Let’s paint the town Rouge!
Haydock Grand National Trial Sat 18th Feb.
Vieux Lion Rouge was an impressive winner of the 3m 2f Becher Chase over the National fences when last seen and we know he jumps and stays, we know that he has a touch of class, he was sixth in that red hot 4m NH chase at Cheltenham. What we don’t know is what shape David Pipe’s Pond house string are in as the aforementioned Becher Chase is the only Graded chase the yard has won for two years and they haven’t been setting Saturdays on fire. How fit will Vieux Lion Rouge be as obviously this season is all about April 8th and the Grand National itself? As an 8yo I think he is still improving and is a well weighted solid staying chaser and I shall back him at to win at 13/2 with William Hill or BetFred. (Was 8/1 when I started writing this piece!)
When trying to look ahead to the weekend at the big handicaps one of the big secrets is trying to find a horse that is actually going to line up! This weekend for the National Trial at Haydock everybody is keeping their cards very close to their chest and all we’ve heard is that last year’s winner and Ante Post favourite, Bishops Road, will not run! So we will look at the card assuming they ALL run and the second assumption I’m going to make is that the ground will be no deeper than what it is currently, Good to soft, with no rain forecast. That cuts out the heavy, winter ground specialists.
Houblon des Obeaux will be happy with Good to Soft ground and the 10yo is in a rich vein of form for Venetia Williams without getting his head in front. So far this season he has been third in the Hennessey behind Native River and a rallying fourth behind One for Arthur in the 3m 5f Betfred Classic at Warwick. He has to go close and he is the each way selection at 12/1 general ¼ 1,2,3.
Others I seriously considered were Blaklion, Virak and Warrantor. The Twiston-Davies team are very bullish about last season’s RSA Cheltenham winner but although Blaklion has a huge heart and is a real scrapper I just think his lack of size and scope holds him back when it comes to the business end of his races. I have Virak very much on the radar and think Paul Nicholls has him coming to the boil nicely, is well handicapped and about to land a nice prize over 3m+ on Soft ground. Indeed if he runs in the 2.25 at Ascot on Saturday instead he would carry my money based on his excellent second to Wakanda in the C&D Listed Silver Cup off a mark six pounds higher (Currently 16/1 with PP). Warrantor was a selection for the Welsh National but missed the cut. He does need Heavy ground and/or an extreme trip to be seen at his very best and possibly Warren Greatrex will wait for the 4m Eider chase seven days later.
We will keep with this theme of staying chasers but the races are very contrasting in type of horse required!
4m BetFred Eider Chase, Newcastle Sat 25th Feb.
This race is all about jumping well enough to get into a rhythm and then having stamina in abundance and for the past two years I have thought this race is ideal for Shotgun Paddy. In 2015 he was sent off as 11/2 favourite, clouted an early fence and was never involved and eventually unseated. Last year he was second ridden by Davy Russell when he just couldn’t give two stones to Rocking Blues and ten pound claimer Lorcan Murtagh and now he is back as a 10yo off a mark seven pounds lower and in some form. His first run at Cheltenham when seventh to Viconte de Noyer was excellent as he only faded from the second last and he built on that when an eye-catching third to One for Arthur in Warwick’s BetFred Classic. He travelled well, got a tad outpaced but stayed on really well in the home straight. He has never been the neatest of jumpers but he has seemed to have cut out the big mistake that use to end his chance. Daryl Jacob wouldn’t be my first choice of jockey and prefer a horseman such as Russell, Noel Fehily or Leighton Aspell, who have all ridden Paddy before! Currently available at 10/1 with sponsors Betfred but plenty of 12/1 on line and Shotgun Paddy has to be a solid each way selection ¼ 1,2,3,4.
My shortlist included Knockanrawley, Wild West Wind and Warrantor. Ever since I saw Knockanrawley finish fourth to Sausalito Sunrise in the 3m chase at Cheltenham on Paddy Power day eighteen months ago I have had his name down for one of these extreme staying chases when there is a bit of cut in the ground. Couple of issues were that after Cheltenham he didn’t run again for fifteen months but made a terrific comeback in the Classic at Warwick at a time when his trainer Kim Bailey couldn’t buy a winner! Well the yard has now revisited the winner’s enclosure and although this fragile, gutsy grey may “bounce” at a general 16/1 ¼ 1,2,3,4 I am willing to have an each way tickle.
Wild West Wind represents trainer Tom George and jockey Adrian Heskin who are having a fantastic season. The horse isn’t doing too badly either having won both his starts this season and a few things of note about this progressive 8yo are that he is tall and pops fences, that he stays all day and most of the night and acts on Soft ground or worse!! Seems an ideal Eider type.
3m Betbright Chase, Kempton Sat 25th Feb.
At the Double! To crack these big Saturday handicaps you need a man with a very definite plan and here is what Tom George put on his website after Double Shuffle won over course and distance at Christmas, “DOUBLE SHUFFLE (IRE) appeared to relish the conditions and step up in trip when winning the 3m 32Red.com Handicap Chase on the same card. Adrian had him well placed throughout and he stayed on strongly to win with plenty in hand. Giving him less work at home seems to be the key with him and could explain his disappointing run in the Paddy Power at Cheltenham. He will now be aimed for the Grade 3 BetBright Handicap Chase back at Kempton on February 25th.” But does Double Shuffle have the right profile for the race? Absolutely! He ticks every box in the top nine BetBright Chase Betting Trends.
14/15 – Rated 139 or higher
13/15 – Finished in the top 5 last time out
12/15 – Had raced within the last 8 weeks
12/15 – Aged 9 or younger
12/15 – Won a class 2 chase or better before
10/15 – Carried 10-13 or more
10/15 – Had won over at least 3m (fences) before
10/15 – Returned 8/1 or shorter in the betting
10/15 – Came from the top 4 in the betting
This horse was placed at the Cheltenham Festival meeting last season, is still improving especially for the step up in trip and the red hot connections think they have found the key to him! I am really keen on this one and the only firm priced up is good old Paddy Power! Hoover up that 14/1 each way ¼ 1,2,3,4 right now. He’ll go off half those odds.