The big race on the Flat this weekend is the Racing Post Trophy, with Aidan O’Brien’s Yucatan a short-priced favourite to take the valuable pot.
But just as day turns to night, so Flat turns to Jumps. And I’ve decided to focus on the first prestigious jumps event of the season for this weekend’s tip. Not only is it a wonderfully competitive renewal of Aintree’s Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase, but should I get it completely wrong, I can quite easily roll out a plethora of excuses; ‘he needed the run’; ‘the trainer’s not firing yet’; ‘he’s clearly improved dramatically for the summer break’, and so on and so forth.
The two-and-a-half-mile handicap came into being in 2004. Monet’s name was added to the title in October 2011, in recognition of his terrific record in the race. The wonderfully brave grey, won three times from 2007 to 2010. Attacking from the off, he seemed able to hit a perfect rhythm at Aintree, jumping his opponents into submission.
Last year’s renewal went the way of Ditcheat, with the Paul Nicholls’ trained Sound Investment beating the veteran, and former winner Wishfull Thinking.
There’s little in the way of trends to help reduce the list of potential winners. The oldest winner of the race was 12, and the youngest six, with everything in between taking a turn. Those at the top of the weights have tasted success, including the great Kauto Star. Whilst those toward the bottom have also found themselves in the winners’ enclosure.
There is a hint of a trend, in that those landing the prestigious prize do tend to be fancied, with Wishfull Thinking and Farmer Jack, at 14s, being the longest odds winners. Seven of the 12 victors were from the top three in the betting, and that would therefore seem a sensible place to start our search for the winner of Sunday’s showpiece.
God’s Own heads the market off the back of terrific performances at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown last Spring. He was an impressive winner of the Melling Chase in April over course and distance, with Vibrato Valtat well beaten in fifth. Though he does shift right over his fences, he clearly enjoys Aintree on a sounder surface. Ground is undoubtedly key to his chances, and should the rain stay away, which forecasts suggest it will, he looks sure to go close.
Vibrato Valtat failed to spark in the Melling, but is likely to be challenging for favouritism on Sunday. His CV points to him needing rain to perform at his best, as he appears a little one-paced on quicker ground. He wasn’t quite good enough to compete at the highest level over two miles, and this step-up in trip ought to be in his favour. He does get almost half a stone from God’s Own, but nevertheless, I feel he’ll need rain if he is to have a chance of success.
Dan Skelton has had a frustrating few days of late, with his last 20 runners yielding eight second-place finishes and just two winners. Annoying as that must be, it shows that the yard is still firing on all cylinders, and I’d expect Three Musketeers to be ‘match fit’ for his return to action. I’m just not sure he’ll be quick enough for this.
The trainer has always held him in the highest regard, and the six-year-old was last seen finishing a respectable fourth in the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival. He stayed on strongly up the famous hill having looked outpaced at times. Several major rivals failed to complete that day, and his finishing position may have therefore flattered the son of Flemensfirth. Though he receives plenty of weight from several fancied challengers, he may just struggle to land a blow, in what should be a fiercely run affair. He needs further for me.
Smad Place is sure to get a forceful ride at a trip that looks short of his optimum. His front-running demolition job in last year’s Hennessy Gold Cup, was a sight to behold, and should he get into a nice rhythm here, he could take some pegging back. I’m expecting a bold run from this exciting grey.
Another that can’t be ruled out, is the Philip Hobbs trained Royal Regatta. He can prove a little unpredictable at times, and like God’s Own is arguably slightly better going right-handed. Nevertheless, he’s a talented fella and deceptively quick. I’d anticipate him getting a positive ride from Richard Johnson, and should he manage a clear round, he could go very close indeed. Hobbs has won this race twice in the past.
It looks a cracking renewal, and I’m siding with God’s Own and Royal Regatta. I’ll have a few pennies on both, then sit back and probably witness Smad Place jumping the field to sleep. Best of luck to those having a punt.