The Storyteller runs cracking National trial

After going through a fairly quiet patch in the previous couple of weeks the Gordon Elliott stable has hit top form at Cheltenham.

The burly Irish handler followed the last-gasp success of his star turn Samcro in the opener on day three of the Festival by saddling the first two home in the ultra-competitive Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle, last year’s hero Sire Du Berlais bravely repeating the feat in a driving finish at the expense of Grand National entry The Storyteller.

Pertemps has proven National prep race credentials

Dr Richard Newland’s Pineau De Re was beaten just a neck in this very race just six years ago before famously going on to Grand National glory, and The Storyteller’s three-quarters-of-a-length second here prompted feelings of deja vu. A Grade1-winning novice chaser in 2018 and a superb third to Kemboy in the Grade 1 Punchestown Gold Cup Chase last May, he cruised throughout the three miles of this hot staying handicap hurdle before being unleashed by Davy Russell to lead going to the final flight.

Immediately pressed by Sire Du Berlais, he stayed on strongly but just couldn’t resist the slightly speedier winner. This run was a perfect prep race though for Aintree in three weeks time and bookmakers reacted by swiftly cutting Elliott’s charge from 40/1 to a top-priced 33/1* for the £1million contest. Some go shorter.

Alan King’s Dingo Dollar, also entered at Aintree, failed to sparkle and was beaten after three out, eventually finishing 18th?

Ryanair also-rans fail to enhance Aintree prospects

Two more Grand National entries were in action forty minutes later in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase over two-miles-five-furlongs won bravely by Willie Mullins’ Min, but both Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love and Venetia Williams’ Aso failed to figure in the finish.

Aso was beaten from five out and ran a lacklustre race, while Shattered Love, who was still right there three out, faded fast from the home turn eventually finishing sixth, beaten around 20 lengths. The mare is classy at this trip but it would really be stretching her stamina over an extra mile-and-a-half at Aintree. Both she and Aso remain 66/1* shots for Grand National glory.

Gamble goes astray on National entry

Death Duty, set to carry 10st 5lb in the Grand National, was the subject of a massive late gamble in the fifth race of the day, the Grade 3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Advisory Plate Handicap Chase, supported from 16/1* down to around half those odds. He held every chance two out but ran out of steam and looks a doubtful stayer for the type of stamina test he would face on Merseyside.

Few positives in Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir

Thursday’s concluding Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase was won in 2016 by Cause Of Causes who went on to be second in the Grand National the following year. This time around three horses faced the start with Aintree in their eyes; Le Breuil, The Young Master and Flying Angel, but none of them shaped with any real encouragement.

The Young Master has fallen twice from three previous attempts over the National fences (including in One For Arthur’s year), and once again failed to complete after blundering badly and unseating Sam Waley-Cohen when fairly close up at the fourth from home. He surely doesn’t jump well enough to be a genuine National contender.

Poor show from Le Breuil

Le Breuil won the gruelling National Hunt Chase over four miles at last year’s Cheltenham Festival so stamina would never be an issue, but he hasn’t been in such good form this term. He was always being niggled along and was left behind from 3 out having raced mid-division for much of the race. Ben Pauling’s charge finished well beaten, and having been just 20/1* in the ante-post Grand National list prior to this afternoon’s run will surely be offered at bigger odds following this effort.

Flying Angel, a 100/1* shot for the National, didn’t run a bad race all things considered but was never going well enough to land a glove on the race principals. He was very one paced from 2 out and may have struggled to really see it out so the mile longer challenge at Aintree may be a step too far for him.

All in all, the horse to take out of the day with a view to the Grand National was undoubtedly The Storyteller who must have a decent chance of a big show if he gets the green light to run in just over three weeks time.

*Odds subject to change.

Unfortunately, the 2020 Grand National has been canceled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. However, we will still be able to watch the event on the first Saturday in April this year, when the Virtual Grand National comes to our television screens.

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