Andy Holding focuses on the Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr this afternoon.
SMOOTH STEPPER (best price 7/1)
has enjoyed a fairly fruitful and consistent start to his career over fences and he looks set to add some more prize money to the coffers if he runs somewhere near to his best form. Game winner at Newcastle earlier in the campaign, Sue Smith’s charge ran a blinder when third in a competitive handicap chase at Cheltenham on trials day and although he couldn’t quite get the better of the very smart Seeyouatmidnight next time out, there were moments in that race when favourite backers had a right to feel uncomfortable. Although well beaten by Henry Parry Morgan at Uttoxeter last time, the margin of defeat was accentuated by the really heavy ground that day and as the winner has gone on to finish a fine second in a Grade 1 subsequently, it was clearly a much better effort than originally thought.
SMOOTH STEPPER - 0.5pts e/w @ 7/1
Providing he’s suffered no ill-effects from his Cheltenham exploits, BRISTOL DE MAI (best price 11/10)
is taken to end his season in the best possible fashion. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge has proven himself in Grade 1 company even since switching his attentions to the larger obstacles and following impressive victories at Sandown and Haydock, he was sent off a fairly short price for the JLT Chase at the festival 30 days ago. Although he failed in his bid to land his biggest pot to date, he ended up clashing with a horse in the shape of Black Hercules who ran a faster final circuit time than Vautour did when he scored in the Ryanair, so based on those findings, you’d certainly be prepared to give the son of Saddler Maker the benefit of the doubt.
Bristol De Mai - 2pts @ 11/10
This year’s renewal of this prestigious handicap looks as wide-open as ever and both CLONDAW WARRIOR (best price 9/2)
and CH’TIBELLO (best price 8/1)
should turn out to be massive players on the pick of their best form. The former went through his latest race at Fairyhouse like a Ferrari and showing a nice turn of foot once given the office after the last, he readily pulled well clear of a decent field with quite a bit to spare. Although in an ideal world he could have done with the rain keeping away from the course in the build up to the race, he does have a big-race win to his name at the Galway Festival last year with plenty of cut in the ground, and with this contest likely to be run to suit his stalk and pounce style of racing, Willie Mullins’ inmate looks bound to go well.
Similarly to the main selection, the latter could also do with a dry 24 hours, but as the ground didn’t look too bad based on the evidence of the yesterday’s action, Dan Skelton’s charge might be able to get away with it. Not at his best on genuine winter soft ground at Newbury back in November, prior to that the son of Sageburg had made the subsequent Supreme Novices’ winner, Altior, pull out all the stops at Ascot and it’s that form which gives him a fine chance of going close off a mark of 135.
CLONDAW WARRIOR - 1pt @ 9/2
CH’TIBELLO - 0.5pts @ 8/1
To say ARBRE DE VIE (best price 4/1)
got a peculiar ride in the Coral Cup would be a huge understatement and he’s strongly fancied to confirm the impression he created that day. Held up way out the back door in the early stages, Willie Mullins’ charge was asked to make up a huge amount of ground in the hottest part of the race and even though he couldn’t manage the feat, he certainly did more than enough to suggest he would have been a big player in the final outcome given a more efficient ride. Given that his stable mate, Avant Tout, has gone on to score subsequently having been ridden in a similar fashion at the festival, it would come as little surprise if the son of Antarctique were to follow suit.
ARBRE DE VIE - 1pt e/w @ 4/1