The Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase is one of the last big money races of the jumps season with £122K going to the winner at Ayr (3.55pm, Saturday, live on ITV). The current titleholder Vicente is strongly fancied at 8/1 but, while course and distance form is always a big plus, he has failed to impress this season.
Vicente tipped up two out in the Hennessy when out of touch on his debut this term and again at the first fence in the Grand National. He has been beaten 30 lengths or more on the three occasions that he has managed to stay upright this season. On the positive side this eight-year-old son of Dom Alco starts off the same mark as last year and has similar ground conditions. He is also presumably the choice of Sam Twiston-Davies, Paul Nicholls’ stable jockey but there the good news ends. Vicente’s current price seems rather short as his jumping has become unreliable and he has shown nothing for a year.
His stablemate Arpege D’Alene (10/1) has more encouraging recent form, he was beaten six lengths into fourth by Tiger Roll in the four miler for amateurs at Cheltenham after being hampered at a key stage. This seven-year-old was the odds-on favourite in a Grade 2 novices’ chase at Ascot in February but was obviously feeling something as he started jumping left and was beaten six lengths.
Arpege D’Alene has worn a tongue-tie for some time and has not scored since he won a three-runner novices’ chase at Aintree in November in first time blinkers under Sean Bowen. He followed up with two good runs at Cheltenham in November and December, getting beaten about two lengths in both. Bowen seems to get on with this horse but Arpege D’Alene has been expensive to follow. He has started as the favourite four times this term and only delivered once when beating just one rival.
No horse has won this race carrying more than 11 stone 3lb since Grey Abbey shouldered topweight to victory in 2004 but Missed Approach (16/1) is worth a second look despite being similarly encumbered. Trained by Warren Greatrex, this seven-year-old was a 50/1 shot in the four miler for amateurs at Cheltenham but defied his odds by finishing second, 10 lengths ahead of Arpege Alene in first time cheekpieces. That was off level weights and he is giving Arpege D’Alene 3lb here but, if a pound equates to about a length, he ought to beat him again.
The cheekpieces were probably deployed to help Missed Approach concentrate on his jumping. He unseated Leighton Aspell at the first fence in his previous start in late February. Aspell won a three mile novices’ chase on Missed Approach at Lingfield in January, beating the useful Label Des Obeaux six lengths who has won twice since. Missed Approach also ran well on his only visit to Ayr, finishing second in a handicap hurdle a year ago. Aspell can be trusted to give this horse every chance and partners him again. Greatrex has just hit a purple patch, winning with the three horses he saddled on Saturday. Missed Approach looks to have each-way claims at least.
It would be difficult to fancy Nicholl’s third string Vivaldi Collonges (33/1) with 10 stone and he also carries topweight. This eight-year-old has pulled up in his last two runs, weakening ominously quickly in one of them. In his only other run this term, on his debut in November, he started as the favourite in a listed contest at Sandown and was beaten 60 lengths.
Vivaldi Collonges is a long term tongue-tie wearer whose talents have presumably been negated by a physical problem. He won four of his five starts last season, including his final run in a three mile contest here but, unless a miraculous wind op has been performed since his last run in March, it takes a huge leap of faith to follow him. Harry Cobden will be trying to get him home.
Neil Mulholland has a habit of doing well in valuable handicaps and relies on Southfield Royale (9/1) here. This seven-year-old son of Presenting has only run twice this season. He jumped badly and got beaten 100 lengths by Ziga Boy in a three mile handicap chase in January and tipped up in the three and a quarter mile race for amateurs at the Cheltenham Festival. Southfield Royale started at single figure odds in both runs.
At the Festival last year Southfield Royale started as the favourite in the four miler for amateurs but blundered two out and was beaten 12 lengths. Noel Fehily finished second on him in the Grade 1 Feltham in December 2015 at Kempton, two weeks after he had won a Grade 2. This horse has class as well as stamina and is rated 6lb lower than when at his peak but his price looks rather short, even with Fehily on board, considering his recent form.
Premier Bond (8/1) finished third in the same amateur race as Southfield Royale at the Festival, beaten one and a half lengths but staying on well and looking as if further would suit him. Premier Bond was well beaten by his mega-talented stablemate Might Bite on his debut in December over an inadequate distance but won his next two starts when stepped up to three miles and equipped with cheekpieces.
Unlike the other market leaders, this seven-year-old has encouraging recent form as well as the potential to handle this distance. He carries the statistically promising weight of 11 stone 3lb in the form of David Bass who has ridden him to victory three times. Premier Bond looks likely to add to Nicky Henderson’s leading prize fund in the trainers’ championship.
Henderson’s top stable jockey, Nico De Boinville partners Sugar Baron (20/1) who finished five lengths behind his more fancied stablemate last time out at Cheltenham. Sugar Baron got hampered half way and stayed on from two out after his rider got busy. In his two other runs this season Sugar Baron fell when in contention two from home on his debut at Sandown in November and was beaten 12 lengths by Fox Appeal at Ludlow in December.
De Boinville has not ridden this seven-year-old son of Presenting since his debut over larger obstacles in May last year. The partnership won a three mile novices’ chase at Wincanton, beating Nicholls’ very useful Present Man. Cheekpieces are being tried for the first time and this gelding may be better than his current rating of 134 suggests.
Further down the Scottish Grand National betting market the two veterans of the field seem up against it as no 12-year-old has succeeded since 1995 but they are not without hope of picking up place money. Portrait King (33/1) won the Eider back in 2012 finished third in it last year off his current mark. This likeable grey ran well last time out, only beaten seven lengths over the inadequate trip of the Topham at Aintree, denying O O Seven third place money. This is a pretty rapid turnaround but he should not have been too exhausted over that distance and just about gets four miles on decent ground.
Alvarado (33/1) finished second to Vicente here last year and has the distinction of finishing fourth in both the 2014 and 2015 Grand Nationals at Aintree for his well-heeled owners, the Ruckers. We can forgive him his flop last time out in the Southfield Royale et al race at Cheltenham last time. Alvarado pulled up, probably finding things happening rather too quickly for him.
Trained by the capable Fergal O’Brien (pictured), Alvarado started as the favourite in his previous run in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh in February. Unfortunately Paddy Brennan kept him too close to the pace when three of the first four home were held up. He finished a respectable sixth on ground that was too fast for him.
Brian Hughes is a much more patient horseman and rides him for the first time. Alvarado’s mark has dropped 6lb since he finished second last year and it would not be a surprise to see his big white blaze at the front of affairs when it matters.
Hughes rode Vintage Clouds (14/1) to victory over hurdles in November 2015 for Sue Smith. This seven-year-old has not won since but has finished as the runner-up a frustrating six times in his ten runs since. Smith knows how to train staying chasers and had Hughes on board when Vintage Clouds finished third in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February, 22 lengths behind Vieux Lion Rouge. In his previous run in January he fell under Danny Cook in the Peter March Chase at Haydock.
Vintage Clouds was last seen tipping up in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham under Sean Quinlan but Cook is back on board for a first tilt at four miles. A longer trip may suit Vintage Clouds but his 33% recent completion rate is a major concern.
Our Scottish Grand National Preview’s Betting Tip
This is a strange betting market as most of the market leaders have shown little to inspire confidence this season. Premier Bond is the exception with solid recent performances but 8/1 seems ungenerous when stepping up to this trip for the first time. Missed Approach is more appealing at double the price despite his huge burden as his yard’s recent form is eye-catching.
- This race has often produced surprises and, with question marks over the horses at the top of the market, our preference has to be for ALVARADO. He was second last year and, starting off a lower mark with a superb jockey on his optimum good to soft ground he has to provide superior value. Back him each-way, currently best priced at 33/1 with Paddy Power.