Scottish Grand National - Ayr 3.25
Ayr 3.35: Scottish Grand National: DINGO DOLLAR (10/1) / CLOTH CAP (14/1) / COGRY (25/1) – 1pt e/w
William Hill, Paddy Power, Skybet, Ladbrokes, Coral all paying 6 places. Others pay 5 places.
Just 7 days on from The Grand National at Aintree, it is the turn of the Scottish version to take centre stage this Saturday. Unlike last week, however, there does not appear to be one stand-out contender and this is reflected in a wide open betting market.
Run over 4 miles, although still a real test of stamina, this contest does offer a different set of challenges to those faced by the horses last week. Obviously, this is a more conventional race run over conventional park fences and, as seems set to be the case this year again, is often run on good ground. They often go a decent early pace, on the better ground, and it’s important to get in a good jumping rhythm and it often pays to race fairly prominently.
There are currently 28 set to go to post and at the top of the weights is BEWARE THE BEAR who represents Nicky Henderson. He is one of 5 horses in here who are returning from last year’s renewal and he found it all a bit of a struggle 12 months ago when being pulled-up. He was given a wind operation in the summer and, with the aid of blinkers also, has returned this season in very good form, culminating in an excellent win in The Ultima at Cheltenham. He went up 9lbs for that win which means he faces a tough task here. His stamina should not be an issue but it will take a huge effort to win here off this mark for a trainer who is not renowned for winning Nationals of any variety.
One place behind Beware The Bear at Cheltenham was VINTAGE CLOUDS. He was a tip for this service last week for The Grand National but, unfortunately, failed to get further than the first fence when over-jumping a little and coming down. In much the same way that the recently-retired Vicente did for this owner, in 2017, he bids to give swift compensation for that early mis-hap and connections will be hoping that the fall will prove a blessing in disguise. He is back up 5lbs, however, which makes life a little tougher off a career-high mark but he does give the impression he has one of these big staying handicaps in him. He was 3rd in the contest last year, off 8lbs lower, and, if standing up this time, has a good chance of making the frame once more. He has to be on the shortlist.
In the same ownership as Vintage Clouds is CLOTH CAP who runs just his 4th race over fences here and only his 12th under rules as a whole. Novices do have a decent record in this event so his lack of experience should not, necessarily, count against him. He is on a hat-trick, following a win at Catterick last time out back in November. The form of the race is working out quite well with the 3rd horse winning twice since, the fourth horse also winning and the horse who came seventh also winning on two occasions since. That win was over 3miles 1 furlong but he does look like this step up in trip should be well within his compass. Whilst he has little experience of big fields over fences he did win a 15 runner handicap over hurdles and the sound surface should suit him. His trainer has a decent record in these big handicaps with novices and this race looks to have been a long-term plan. His mark of 134 looks a fair one and he gets in here off a nice low-weight.
I expect the early running to be cut out by KINGSWELL THEATRE, who led the field for a long way in The Cross-Country at Cheltenham, but one who is sure to be prominent also is COGRY. He appears in this race for the 4th time in his career having fallen in 2015, when going well, and been pulled-up last year with an excellent runner-up spot sandwiched in between, behind Vicente, in 2017. This horse has not always been the best of jumpers and his form is rather patchy. However, it is significant that whenever Sam Twiston-Davies has taken the ride he has never fallen and he has an excellent record when in partnership with him. Sam has ridden the horse on 13 occasions, winning 6 and finishing 2nd three times. He is now 8lbs higher than in 2017 and has not been seen on the track since January, when he ran down the field in The Classic Chase at Warwick, but he won off this mark at Cheltenham in December and has won twice on seasonal reappearance in the past so neither factor should mean he has no chance here. His trainer knows how to win these big staying chases and he will have used the break to get his charge nicely tuned-up for this.
The Classic Chase was won by IMPULSIVE STAR, who is one of three runners in here for Neil Mulholland. He certainly looked as if stamina was his strong suit that day but has been found wanting on both occasions he tackled the 4-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.
Back in 3rd in The Classic Chase was CROSSPARK and he followed that up with a fine win over 4 miles in The Eider Chase in February when he got the better of MYSTEREE and MORNEY WING who both re-oppose here. He seems to enjoy this better ground and has been in good form for much of this season but he has gone up 7lbs for that win and it will take a career-best for him to triumph here and he is 1lb worse off with Impulsive Star than at Warwick. That said, he still only carries 10st 8lbs and he gets on well with Harry Skelton who has won 4 times when riding him from 9 rides.
The big gamble this week has been on the Irish raider CROSSHUE BOY. This one looks to have been laid for this ever since his triumph in the Novice contest on this card last year. Other than a run in The Becher Chase, on ground that would not have suited, he has been campaigned over hurdles so far this term and the ground looks to have come in his favour. He is, however, unproven beyond 3 miles and The Becher Chase was his only attempt over more than that distance.
In behind Crosshue Boy in last year’s race was DINGO DOLLAR in 2nd and ACDC in 3rd. The former represents Alan King, who won this race in 2013 with Godsmejudge, and, although now training down in Witshire, he likes nothing more than winning at this Scottish track.
He is now 7lbs better off for a 1 length defeat in that novice chase and he also had excuses that day as he lost a shoe and finished lame.
He’s finished placed twice over 3miles 2 furlongs this season with the first of those runs, in The Ladbroke Trophy, the pick of his runs. He jumped boldly that day and finished ahead of Beware The Bear, who was 4th, and is now 13lbs better off with that rival. He came 2nd in The Grimthorpe Chase, at Doncaster, behind CHIDSWELL, but he is also 8lbs better off with that rival now. He is only a 7 year-old but is, generally, a sound jumper and has a decent amount of big race experience already.
Another 7 year-old who could have more to come is CHIC NAME. He was a very game winner at Newbury last month, getting the better of last year’s Scottish National hero Joe Farrell, and he won The Highland National at Perth last April so clearly thrives at this time of the year.
There are 2 Scottish-trained horses in this year’s race and both have chances in this wide open renewal. BIG RIVER was a big eye-catcher when a fast-finishing 4th behind Beware The Bear and Vintage Clouds at Cheltenham. He shaped like a dour stayer that day but didn’t jump with any real fluency and that has been an issue in the past. He runs off the same mark here and, if jumping well, is more than capable of playing a part here. My main concern for him, other than his jumping, would be the ground.
The second Scottish-trained horse is GERONIMO who is a dual course winner. The latest of those came in January, over 3miles 3furlongs, after which he was put away for this. He has gone up 10lbs for that win and runs from 2lbs out of the handicap so is 12lbs higher for that win here.
There are a total of 9 horses running from out of the handicap here and that is not unusual in this race. Indeed, a good number have actually won the race in the last few decades so it’s not something that should be seen as a big negative.
Another of those wrong at the weights is DOING FINE. Another runner for Neil Mulholland, this 11 year-old finished 4th in this race last season, running off a mark 1lb higher than he does here, when he produced a typical staying-on performance from off the pace. He is a horse that has always wanted a trip and, also, needs a sound surface. His run last year came on the back of a 4 month break and he has been off the track for a similar period this year. The main difference this time is that he has been given a wind operation whilst off and, if that helps him, he could be a live contender for a place once more. The only worry is that he can get a bit too far back but, if Sean Bowen has him in striking distance as they round the turn for home, he should stay on up the straight better than most. If anybody wanted a 4th dart to throw at the race, with the enhanced place terms, he is one of the better options to make the top 6.