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One of the closing acts of the National Hunt season is the Scottish Grand National, run at Ayr over four miles and half a furlong. It’s been quite a strong trends race in the past and, with no discretionary handicapping or amendments to the jumping test, we can attack the puzzle from a historical perspective unimpeded.
Last time out: All of the last eighteen winners stretching back to Moorcroft Boy in 1996 had finished in the first six on their last start. And all bar one winner since 1997 had run in the last sixty days.
Age: Horses aged seven to eleven have won the Scottish National since 1996. No 13 year old has won since the race was transferred to Ayr racecourse in 1966. Tidal Bay attempts to defy that stat.
Weight: Only one horse since 2000 has carried more than 11-03 to victory. Due to Tidal Bay’s 19 pound ratings advantage, unless he wins, that statistic will be upheld for another year, as all other runners carry 10-07 or less.
Ratings: No horse has won from a rating higher than 150 since Run For Free in 1993. At the other end of the handicap, only two horses have been rated lower than 132 in the last twenty years.
Aintree runners: Since 1997, fourteen horses have attempted to win this after running in the Grand National at Aintree a week previously. Just two have placed, with none better than third.
Run style: Six of the last seven winners raced no worse than midfield. It’s a race in which plenty of trouble happens between start and finish, so front rank is often an advantage.
Distance: All bar one winner since 1997 had won over at least three miles previously.
A big field of thirty are scheduled to go to post, and they’re headed by Tidal Bay, the thirteen-year-old trendsbuster-in-waiting. He’s too old, he’s got too much weight, he ran in the National last week, and he’s rated too high, according to historical profiles. And yet he’s impossible to completely discount.
Still, whilst it would be a fantastic swansong for the old goat, he’s not going to be on my ticket, though I really hope he runs a blinder, perhaps finishing best of all to be second: that would be a fitting finale for him.
They bet 10/1 the field here, and the weak favourite is the novice, Green Flag. This one was a good fourth in the Festival Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, and while stamina is taken on trust, he was staying on last time and tends to race relatively prominently. In other words, he’s a solid enough choice.
Sam Winner, Paul Nicholls’ other runner, will like the ground, races front rank and may stay this far. He’s rated right up to his best hurdle form however, and despite being a novice, may not have that much scope to progress.
One who should stay and does have scope to be better than his current mark is Mendip Express. Harry Fry’s ex-pointer ran poorly last time when perhaps not enjoying the heavy ground at Newbury. Back on a sound surface, a clear round will see him in the mix. The one reservation is that he does tend to race in rear, and Noel Fehily will need luck and skill to navigate a path to victory through stoppers and stumblers galore.
On 14/1 is Trustan Times, who finished just behind Pineau De Re in Fingal Bay’s Pertemps Final at Cheltenham. He’s never won beyond two and a half miles over fences, and only once won at three miles over hurdles so, while I very much respect Tim Easterby’s ability to ‘ready one’, I can’t see this chap prevailing. He’s another late runner too, and he’s six pounds ‘wrong’ in the handicap.
Yes Tom is a last time out winner who races off ten stone on his ‘proper’ mark (i.e. he’s in the handicap proper), and he’s won round here twice in the past. Jockey Paul Carberry is known for his exaggerated waiting tactics, and it will be another cool ride if he’s able to bob and weave a route to the winners’ enclosure. He might just want a drop more rain too.
I quite like the look of Roalco De Farges, despite him being five pounds out of the handicap. His trainer Philip Hobbs has never won the Scottish National, but seven of his eighteen runners have made the frame, and this chap could give him a first gold medal. He’s owned by The Brushmakers, the same syndicate which owns Cheltenham Cross Country winner and Grand National second, Balthazar King, and they’d have a case for luckiest owners of the spring is Roalco was to win.
He stays, he jumps well, he’ll love the ground, Richard Johnson rides… but he too needs luck in running as he’ll be making a late dash for the cash.
Last year’s winner Godsmejudge has pulled up on his last two starts. But you can put a line through those efforts as the stable was under a huge cloud with a virus for much of the winter, and trainer Alan King has been making bullish noises about his wellbeing. Moreover, the stable in general is in flying form, with eight of their last ten runners in the first four.
He’ll race close to the lead, is only six pounds higher than last year as a consequence of those two P’s in his recent form pod, and conditions are clearly fine. Merigo showed with wins in 2010 and 2012 that it’s possible to repeat in this race, and he has a better chance than the letters against his name imply.
Midnight Appeal also runs for the King yard, but he looks high enough in the weights and is a hold up horse, two knocks which encourage me to look elsewhere. It is interesting that stable jockey, Choc Thornton, rides this one and Aidan Coleman rides Godsmejudge, but that may just be because of Coleman’s connection with Favourites Racing, who own last year’s winner.
Of the rest, I don’t think either of Nicky Henderson’s pair – Roberto Goldback and Hadrian’s Approach – jump well enough to win this. Roberto is twelve now, and he’s a plodder on; while Hadrian’s is a horse I like, and he’d be a ready pick of the pair. Barry Geraghty rides and if he gets into a decent rhythm, he could make the frame, but the jumping frailty is enough to put me off.
Alpha Victor comes from the small stable of William Kinsey, and ran second in the Midlands Grand National over a quarter mile further than this (!), so he has stamina in abundance. He normally likes to be prominent, and Dougie Costello takes over from Peter Buchanan (rides Green Flag).
One of interest down the lists is Lie Forrit, a confirmed front runner who has had his mark protected by a season largely spent hurdling. He won last time in that discipline, and is now rated 145 in that sphere, ten pounds higher than his chase mark. He’s five pounds lower than his last winning chase mark too, so is well weighted, stays well, jumps well, and has a touch of class too.
With jockey Craig Nichol taking five pounds off his back, he looks very well in. His record on good to soft is 211, and at Ayr it’s 02112. He goes well in big fields and, to be honest, I’m struggling to find anything wrong in his profile. He looks an excellent bet at 25/1 with Betbright (five places, money back if second).
Obviously, it’s a very hard race. 10/1 the field and thirty runners tell you that. But there are a couple with rock solid profiles that ought to give us something to cheer at least until late in the day. Chief among them is Lie Forrit, who looks plotted up for this. He’s very well in at the weights, will be in the front rank from the start, and has course, going and class form. 25/1 is massive.
Green Flag is a worthy favourite and should also race fairly forward, hopefully missing the worst of any trouble. If he stays, he has class and scope to improve as a six race novice. Mendip Express is another novice, and he’ll be delivered later than the first pair, but has lots of room to demonstrate more ability than is currently in the book.
He’s had just four chase starts – the same as Beshabar had when he denied Merigo a hat-trick in the race – and the trainer is a preternatural talent.
Finally, last year’s winner Godsmejudge will be better than he’s been all winter, and he’s not weighted out of it on last year’s form.
Scottish Grand National Each Way Selection: Lie Forrit 25/1 Betbright (FIVE places, money back if second, £20 risk free bet for new customers)
Scottish Grand National Alternatives: Godsmejudge, Green Flag, Mendip Express