Merry McCoy can be Haydock King
Simon Holt is relying on AP McCoy to guide Merry King to victory in Saturday's Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock.
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No jockey can go without a horse but some jockeys can make all the difference between winning and losing.
One such rider is AP McCoy and I am banking on the 18-times champ to get the very best out of MERRY KING in the Betfred Grand National Trial over three miles and five furlongs at Haydock.
Jonjo O'Neill's stayer has run creditably in all four of his starts this season in tough handicaps finishing second to the progressive Houblon des Obeaux at Ascot in November, fifth in both the Hennessy and Welsh Grand National and then a close third behind the reopposing Wychwoods Brook over 3m1f here last time.
This extra distance should be in Merry King's favour and, with all due respect to Ritchie McLernon who has ridden him in all those previous starts, the fact he is ridden by the sport's greatest equine motivator now could just produce the extra effort in the closing stages which has so far been missing this term.
In just two starts at Haydock, the seven-year-old has run well - he was beaten a nose by Cannington Brook here on an earlier visit - and he should be very difficult to keep out of the money.
To be honest, some of the staying chase form has been unpredictable; for example, Emperors Choice seemed badly out of form until relishing the testing conditions to win at Ffos Las recently and he wouldn't be certain to repeat the effort.
However, Venetia Williams' out-and-out stayer came to hand at this time last season and, with only a 5lb penalty, is actually 5lb well in on his reassessed rating.
The in-form trainer also runs Rigadin de Beauchene, beaten 10 lengths by Well Refreshed in this race last year, but off the course since April. His conqueror that day hasn't been in such good form this season and jumping errors such as his last fence demolition here last year continue to afflict him. Haydock claim to have stiffened up their fences since which will not be in his favour.
Hawkes Point looks an obvious danger to all. Probably on the upgrade, he ran a cracker when beaten a head by Mountainous in the Welsh National and, despite a 6lb rise, should again run well even though the winner finished well beaten behind Emperors Choice at Ffos Las subsequently.
And Wychwoods Brook is also an improving sort, bidding for a hat-trick following his course win last time and a runaway victory at Lingfield before that.
It looks a tough race to solve but I will rely on McCoy to give us a return.
At Ascot, the Betfair Chase ought to be a match between Riverside Theatre and Captain Chris who were narrowly separated when first and third respectively in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon earlier in the season.
Now 10lb better off and a good winner at Kempton subsequently, Captain Chris could gain his revenge (and make up for his possibly unlucky defeat by Cue Card in this race last year) but it might be worth taking a chance with the improving ROLLING ACES to shake them up.
My liking for this horse is based mostly on his jumping which was very impressive when he won at Down Royal over two and a half miles earlier in the season.
Although a point-to-point winner, Rolling Aces has looked slightly better at short of three miles under Rules; he again jumped well but had no answer to an on-song Vino Griego at Sandown (3m1f) last time and, nearly 12 months ago, didn't finish off quite as strongly as Opening Batsman having looked likely to win at Kempton.
On ratings, the eight-year-old has plenty to find with the top two in the market but, while they are unlikely to be getting much better, he could be open to further improvement and, if all eight runners stand their ground, looks another good each-way bet.