The Scottish Grand National at Ayr follows on a week after the English equivalent and many are in with chances of success north of the border in this wide-open marathon test on Saturday (15:35).
Neil Mulholland launches a three-pronged attack on the 4m Grade 3 feature and second season novice Impulsive Star looks the pick of that trio.
This nine-year-old caught the eye in-behind subsequent Bobbyjo winner and Grand National third Rathvinden when a plugging on fourth over this distance in the Grade 2 National Hunt Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Impulsive Star stayed a maiden over fences for this season and, although beaten by the highly-regarded Ok Corral on reappearance at Plumpton, he finally got a chase win on his penultimate start.
That came in the 3m 5f Grade 3 Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick in January where he was headed two out, but rallied superbly in the hands of regular rider Sam Waley-Cohen to reclaim the lead and score by 3 1/4 lengths.
Impulsive Star had re-opposing pair Crosspark and Carole’s Destrier in-behind, and now meets them 1lb worse and 1lb better off at the weights respectively.
Amateur jockey Waley-Cohen can again claim a valuable 3lb that offsets a 6lb rise from the handicapper. Taking that into account, it is hard to see Crosspark and Impulsive Star’s stable companion reversing the Warwick form.
It may be the key to this race, because the fences at that West Midlands venue are seen as stiff and therefore a guide to horses with stamina.
Carole’s Destrier can’t be discounted
Carole’s Destrier is another of the Mulholland trio and still retains plenty of ability based on his victory in a veterans’ race at Newbury last time out.
This 11-year-old also won the Mandarin Handicap there earlier in the season, so left-handed galloping tracks still suit him.
If there is one concern with Carole’s Destrier, then it’s whether this will be a going day as he’s pulled up twice in his last five starts.
While he meets Crosspark on 2lb better terms from Warwick, the swing in weight with Impulsive Star isn’t anywhere near enough to suggest he can turnaround the form. This is because Carole’s Destrier has almost nine lengths to find on his stable companion.
After 23 chase starts, he is also very exposed in relation to Impulsive Star. Although that one was pulled up when again contesting the National Hunt Chase last time out, that does not tell the full story as he got badly hampered by a faller and that put paid to his challenge.
As he was rated as high as 140 over hurdles, a chase mark of 139 should be no problem for Impulsive Star, who is each-way value at 18/1 with William Hill in this now eased in grade.
The 5lb rise for Carole’s Destrier after his Newbury veterans win may be on the steep side in contrast. It’s not beyond horses of his age winning this race, however, as three in the last decade have landed the spoils.
With Mulholland’s third horse Doing Fine racing from 5lb out the handicap, despite his fine fourth in this race 12 months ago, Carole’s Destrier makes more appeal on what the pair have showed this season. Best odds of 20/1 with Ladbrokes are also worth considering.
Crosspark also a contender
The aforementioned Crosspark has been reasonably consistent at this level for the modest yard of Caroline Bailey. Like Carole’s Destrier, this nine-year-old has advertised the Warwick form by coming out and winning since.
After finishing fifth to Lake View lad in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby, Crosspark improved his spot in the Classic from fourth in 2018 to third and was only beaten 5 1/2 lengths by Impulsive Star.
When eased in grade, but upped in trip to this distance for the Eider Handicap Chase at Newcastle, he toughed it out to stay on well up the run-in and hold the re-opposing Mysteree by a neck.
As Crosspark now meets the runner-up on the same terms (and has top weight Beware The Bear to thank for that), and is a younger horse, he may confirm the form with Michael Scudamore’s horse.
At 14/1 with race sponsors Coral, Crosspark is clearly fancied to confirm the form with Mysteree who races from 1lb out the handicap, and the Eider third Morney Wing.
The latter should be 4lb out of the weights, but 5lb claimer Rex Dingle is again aboard, so is actually well-in. It only puts Morney Wing 2lb better off with six lengths to find on Crosspark, but odds of 50/1 with Bethard are very large.
Concerns over market leaders
Top weight Beware The Bear is racing off an 11lb higher rating than when pulled up in this 12 months ago.
Although he resumed winning ways for Nicky Henderson last time out when landing the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, this nine-year-old is 4lb worse off with Vintage Clouds, who only has 1 1/4 lengths to find.
Had Sue Smith’s runner not taken an early tumble at the first in the Aintree Grand National, then he wouldn’t be lining up here.
Owner Trevor Hemmings did something similar with dual Ayr hero Vicente when he got an early bath on Merseyside two years ago.
Although that horse won this, there was a week longer between the two Nationals then. It leaves precious little recovery time for Vintage Clouds, who runs off 8lb higher than when a four-length third to Joe Farrell last year.
While his credentials for this staying test are respected at 10/1 with BetVictor, it’s a big ask to turn out so soon and prove he’s no worse for the tumble at Aintree.
Ultima fourth Big River is almost prominent in the betting as the Lucinda Russell trained nine-year-old is 9lb better off with Beware The Bear and 5lb with Vintage Clouds.
Given he was only beaten 6 1/2 lengths by the winner, the revised weights give Big River every chance of reversing the form. The concern, however, is that the forecast good ground may not see him to best effect.
Dingo Dollar hasn’t stayed in each of his last three starts and was turned over at this meeting 12 months ago.
Although 7lb better off at the weights with the re-opposing Irish raider Crosshue Boy, Alan Kings runner has to prove his stamina.
Young improver Blue Flight has big ask
In two runs at Doncaster this year, Dingo Dollar has been outpaced and then outstayed by Chidswell. While he meets that Nicky Richards runner on 9lb better terms and was beaten nine lengths, not even his Ladbrokes Trophy third at Newbury suggests staying is his game.
Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles three in the Scottish National this year and, although Cogry is very exposed, Blue Flight and Arthur’s Gift are not.
The former scalped Grade 1 winner Black Corton in a Listed event at Kelso on his penultimate start. As he’s only a six-year-old, Blue Flight has the most scope for improvement but it’s a major task for a young horse to get this trip.
Twiston-Davies did it before with Earth Summit back in 1994 though. Blue Flight has some big horseshoes to fill to do match what that horse did for the yard.
He is the pick of the stable’s trio, however, at 25/1 with BetVictor as Arthur’s Gift was pulled up in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter over even further last time out.
Of those going from out the weights, Geronimo clearly likes the course and, like Morney Wing, has a 5lb claimer in Rachael McDonald aboard who ensures Sandy Thomson’s runner is well-in to the race.
This eight-year-old is very unexposed after four chase starts, but is two from two over fences at Ayr and a standout 18/1 with William Hill as a result.
With a third of the field running out of the handicap, this is a typically wide-open renewal and smart punters should be on the lookout for extra places for each-way bets.