As we build towards the Cheltenham Festival much of the racing action has a slightly lower key feel than the last few weekends.
However Doncaster features the William Hill Grimthorpe Chase which may well throw up some clues for the Grand National in April.
A field of 12 go to post on good ground – and the 3 miles and 2 furlongs will prove a sturdy test. Heading the weights is Wayward Prince, who returns to action after roughly a 3 month break but ran a fine race when second in the Charlie Hall Chase in October. Next up comes the Scottish National winner Godsmejudge, who has also been off the course for the same length of time and is building up towards a crack at the Crabbie’s Grand National.
Remarkably, the same lay-off applies to Monbeg Dude, a former Welsh National winner who confirmed himself equally adept on faster ground when winning at Cheltenham’s pre-Christmas meeting. It appears he is likely to side-step this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup in favour of Aintree and he is likely to need this run having suffered a slight setback a few weeks ago.
Paul Nicholls’ Mon Parrain is a hugely talented horse who once finished second in a Topham Trophy but has clearly had his problems and is consequently very lightly-raced. He was pulled up last November after a long break and it is anyone’s guess what level of form he is still capable of showing.
Mart Lane was a good winner here in December but pulled up in the Sky Bet Chase last time out. He may have crept up the weights a little too far at present. The Venetia Williams team has been in fine form and Renard recorded a brace of Chepstow victories earlier in the season but has found 2014 tougher going, finishing fourth at Ascot and well behind Wishful Thinking at Cheltenham last time. Unlike plenty of Venetia’s runners, perhaps Renard will appreciate the better ground on offer at Doncaster.
Night In Milan has a similar profile to Mart Lane, having won here in December before pulling up in the Sky Bet Chase.
Court By Surprise represents the Emma Lavelle stable and whilst he hasn’t won since December 2012, he has been in fine form this season, placing on all 3 occasions he has run. His third in the Badger Ales Trophy represents good form but he then ran even better when second to There’s No Panic in the London National at Sandown Park. With only 10 stone and 10 pounds and Barry Geraghty to carry, he has good prospects in this contest.
Golden Call has become a real Bangor specialist but proved he was no one-trick pony when winning at Doncaster in February. However, his overall level of form suggests he needs to improve to figure here.
Real Milan has proved consistent this season for Donald McCain but finished behind Mart Lane here in December before running second to Rose Of The Moon at Wetherby in January.
Storm Survivor has struggled since falling in the Becher Chase and was well behind Golden Call last time out, in a race which saw Harry The Viking finish third. That was improved form for the latter after he finished a long way back in a race won by Night In Milan. The bottom weight here could just be returning to form.
Earlier on the card Paul Nicholls unveils a potentially interesting novice chaser in Cowards Close who won a couple of novice hurdles in the spring before running down the field in a handicap hurdle. He now makes his chasing bow and could be worth keeping an eye on.
The mare’s novice hurdle promises a battle royal as Venetia Williams’ Toubeera seeks a four-timer and takes on Gordon Elliott’s Layla Joan, who is looking to record a fifth successive win and receives 5 pounds in weight.
However, Land Of Vic has won her last 2 starts, while Oliver Sherwood’s Luci Di Mezzanotte has been consistent in all her races this season and Mayfair Music hails from the powerful Nicky Henderson yard.
Newbury has heavy going in the description for its Greatwood Day, where the big race is the StanJames.com Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup.
A field of 8 take up the 2 miles 4 furlongs challenge, headed by the Grand Sefton Chase winner Rebel Rebellion for Paul Nicholls. He ran a good subsequent race at Sandown but is now creeping up the weights.
Majala arrived from France last year with a big reputation but has so far failed to deliver and is on something of a retrieval mission for Tom George after a disappointing effort at Warwick last time out.
Similarly Nadiya De La Vega has proved disappointing of late but has shown really smart form in the past. She was last seen out at Kempton Park, finishing seventh of eight behind Planet Of Sound and needs to show significant improvement on that to figure here.
Ulck Du Lin is another to have disappointing this term but Shangani has run really well of late without winning and with 10 stone 12 pounds, has a lively chance to bag another big Saturday pot for Venetia Williams.
Recent Fakenham winner Dashing George looks out of his depth, while Tara Rose has some distinctly useful form but needs to rediscover the best of her ability which was on show last spring.
Elenika was well beaten by Dashing George at Fakenham but had run much better at Wetherby and Ludlow prior to that effort. Assuming he runs and can be forgiven that last performance, he has only 10 stone 3 pounds and represents a second solid string to the Venetia Williams’ bow here.
The Barbury International Supporting Greatwood Veterans’ Handicap Chase features some real old favourites and is headed by former Hennessy Gold Cup winner Carruthers – a confirmed mud lark. Now 11 years of age, Mark Bradstock’s popular chaser ran a remarkable race in truly abysmal conditions when second to the younger legs and lighter weighted Shotgun Paddy at Warwick in January. A repeat showing here would give him sound claims even off top weight.
Master Oversee is talented on his day but pulled up in that Warwick contest and the same thing happened to Pete The Feat last time out at Sandown Park, after two encouraging previous runs.
Burton Port was a hugely talented chaser a couple of years ago – in fact he was runner-up in an RSA Chase and fourth in a Gold Cup in his pomp. He has transferred to the Jonjo O’Neill yard this season but has looked badly out of sorts and whilst his handicap mark is dropping, his performances have not suggested a turnaround is likely anytime soon. If the market suggests he is well backed, that might be the surest sign that things are improving, ahead of a Grand National attempt.
Summery Justice has run respectably in his last two races at Bangor and Kempton Park but has not won for nearly 2 years, while good old Tullamore Dew has run consistently well this term but not won for over 3 years now. Nick Gifford’s 12 year old looks sure to bag a prize soon and is well capable of claiming this.
The same is true of another real favourite, former Cheltenham Festival winner Pigeon Island. His last 3 starts have all taken place at Cheltenham – most recently in a Gold Cup trial behind The Giant Bolster. Whilst Nigel Twiston-Davies’ popular grey has often been campaigned over shorter trips, he now takes on a much longer distance but on a going day, is another who cannot be dismissed.
At Kelso, Grand National interest centres around Sue Smith’s Mr Moonshine in the Listed Premier Chase. Racing in the Aurora’s Encore colours, he has recorded victories at Musselburgh and Warwick on his most recent starts and looks a lively entrant for the Crabbie’s Grand National. However, Opening Batsman and Kruzhlinin have classy form and the lightly-weighted Maggion and Scotswell also have claims.