Our columnist has his say on Tiger Roll's weight for the Randox Health Grand National, assesses the performances of Altior and Native River at Newbury and much more too.
TIGER ROLL GETS FULL RESPECT FROM THE HANDICAPPER
Martin Greenwood, the BHA handicapper who framed the weights for the Randox Health Grand National, does not deserve any criticism for making Tiger Roll the joint-top weight with his stablemate Delta Work.
It is many years since I worked with Greenwood at Timeform and the one thing I learned about him is that he is not the type of person who would overlook or be distracted by anything in his attempt to frame the weights in the fairest way possible.
Quite simply, if Tiger Roll has to carry top weight, he has earned the privilege.
Sure, Eddie and Michael O’Leary would have hoped that Tiger Roll might have got away with a few pounds less on his back. Which owner wasn’t hoping for the same when the weights were announced on Tuesday?
Tiger Roll is top-class and a four-time Festival winner over a variety of disciplines who would most likely hold his own in a Gold Cup. The O’Leary brothers will know that, even if their superstar has never been aimed at that particular race.
For The Tiger, the Grand National has taken preference over the Gold Cup with the Cross-Country en route the preferred prep race. Tiger Roll has never stopped improving and has, I am sure, pleasantly surprised his connections in the most wonderful way.
He won the 2018 National off 150 and, with hindsight, was a good thing in last year’s National off 9lb higher.
That’s because he had 8lb in hand on the day after his rating was raised to 167 following his crazy 22-length destruction of two 149-rated rivals, at level weights, in the most one-sided Cross-Country.
On the face of it, that has done for Tiger Roll in this year’s National handicap. He had so much in hand, perhaps too much, that day.
That said, his defeat of the now 158-rated duo Magic Of Light (rec 8lb) and Rathvinden (rec 5lb) in last year’s National also confirms that his figure should at least be in the high 160’s.
Then there’s the Aintree factor to build in, too. Greenwood has actually allowed him a pound off his official rating. It all looks entirely reasonable and it won’t be easy for Tiger Roll on April 4, but then making history never is.
We all hope he is given the chance to do it but let’s see how he is when he reappears over hurdles on Sunday.
Before I move on – a comment on something that irked.
Imagine if, for whatever reason, Tiger Roll is unable to run in the National if he hasn’t run in a chase before March 16. What a crazy scenario that would be.
Surely an exception should be made for a dual National winner who has nothing to prove on the course.
NATIVE RIVER GIVEN A CHANCE AT AINTREE
It was good to see Native River winning yet again at Newbury on Saturday but for all of the significance of another landmark in young Jonjo O’Neill’s career, the performance disappointed me.
After all, giving only 3lb to a rival actually rated 19lb inferior in Secret Investor should have resulted in a much greater beating than just two and three quarter lengths. Old rival Might Bite, a shadow of his former self, wasn’t beaten that far in third and he returned without his two front shoes.
That said, a National mark of 166 for this bold-jumping former Gold Cup winner, looks attractive. He was 176 at his peak just over a year ago and if this awful wet weather continues into the spring, underfoot conditions at both Cheltenham and Aintree could be right up his street.
Over fences, when the ground has been soft or worse, his form figures read 131111.
ALTIOR WILL NEED MORE
Altior also took advantage of the race conditions at Newbury to get his record back on track.
His recent superiority over Sceau Royal was confirmed almost to the pound. On this latest occasion, there were three and a quarter lengths between them, compared to two and a half lengths in the Celebration Chase last April and three and a half lengths in last year’s Champion Chase. All at level weights.
But the facts and figures hardly tell the whole story. When Nico De Boinville administered a couple of reminders, Altior’s response was instant.
He can bat Sceau Royal away but when the likes of Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi serve it up to him next month, will he be able to do the same to them?
Back in third on Saturday, just a neck further behind, was the returning Dynamite Dollars (receiving 3lb) who had not been seen for a year. It showed he belongs in this league.
Paul Nicholls was absolutely thrilled with his run and is expecting huge improvement.
Could he be the joker in the two-mile pack?
NICHOLLS TEAM IN FINE FORM
How blessed were my former Sporting Life colleague Geoff Lester and I to be at Ditcheat on a cold but bright morning on Wednesday. It was very clear that the champion trainer has his team in tremendous order.
The skin on every single horse was glowing as Nicholls put them through their paces while planning a busy weekend ahead with entries galore at Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton on Saturday and Exeter on Sunday.
“It’s a big weekend for us,” he said, “and I just hope the weather doesn’t intervene.”
Leading the team in the Betfair Ascot Chase of course is Cyrname who was leading half a dozen on the bottom round AW gallop. He’s such a cool dude, a proper athlete who was moving incredibly easily - whether he was going right-handed or left!
“He is a different horse these days and I don’t think it will matter which way he goes. The plan is Ascot and then Aintree but if Ascot is not on, he will probably go for the Ryanair.”
Frodon, who was sticking his neck out and clearly loving his work as always, will go there with Cyrname.
Up at Haydock in the Unibet Grand National Trial, both Yala Enki and Truckers Lodge are set to take their chances.
Yala Enki has not been long at Manor Farm Stables, having been transferred from Venetia Williams before the start of the season. His new trainer is very much looking forward to running him in the Grand National itself and he is an interesting 25-1 shot with Sky Bet, NRNB.
Among the lesser known, the ex-French-trained Solo is set to make his first start for Nicholls in the Betway Novices’ Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday. The four-year-old also worked pleasingly.
WHITE TURF CLIMAX
Last Sunday’s card at St Moritz was run in perfect weather for such a meeting – a good snow covering, bright sunshine and with temperatures well below freezing (-10C when we started).
Unfortunately, this week’s card, featuring the Longines Grosser Preis Von St Moritz, is going to be run in warmer temperatures than ideal, which can make the snow harder to get through.
Berrahri ran way below his best last week – most unlike him – and faces a tough task in defending his crown in the big one but the John Best team still have high hopes for Torochica (Kieran O’Neill).
Britain will also be represented by Dolphin Vista (Ralph Beckett, Harry Bentley) and Wargrave (George Baker, Dennis Schiergen) in the 15-runner field. Yes, 15 runners around that circuit, which measures barely five furlongs.
The winner will deserve every penny of the near £42,000 first prize.
Fingers crossed for a safe race.