The 2019 Cheltenham Festival has been confined to the history books and we turn our attention to the start of the Grand National season with the Aintree, Scottish and Irish Nationals looming on the horizon.
The Midlands Grand National from Uttoxeter is the big betting race today and the ground looks sure to be extremely testing with the forecast suggesting more rain – and strong winds – in Staffordshire on top of soft/heavy ground. Having backed Ms Parfois (3.35) for the Grand National in three weeks’ time I wonder whether connections are having second thoughts about Aintree.
The selection finished runner up to Rathvinden in the NH Chase at Cheltenham 12 months ago and a combination of a lack of soft ground and the form of the Anthony Honeyball yard have prevented her from running since finishing sixth in the Ladbrokes Trophy at the beginning of December. She is 6/1 favourite at BetVictor who are paying 5 places on the race and I would be disappointed if she didn’t go close. Irish raider Folsom Blue will love the ground but Arthurs Gift (10/1 with BetVictor) is the one I am most worried about.
Scotchtown (2.25) is progressing over fences but he can still race from a mark 9lb lower than his hurdles rating. The Nigel Twiston-Davies novice remains a maiden over the larger obstacles, but he has improved since being fitted with a visor and gets a narrow vote from Captain Cattistock.
I hope it is a big day for Honeyball as I feel Acey Milan (3.00) might be very well handicapped off his opening mark of 127 in the 2m 3f Handicap Hurdle for which BetVictor are betting five places. The selection was the best British Bumper performer last season and looked ready for this trip when scoring at Plumpton last time over the minimum of two miles. Coeur Blimey will love the ground and goes well fresh – he is a big danger.
Cuddles McGraw (4.45) was pulled out of a race at Leicester on account of the good to firm ground recently, but no such concerns this afternoon. I was impressed with the selection’s previous win at Warwick and he can follow up although an 8lbs rise is hardly negligible.
Over at Kempton and Alan King’s Timoteo (2.05) must carry a 7lbs penalty for winning at Stratford on Monday but he will surely be raised by more than that figure when he is reassessed by the handicapper on Tuesday.
Ferrobin will be a warm order in the opening Novices’ Hurdle and would be giving away plenty more weight to Harambe (1.30) if this were a handicap, but the latter is better than he showed at Newbury last time and is given another chance to show his third in the Aintree Bumper last April was no fluke.
It has been a great week for owner JP McManus and a market move for Onefortheroadtom would be worth noting in the valuable two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase, but marginal preference is for Brother Tedd (3.15) who made a satisfactory belated reappearance when second at Ludlow last month and has been dropped 1lb by the handicapper.
There is a terrific extended mile handicap at Wolverhampton this evening and Salute The Soldier (currently 20/1 at BetVictor for the Lincoln in a fortnight’s time) is a progressive gelding for Clive Cox. He is well drawn this evening and must go close but Mythical Madness (6.15) lost all chance at the start last time and looks fairly treated on his best form. If he gets out on terms for 7lbs apprentice Cieren Fallon he must go close in a competitive heat.