National Clues aplenty from Doncaster and Cheltenham on Trials day
Saturday’s meeting at Cheltenham is officially known as ‘trials day’ with a host of dress rehearsals for the Festival in March. For those looking beyond the Festival and towards the Grand National, the race that look of most interest are the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
Precious National clues could also be on offer at Doncaster this weekend with the Town Moor track staging the Sky Bet Chase.
The Sky Bet hasn’t been the best trial in recent years with 2010 winner Big Fella Thanks, who finished fourth in the following year’s National doing best of the previous winners. Last year’s winner Go Conquer ultimately disappointed at Aintree but a look at this year’s field suggests there are genuine National contenders lining up in South Yorkshire this Saturday.
Among the more likely National types is Dingo Dollar, a horse that has often threatened to win a big handicap without quite delivering. He was sixth in last year’s Sky Bet when sent off as favourite but is among the market leaders again after a solid fifth in what looked a very strong renewal of the Ladbrokes Trophy when last seen in November. He was withdrawn from the 4m Scottish National last year, suggesting Alan King is willing to try him over a marathon distance sooner or later. Dingo Dollar is 33/1 generally and 40/1 in places for ‘The People’s Race’ and 8/1 for the Sky Bet generally.
Similarly priced both for Doncaster and Aintree is talented but lightly raced eight-year-old Mister Whitaker. He burst onto the scene when winning the 2m4½f Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018. He beat the crack mare Happy Diva to start the following season but has had plenty of ups and downs since. He ended last season with a fine win at Cheltenham over the same 2m4½f trip.
His return fifth was adequate for a horse that seems to come good in the second half of the season. The trip at Doncaster and even more so at Aintree is a question mark, however. His only previous try at 3m was a non-event as he lost a shoe and was pulled up. He looks likely to stay 3m but 4m plus would be a big doubt.
Mister Whitaker also holds an entry in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham which is a considerably warmer contest. A C&D trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Cotswold has several potential National horses involved although success on Saturday would likely send them to the Gold Cup next.
Ladbrokes Trophy winner De Rasher Counter and Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase winner Top Ville Ben have both been mulled as possible National horses by connections. One senses that the Cotswold against more experienced Graded performers such as Bristol De Mai, Santini and Delta Work is a fact-finding mission for the pair. A bold showing would likely lead them towards the Gold Cup; a slightly less inspired effort may send them down the handicap route and of course there are no bigger handicaps than the Grand National. The pair have similar credentials at this stage and both are currently around 33/1 for Aintree success.
Bristol De Mai, a top-class chaser who has won four Grade Ones would have to carry a lot of weight if he goes to the National and he’s far from certain to at this stage but he could easily end up on Merseyside in April; the lure of a £1m handicap is a very attractive carrot to dangle. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has won the Grand National twice in the past courtesy of Earth Summit and Bindaree.