First up, the case of Tiger Roll. I simply don’t care what their outspoken owners say about threatening to pull the horse out of the Aintree spectacular especially when their esteemed trainer Gordon Elliott thinks that the 11-year has an appropriate mark for the big race.
I actually think he is perhaps 4lbs or so too high when you bear in mind his recent runs, but his chance of emulating the immortal Red Rum seems to be diminishing by the day.
It is worth pin-pointing what kind of a horse you need to land the big race since the fences were modified and the distance reduced and I the ‘Tiger’ epitomises the perfect Aintree player.
Go and look through his two wins at Liverpool and you will readily see that the assets that allowed him to win were efficient jumping, a high-cruising speed and then at the back end of the race an ability to quicken when his deep staying rivals could only find, relatively speaking, the one pace.
That run style and ability on those fronts was seen to best effect in his 2018 success. He travelled into the race like a dream and then most importantly, quickened clear after the second last, a move exaggerated somewhat by the mistake at that penultimate fence of Pleasant Company.
But let’s make no bones about it, the great little horse was out on his feet in the last 250 yards and only just clung on from the fast finishing Mullins’ charge. Another stride and he would have been second.
The same scenario unfolded in 2019, but this time the pivotal moment came between the last two obstacles when Tiger Roll cruised upsides Magic of Light and once again quickened clear after the last.
Again, he had little left in the tank in the last 100 yards, but that ability to quicken on late on in this marathon contest combined with the inability of Magic of Light to change gear was ultimately crucial in deciding the outcome of the race.
Bar an injury to top weight Bristol de Mai, it looks almost certain that the shape of the weights will remain the same which is a huge help in picking an ante-post team to go forward with as is with Paddy Power’s non runner no bet offer.
Here are my 4 picks at this early stage.
THE CONDITIONAL (10st 6lbs)
Ever since I saw him firing home to finish a closing second to De Rasher Counter in the 2019 Ladbroke Trophy, I have thought that David Bridgwater’s charge was the perfect individual for the big race.
Following his win the 2020 Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival, that view has only been cemented further with another staying-on, placed effort in the Newbury feature followed by a closing second to Mister Malarky in the Silver Cup at Ascot.
He is only 3lbs higher for that last run and crucially comes into this year’s festivals a much fresher horse.
His trainer told me: “I think Aintree will suit him perfectly well. He will definitely stay and jumping has never been an issue. I have no problem running him at both Cheltenham and in the National with the four week break this year and he has a lovely racing weight.”
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DEISE ABA (9st 13lbs)
Following a cracking novice chase campaign, I had earmarked the Phillip Hobbs’ runner as a perfect Welsh National type, but his experienced handler had toreassess following two pulled up efforts at the back end of 2020.
However, following a break, the son of Mahler returned to form in fine style to land a class two handicap at Sandown Park off a mark of 137, showing that stamina was once again his strong suit as he battled on up the stiff Esher hill to beat Coo Star Sivola by over four lengths.
He made all on that last occasion, an advantage at Aintree, but seems flexible as far as tactics are concerned. If he sneaks in at the bottom of the weights I could see going off at half his current advertised odds.
CLOTH CAP (10st 5lbs)
A 12lbs penalty for running away with the Ladbrokes Trophy was the least that the assessor could give this old-fashioned staying chaser.
You could turn that around slightly by suggesting that it wasn’t the best strength-in-depth renewal of that Newbury contest, but he couldn’t have won it any easier.
Jonjo O’Neill knows knew he needed to protect his current mark, hence is inactivity since then. A warm up race on February 27th in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton Park looks the most likely scenario before his Aintree challenge, but missing that valuable event wouldn’t be the end of the world in the knowledge that he runs best when fresh.
But perhaps the biggest factor in determining his chance at Aintree will be the weather and in turn the state of the going.
His Newbury win came on ‘Spring’ like ground and if the going is no slower than good to soft it is easy to see this progressive nine-year-old going off favourite for this year’s renewal. The current prices available looks well worth taking, particularly with Paddy Power’s non runner no bet offer.
BALKO DE FLOS (10st 9lbs)
Both Kimberlite Candy (soft ground reliant) and Burrows Saint will be well tipped up previews for the big race, but have already been well found in the market. So I am going to go out on a limb and suggest this Henry De Bromhead charge to complete our team.
Rated as high as 165 after running Kemboy to nine lengths at Aintree 2019, (169 the previous year), he has since run six times without really showing an awful lot, but deep ground on four of those runs would have been against him and five of those outings were in graded company.
Something had to give and the handicapper has erred slightly on the generous side in dropping him to a mark of 152, with a lovely racing weight to boot.
He is set to return to the scene of his greatest triumph, the 2018 Ryanair Chase, next month and a prominent run there could see him become a very interesting outsider for Aintree.
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