Back Bradley for Ayr raid
Simon Holt previews Saturday feature action at Ayr and Newbury including the Scottish Grand National.
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Saturday's Coral Scottish Grand National looks sure to attract enormous interest with Aurora's Encore bidding to emulate the legendary Red Rum (who completed the Grand National-Scottish National double in 1974) by following up his victory at Aintree two weeks ago.
Sue Smith's 11-year-old was raised 11lb by the handicapper for slamming Cappa Bleu 9 lengths but is only 5lb higher than when beaten a head by Merigo in this race last year.
Clearly at his best in the spring, Aurora's Encore is set to be reunited with Ryan Mania but connections harbour concerns about the testing going at Ayr and, of course, the big question is whether he has recovered sufficiently from his Grand National exertions.
Top weight of 11st12lb also looks a big ask in the likely conditions and lightly weighted runners may again prosper in a race in which none of the last eight winners have carried more than 10st9lb.
Two who take the eye towards the bottom of the handicap are Big Occasion and MONSIEUR CADOU, who finished second and third respectively at Lingfield on their penultimate start.
Both appear to have improved markedly since with Big Occasion winning the Midlands National (from Rebecca's Choice) at Uttoxeter in extremely deep ground and Monsieur Cadou trotting up at Haydock after travelling like a dream throughout and jumping better than ever before.
Both look deserving of their subsequent handicap rises yet remain lightly weighted here. In theory, Big Occasion (who has been well backed in the last 48 hours) ought to again beat Monsieur Cadou but I was mightily impressed with the latter at Haydock and, with just 10st4lb on his back, reckon he could be the answer.
Perhaps the best-handicapped horse in the race, however, is BRADLEY who was fancied in this space to win the Midlands National only to be withdrawn owing to the ground. Connections are again worried about the conditions (drying weather is forecast) but he has won on the soft and this stout stayer has plenty going for him considering that he has run well at this time of year in the past and can race off the same mark as when beaten narrowly by subsequent Welsh National hero Monbeg Dude at Cheltenham in November.
If Bradley, who should be a fresher horse than most, is allowed to take his chance - with the promising Conor Shoemark taking off another 7lb - then he must be thereabouts.
Another major player is the lightly-raced 11-year-old Always Right, a close third behind Beshabar and Merigo in this race two years ago (off only 1lb lower) and seemingly in good form again judged on his defeat of Garleton at Kelso last month while, in a typically competitive renewal, Rival D'Estruval will be fancied by many after his excellent run in the 4-miler at the Cheltenham Festival where he was disputing the lead when falling at the second last but for which he would probably have finished well ahead of the reopposing third Godsmejudge (who, nevertheless, should be well suited to this test).
Our Mick was another who performed well at Cheltenham when chasing home Golden Chieftain in the JLT Specialty Chase and Nuts N Bolts (Tony McCoy booked) has a fine record at Ayr albeit against lesser opposition.
Meanwhile, the new Flat season shifts up another gear following this week's Craven Meeting when Newbury stages two important trials for the 1000 and 2000 Guineas.
Richard Hannon's team already have high hopes of classic success following Toronado's fluent Craven Stakes victory on Thursday and have another string to their bow in the colts division with Olympic Glory who takes on Moohaajim in the Greenham Stakes.
With the other three runners looking outclassed, this should be a match between the two and and only a pound separates them on official ratings.
Olympic Glory won four of his five starts last season - including the Prix Jean Luc Lagardere at Longchamp on his final start - while Moohaajim was equally impressive in the Mill Reef Stakes on this course (6f) before being narrowly beaten by Reckless Abandon in the Middle Park.
Both are tip-top performers and the only obvious form difference between them at this stage is that Olympic Glory is proven over the Greenham distance of seven furlongs whereas Moohaajim has raced at six furlongs. On the other hand, the latter should stay alright and might just be the speedier horse.
Earlier, the Dubai Duty Free Stakes (better known as the Fred Darling), sees the reappearance of the unbeaten William Haggas-trained filly Rosdhu Queen whose victory in the Cheveley Park Stakes last autumn came at the expense of Winning Express, a fair third behind Hot Snap in the Nell Gwyn at Newmarket earlier this week.
She is clearly the form pick (having already beaten likely chief dangers Maureen and The Gold Cheongsam) but seems likely to start a short-priced favourite and I would be reluctant to take such odds about any filly at this stage of the season, especially after such a cruelly cold winter.