Turf Talk: Planet looks a sound bet

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BACK in the June of 1998 in Saint-Étienne, under the immense pressure of a penalty shootout in the last sixteen of the World Cup finals, when asked “Will David Batty score?”, Kevin Keegan responded with a resounding “Yes!”.

We all know what happened next, it’s what is often referred to as the ‘commentator’s curse’, and in a similar vein last week I surely had Lord Windermere’s chances done for when putting him up as my ‘bet of the season so far’.

Ah well, onwards and upwards as they say.

This weekend sees our first glimpse of racing over Aintree’s Grand National fences, with the main event, the Becher Chase, giving us an early season indicator of who to look out for in the April spectacular. It’s a race that unsurprisingly often throws up National winners, with the likes of Earth Summit, Amberleigh House and Silver Birch all doing the double since its inception in 1992.

This year sees an impressive line-up attempting to write their names into the history books, with the ante-post favourite, On His Own, as good a place as any to start. Willie Mullins’ 9 year old is having his third crack at the National fences on Saturday having come to grief on both previous visits to Merseyside.

He was all the rage with the bookmakers on his most recent attempt which came off the back of a seemingly unfortunate first trip over when Paul Townend, standing in for the injured Ruby Walsh, made stealthy progress throughout before taking a tumble at Bechers on his second circuit when going well in third.

He does seem to fit the profile for a ‘National type’ and I suppose therefore should have a favourite’s chance here off a tidy mark of 144, but I’d have to see it as a concern that he’s fallen on both attempts over these fences. Personally, I’d pass him over.

With so many in with chances here it is tough to pick out a select few to give a mention to. The likes of Bostons Angel, Walkon and Roberto Goldback all merit plenty of respect going into this, but one that catches the eye is the Jo Hughes trained Soll. The big, strapping Denman-lookalike ran a blinder here in April to finish seventh and could be ready to run another big race should he be amongst the final declarations (he’s also entered at Sandown later in the day).

Wherever he runs it’ll only be his eighth start over fences and the eight year old is therefore open to plenty of improvement at this level. He’s up 7lbs from his National run but looks more than capable of making light work of his mark in time. Although his best work’s been done in the mud, being by Presenting you’d have to assume he should have no real concerns on a sounder surface.

Much like his legendary doppelgänger, he’s a big old unit with a big heart and he could be a horse to follow for a small yard for the season ahead.

Going back briefly to the National before last for a moment, we saw a former grade one winner in the field wheeling along from the front, looking most at home over the fences until, like many have before him, failing to see out the trip. This horse was Planet Of Sound. Apparently unfancied for this by many, I find it much easier to make a case for him.

It’s fair to say that experience of the fences is a massive box to tick when trying to find a Becher winner and that is something Planet Of Sound possesses. His handicap chances have suffered of late having defeated Denman, War Of Attrition et al at Punchestown back in 2010, but a recent slide in form has seen his mark slip to an almost insulting 144.

He may turn 12 next month, but a quick glimpse into the history books shows us that five of the last eleven winners have been 10 or older, not an altogether surprising stat given the nature of the task put in front of them. He does appear the class horse in the race and, looking extremely well treated and with the stable bang in form at the minute, I’d have to have a slither of the 20/1 currently on offer.

With the Tingle Creek taking place at Sandown on Saturday to top off another fantastic weekend of racing, I had anticipated telling you to keep your powder dry, sit back and just marvel over the greatest horse in training (possibly ever), the beast that is Sprinter Sacre in full flight, making his rivals look like they’d been plucked from a seller round Sedgefield.

At the time of writing however, his participation looks in considerable doubt following a bad tracheal wash on Monday. This could leave the door open for someone to claim a soft grade one and leaves me wondering why Willie Mullins and the Riccis didn’t get the chequebook out to send over Arvika Ligeonniere.

As it happens the latter runs on Sunday in the John Durkan against Flemenstar and stablemate Sir Des Champs, which leaves the door open to the likes of Sire De Grugy, Somersby and, should he run, Captain Conan. At this stage it looks an impossible race to comment on in any depth given the unpredictability of how it will end up. One thing’s for sure, should Sprinter Sacre line up, he’s not for opposing.

SATURDAY SELECTIONS

2.15 Aintree Planet Of Sound