This week’s Scottish Grand National features a bumper field that includes last year’s winner Merigo, as well as strong representation from the Tim Vaughan, Gordon Elliot and David Pipe yards.
Saturday also provides extremely competitive flat racing from both Doncaster and Newbury, and we are fortunate to be at that time of the year, where both flat and jumps codes are working in harmony.
We start off our selections at Newbury, in the Group 3 Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Stakes, with the Sir Michael Stoute trained VERDANT. He was billed as a possible Derby horse last year after winning a good maiden and then a tough handicap race, but instead went down the handicapping route. He ran on Derby day finishing third behind the tough Dandino, before ending the season with good wins at Sandown and Goodwood. The Khalid Abdullah owned 4 year old will have the best jockey in the business on board in Ryan Moore. There could be a threat in the Clive Cox/Adam Kirby partnership’s Poet and he could be the one for the forecast.
We stay at Newbury for the next race, formerly the Fred Darling but now called the Dubai Duty Free Stakes. There are 14 entered for this group 3 race as I write and all the top stables are represented. Cape Dollar, winner of the Rockfel Stakes last year is respected and may go off a warm favourite for Sir Michael Stoute. However, a chance should be taken on RIMTH, the horse who set tongues wagging with an impressive maiden win last year, before proving ultra consistent in big races last year. She followed her maiden win with placed efforts in the Lowther Stakes, Dick Poole stakes and Chevely Park stakes, twice finishing behind Champion 2 year old filly Hooray. There is an eyecatching jockey booking, Cristophe Soumillion will be on board.
The focal point of Ayr’s jumping season is the Scottish Grand National, a gruelling 4 mile race, won last year by Merigo who lines up to defend his crown. There are 30 runners and the ground is likely to be good or good to firm, which should be perfect for recent Cheltenham National Hunt Chase winner CHICAGO GREY. His victory at Cheltenham shows he stays the trip well, and there will be no issues over the ground. He has a very good racing weight, thanks to Neptune Collonges taking top weight. The trainer is in exceptional form with winners at the highest level at both the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals. The major threats come from Merigo, who clearly loves the course and trip, and Beshabar, second to Chicago Grey last time out.
2.05 Newbury – Verdant
2.40 Newbury – Rimth
3.25 Ayr – Chicago Grey NAP
The Yorkshireman – Jack Milner