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

Randox Health Grand National Handicap 4m2 1/2f Aintree Saturday

grand national oddsguruAny consideration of this year’s Merseyside Marathon, has to begin with the phenomenon, that is the diminutive Tiger Roll. The gallant winner of last year’s renewal is a mere 15.2 hands, which must make those Aintree fences look huge, but this natural jumper, dare I say it reminiscent of the great Red Rum, just jumped from fence to fence and had plenty left in the locker to fend off the late challenge of Pleasant Company. The 9yo has won 11 of his 34 races, including an amazing 4 victories at The Cheltenham Festival, (Triumph Hurdle 2014, National Hunt Chase, 2017 and The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase for the past two years). His stamina and jumping skills were spectacularly on show last time out when he coasted home by 22L for his second win in The Glenfarclas at The Festival. A strict interpretation of the form of that heat would suggest that he has improved at least 10lbs over the last 12 months so still looks reasonably handicapped on a mark 9lbs higher than last year. He has never fallen in any of his 34 starts and if in the same form as last time, will be a tough nut to crack.

Three 11yo’s have won The National in the past decade, and Irish Maestro, Willie Mullins will be hoping his talented stayer, Rathvinden, can make it four. Lightly raced for his years, he has won 6 of his 13 starts over fences, including last year’s stamina sapping 4miles National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, where he outstayed Saturday’s opponent, the mare, Ms Parfois. There was only 1/2L in it at the finish and Rathvinden is a pound worse off with her at the weekend, but the Mullins horse looked an improved performer 6 weeks ago when comfortably beating the 159 rated, Alpha Des Obeaux at level weights, and is fancied to confirm the form. With a nice racing weight of 10-10 this confirmed stayer has plenty to recommend him.

Despite being badly hampered at the first, and clouting the 5th last, Tony Martins, Anibale Fly did really well in last year’s race to finish 4th, 11 1/2L behind Tiger Roll racing off a mark of 159. He ran the race of his life to finish second in The Gold Cup 22 days ago, and if that heat hasn’t left its mark, he may just have been a tad underestimated by The Handicapper on 164. He meets Tiger Roll on 4lbs better terms than last year, and owner, JP Mc Manus, could be justified in entertaining hopes of landing a second Grand National to add to his win with Don’t Push It nine years ago.

oddsguru aintree fencesGood ground and a staying trip seemed just the ticket for the Philip Hobbs trained, Rock The Kasbah when the 9yo won the 3m3 1/2f Bet Victor. Com Handicap at Cheltenham in November. He took it up two out on the good ground and staying on well up the hill beat the now 150 rated Royal Vacation, (rec 4lbs). A safe conveyance, he has never fallen in his 13 starts over fences, and having had a nice Winter break, avoiding the deep seasonal ground, he will strip one of the freshest in the race. If as seems likely Champion Jockey Richard Johnson is in the Plate he looks to have a serious shot at filling in that one serious gap in Richard’s CV.

Owner Trevor Hemings is double handed in his quest for a 4th victory in the great race, and both his runners, Lake View Lad and Vintage Clouds, have plenty to recommend them. They both clashed in their last race, the Ultima Handicap at The Cheltenham Festival with Vintage Clouds doing best. He finished 2nd, two lengths in front of the rallying Lake View Lad. They meet on the same terms on Saturday but I feel that Lake View Lad might be the better armed to cope with the demands of Saturday’s marathon, and Scottish trained, by Nick Alexander, he will certainly be a popular pick with punters north of the border.

The last time a 7yo won the Grand National, was way back in 1940, which makes it difficult to recommend the David Pipe trained, Ramses De Teillee, but as we all know, statistics can be misleading,(7yo’s are something of a rarity in the race) and it’s also worth remembering that the Trophy has gone back to Pond House on two previous occasions, so they certainly know what’s required  down Nicholashayne way. Ramses De Teille, by the middle distance stallion, and top class sire of NH horses, Martaline, has won 3 of his 10 starts over fences, and may have been a little unlucky not to have added The Welsh Grand National to his CV last December. Always travelling well within himself, he looked the most likely winner until belting the 4th last fence, and while that would have been the end of most animals challenge, he rallied bravely, and got to within 1 1/4L of Elegant Escape. He put in another excellent effort last time over Haydock’s tricky upright fences, where despite running on strongly, he was collared inside the last 50 yards. (3m4 1/2f Good). A seriously upwardly mobile young stayer, who never knows when he’s beaten, he is definitely worth considering.

Selection : Tiger Roll    Danger : Rock The Kasbah
EW.           : Ramses De Teillee

John Gray