WINTER double headers in the jumping game don’t come any bigger than this weekend with meetings over the iconic fences at Aintree and Sandown.
Aintree has two races on the Grand National course including the Becher Chase, which is a tried and trusted route to the big one in April. The fences might not be as intimidating as before, but some horses still take to them better than others and tomorrow’s (Saturday) renewal is bound to have a bearing on the Grand National.
MULCAHYS HILL is a clear market leader at 15/2 with Carrigill’s and the field also includes course specialists VIEUX LION ROUGE and ONE FOR ARTHUR, who hasn’t troubled the judge since his victory for Lucinda Russell in the National two-and-a-half years ago.
At bigger prices BALLYDINE and WALK IN THE MILL have some appeal.
A crack at the big one in April is reportedly the dream for the team behind BALLYDINE (his owner is a prominent figure at Aintree) so he’s going to have to do well between now and then if he’s to stand a chance of making the cut – Tiger Roll is rated 172.
Trainer Charlie Longsdon knows he can go well fresh, he has proved his stamina beyond doubt, and he’ll be fine no matter the ground. A previous spin around the National course would obviously be ideal, but he’s an attractive each-way punt.
Sound jumper WALK IN THE MILL is a decidedly useful chaser at around three miles on his day and looks likely to have benefited from a recent reappearance at Cheltenham where, amateur-ridden after an absence, he looked rusty. But he has not fallen since coming from France in 2015 and at his best should certainly get involved.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has a good record in this race and his sole entry BALLYOPTIC looks another each-way shout based on the form of his previous Wetherby win.
Just 90 minutes later it’s Tingle Creek time where Sandown’s Railway Fences always provide a proper challenge to horse and jockey, and on the face of it this year’s protagonists look like making this the most exciting race of the year so far.
The absence of Altior has made for a much more competitive race, although the bookmakers don’t see it that way with Carrigill’s going 11/8 about Champion Chase contender DEFI DU SEUIL, but he’s too short for my liking.
SCEAU ROYAL didn’t handle the testing ground when last of four in last year’s encounter but gave Altior a scare in both Cheltenham’s Champion Chase and over this course and distance in April, and this high-class chaser over two miles can put the record straight this time around.
CLASSIC BEN looks like he has been laid out for the Betfair London National which brings the meeting to a close at 3.35. Stuart Edmonds’ six-year-old should enjoy the stiff stamina test in what will be his first run over 3m5f.
On the flat, RAAEB can secure his place in all-weather finals day in Lingfield in April by scoring in the Ladbrokes Football Conditions Stakes at Wolverhampton tomorrow night (Saturday).
The Raven’s Pass juvenile is all speed and has impressed on trainer Saeed Bin Suroor’s private facility at Chippenham. He’s expected be too good for his rivals around these tight turns.
Carrigill’s nap: (money back as a free bet if finishes outside top 4. Write Augur on your slip to qualify): BALLYOPTIC, Aintree, Saturday, 1.30.
Augur’s best bet:
RAAEB (e/w), Wolverhampton, Saturday, 6.20.