Betway Bowl Chase (Thursday 2:50)
The Betway Bowl is most fascinating for the inclusion of Tiger Roll, having his first start in a Grade 1 chase at a venue where he has achieved the extraordinary feat of two Grand Nationals. Of course he will handle the flat nature of Aintree but he won’t be jumping through birch on Thursday and at the age of 11, the suspicion is that this test may be beyond him.
That said, Eddie O’Leary is right when he says this doesn’t look the strongest renewal, with Clan Des Obeaux and Waiting Patiently first and second in the market. I’m a big fan of Clan Des Obeaux but was disappointed he couldn’t get by stablemate Secret Investor in the Denman Chase at Newbury last time and he has been beaten twice before.
The race looks ripe for a mini upset. Mister Fisher, coming up to this trip, does catch the eye, but Clondaw Castle is more interesting at a now bigger price. Tom George’s gelding won over two and a half miles at Newbury in November, prompting a rating of 155, but he couldn’t lay up with the likes of Master Tommytucker and Mister Fisher when getting his chance to race at Grade 2 level. Back into a handicap but significantly upped in trip to three miles for the first time in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton (the old Racing Post Chase), he stayed really well to defy a mark of 155 and record a very smart time in the process.
He gets another chance to prove himself out of handicap chase company now and with his stamina now assured, Jonathan Burke can ride him confidently at a track that should play to his strengths. He will also arrive here a fresher horse than those who ran at Cheltenham and that could could for plenty given there is only three weeks between the two meetings.
Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase (Friday 4:40)
Zanza looked a novice chaser really worth following when he ran out a smooth winner over The King Of May in a handicap chase on Ladbrokes Trophy weekend at Newbury, however he has been pretty luckless since.
On his next start he was travelling very well into a hot contest at Cheltenham (won by Sky Pirate, Ibleo second) when he fell at the fence coming down the hill and last month at Cheltenham he was just starting to make ground for Richard Johnson in the Grand Annual when completely taken out by a faller in front of him and pulled up soon after. He remains a potentially very well treated horse off a mark of 145, with just five runs over hurdles and scope to improve again. With this race the second last on the Thursday card, the likely drying ground will suit him also and he makes plenty of appeal to build on his early promise.
Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Friday 1:45)
Nothing could get near to the enterprisingly ridden Heaven Help Us in the Coral Cup but Craigneiche got closest and arguably should have got closer again with a bit more luck in running. The seven-year-old was well covered up coming down the hill and had to be angled out in a different direction at least twice, costing him time and momentum in his bid to chase the front-running mare, who most likely got an easy lead for Richie Condon.
When Tom Cannon got his mount in the clear, he picked up really well and came through the field nicely to take the runner-up spot. It was all in vein at the end but it was still a very good run, in a race as competitive as the Coral Cup on what was just his fourth start over hurdles. Earlier in the season he defied a long break when running out a very impressive winner of a good handicap hurdle over an extended two miles and three furlongs at Ascot. He was racing off a 12lbs higher mark for that win when he went to Cheltenham but he proved there that he is more than capable of being competitive off his elevated rating.
His rating has gone up another 3lbs but that seems fair and given his scope to improve again, he’ll be the one to beat if declared for this contest, with the likelihood of no Irish runners to take him on.
Randox Topham Handicap Chase (Friday 4:05)
There weren’t many bigger eyecatchers at Cheltenham than Caribean Boy in the Paddy Power Plate. Nicky Henderson’s gelding was inconvenienced by the standing start and had to be rousted along by Daryl Jacob just to hold a position early on. A couple of jumping errors later in the contest meant he got knocked back and had to go wide of the field coming into the straight. He looked more likely to be pulled up than finish out his race from here, but he made significant ground to pass half the field and finish seventh.
The son of Myboycharlie should be marked up for that effort and there is good reason to be optimistic about him now in the Topham. When you consider both of his wins in Britain have come around the left-handed, galloping tracks Haydock and Newbury, he should be right at home at Aintree, and the form of his win at the latter track earlier this season reads very well. He beat Fiddlerontheroof off level weights, with the pair pulling miles clear of the useful Getaway Trump.
Caribean Boy is only seven and has had just six starts over fences. He has lots of scope to progress again and if he can handle the National fences, he could go very well on Friday.
Betway Handicap Chase (Saturday, 4:15)
It seems like Paul Nicholls has kept plenty of artillery back for this meeting and should he be rewarded for that strategy, Enrilo could be well touted by the time he lines up for the three-mile-one-furlong handicap chase on Saturday.
The presumption is that the seven-year-old will be allowed to take his chance here off a mark of 143 rather than take on the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices Chase on Friday (declares tomorrow). That he was given an entry in that latter contest suggests the type of regard connections have for him which was also evident when he was allowed to take his chance in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase earlier in the season. He disappointed in that race (found to be suffering with a tooth problem) and he since got back to business with a win at Newbury.
He travelled really well for Harry Cobden there but idled badly on the run-in when holding off the challenges of both Hold The Note and Ballymoy. With than in mind, looked good value for the winning margin, but has only been given a 5lb raise by the handicapper, which looks even more lenient when you take into account Ballymoy has won twice since and Hold The Note ran very well to be fourth in the Kim Muir.
Enrilo is a seven-year-old with just four starts over fences. He has plenty of scope to improve further past his mark, especially with similar conditions to those he faced at Newbury.