Racing’s focus turns for a moment from Cheltenham to Aintree this afternoon when nine Grand National entries, including the fancied Monbeg Dude and Godsmejudge, do battle at Doncaster for the Grimthorpe Chase.
Town Moor has come up trumps today on the going front, presenting good ground for the first time this year.
Paul Carberry gave Monbeg Dude one of the rides of last winter to win the Welsh Grand National, the partnership overcoming a series of blunders to creep through the field and pounce at the last.
In days gone by, this is not a horse you would ever have considered running in the Grand National, but the fences are less formidable now. In addition, Michael Scudamore’s nine-year-old seems to be getting the hang of the jumping side of things.
With his high-profile connections, who include Zara Phillips and the former England rugby union captain Mike Tindall, Monbeg Dude, currently 20-1 for Aintree, is sure to be a popular choice come the big day, but he is unlikely to be at his peak just yet and preference is for Court By Surprise (3.30 Doncaster).
A flop in this race last year when Emma Lavelle’s stable was so desperately out of luck and form, he looked sure to win when shooting clear in Sandown’s home straight last time, but idled in front. That was Barry Geraghty’s first ride on the nine-year-old and one suspects that he will have learnt plenty. Expect a later, decisive move this time.
Quevega has won at the Cheltenham Festival for five years running, but she will be beaten one day and when she is it will probably be by a progressive young mare like Layla Joan (2.20 Doncaster), who looks as though she might be a cut above the usual standard of opposition. Three recent wins have been on testing ground, but her breeding suggests she will be effective on a quicker surface and she will be an interesting contender for the Mares’ Final (25-1 at the moment) if she can pass this final test.
Another prepping for Cheltenham is Drop Out Joe (4.05 Doncaster), who probably needs to win to stand a chance of making the Pertemps Final cut. This is a young novice stayer on the up and still on a fair mark.
The going is still heavy in the south, but that should not bother the veteran Carruthers (2.40 Newbury), who returns to the scene of his greatest triumph, the 2011 Hennessy, still in great heart.
Jumps Road (3.15 Newbury), one of many held up who failed to offer a threat in the Betfair Hurdle earlier this month, has far less on his plate now, while Shangani (3.50 Newbury) looks ready to strike again and provide Venetia Williams with her customary Saturday winner.
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