After 20/1 and 11/1 winners at Cheltenham last week, our long-range racing expert Matt Brocklebank turns his hand to the two major spring handicaps - the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree and Doncaster's Unibet Lincoln Handicap.
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David O’Meara has become the go-to man when it comes to the Unibet Lincoln at Doncaster and he could end up with at least a trio of runners this year, all of which merit close consideration.
O’Meara won the race with Bravery who was having his first start for the trainer when scoring in 2017, while a couple of years earlier Mondialiste came within a whisker of taking the prize on his O’Meara debut.
Birdman, fourth to Secret Brief in 2016, and Lord Glitters, runner-up behind Addeybb 12 months ago, weren’t first time up for the yard, but they clearly bolster the trainer’s overall profile when it comes to this valuable pot and it appears significant his band of 2019 are being overlooked in the betting.
Remarkable will end up being top weight if Hathal doesn’t make the final field. He signed off for John Gosden with an Ascot win in September 2017 and has joined Hambleton Racing Ltd from Cheveley Park Stud during the interim.
He has Doncaster-winning form from his early days, clearly likes a straight course and wouldn’t appear to be over-reliant on soft ground despite being a son of Pivotal.
Waarif also commands respect. Also six, he’s got more miles on the clock than the lightly-raced Remarkable but he went through the ranks like a really progressive gelding last summer.
Despite finishing mid-pack in the Balmoral Handicap at Ascot on QIPCO British Champion Day when last seen in public, it’s hard to be too confident that he’s now completely in the grip of the assessor.
Ballard Down and Fayez need a lot of drop-outs but the main O’Meara contender could be another stable newcomer in HUMBERT, who doesn’t look handicapped out of things by any means.
He’s just 1lb higher in the ratings than when winning, under O’Meara’s stable jockey Danny Tudhope incidentally, at Newcastle in June and that wasn’t the first piece of evidence which suggests he’s right at home on a straight mile configuration.
Prior to that victory on the Tapeta in the north east, Humbert had been second in the Lincoln’s consolation prize – the Spring Mile Handicap – on the opening weekend of the turf season, and he backed that up with another gutsy neck second behind Taqdeer in the Spring Cup Handicap at Newbury.
Those two pieces of form point to him being a significant player in the major mile handicaps in 2019 and, while there are clearly a multitude of possibilities to explain why owners Woodhurst Construction would opt to send the horse to David O’Meara, getting him in tip-top shape for a Lincoln bid would have to feature highly among those potential reasons.
At 20/1 (William Hill, BetVictor), the former Hugo Palmer-trained Humbert has a loads going for him.
Conditions have been unseasonably dry at Doncaster over the past few weeks and there’s no obvious sign of rain in the forecast. That should play to the strengths of Charlie Appleby’s promising four-year-old Auxerre (6/1), who displayed a bright turn of foot before idling en route to victory at Kempton in October.
He’s up 7lb but could have plenty more to offer back on turf this year providing the cheekpieces continue to work the oracle.
If the ground does deteriorate then that would suit the reliable Kynren (14/1), who was two and a half lengths beihind Humbert when third in the Spring Mile last year, as well as Blue Mist.
The latter won in good style at Ascot in October and his earlier Chelmsford second behind Wissahickon reads well. He needs half a dozen to come out to make the cut but is unlikely to be 12/1 on the day if lining up for Roger Charlton and Khalid Abdullah.
The Randox Health Grand National - or the second leg of an audacious spring double in this instance - could head back north of the border with LAKE VIEW LAD (25/1, William Hill) fancied to run a massive race for Nick Alexander.
He was showing promising signs over two and a half miles on bad ground last season and has taken his form to new levels this term, winning the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle and the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby - two significant northern staying handicap chases.
His rating has risen accordingly, shooting up from 139 when setting out this term to 155 but his Cheltenham Festival effort in the Ultima Handicap Chase last week showed he's still seemingly on the upgrade.
Never far off the pace, Henry Brooke's mount jumped impeccably throughout and came under the pump three fences from the finish, before running on powerfully up the hill to finish third behind Beware The Bear and Vintage Clouds, who also carries the colours of Trevor Hemmings.
Hemmings has a strong association with the Grand National, winning the great race with Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015) and presumably both Vintage Clouds and Lake View Lad will be aimed at the race this time around.
However, Sue Smith's Vintage Clouds has yet to fully prove his effectiveness over marathon distances and it was his relatively smart change of gear which caught Lake View Lad out coming down the final hill at Cheltenham.
The third also has plenty to prove when it comes to a gruelling four and a quarter miles but the son of Oscar looks all about stamina, while his economical jumping and prominent racing style should ensure he remains in the hunt for a long way at Aintree.
Those solid attributes outweigh the argument that there will most likely be better handicapped horses in the race. A mark of 155 admittedly asks a lot of him but at nine there's still a chance he has a fraction more improvement in him as he goes up in distance and, following a career-best effort under top weight at the Cheltenham Festival, getting Lake View Lad on side each-way makes a great deal of appeal.
Tiger Roll is now very short at no bigger than 11/2 as he bids to become the first back-to-back winner since Red Rum. Gordon Elliott's horse is absolutely thriving based on his Cross Country Chase romp but it's unlikely he'll get another dream run through the National and it'll take something special to defy a 9lb higher mark than when clinging on grimly by a head from Pleasant Company (33/1).
Towards the top of the market, RATHVINDEN (14/1) appeals as the type to gather plenty of momentum in the run-up to the race and I'm also keen to have him on side.
The lightly-raced 11-year-old ran a good race when a staying-on fourth in the Grade One Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown after winning last year's National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and his only subsequent start yielded an impressive victory in the Bobbyjo Chase last month.
That ready defeat of Alpha Des Obeaux ties in nicely with some of the strongest Irish form lines this term - Mouse Morris' horse also chasing home the likes of Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only earlier in the year - and Rathvinden is officially 5lb ahead of the handicapper.
He's always had a touch of class, finishing third to Faugheen in the 2014 Ballymore (then Neptune) at Cheltenham, and only in the past couple of years does it seem trainer Willie Mullins has been able to get a real grip on him physically.
The light campaign screams Aintree this time and based on the Fairyhouse effort he goes there in the form of his life.
Posted at 1700 GMT on 18/03/19.