Thommo previews and provides his best bet for the showpiece, as well as every other race on the Ayr card. He also has three tips from Newbury on a packed day's racing.
VINTAGE CLOUDS came down at the first fence at Aintree last Saturday but Sue Smith sends him into battle for a third time in the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
The Trevor Hemmings-owned gelding ran seventh to Vicente here in 2017 and led for a long way last year before fading into third behind Joe Farrell. His ability to handle the drying ground will stand him in good stead if his jumping holds up. It wouldn’t surprise me to see some of the soft-ground horses pulled out as there has been no rain all week at Ayr.
Beware The Bear beat Vintage Clouds in an exciting finish at Cheltenham last month, but that came on soft, and he is vulnerable under top weight having been pulled up under similar conditions last year.
Dingo Dollar ran second to Crosshue Boy in a novices’ chase here 12 months ago and is better off at the weights. Alan King’s gelding may well go off favourite.
Blue Flight would become only the second six-year-old to win the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. Earth Summit wrote his name in the history books in 1994, coincidentally trained by Blue Flight’s handler Nigel Twiston-Davies, and Scottish-owned Blue Flight has enjoyed a terrific season. He is hardly thrown in at the weights, however, having shot up a stone for beating Black Corton over 3m 2f at Kelso and is probably playing for a place.
Lucinda Russell’s Big River ran on strongly into fourth at Cheltenham but his best form is in the mud. At bigger odds, last year’s fourth Doing Fine has enjoyed a similar preparation and could again hit the frame.
VERDANA BLUE relishes decent ground and can defy top weight in the CPMS Scottish Champion Hurdle. It is something of a surprise to see Nicky Henderson employing a 7lb conditional rider but a repeat of Verdana Blue’s victory over Buveur D’air and last weekend’s Aintree winner If The Cap Fits in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton would make him competitive.
Henderson’s stable jockey Nico de Boinville gets the leg up on stablemate Mister Fisher, eighth to Klassical Dream in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and the five-year-old makes his handicap debut in hot company. The market should provide a clue as to stable expectations.
Dan and Harry Skelton had their horses in rampant form at Aintree last week and their hot streak continued with a double at Ayr yesterday. Both winners were heavily backed and bookmakers are taking no chances with all their fancied runners marked up fairly short. Skelton’s Nube Negra, a running-on third to Zanza at Newbury last month, was installed 7-2 favourite for the Scottish Champion Hurdle last night.
Azzuri could well get them off to a flying start in the opening handicap chase as he has had a wind operation since his last outing. Azzuri was also priced up 7-2 favourite last night, despite having to make up 23 lengths on his Wincanton conqueror Magic Saint. SAINT LEO could be the joker in the pack for owner Ray Green, who has enjoyed tremendous success at this fixture in the past.
His ex-French chaser, a winner on good ground at Auteuil, was still going well enough when falling four out in the race won by Charmant last month. He was noted staying on steadily into sixth behind Winston C over hurdles at Kelso and seems to have primed for this race.
DANDY DAN has been lumbered with top weight having racked up a hat-trick at Kelso, Bangor and Ayr but Kim Bailey’s gelding should still go close in the Novices’ Champions Handicap Chase. Cheek-pieces are applied for the first time. Skelton saddles the fancied Molly The Dolly but Cheltenham runner-up Kilfilum Cross could be more dangerous in a wide-open event.
SECRET INVESTOR thumped Jenkins at Wincanton and is fancied to land the 2m 4f Future Champion Novices’ Chase. He chased home useful Ok Corral over three miles at Warwick, so stamina is not an issue. Alan King’s Ballywood is rated 2lb superior by the official handicapper and this is another tight affair.
CARTWRIGHT is a fairly confident selection in the 2m 5f handicap hurdle. Bookmakers will be quaking in their boots if the Aintree Grand National combo of Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell fancy their top weight following an unlucky-in-running sixth to Early Doors in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham. The son of Derby winner High Chaparral will enjoy this better ground.
COURT DREAMING has the assistance of up-and-coming Danny McMenamin in the ‘Hands & Heels’ Finale Handicap Hurdle. Nicky Richards has kept Court Dreaming wrapped in cotton wool since he won with a bit in hand at Kelso on good ground in November.
DEFOE spearheads some high-class Flat action at Newbury and is fancied to make it back-to-back wins in this Group 3 contest. Roger Varian’s gelding handles a bit of cut underfoot and came clear of Danehill Kodiac 12 months ago. Young Rascal’s only defeat last season came in the Investec Derby at Epsom and is clearly a dangerous opponent.
BOITRON won his first three races for Richard Hannon, including a course and distance verdict over Dutch Treat in August, conceding 5lb to the runner-up. He ended the season with a respectable fourth in a Group 1 at Longchamp and that sets a fairly high standard in the Greenham Stakes.
RIPP ORF has a great record on straight courses and shaped well in fifth behind favourite Auxerre in the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster. David Elsworth’s five-year-old loves these big-field cavalry charges and with 27 runners declared, shop around for the best each-way terms.