The Grand National festival gets underway on Thursday and alongside a staggering four Grade One races opening up the meeting we have a competitive and valuable two-mile handicap chase to get stuck into. Here are the key runners and a hint at their respective chances:
Just a seven-year-old and one who can get better over fences yet, Tom George’s hope skipped the Cheltenham festival but did run at Kempton last month where he was third in the Silver Bowl.
Despite his age and relative lack of chasing experience, his overall profile over larger obstacles is one of a horse not necessarily improving in leaps and bounds but more being consistent so on that score he may be set for a decent run if not quite having enough in hand of the handicapper to win.
Harry Fry’s 10yo has warmed up for this by running over hurdles at Uttoxeter and despite running fifth there at odds of 14/1, it represents for me his finest hurdling form to date and shows his wellbeing and improvement since finishing second in a good chase at Chepstow in February.
A look back at his easy win at Newbury in December in the Jim Joel Memorial Trophy shows us he has optimum conditions here and will have been prepared expertly with this day in mind.
With the assistance of Noel Fehily the brown gelding will not want for anything from up top and must have an outstanding chance in this race at a very fair price at the time of writing.
A lot has been made this week in the racing media about horses coming here fresh rather than having given their all at the Cheltenham festival, but where one of our race favourites is concerned it clearly didn’t affect him negatively last year.
Nicky Henderson’s busy eight-year-old ran a stormer in the Grand Annual last season before improving again to run a fine second in this race and he’s bound to be popular in the ring.
The differing conditions and the potential for others to improve though puts me off backing him at such prohibitive odds.
Paul Nicholls’ representative is only a six-year-old, has run over just fences four times and has gone exclusively in very small fields thus far so now he is in amongst good company and in a larger field I feel he’ll be chased along to produce a much better performance.
A significant improvement on his Bangor odds-on defeat and his third of four in a Grade 2 Novices’ event during the winter can be expected now and I see him as being of great value at 8/1 and over.
Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount had the option of the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase on Saturday so, though some will argue he couldn’t have won that anyway, it may be significant that Paul Nicholls feels he is well enough handicapped to take this.
Just the five chase races for Dr Richard Newland’s hope here and he has managed to improve after every single one so far.
It’s not for us to say that his improvement has now suddenly stopped so on the basis that he can improve another few pounds he could be a fair proposition, though having been raised four pounds for a win at Worcester last September he’ll need to have matured a lot in the mean time.
A few can scrap for places here including Vosne Romanee, Bon Doran and Theinval while you could argue that the well fancied King’s Socks represents somewhat of a retrograde action having put so much effort into Cheltenham.
For me there should be strong interest in Tommy Silver and especially in OVERTOWN EXPRESS who gets the nod to take the £50,000 prize money home.
The first named could in theory be very well-in for this race but his odds-on defeats and penchant for finding trouble leave me a little nervous, plus his age means that as well as improvement he could also bring plain old inexperience to the table and that wouldn’t stand him in good stead here.
Harry Fry’s horse though has no such problems there and continues to get better regardless of the type of obstacles he takes on so represents great value in this affair.