National Trial: Runner-by-runner
The Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase features at Haydock on Saturday and we've got a horse-by-horse guide to the field.
Vintage Clouds (right): Looks on a dangerous mark for Haydock contest
Trainer in typically bullish mood following publication of Grand National weights and certainly not hard to see him emerging as a potential market leader for Aintree providing all goes well here. Was one of the leading novices last term, winning the RSA Chase at the Festival and, although his finishing efforts so far this term have lacked a bit of their usual tenacity, he looks to have been crying out for this kind of stamina test. Not the biggest frame to carry such a demanding weight, however.
Had an amazing time of things last season, winning three Listed handicaps on the spin over staying trips. Ended the campaign quite tamely and also struggled a bit earlier on this year but clear signs of a revival when second to Definitly Red at Wetherby on Boxing day and holds a good chance off a 1lb lower mark than when last successful. Also won on his only previous visit to this track which looks a major positive.
Houblon Des Obeaux
Owes connections nothing at all considering his overall profile and showed there's still plenty of fire in his belly this season with solid efforts in the Welsh National and the Classic Chase at Warwick last month. The handicapper has eased off slightly, giving him his lowest mark for four years, and every chance he can play a role in the finish.
Trainer has been working back from Aintree all season after he showed tremendous stamina reserves to land the Scottish National at Ayr last spring. Official mark only 1lb higher than that day so leading claims from handicapping perspective and recent evidence suggests he could be ready to come to the boil once again. Lack of course experience and preference for decent ground the only possible negatives.
Vieux Lion Rouge
Hasn't looked the strongest of stayers earlier in his career but ran a fine race when seventh at Aintree last April and returned to the National fences with a hard-fought victory in the Becher Chase when last seen in December. Won a handicap chase by four lengths on his previous visit to this course and although higher in the weights now he's evidently a far more mature animal in general. Could realistically have a bit more improvement in him and certainly not ruled out.
Won well over hurdles here earlier in the season when the ground was extremely testing and a thorough examination of his stamina won't cause many problems. Returned to chasing with a highly creditable second behind Our Kaempfer last month though he probably doesn't have an awful lot in hand from his current handicap mark. A place might be the best he can hope for as a result.
Gas Line Boy
Fourth in this race two years ago and pulled-up last year. Has looked as good as ever so far during the current campaign, rewarded for his consistency with a wide-margin win at Kelso in December. Slightly worrying that his five wins under Rules so far have always come before the turn of the year, but a bit harsh to read too much into that and he's entitled to be in the mix here following decent effort in veterans' final at Sandown last time.
Unseated rider after being lined up for the Kim Muir at last year's Cheltenham Festival but very much on song back there on New Year's Day, going down by the narrowest of margins to Tour Des Champs. Never able to get into any sort of rhythm and pulled-up when competing from career-high mark in Warwick's Classic Chase last time but suspicion he remains very capable in this sort of company when everything clicks into place.
Tour Des Champs
Victory at 50/1 at Cheltenham on New Year's Day provided one of the stories of the jumps season considering his youthful trainer was only in the first few weeks of holding a licence, but hard not to think he's been quite harshly treated following an 8lb hike for that short-head success. Shouldn't be much between he and Doctor Harper again provided they both run up to form but he looks to have plenty on his plate on his first chase start at the track (pulled-up on sole hurdles outing here).
Taken form to another level for current trainer, who took this prize 12 months ago with Bishops Road, winning back-to-back around this time last year and scoring again at the start of this month. Revealed after that Hereford success over stablemate Mountainous that he was bought for Aintree and he's the only one in this field who is officially ahead of the handicapper. No surprise to see him defy 5lb penalty given record of staying chasers from his stable in recent seasons and of obvious interest at the prices.
Useful hurdler who found himself a bit too high in the weights after winning at Cheltenham's April meeting a couple of years ago. Taken to fences reasonably well this term and doesn't look too badly handicapped on the pick of his efforts over timber, but this first handicap chase demands a lot of him. Opposable on balance, especially as he tends to prefer the ground riding on top.
Very interesting novice who should be all the wiser for his handicap debut experience in the Peter Marsh Chase here last month. Was on the retreat at the time of departure there but still ran very well from out of the weights against some experienced campaigners. Gets to compete off his 'proper' mark in this event and although he's unproven over quite this far, he's certainly bred for the job being a half-brother to Vintage Star who won over three and a quarter miles. Still lightly raced and open to improvement so could be worth chancing his stamina holding out.
Eased in the weights after struggling towards the end of last season and almost took full advantage when beaten just a length on his return to action at Cheltenham in November. Didn't perform to the same kind of level when fifth there last month, finishing behind Tour Des Champs and Doctor Harper, and needs to find a bit more improvement as he goes back up in trip here.
Generally raced against her own sex and has come up short in a couple of Listed mares' chases so far this season. Won a couple of times over three miles in her hurdling days so the return to further could be seen as a positive but it's also one of the most competitive races she's ever contested so far so very hard to recommend despite sneaking in under a light weight.
CONCLUSION: Plenty of in-form stayers to consider but a chance is taken on VINTAGE CLOUDS confirming his suitability to this kind of stamina test. If he gets the trip, and there's every indication in his pedigree that he might, then he's a young, progressive novice with a decent course record who looks capable of defying this kind of mark at some stage in his career. Goodtoknow is feared most as he's well-in under a 5lb penalty and represents a yard that seems to have won more than it's share of such races in the past couple of seasons, including this event last year, while Wakanda and Houblon Des Obeaux are marginally preferred to Blaklion at the top of the weights.
1st: Vintage Clouds 2nd: Goodtoknow 3rd: Wakanda
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