CPMS Scottish Champion Hurdle (Limited Handicap) Grade2 2miles Ayr Saturday

scottish champion hurdleI hope followers of the blog took our advice and backed the amazing Tiger Roll in last week’s Grand National. Brilliant though he was, I think that comparisons with the immortal Red Rum are a little premature, as Rummy, not only landed a 3rd Grand National, but finished 2nd in two others, and all were achieved over the pre “modified”
fences. It would be wonderful to see the apple of Gordon Elliott’s eye land a 3rd win in the great race, but with the prospect of having to carry top weight next year, It’s quite possible that we witnessed the little horse’s Aintree Swansong last Saturday. We can be pretty certain that Saturday’s field for The Scottish Champion Hurdle, doesn’t contain any future winners of Aintree’s Blue Riband, but nevertheless, the Grade2 Handicap, with 20 runners, and the market leader, Nube Nebra, trading at around the 5/1 mark, it does look a highly competitive heat.

Trained by Dan Skelton, who won with Ch’Tibello three years ago, the 5yo Nube Negra, spent his two and three year old days, racing on the flat, around Madrid’s
La Zarzuela Hippodrome, without a win from his 7 starts, but joining the Skelton Academy in October 2017, he hit the back of the net at the first attempt. With form figures reading 1 2 1 he was sent off the 15/2 Fav for last year’s Fred Winter at The Cheltenham Festival and ran well to finish 3rd to Veneer Of Charm and Style De Garde (now rated 139) racing off a mark of 135. He failed to catch the judges eye in his next 3 races, but performed much better 24 days ago when finishing a close 3rd off a mark of 134. On his run in The Fred Winter he doesn’t look badly treated on Saturday’s mark of 137.

scottish champion hurdle alan kingAlan King (pictured) won with the 6yo, Raya Star seven years ago, and is double handed on Saturday, with another 6yo, Dino Velvet, and a year younger, Redicean. The former, a winner over course and distance at this meeting last year off a mark of 121, has progressed nicely over the subsequent 12 months, and comfortably won a Stratford Class3 off a mark of 129 34 days ago. He will be well suited by the likely good ground at the weekend, and racing off a mark of 134, giving him a lovely racing weight of 10-4, looks fairly treated (note the same connections are also represented by Seddon).

Stable companion, Redicean, is a decent flat racer, (rated 97) and is no slouch over hurdles either. He has won 3 of his 6 starts, including a 7L victory over Saturday’s opponent, Malaya (rec 5lbs) at Kempton in February 2018, and actually meets the Nicholls runner on 2lbs better terms. Malaya looked an improved performer last time at Sandown but Redicean has also taken an 11lbs forward step on the flat and if he has made the same progress over hurdles looks well treated on 144. A patriotic Scot, there is little Alan King enjoys more than a victory on his home turf.

It is 33 years since Nicky Henderson last tasted success in Scotland’s Champion, and triple handed this year, he’s obviously intent on correcting the deficit. Verdana Blue,  Mister Fisher, and Brain Power, Line up for the Seven Barrows yard and of the three, Mister Fisher, the mount of Stable Jockey, Nico De Boinville looks the most interesting.
Lightly, raced the 5yo has won two of his four starts over hurdles including the Grade2 Rossington Main at Haydock where he beat the now 149 rated, Bright Forecast,(rec3lbs) by 2 3/4L. He failed to fire on Prestbury Park’s  Soft ground in The Supreme Novices at The Cheltenham Festival but back on good ground racing off a pretty fair looking 145 has to be considered.

The mare Verdana Blue is the undoubted class act in the race and will be helped by the 7lbs claim of the experienced Connor Brace. Good ground will also be in her favour but my main concern is that all her best runs over hurdles have come on right handed tracks, and indeed she has yet to register a win going left handed. Mind you if she does manage to win left handed it will probably be on a galloping course with a long straight like Ayr.

The Fergal O’Brien trained Benny’s Bridge has sneaked into the race on bottom weight and could be well treated. The son of beneficial, comfortably won a Class2 Cheltenham Handicap in January from the Skelton trained favourite, Flash The Steel. He drew clear in quite impressive style inside the last 100 yards and as the runner up was an easy winner next time out there is a really solid feel to the form. He can be forgiven a poor performance behind Malaya in the Sandown mud next time but showed that he was still progressing last time when readily beating David Pipe’s useful ex German flat racer, Yala Salaam at Market Rasen 17 days ago.

Selection : Redicean

EW.           : Benny’s Bridge  Dino Velvet

John Gray

Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase 4 Miles Ayr Saturday

The history of the race goes all the way back to 1858, but the contest didn’t reach it’s present venue until 1966 when it was run over Saturday’s course and distance for the first time. Always run with a big field, racing with the choke out, experience clearly counts, and only one 6yo, (Earth Summit 1994, and he had already raced ten times over fences) has managed to win. Age has been no bar to success with twelve animals older than nine coming home in front, and indeed the last decade has seen three 11yo’s collecting first prize, Hello Bud 2009, Merigo 2012, and Wayward Prince in 2015.

Earth Summits’ trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, is seeking an unprecedented fourth win in the contest, and at the time of writing has three entries, Ballyoptic, the veteran Benbens and last year’s runner up, Cogry, and despite the claims of the latter, the 8yo Ballyoptic looks his best chance. He has only raced five times over fences but has won two of them including a Wetherby Grade2 in February from Saturday’s opponent, Vintage Clouds, and he ran well enough last time to finish 4th in The RSA to Presenting Percy at The Cheltenham Festival. His ability to last out Saturday’s marathon trip has to be taken on trust but he is stoutly bred, (by Old Vic out of an Un Desperado mare) and it’s worth remembering that he had the class and stamina to beat Bellshill in a 3m1f Grade1 Hurdle at Aintree two years ago.

Last year’s winner, the Paul Nicholls trained Vicente, was the first animal to bag two consecutive Scottish Grand Nationals since Jimmy Fitzgerald’s Androma came home in front for the second time in 1985, and having had a fairly easy time of it this term, must have decent prospects of bringing up the hat trick. vicenteHe looked as good as ever when just losing out to Perfect Candidate on his seasonal reappearance in November, and then twice avoided a tough race, when unseating in The Welsh National in January on attritional ground, and again, racing on very heavy ground, was pulled up at the Cheltenham Festival behind Coo Star Sivola. He has a higher mark to defy this time but remember last year’s success was achieved a fortnight after falling in the Aintree edition, and with the drying ground very much in the 9yo’s favour, he has to enter calculations.

The Sue Smith trained 8yo, Vintage Clouds, meets his Wetherby conqueror, Ballyoptic, on 5lbs better terms for that 2 3/4L beating and he subsequently ran a fine race to finish 3rd to Coo Star Sivola at The Cheltenham Festival. He stayed on dourly in The Welsh National (3m5f Heavy) so could find Saturday’s trip right up his street, and with 10-12 on his back at the weekend, provides owner, Trevor Hemmings, with a useful looking second string to his bow, (also owns Vicente).

The Neil Mulholland (pictured) trained Doing Fine, has had a nice easy time of it this winter and having avoided the dreadful Winter ground will strip a fresh animal at the weekend. The 10yo hasn’t been seen since finishing 4th to Benbens over 3m5f at Sandown in December and meets that rival on 10lbs better terms on Saturday. neil mulholland ayrHe has never won over Saturday’s trip but looked an out and out stayer when beating Ugolin De Beaumont to whom he was conceding 18lbs by 6L over 3m4f at Cheltenham last April. Doing Fine, who will enjoy Saturday’s drying conditions and can go well after a break, has only been with his talented trainer for 18 months, and as the yard is firing in the winners at present, is definitely one to note with his nice racing weight of 10-6.

Having won The Irish, and Aintree Grand Nationals this Spring, the County Meath Maestro, Gordon Elliott seeks an unprecedented third with Fagan and Folsom Blue. The latter, an 11yo must have had a very hard race when finishing 4th to his stable companion, General Principle, in that controversial Irish National run on ground that many deemed unraceable, so perhaps his best chance lies with the 8yo Fagan. The ex pointer, won three of his five races in that discipline before joining the Elliott Academy where he won his first two bumpers and two of his four Hurdle races. His future always lay over fences and he duly won the second of his four chases, winning a Perth Novices Chase by 95L. Only 2nd in his last two, it was in pretty good company, finishing runner up to Ballyandy last September and Black Corton last October. Saturday’s task looks a huge one making his handicap debut in such a competitive heat off a stiff enough looking mark, but coming from this yard I suppose anything is possible.

The David Pipe trained, Daklondike as a 6yo will be trying to emulate Earth Summit, the only horse of that age to succeed in the whole history of the Scottish National, and he will be attempting to do it with far less experience over fences than the subsequent winner of the Aintree Grand National had at the time. He has only raced five times over the larger obstacles, but has won three of the last four, and looked a staying chaser of some potential when winning the 3m2f Mandarin Chase at Newbury last time. He finished with a real flourish to put that good yardstick, Grand Vision, in his place, and looked as if there was plenty more to come over staying distances. However that was on heavy ground and it remains to be seen how he will cope with the likely faster ground on Saturday. In his favour, the elder Pipe has brought the trophy back to Pond House on two occasions so they certainly know what is required down Nicholashayne way.

Selection : Doing Fine

E.W. : Vintage Clouds and Daklondike

John Gray