We haven’t suffered from a typo here – look out for the non-standard race times this Sunday at Aintree with the Old Roan due off at 1.57.
Aside from the rather unusual off time and the lack of a crowd, things are as they were in this famous old two-and-a-half-mile race as a good field lines up looking for some Grade 2 glory. These are the six we are most keen on.
Trained by Tom George, Clondaw Castle is having only his 10th start over fences and so he could yet produce more, especially considering he finished off last season with an easy win at Warwick.
The only doubt we have is about the quality of his previous opposition, so considering he was second in a Listed handicap at Ascot last November against good horses but is now some 5lbs higher we think he may just not be well enough off at the weights.
This horse is race fit and is looking for a hat-trick under today’s jockey Richard Johnson. There are tons of positives about him at first glance, but his potential negatives just about outweigh them for us.
Firstly, he’s been doing his winning at Stratford and Fontwell with today’s opposition being a very sharp upgrade for him. Naturally he’s higher in the weights as well and he is not certain to be at his best on this particular track, so while money for him would be interesting he’s passed over for the win.
Extremely popular in the market and now a clear favourite, Olly Murphy’s six-year-old is bound to go on and have a sterling chase career but off this mark of 154 and with his lack of experience it is hard to say why he is so short for a seasonal reappearance.
He is a Grade 1 winner of course having taken the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase on his second start over the larger obstacles, but he fell at the Cheltenham Festival in the Marsh Novices’s which would have been an ideal race to really tell us where he’s at.
Most likely the value in the race for the red-hot Paul Nicholls operation, Magic Saint is obvious enough having won some good races and had 13 chase spins but he still has more to give.
A close look at his profile shows him to be a horse who should excel around Aintree, is still improving overall and likes this time of year.
He hasn’t been seen since the new year, but his freshness can very much play into his favour and under Harry Cobden he stands a huge chance of a big win.
Sue Smith’s Midnight Shadow is very high on our shortlist, among other things because he ran a cracker when beaten 3½ lengths by Itchy Feet in the Scilly Isles off level weights and is now set to carry 5lbs less than the favourite.
This is a handicap after all and so some old-fashioned handicapping has to come to the fore, so considering he is entitled to have as much of an upward trajectory as Itchy Feet him being twice the price at these weights just doesn’t make sense.
The Skelton’s will have a big say in many top races this season, and their Oldgrangewood is a rock-solid contender who won or was placed in all four of his chases last season, all of them valuable handicaps like this one.
The down side to that sort of profile is that the handicapper generally knows where he is at and so more improvement will be needed, but he should be there or thereabouts yet again.
At these weights you’d be forgiven for backing Imperial Presence for sure and it would be no surprise to us to see him go and win this.
His old rival Itchy Feet may yet prove to be a superstar and so we can see why some punters can’t choose between them, but sometimes in that case it is best to pass them both by and go a different way.
The solid one in the circumstances is Paul Nicholls’ MAGIC SAINT and it could be that his overall experience stands him in very good stead in these race conditions. He is backed to score, with Midnight Shadow being the other one we think can sneak a place.