TRF’s ‘Venture To Cognac’ runs the rule over the National field
Anibale Fly – Placed in the last two renewals of The Gold Cup, as well as making the frame in this last year, his credentials are obvious. There are negatives though, not least the ground, and also the fact that he comes here 5lbs higher this time around. It’s also worth noting that he was beaten a fair way last year. Not one to put a line through completely, making the frame in two Gold Cups and a National, is no mean feat, but I just see him vulnerable to better handicapped rivals. Certainly has place claims though, if the ground doesn’t come up too fast.
Valtor – Relatively unknown French import for Nicky Henderson, running in the well known Munir/Souede silks, and arriving on these shores late in the day as a 9yo. Completely unfancied for The Garrard Silver Cup at Ascot, allowed to win as he liked at 33’s. It was a performance that made a lot of people sit up and take notice, myself included, visually it was extremely impressive, but perhaps in hindsight, it’s a race that doesn’t read so well now. He’ll be coming here 12lbs higher, and in his only subsequent run from Ascot, he was a bitter disappointment in The Cotstwold Chase. Very difficult to make a case for him on his Cheltenham run, and as impressive as Ascot was, you could pick holes in the form now. He doesn’t look the most obvious, seemingly with better prospects in The Topham. The fact that he looks like coming here instead, makes me suspect that that Ascot run was no fluke, and he just might have more to offer from top yard, but overall he’s hard to make a convincing case for, and trainers record far from ideal.
Tiger Roll – Where to begin with this boy? Yes, he’s ridiculously short for a National Runner, but despite the odd negative, there’s so much to like. As for those negatives, well he’s got more weight to carry, coming here off of a higher mark, but for a 9yo, he looks to have improved massively this term. You could also argue that he can get low enough at his fences, but he was excellent here last year, and although he just lasted home last year, there’s just the suspicion that he idled. As far as other negatives go, I’m struggling. There’s just loads to like, massive improver, as easy a winner as you’ll see at The Cheltenham Festival, when he completed that famous four timer. Yes, he’s got a higher mark to contend with, but I’m fairly sure he’s still ahead of the assessor, and though his chance may have passed, he really should have been given his chance in The Gold Cup, where he would have surely have given his running. I don’t really have ground concerns for him now, and for all he’s short enough, he looks bang there. You don’t win a Grand National, Triumph Hurdle, Munster National, National Hunt Chase, Boyne Hurdle, and also complete a Cross Country Double without being very very good, and that’s exactly what he is. As I said, bang there.
Outlander – Perhaps not the most high profile these days, and Elliot looks to have more obvious contenders. Being put up for sale this week is obviously a significant negative, but before this news, I genuinely thought he would have run his race. I think he’s had an interesting campaign, continually pitched at a decent enough level, and though on occasion, he’s seemingly looked well held, I think there’s also the suspicion that he’s actually been looked after when his chance had gone. His win ratio could be better, but I think all ground comes the same to him, and he is operating here 10lbs below his peak. For all that though, the news of the sale is very disconcerting, and it’s enough for me to pass him over.
Don Poli – Yet another Elliot contender, and like Outlander, up for sale this week. He’s certainly operating a good few pounds below his peak, but it’s four years now since he landed his RSA, and he’s clearly had a few issues since. Absolutely thrown in on that old form, but I think he’s been regressing this year, and I’m not convinced that it’s been a shrewd campaign at all. For all that he looks thrown in on old form, he looks particularly badly treated on recent evidence, and he’s not for me here at all, even before news of the pending sale.
Go Conquer – A horse I’ve always rated highly, but he’s never fully delivered, and he’s been expensive to follow for supporters. He first caught my attention at Ascot in late 2017, winning in the style of a horse who I thought had a future outwith handicaps. That assessment was a fair bit wide of the mark, and it was a series of setbacks, until he finally got his act together in The Skybet at Doncaster. For all he’s been disappointing before that, I still reckon he’s fairly treated, and my main concern would be jumping issues which surfaced after that Ascot win, and also slight question marks over the trip. In good hands for this kind of test though, and I remain hopeful he can add to his Skybet tally, but for all that, I just think there are enough question marks here.
Mala Beach – Proved his credentials for a big field test like this, when landing the 2017 Troytown in good style, a performance where he probably didn’t get the credit he deserved. He got his head in front again last year, but it was a weak enough race, and and a low key comeback over timber in The Galmoy Hurdle, was followed by Down Royal, where he was readily put in his place by Jury Duty. He’s not really entitled to reverse that run, and ground will surely be against him. Admirable sort, but he’s still weighted on the back of that Troytwon run, and he’s readily passed over.
Minella Rocco – Looked to have the world at his feet for a while, and like many others, I had him down as a future Gold Cup horse after his win in the 2016 National Hunt Chase. He fairly cemented that opinion when he filled the runner up spot behind Sizing John in 2017, but looking at him objectively, you’d have to say he’s been a bitter disappointment since. His best run of late, was when he ran with a lot of enthusiasm (folded tamely) in a Pertemps Qualifier at Exeter, but you’re probably looking for a better prep for this, and he was desperate in The Ultima. You could certainly suspect that he’s been quietly laid out for this, but even so, that run at Cheltenham wouldn’t back that up theory. He’s regularly pulled late at the eleventh hour, as was the case in this last year, so carries a risk even at this stage. I don’t have the ground concerns I had for him in the past, but the niggles about his jumping remain. I’d love to see him bounce back, and on his best form, he’s weighted to win this, but I’ve seen enough of late to be very wary.
Lake View Lad – Bought by Trevor Hemmings, who only buys horses with Aintree in mind. He’s bought wisely here in my opinion, and this Lad looks to be progressing nicely. His win in The Rehearsal Chase put him right in the picture here, and that promise was confirmed by his win in The Rowalnd Meyrick, and also his run in The Ultima at Cheltenham. Yard have done a really good job with him, and he’s been a safe conveyance since going over the larger obstacles. Ticks a lot of boxes, and he’s a few pounds well in. A bit of rain would help, and that’s the main concern, a concern shared by his jockey. If it stays the slow side of good, then a very strong contender.
Pleasant Company – Couldn’t have been closer last year, another couple of strides, and he would have reeled in Tiger Roll. What’s most impressive about that run is what he found. He looked cooked heading for The Elbow, and for all that the winner was coming back to him, he looked to have found plenty, and after 4 miles plus on that ground, then stamina is a given here. You can forget his low key form since then, his whole season will be geared around this, and he looks to have every right to be competitive again, especially if kept prominent. The rise in the weights makes life difficult, but I see no reason why he can’t be there turning for home.
Ballyoptic – Another who went agonisingly close in a National last Spring, this time in The Scottish alternative. Aintree looked the natural progression for him this term, and he looked to be taking to it, before landing too steeply in The Becher, and paying the price. Possibly harder to excuse his down the field finish at Chepstow, but it was his run in The National Trial at Haydock which gives the most concern. He never looked right from the off, and it was a bitterly disappointing showing, he never really looked that interested. He’s actually one I think will land one of the big staying handicaps in time, the ability is clearly there, but I’m not that enthusiastic about him here off the back of Haydock, and he might just need more time, though ground will suit him, and no stamina concerns.
Dounikos – Another Elliot/Giggs contender. A very highly touted Novice a year and a half back, and he went into Cheltenham last year, quietly fancied for The RSA. After shaping well though, he was eventually pulled up. What followed was a series of poor runs, before everything clicked in The National Trial at Punchestown, showing a great attitude. It would be easy to say he benefitted from a drop in the weights that day, but he hadn’t been dramatically eased, and he just looked a different animal. He’s by no means guaranteed to follow that up now, and as a result of that win, he’s now higher than he’s ever been. Nice performance that day, but easy to be cautious about him, and maybe not one of connections most obvious contenders, though jockey booking might tell us more. Not the easiest to assess.
Rathvinden – He was a smashing Novice Hurdler, before meeting a setback, and perhaps not reaching the heights he could have. Not that he hasn’t achieved plenty, with a brave win in The National Hunt Chase last year, backed up by a win in The Bobbyjo last time, which was easier for him than it looked. I don’t think he’d have been out of place in The Gold Cup, and perhaps telling that he wasn’t asked that question, with Mullins preferring to come straight here. Doesn’t know how to run a bad race, from a top yard, no ground concerns, and looks attractively weighted. Major Player. Loads to like.
One For Arthur – 2017 Winner, and an impressive one at that, holding off Cause of Causes at the end, which was no mean feat. Trainer mentioned Gold Cup for him after that, but the following season never got off the ground, after he met with a setback. The jury is out at the moment, with only two unseats to his name this time around. He didn’t look a completely spent force at Haydock, but maybe stretching it to say he’d have got near the winner. Coming here six pounds higher wouldn’t be a concern, but he’s got wellbeing to prove. If back to his best, very dangerous to write off, but a smoother prep might have been ideal, and it’s not as if there hasn’t been suitable races. Hard to weigh up, but certainly impossible to write off.
Rock The Kasbah – He’s a hard one to catch right, and for every run where it falls into place, there’s been plenty of disappointments, but on his day, more than capable of this. He’ll have the assistance of the Champion Jockey in the saddle, and that can only be a benefit, and ground shouldn’t be a concern either. He was an impressive winner at Cheltenham earlier in the season, and a repeat of that should see him make an impression. Possible question marks over the trip. His two runs in the 3 mile 5 trip of The Bet365 Gold Cup aren’t conclusive. Staying on at the finish in 2017, but finished a very tired horse last year. I tend to think he’ll be ok round here though, and although probably weighted right to his best, should give a good account. The Whateleys have had had several nice animals, and this is the first time they’ve had a horse in contention for this, so maybe worth noting. Chance.
Warriors Tale – Won round here in The Grand Sefton in December, and acquitted himself for a good part of The National last year, before the wheels came off. Better ground might see him last out better this time, but he just looks one for The Topham. There’s just the niggling thought that Nicholls might want him to line up, being his only entrant remaining, but his owner Trevor Hemmings has more realistic candidates here, and he’s hard to fancy.
Regal Encore – Something of a forgotten horse, but I thought he shaped very well at Ascot in February, suggesting he retains plenty of ability. Coped well round here two years back, and a similar run surely awaits. Has landed two decent chases at Ascot in recent times, and his third to Total Recall, and Whisper last season at Newbury, is as good a run as any of his wins. Ground should be perfect, no question marks over the trip, and although maybe not the most obvious winner, it would be no surprise should he be there at the business end, and he looks as good as ever. One of the better outsiders, and clearly kept for this.
Magic Of Light – She’s always had a bit of a promise, and she confirmed this win a win at The Punchestown Festival last spring. Her good form has continued into this campaign, and the only negative was her second to Happy Diva at Huntingdon. She can be excused that though, as the trip would be the absolute bare minimum for her. We never got a chance to see just how good she was in The Bobbyjo, when she unseated behind Rathvinden, but overall she’s shaped very well this season, and her runs in The Thyestes, and The Ultima, hint at a horse who’ll relish this trip. She’s a fair old price, and she’s of definite interest.
A Toi Phil – Highly tried in the past, and though connections have conceded that he was below Grade 1 Level, he did perform well in that sphere on more than one occasion. I reckon he’s nailed on to land a big handicap in the near future, but he does come with one obvious question mark. The trip is the real unknown for him, and you’d be hard pushed to argue that he’s been crying out for it. Slightly disappointing over fences this season, after chasing home Un De Sceaux and Douvan at Punchestown, he just didn’t seem to be showing his old zest. There was a lot more to like about his runs over timber this year, not only in a Pertemps Qualifier, but The Final itself. It might just be the case, that for a horse who looks increasingly hard to place, that that was the seasons goal, and he fared pretty well. The ability is there, but as I’ve mentioned before, something like The Galway Plate might be more within his compass. I like him a lot, but the question mark over the trip is a fairly big one.
Jury Duty – Very highly regarded in his youth, and though he’s not quite scaled the heights expected of him, he’s hardly been a flop either, with plenty of runs confirming the quality he has. He had a well documented win at Far Hills in The Grand National Hurdle, back in October, and though a trip to the states is hardly a traditional prep for Aintree, it’s hardly had an adverse affect, and there was loads to like about his win at Down Royal the other week. His run in the 4 Miler at Cheltenham last year perhaps hinted at stamina limitations, but that was on very soft going, and that day at Down Royal he looked as if the step up in trip would hardly be an inconvenience. It might have been a relatively low key affair that day, but I was very impressed, and I’m surprised that his price held. He’s on a tidy looking mark, and he looks a big player to me. Shortlist material.
Noble Endeavour – Was in the process of running a huge race in a vintage renewal of The National Hunt Chase in 2016, but for taking a spill late on, and he didn’t hang about in confirming that promise afterwards. He proved his suitability for something like this, with big runs in The Troytown, The Irish National, and The Ultima, and also by squeezing in a very impressive win in the ultra competitive Paddy Power Chase at Leapordstown. On that basis, I reckon he’s absolutely in the mix here, but there’s just a small question mark over whether he’s come back from injury the same horse. His run in The Becher didn’t raise any concerns, and it had “sighter” written all over it, but he was just a little flat for my liking in The Ultima. Possible excuses for that though, with many of the yards runners finding little at Cheltenham, suggesting that all was not well, so as far as I can see, he certainly remains in the equation. Possible then that he has to convince with his wellbeing, but for those willing to take that risk, he’s thrown in off of this mark, and he won’t be phased by this at all, so he’s got definite credentials, and at a price too.
Monbeg Notorious – Had a fair old time of it last season, mopping up a few nice races, with the highlight being his victory in The Thyestes. There was the suggestions that he was nothing more than a mudlark, but even he found the atrocious conditions in The Irish National too much, and he’s perhaps best judged on his flying finish in an action packed Growise Novice Chase at Punchestown. That was one of the best line ups for a Novice Chase I’ve seen in recent times, and he was acquitting himself well, even before the late drama. Bang there on last seasons form then, and I had him down as dark horse for The Gold Cup this season. Safe to say that was well wide of the mark, and his first two runs this season were bitterly disappointing, with him not looking interested. Signs of recovery at Naas last time in The Leinster National, but he’s got to build on that, and it remains debatable if he can make that leap. On last seasons form, he’s a crazy price, and from these connections, he is, of course, worthy of respect, but the way he shaped earlier this season, particularly at Gowran Park, remains a concern, and he comes here as a bit of a puzzle.
Ramses Des Teille – Certainly caught the eye last year, but his first run after Wind Surgety this season, in The Badger Ales, was a bit flat. Any concerns though, that the wind op hasn’t done the trick, have been quickly dispelled, with a very impressive win at Chepstow, followed by filling the runners up spot back there in The Welsh National. He met a good one that day in Elegant Escape, and it was a decent show, as was his second to Robinsfirth at Haydock. Looks to have been kept for this, and the yard having a better time of it recently, so he has to be given a real chance here.
Tea For Two – Any horse that wins a Lanzarote, a Feltham, and an Aintree Bowl is obviously a decent animal, but he’s probably best known for his brave efforts in defeat in The King George on a couple of occasions. As such he looked one of the better treated horses when the entries were revealed, and he certainly caught my eye. He might though, just be one to treat with caution. It’s two years since that win in The Bowl, and his efforts this season haven’t been anyway near as impressive. Obvious claims on back form, and he looks to have conditions to suit, and he’s also a very attractive price. You can certainly make a case for him, and you could argue that his season might just have been geared around this, but recent performances just look a bit of a concern, and I’ll reluctantly pass him over.
Step Back – Last April he was as impressive a winner of The Bet365 Gold Cup as I’ve seen, and it was a performance that hinted at perhaps a future out of handicaps. He was very impressive, and his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow had promise. Missed a few obvious targets after that though, which was a concern, while his run in The Classic Chase was a bit of a disappointment. Questions to answer then, and I’m not convinced that he’s had the soundest of preps. It could also be the case that the Sandown win is as good as we’ll see from him, but I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. He was very impressive that day, and if he is sound, then he could be very competitive. Popular in the market recently as well.
Ultragold – Needs no introduction round here, having landed the last two runnings of The Topham. Opinion is divided as to how much stamina he possesses. His run in The Becher this season strongly hinted that he would handle this trip, however Warwick was less conclusive. He has the option of a third tilt at The Topham, and the vibes are mixed as to where he might be heading. I think The Topham might just shade it for me, and from a yard who don’t seem to have The National as a top priority, I have a feeling that’s where we’ll see him.
Blow By Blow – A very highly regarded Novice Hurdler for Elliot and Gigginstown, and after a low key start, he finally got it together last year, culminating in a comfortable win in The Martin Pipe. That promised plenty, and though not the hottest race, his debut over fences at Punchestown in October, went very well, and he was a very easy winner. No concerns over his two subsequent defeats, as he acquitted himself very well. A big season looked assured, but his three runs since have been a bit of a concern. Yard are no strangers to laying them out for something, but the manner of his last three defeats, don’t really suggest that, and the manner in which he has dropped out, is something of a concern. His run in The Leinster National saw him travelling like a dream, to finding nothing very quickly, and there may just have been something amiss. He was my idea of next years National Winner, but it’s very hard to be confident of that, certainly on recent evidence. I haven’t completely given up on him, and if they’ve just been keeping him ticking him over, with this in mind, and if he’s as good as I think he is, then he is absolutely thrown in. It’s hard to be confident though of that scenario, and he just looks one to be slightly cautious of, and for all he looks a very nice price, he just looks hard to be overly confident about.
Up For Review – He’s been coming along nicely, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with his third to Invitation Only and Alpha Des Obeaux in The Thyestes, I think that’s a solid piece of form. Strong market support for him in The Ultima was telling, and it looked justified as he swept into contention at the business end, only to clout the third last. It didn’t seem to knock the stuffing out of him too much, and he was quickly back with the front pair, but I was just slightly concerned that he appeared to find little, eventually well beaten. He just looks one to forgive though, his overall profile suggests to me that he’ll come again, and as much as he really appears perfect for Fairyhouse, he looks more than worthy of his place in the line up here, and not without a chance either, as conditions should suit.
Singlefarmpayment – I had high hopes for him at the start of last season, but he hasn’t came close to achieving what I thought he would. He’s been called a few names in the past, and although he hasn’t looked 100% up for a battle, he still had the ability to get there, and it’s maybe a little harsh to slate him too much. Yes, there were occasions where he probably should have won, and it’s a fair while since he did actually win, but there’s a very good horse in there, and it’ll click one of these days. He doesn’t look the most obvious to me though, but he wouldn’t be the first horse to spring to life round here, and he does look very well treated on overall record. More of a worry to me was his lifeless run in The Ultima, where there didn’t appear to be too many excuses, and a lot may depend on how well he gets on with Paddy Brennan. I can see why he might appeal to some as a lively outsider, but not for me here.
Vieux Lion Rouge – Fourth attempt in this, and though he’s never threatened to land it, he’s never been that far away, and he’s been as safe a conveyance as you could possibly hope for. He also boasts a fine record in The Becher, having won it, and also finishing in the runner up spot. Stamina doubts look justified though, and there’s no reason to suggest he’s entitled to finish any closer than in previous renewals, especially after two very disappointing runs this season, with his run at Haydock, too bad to be true. He’s got stable form in his favour, but as likeable as he is round here, it’s easy enough to look elsewhere.
Valseur Lido – Looked like being one of Gigginstowns future stars three years ago, only for a season ending injury to put those plans on hold. Long road back for him, and although he never quite hit the heights he promised to, he’s still had his moments. Highlight for me was his run in this last year. He’d never fully convinced as a stayer, but it was a big effort on that going, and it was only before the second last that he was found out. Yes, he’s had a quiet enough campaign this time around, but as a consequence, he finds himself 12 lbs lower this time around, and with less testing conditions ahead of him, then I’ve seen worse horses at 100-1. My main concern would be that he looks even better treated for The Topham, otherwise I’d have him as my pick of the rank outsiders right now. Not asked a question in The Plate at Cheltenham, and as a result, he could go in The Topham with another 3 lbs off his back. Very risky then Antepost, but I’ve just a feeling that he’s got something left to give, and should he make it here on Saturday, he’s very much worth a look from an each way angle.
Vintage Clouds – Went in my National Notebook back in October 2017, with a win at Aintree, where he just shaped like a horse who would thrive for a step up in trip. That’s been the case, and though something of a disappointment in The Welsh National this year, he made the frame in it last year, as well as The Scottish Version, and both subsequent renewals of The Ultima at Cheltenham. That run at Cheltenham last month, finds him a few pounds well in here, and from a yard who have landed this before, it goes without saying, being owned by Trevor Hemmings, that his whole season will be geared around this. Solid Jumper, with seemingly no ground concerns, and he looks obvious shortlist material.
General Principle – Last years Irish National winner, really digging it out in a mudbath, and as such, he can easily be excused his low key start to the season. A lot more like it in The National Trial at Punchestown, and he looked primed for a big run in The Ultima, but he flopped badly, eventually pulling up. As mentioned previously though, possible, like many in the yard, that he was under the weather, and I’m willing to forgive. It’s always looked that this was the seasons target, and he did the business at Fairyhouse after a quiet enough campaign, so the similarities this time around are obvious. I think he’s better than his mark, by some way, and if he was indeed under the weather at Cheltenham, then I’d put him bang in the mix here, for all that might seem puzzling on current form.
Livelovelaugh – Smashing hurdler a couple of years back, and it was something of a surprise to see him go over the larger obstacles. He’s a horse I’ve followed closely since his hurdling days, and he’s certainly had his moments over the larger obstacles, but overall, his efforts on the big stage, just raise enough question marks. I’ve no concerns over the trip, I think it’s within his reach, I’d just be a bit more concerned with his run in The Kim Muir, where he didn’t find that much. Connections had a horse with a similar profile last year, Childrens List, who eventually ran a cracker, so not out of the question that he’s been kept for this, but as much as I’ve followed him, I just find it a bit difficult to be too enthusiastic here.
Walk In The Mill – But for his Becher Chase win, he’d be very difficult to recommend. He was a late withdrawal last year, and at the time, I couldn’t have had him on my mind. I’ve a very different view of him now. It was just the manner of his win in The Becher, he seemed to love it, and for all he doesn’t have that much other form to recommend him, I just think he’s the type to pull another big run out of the bag. I would certainly have had stamina doubts about him before The Becher, but he looked to have no concerns on that front. He’s been kept fairly quiet since, but even his spin over hurdles at Chepstow reads well, with the winner that day more than franking the form since. Obvious chance, and easy to see him making an impression.
Folsom Blue – Nearing veteran stages now, but plenty of life in the old dog yet. Never struck a blow at Chepstow, but after looking well beat at Sandown and Uttoxeter, he finished very strongly on both occasions, and one of those in the line up who wouldn’t give you the slightest stamina doubts. Big question over his running style though, and with conditions fast enough for him, he may find himself too far back. Tactics could be key then, and it’s maybe too simplistic to write him off over those runs. Yes, he probably has his own ideas, but you don’t have to go too far back for his unlucky run in The Irish National, as well his win in last years National Trial at Punchestown. More than entitled to to take his chance, and though seen as something of a mudlark, he was running a huge race in The Scottish National on Good to Soft, when brought down, so he should act on it. Easy to see things happening quickly enough for him, but still, he does look a lively outsider for top yard.
Captain Redbeard – Solid enough performer, who’s beating of Definitly Red in a match at Kelso, was very impressive. Not quite so good back there last time, though was keeping on, but on the whole, his profile remains patchy. His record round here doesn’t scream winner of this, and he just looks short of what’s required, with stamina doubts as well.
Bless The Wings – Proper veteran now, and ran the race of his life to make the frame last year. He came here with a few things in his favour last year, and for all he was a 13yo, 66-1 shot, he did look to have lots going for him. Not so easy to enthuse about this time around though, and he looks as if age has started to creep up on him. Looks high enough in the weights this time around, and the main thing in his favour would be that they’re certainly persevering with him.
Joe Farrell – Sprang a huge shock in last years Scottish National, just getting the better of Ballyoptic. He has to top that time around, but previous outing at Newbury, over a trip which is now clearly short of his best, was obviously a step in the right direction, and should he get in, no reason to see why he can’t make an impression. Drying ground certainly wouldn’t inconvenience him, and no surprise to see him shortening in the market. Not my idea of the winner, but should go well.
Just A Par – Only one run to his name in the last two years, and finishing down the field in The Becher doesn’t suggest that he’ll be good enough here, in a race where he couldn’t land a blow in two previous attempts, when at his peak. Very hard to make a case for.