Threeunderthufive will be aimed at either the Coral Scottish Grand National or bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown having been scratched from the Randox Grand National.
Although a four-time winner over the larger obstacles as a novice – including twice in Grade Two company – things have not gone as smoothly for Paul Nicholls’ charge when tackling some hot handicaps this term, unseating at the first in the Coral Gold Cup before struggling to make his presence felt in both Warwick’s Classic Chase and most recently the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival.
Those performances have only underlined the belief of connections that a tilt at the Merseyside marathon may come a year too soon for the eight-year-old and he will skip Aintree to continue his big-field education either at Ayr on April 22 or a week later at Sandown on the final day of the season.
“It was always the case we thought the National might come a season too early for him, but if he was to run well in the Ultima his mark would have gone up and he would have been well-in for a National,” explained Iain Turner, racing manager for owners the McNeill family.
“So when he didn’t (run well) and he was subsequently dropped 3lb there was no need keeping him in a Grand National.
“He will probably go for the Scottish Grand National or to Sandown for the bet365 Gold Cup.”
Reflecting on Threeunderthrufive’s eighth-placed finish in the Ultima, Turner believes the performance has been reflective of his season as a whole, with the gelding having to adapt from racing in small-field novice chases to the hurly-burly of some of the calendar’s most fiercely-competitive handicaps.
He continued: “I think for some of these novices coming out of novice chases, if you’re not going to be one of the graded ones it becomes a big leap to run in these significant double-figure field races.
“In novice chases Threeunderthrufive was able to get an easy lead with novices not wanting to go on, while in the Ultima you line him up with the intention of sitting in the first three or four and he’s taken completely off his feet. It was probably a credit to himself he’s managed to hang on and finish eighth.
“While it was disappointing and we hoped he would be competitive, I think the experience he’s had will help him be a better horse next year when he’s actually used to running in these bigger-field races and he can carry that experience with him.
“If we go to Scotland it won’t be any easier for him, but if anything, he’s going to be 3lb lower and he’s going to be learning and getting some more big-field experience.”