Just a week following its Liverpudlian forerunner, the Scottish National may not be quite as grandiose or famous as its elder brother, but to us racing folk it’s still an end of season spectacle to look forward to and savour.
It is, of course, Ayr this weekend for the battle-hardened four milers, whereas their flat racing cousins to Newbury for the Guineas trials; both Greenham and Fred Darling.
Plenty to keep all walks of the racing world occupied this weekend.
Nationals of every variety are a nightmare to get your head round at the best of times, but this one looks a real handful. We’ll ease our way in by checking the current favourite, Green Flag, who hopes to fly just that for Lucinda Russell and the home team.
It’s not difficult to see why he’s favourite. His form this year is just below the best of the novices. His second, in what was admittedly a below par Feltham, is still rock solid form at this level. The thing that sets him alight here though was his run last time out at Cheltenham. That was in the Festival Handicap Chase where he kept plugging on up the hill for fourth, but it was after the race when that result became all the more significant. The form of the race could hardly have turned out better after Holywell and Ma Filleule (the first and second at Cheltenham respectively) romped home in their Aintree runs.
Hopes are therefore high for a home win but there are plenty hidden dangers within the race. Sure, at around the 9/1 mark, Green Flag looks a solid option and could and probably will go well. Having looked a little deeper however, I’m convinced I’ve spotted one or two who may slip under the bookie’s radar.
Bound to be popular for this is last year’s winner Godsmejudge. I was a little surprised to see him entered for this after Alan King saying he couldn’t get him fit in time for Aintree. How much has changed in a week? He does trade at pretty attractive prices considering the manner in which he put the race to bed last year. His fifth on reappearance seemed a pretty flat performance at the time, although a second look will reveal that he finished behind a Grand National fourth and a Cleeve Hurdle winner, as well as in front of the winners of the Kim Muir and Midlands National. Monbeg Dude was in there somewhere as well - not a bad race all in all.
All that said he is still 6lbs higher than he was in this last year and the fact his last two performances have seen him pulled up twice is less encouraging. I believe there are better options, although a big run wouldn’t surprise me.
Now then, time for one I do like. The last time we saw an Irish trained horse win the Scottish National, Queen Victoria was still resting her grand derrière on the throne. Records like that are there to be shot at however, and in Stuart Crawford’s progressive grey Yes Tom, Saturday could finally see that stat smashed.
He’s only had the one run for his new yard thus far, but a truer stamina test brought the best out him. Racing at levels, he beat the likes of Bog Warrior, Seabass and Raz De Maree at a hack canter, with pilot that day Robbie Power looking round for dangers that simply weren’t there. He does have a tendency to jump left, something a switch to a left-handed course will only aid. He looks absolutely chucked in off 140 if that run is to be believed and, if Tidal Bay stays in the race he’ll be racing off 10st dead. Top price of 25/1 looks far too big so don’t be surprised if the Guinness is finally flowing around Ayr on Saturday night.
As much as last Saturday helped line the bookmakers’ pockets, it could well lead to them being emptied this. Pineau De Re’s third in the Pertemps was the eyecatching run that may have led to a rush of money coming for him about a week or so prior to Aintree, and keen observers out there may well have spotted that the horse he beat into fourth at Cheltenham runs here. That horse was Trustan Times, who went down to the future National winner by just a neck, giving him 4lbs.
Looking at him a little more closely it’s worth noticing that he’s technically a stone well-in on his hurdles form here. His chase form has amounted to little so far but he’s largely been used over inadequate trips. His victory off top weight over Holywell in the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock, the source of many a top horse, shows that there’s genuine class in this lad’s make-up. His stamina shouldn’t be in doubt for this and the longer trip could settle his sometimes sketchy jumping. If he can translate his hurdles form to this he’d be another in with a serious chance.
I’d also like to give a quick mention to another fancy of mine for Saturday, one who runs in the race directly after the National, Orsippus. He’s been off the boil all season having run in conditions that simply haven’t suited. He did take this prize last season however and, back down to that winning mark I give him a big chance of following up at potentially decent odds. It’s hard to believe that he once won the grade one four year old race at Aintree but if he gets his preferred good ground he should go well in this one again.
The line-up for the Greenham, although pretty hot, makes difficult reading from a punting perspective. It would, I suppose, depend a lot on how well Kingman has wintered. There have been several chilly vibes from the grapevine regarding his wellbeing so that would have to be a concern for this. How much of the hearsay you care to pay attention to is really down to personal opinion, although I wouldn’t like to back him at what I’d imagine would be pretty short odds.
Conditions could fall right for Be Ready, although being seen as more of a Derby type he may get done for toe. The Richard Hannon yard has taken this four times in the last seven years and he saddles Night Of Thunder here.
The well-bred son of Dubawi may not line up at Newmarket in the Guineas, with his trainer more likely to let champion 2 year old Toormore take his place and instead send Night Of Thunder to the French equivalent in search of his preferred softer surface. That may be something he’ll encounter here which will certainly play to his strengths. Having Ryan Moore doing the steering will be a big bonus with stable jockey Richard Hughes on the sidelines. He’s very well regarded and could land yet another Greenham for team Hannon here.
The Fred Darling looks another puzzling one with fillies not always wintering as you’d necessarily expect them to. It could be worth taking a chance on the totally unexposed Nirva. Should she feature amongst the final declarations, it would be a big sign of intent from trainer Ralph Beckett, who himself has a fine record in this race. The grey overcame signs of greenness in her maiden win just last week to win in cosy fashion. That maiden she took in was, incidentally, the same maiden Beckett saw Moonstone Magic mop in before sending her on to win the Fred Darling in 2012. If she lines up here she’s surely one to keep an eye on.
Newbury (2.20) Nirva
Newbury (2.55) Night Of Thunder
Ayr (3.50) Yes Tom, Trustan Times
Ayr (4.25) Orsippus