran beat Cogry by 11L to take a valuable Grade3 Warwick Handicap, ( 3m5f soft ) under a superb ride by Ms Frost six weeks ago. He is 9lbs higher on Saturday, but this runner up in the 2016 Midland Grand National (4m1 1/2f Soft) will get every yard of the trip, and with the benefit of Bryony’s superb skill from the saddle, and of course her valuable claim, Milansbar can again go close.

The Harry Whittington trained Vinnie Lewis (pictured)has only had four races over fences but he has looked most progressive in the last two. The 7yo won a modest Class4 Sedgefield Handicap off a mark of 113 (3m2 1/2f soft) at the end of November, and followed up forty days later, when taking the valuable, Class3 Sussex National (3m4 1/2f Heavy) off a fourteen pounds higher mark, winning by a comfortable looking six lengths. This rapidly improving young horse is raised another 9lbs on Saturday, but it wouldn’t surprise if he was up to it.

For a horse that won a Wetherby Grade2 Novices Chase by 22L from The now rated 145 Callet Mad, this time last year, the 9yo Baywing, looks well treated on a mark of 140 for Saturday. Things haven’t gone his way in his five subsequent starts, but his third to Smooth Stepper over the course last time (2m7 1/2F Soft) was a little more encouraging, and with improvement expected for the step up to a marathon trip, Nicky Richards charge is worth a second look.

The Henry Daly trained, Back To The Thatch, is another 6yo attempting to defy that long standing stat stretching back to 1952. Last time out, on only his fourth run over fences, he won like an animal with plenty still in the tank (Chepstow 3m Heavy). This very stoutly bred son of Westerner, ( his dam is by the stayer Phardante) could well finish the campaign on a considerably higher mark than Saturday’s 129. Worth a second look with his nice racing weight of 10-6 !

Selection : Vinnie Lewis

E.W. : Daklondike

John Gray

Oddsguru Tips: Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase 3m4 1/2f Haydock Saturday

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.

Trainer Colin Tizzard

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

John Gray