The presence of Tidal Bay on the 3.50 racecard for the Scottish Grand National at Ayr tomorrow sees the majority of the field racing from out of the handicap.
This theoretically makes the race easier to analyse if the view is taken that those unfavoured by the weights can be eliminated from calculations. History has other ideas, however, and the big staying handicaps in the racing calendar have often gone to lightly weighted types, with a long list of Scottish National winners carrying more that their allotted weight.
Since 1980, Astral Charmer, Cockle Strand, Androma, Hardy Lad, Little Polveir, Roll-a-Joint, Killone Abbey, Earth Summit, Moorcroft Boy, Baronet, Joes Edge and Iris de Balme have all defied the expectations of the assessor, and while several were only a few pounds ‘wrong’, a quartet of those named were at least a stone out of the handicap proper. The lesson here is not to be put off if your selection ticks the right boxes only to languish at the foot of the weights – this is clearly no bar to success.
There are a trio of contenders who have been on our radar for this race in the last few months, and the key is to find an improving stayer who jumps well and has enough tactical speed to stay handy in a race which tends to punish plodders despite the marathon trip.
First on the shortlist is Green Flag, who was runner-up in the Grade 1 Feltham Chase in December before a luckless experience at Wetherby. He looked a fine prospect for handicaps given his sound jumping, and he was far from disgraced when a staying-on fourth in the Baylis & Harding at Cheltenham last month, having initially become outpaced when the tempo quickened. That run suggested he was on a lenient mark, and that first experience of competitive handicap company won’t be lost on him. He’s a better horse on good ground than softer, and is sure to be suited by the step up to 4m. He’s pretty much the least exposed in the line-up, and fully deserves his place as ante-post favourite.
Mendip Express is another novice to note, and it’s worth forgiving him a poor effort at Newbury in February behind Smad Place and Sam Winner, when he was reported to have broken a blood vessel. The ground was horrible that day, and while he won on heavy at Cheltenham in January, that was in standing water rather than cloying mud, and is no indication that he’s a genuine mudlark. He impressed with his slick jumping that day and could be called the winner a long way from home.
Originally aimed at the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, his Newbury mishap put paid to that plan, but he remains the type to excel over a distance of ground, and can be expected to go very well if his bleeding problem was a one-off. The one sticking point is that horses who bleed once are prone to a repeat, and there must be a slight concern that his latest run will have left its mark.
Of those out of the weights, easily the most attractive is Roalco de Farges, who was an excellent second to Tidal Bay in the Bet365 Gold Cup in 2012, and was given the benefit of having his mark dropped in absentia after missing 21 months subsequently. He’s taken a couple of runs to find his best form again, but positively scooted in at Newbury last month, looking at least as good as ever.
With only ten runs over fences, he’s probably got an even bigger performance in him, and it’s no concern at all that he’s out of the handicap given his profile. Another bonus is that he only started his campaign in February, and arrives here fresher than most. A proven spring performer at the very peak of his powers, he is hard to knock.
The BetBright Verdict
The trio mentioned have plenty to recommend them, with the marginal pick at current odds being Roalco de Farges. With a slight concern about how well Mendip Express has recovered from a gruelling race at Newbury, Green Flag is feared most.
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