Aintree, happily for us, unhappily for them, is the venue for this year’s Timeform staff outing on Sunday, meaning that there is more pressure on this column than usual.
Pints are literally on the line, and hopefully we are Ready And Able to enjoy them once Jonjo O’Neill and his son combine in the second race of the day, a conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle (13:15).
Ready And Able is much improved since going handicapping, completing a double at Uttoxeter last time, and he is a strong fancy to complete the hat-trick with Jonjo Jr.’s claim offsetting almost all of his mount’s 7lb rise in the weights.
The third race on the card, a veterans’ handicap chase (13:50), has plenty of familiar names (and some old rogues) lurking within it, and it is Nicky Henderson’s Beat That who makes the most appeal.
A dual Grade 1-winning hurdler back in 2014, Beat That has taken a while to warm to chasing, but he’s finally started to get the message of late, picking up back-to-back wins in novice contests at Newton Abbot in August and Southwell in September.
His winning run came to an end in a competitive handicap at Chepstow 13 days ago, but he was well-backed, and caught the eye in that race, a mistake at a vital time ruining his chance in a falsely-run affair.
Dropped 1lb, he looks on a fair mark, and can strike against a field containing plenty with something to prove.
Sunday’s feature, the Old Roan Chase (15:00), bears the name of Monet’s Garden, a multiple Grade 1-winning chaser and a regular at the track, who won the race on three occasions, including when defeating the great Kauto Star back in 2007.
This year’s renewal perhaps boasts more ‘bottom toppers’ than Grade 1 winners, but it should be an intriguing race, and one in which Frodon is fancied to score.
A 17-length winner of a Grade 3 handicap at Cheltenham off top weight in January, he looks a big player on that form and gets the vote to get the better of Cloudy Dream, who has switched to the Donald McCain team, with regular partner Bryony Frost booked.
We move on to the sixth race, a novices’ handicap chase (15:35) for our final fancy of the afternoon, in which the top weight Drovers Lane will be very difficult to defeat.
He was an impressive winner on debut at Hereford 12 days ago and he looks to still be on a fair mark.
It would be no surprise should he shrug off an 8lb rise and go in again for the Rebecca Curtis team.