Ultima runner-up Kildisart runs cracking National trial

Last Updated 3 weeks ago | Commercial content | 18+

With an ideal three-and-a-half week gap between the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and the Randox Health Grand National on April 4, the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase over three miles and one furlong saw four horses still holding Aintree entries bid to land a share of the £110,000 prize money.

The first two races of the meeting confirmed that the ground at the Prestbury Park track is genuinely soft so the ability to cope with very testing conditions and the requisite stamina for a hot handicap chase were always going to help sort the wheat from the chaff.

Clouds by no means disgraced

The Sue Smith-trained Vintage Clouds went into the race as the shortest-priced of the three potential Grand National runners in the ante-post market, offered generally at 33/1* (although there were bits of 50/1 and even 66’s in places). The grey was runner-up in the race 12 months ago and third the year before, so despite being sent off at odds of 28/1 there were good reasons for thinking he might run another sound race.

The northern challenger raced prominently and supporters might have been hopeful as he was still there six from home, but he gradually faded and eventually finished eighth, although he was anything but disgraced. This was not a bad National trial and his pre-race odds remained generally unchanged for Aintree.

So close for brave Kildisart

Kildisart has been spoken of in a few quarters as a potential lively outsider for the Grand National and it was with plenty of interest that we waited to see how he would take to the first-time cheekpieces. He ran a solid race at the sharp Kempton circuit last time, staying on well to come home fifth over the three miles, and having won at last year’s Aintree Festival when landing the Grade 3 Betway Handicap Chase on the Mildmay course, the Ben Pauling-trained eight-year-old is a horse who clearly enjoys the spring air and the sun on his back.

But he ran an absolute blinder at Cheltenham on Tuesday afternoon, failing by just a neck to hold the late surge of the Brendan Powell-ridden The Conditional to whom he was conceding 11lbs. Daryl Jacob’s mount was never far from a searching pace in the deep ground, and after being shaken up three from home was pulled out to challenge at the penultimate fence alongside Cepage and Vinndication.

Pauling’s charge looked likely winner at last

Going to the last it looked as though the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned gelding was set to score, but despite running on strongly and clearly appreciating the addition of the cheekpieces, he just lost out to the late surge of The Conditional.

This was a cracking Grand National trial and unsurprisingly has seen the general 50/1 (with 66/1 in places) that was on offer prior to this effort dry up quickly. Now, 40/1* looks very much the top price, with many firms going 33’s and some cutting the eight-year-old to 25/1*. He certainly wasn’t stopping at the end of a gruelling contest and the extra mile at Aintree would likely be within his compass. Possibly of more significance is whether or not he will bounce back quickly enough from this tough race, but Pauling was quick to nominate the Grand National as the target so it appears all systems are go for the first Saturday in April.

Old Cogry found it all too much

Cogry, runner-up in the 2017 Scottish National at Ayr, is a standing dish at Cheltenham and came into the Ultima Handicap Chase with three previous course and distance successes under his belt, including landing the big staying handicap at the December meeting for the second successive year.

Usually guaranteed to be there or thereabouts at this venue, the veteran was up with the pace for the first circuit but dropped out very quickly and was pulled up a long way from home. The Grand National now looks doubtful for him, while Soupy Soups, currently No.80 on the list and more than likely to struggle to get into the final 40 starters for the National, didn’t run badly for quite a long way but was ultimately outclassed and was well behind when pulled up. Connections will probably look for alternatives to the Grand National for his next start.

*Odds subject to change.

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