We are just seven weeks out from the Grand National now, and this is very much a key prep race. Here’s our top six for Haydock:
Grand National-winning trainer Venetia Williams is looking to get right back to the top of the horse racing ladder with her Gold Cup candidate Royal Pagaille, and now she’s aiming to use Haydock as a springboard with another big race contender.
This time it’s the Grand National Trial, and her Aintree candidate Achille. The eleven-year-old has taken some time to get to his peak, but he’s managing that now.
Off the track for more than a year after finishing second at Cheltenham in November 2019, he returned with a fine second to Notachance over 3m5f at Warwick last month and looks primed for a big run here.
Well backed this week has been Dr Richard Newland’s Enqarde. The former French-trained runner has begun life in England well, going nicely before unseating around here in the Tommy Whittle before winning cosily at Ascot last time.
It seems fairly obvious that he’ll improve again now which puts him right in the mix, though he’s not without his minor negatives.
Firstly, despite being on the upgrade it is never easy to simply overlook an 8lb hike in the weights, while he did all his best Gallic work over 2-2½ miles before winning over three at Ascot, so seeing out the 3½ miles on soft around here is not guaranteed.
The majority of money going on this race has been for this horse, the hat-trick seeking Notachance for Alan King.
A guaranteed stayer, he saw out three miles very well as an inexperienced novice and on his last run kept on very well to land a Grade 3 handicap chase at Warwick over 3m5f from Achille.
On the numbers, that run saw him take a big jump up but there are two ways to look at that. Either he’s improving big time, or it was a standout and energy-sapping run which could see him stagnate rather now. Either way there is every chance Achille could improve past him now, which would be a worry at these odds.
A little overpriced going into the weekend is Fergal O’Brien’s Perfect Candidate. A veteran of 36 chases, his most recent form is a stone lower than his best but nonetheless he did win over this very course and distance, on soft ground and extremely easily.
There was no luck involved in his recent 45 length win however, so another big show is expected.
If we were picking an actual Grand National horse from this bunch then at this stage of his career, it wouldn’t be Sojourn. However, betting-wise we are only interested in today and so he is very much in the mix.
At eight years old and with only four chases under his belt he of course is not an Aintree proposition, however he has all the attributes needed to land the Trial.
A comfortable winner over three miles at Exeter on his chase debut, he clearly looked like a stayer from the beginning. True, he was a beaten favourite around this track last time out but there are reasons to believe that he will be much better over this 3½-mile trip.
Back in November he took on a tough Carlisle track over 3¼ miles on heavy ground and won easily by 15 lengths, so considering that he is expected to have improved considerably since then it appears he has his perfect conditions now.
The Two Amigos
Nicky Martin’s runner makes the list, but for our money his greatest strength is also his biggest weakness and that is his consistency.
While that consistency means he has to be considered and he remains a solid place option, it also means he hasn’t shown very much improvement which is probably why he hasn’t won any of his last eight chases.
He keeps going up in the weights too for getting beaten, so while he can yet again run his race he is far too short as an each-way betting proposition.
It’ll be interesting to see how the market leaders go, but they are poor value for sure. Better for wagering purposes are Enqarde, who at seven is sure to get better, Achille who could very easily get past his old rival and today’s favourite and above all, SOJOURN.
Anthony Honeyball’s runner appears to really need this extra distance, was a good second over shorter behind a well-handicapped individual last time and is value to boot.