Blacklion was cut to 12/1 favourite from 16s with BetVictor for the 2018 Grand National after his facile success in the Becher Chase at Aintree on Saturday when he did look something of a handicap snip.
The handicapper Phil Smith will be framing his weights for the great race for the final time in early February and it is fair to say that last year’s National fourth will face a big rise in the weights. What was more significant perhaps was that jockey Gavin Sheehan rode the horse less prominently than was the case in the4 National and one thing we can be sure of – Blaklion will not be making his bid for glory early next spring.
At Sandown Sceau Royal was cut to 10/1 from 25s for the Arkle with BetVictor after his Henry VIII success and Politilogue (7 from 14s) entered the Champion Chase picture after winning the Tingle Creek.
We have lost Musselburgh this afternoon through frost but no problems forecast at Fontwell where the card starts with a juvenile hurdle over two-and-a-quarter miles. Gary Moore saddled the winner of this corresponding race two years ago courtesy of Darebin and his French import Aiguille Rouge (12.45) is taken to leave her Fakenham debut third behind.
The selection is a half-sister to last season’s temperamental Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Labaik and connections have found a race that is unlikely to take much winning.
The 3m 2f Novices’ Handicap chase will be a real war of attrition and Goosen Maverick is likely to be all the rage after his Warwick win from a 10lbs lower mark. He must go close but I am going to take a chance on the mare Staunton (1.15) who is making her chase debut on her first start for Tim Vaughan. The selection is the sister of a winning staying chaser, however, and the hope is that she can find a bit of improvement for the switch to fences and the change of stable.
The highlight is the three-and-a-quarter mile handicap chase and Ramses De Teillee did us a favour at Chepstow last time and is difficult to oppose but a 15lb rise looks harsh and he is reluctantly overlooked on this occasion.
Mendip Express finished second in the 2014 Becher Chase and was last seen when occupying the same spot in the Punchestown Champion Foxhunter Chase – he must have every chance but the vote goes to Fergal Mael Duin (2.15) who will be ridden by Harry Cobden for the first time this afternoon. If the selection can jump with a bit more fluency than he did on his reappearance then he must run well with conditions ideal.
Our Merlin (2.45) carries a 7lbs penalty for his win at Plumpton seven days ago but if he copes with the forecast softer ground then he must go close with Harry Cobden keeping the ride. Gary Moore’s Argyle finished second at Lingfield on his reappearance and he can race from the same mark this afternoon. If the visor works a second time he can give the give the likely market leader plenty to think about.
Stoical Patient has won his last three for Gary Moore including two this term, but the trainer fits his hat-trick seeking chaser with blinkers rather than a visor for the first time and he is overlooked on ground softer than ideal. Le Coeur Net (3.15) made mistakes on his chase debut and often flattered to deceive over timber, but he is only a 5-year-old and open to considerable improvement.
There is an inspection planned for the all-weather card at Southwell at 8am and if the card gets the green light look out for On The Warpath (1.30) who looked a natural on this surface when scoring over C&D last month.