Harry Fry has pencilled in the bet365 Gold Cup as an end-of-season target for recent Uttoxeter winner Ask Me Early, as long as the ground is suitable.
The seven-year-old bounced back from a disappointing effort at Sandown to run out a cosy two-and-a-quarter-length winner on Midlands National day, and his trainer is now eyeing a return to Esher on the last day of the campaign.
He said: “He is in the Scottish National, but it is unlikely he will run there – and the preference at this stage would be the bet365 Gold Cup.
“His plans very much depend on the ground conditions, because his form has all been on slower ground, but we thought at this stage to give him this option.
“He was never comfortable from the word go on his previous start at Sandown, but Sean Bowen said he wasn’t happy going to post – and you could see early on he wasn’t travelling like he usually does.
“He has come out of the Uttoxeter race in really good order. This would be a good race to go for, because we have some good targets in mind as a second season chaser next season. We always thought he was a chaser and out-and-out, three-mile-plus stayer.
“Up until his Sandown run I was training him for the Midlands National. On the back of Sandown we decided not to aim quite that high, but the novice handicap chase on the same card was a nice stepping stone – and he came through that well.
“I think he is a proper National horse next season, certainly a Welsh National type and potentially one for the Grand National.”
Ask Me Early is one of 66 entries for the three-mile-five-furlong feature – with other notable contenders at this stage including the Randox Grand National favourite Cloth Cap, multiple Grade One winner Bristol De Mai, Cheltenham Festival winner Vintage Clouds and Kitty’s Light, who heads the ante-post market with the sponsor at odds of 10-1.
The David Pipe-trained Ramses De Teillee finished down the field in the Midlands National, where his trainer felt he perhaps did not see out the four-and-a-quarter-mile trip, but his participation would also depend on conditions at Sandown.
Pipe said: “Ramses is only nine, but it feels like he has been around for a long time. He would need softer ground to run. I would say he would be OK if it was good to soft.
“He ran well in the Midlands National, where he probably didn’t quite get the trip. But he has come out well, and I was happy to put the entry in the bet365 Gold Cup.
“We will just have to see what the weather is like now. We always thought it would be a tough season. He won well at Cheltenham (in November), though, and ran well in defeat in France (first time out). He disappointed in the Welsh National – but since then he has run well at Haydock and the Midlands National.
“A horse like him is in the grip of the handicapper at the moment, but he has come down 2lb for his latest run. With his rating, it makes life a bit harder for him, but he always runs his heart out every time.”
Bet365 has backed the National Hunt finale since 2008, and announced an extension of its sponsorship for a further three years on Wednesday.
The firm also sponsors Sandown’s Classic Trial Day, which is staged 24 hours before the top-class jumps card on April 23.