Having decided that a £100 each-way on Pleasant Company at 40/1 looked like a holiday in Florida waiting to happen, it was through gritted teeth than I handed over the princely sum of £14 (£1 win at 14/1) to my beaming son who said, “Told you Tiger Roll was going to win, Dad!”
However, hard as that win for Tiger Roll was to bear, it certainly continued Gordon Elliott’s unstoppable roll to becoming a legendary National Hunt trainer. For a few years, most trainers have been sick of the sight of Willie Mullins’ trained horses, but now it’s Mullins who must be sick. Elliott has pipped him to become top trainer at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, whilst Mullins has seen two of his horses pipped by a short-head by Elliott-trained horses in both the Irish Grand National and the Grand National. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what Gordon Elliott runs in this weekend’s Scottish Grand National. Note to self, Irish-trained horses have now won this season’s Welsh, Irish, and English Grand Nationals.
However, we’ll take a look at some of this week’s other big races before we get to Saturday’s highlight, including some of the Guineas trials from the Craven Meeting at Newmarket and at Newbury on Saturday.
Gerry Fielden Stakes (Tuesday 17 April)
The Gerry Fielden Stakes takes place over 1 Mile 1 Furlong at Newmarket. Its most famous winner being 2015 Derby and L’Arc de Triomphe winner Golden Horn, who was one of two John Gosden trained winners of the race in the last three winners. The other trainer with an affinity for this race is Mark Johnston who won it in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2011. Gosden saddles the twice-raced Msayyan, whilst Johnston saddles Mildenburger. The favourite though may be Kew Gardens for Aidan O’Brien as he’s proven over the course having won last season’s Zetland Stakes over a furlong further. O’Brien has yet to win this race.
European Free Handicap (Wednesday 18 April)
Run over 7 furlongs at Newmarket, Aidan O’Brien won this race for the first-time in 2017 with Whitecliffsofdover, but isn’t represented this year. Kevin Ryan trains the highest-rated horse in the field in Hey Jonesy but he concedes his 2lb advantage in the form of a penalty to the Charlie Hills trained Nebo. Hills has been in great form for the last two-weeks and he won this race in 2016 with Ibn Malik. His dad Barry Hills also trained the 2007, 2009, and 2010 winners, whilst Frankie Dettori looks a positive jockey booking.
Nell Gwyn Stakes (Wednesday 18 April)
Anything John Gosden runs in this 1,000 Guineas Trial held at Newmarket has to be of interest as he’s won four of the last 13 renewals, including the last two. Meanwhile, Frankie Dettori has ridden the last four winners of the race. The pair doesn’t team up here though as Gosden’s course and distance winner Nawassi is set to be ridden by Maktoum Al Maktoum’s number one jockey Jim Crowley. Interestingly, Dettori has again been booked by Charlie Hills to ride Juliet Foxtrot, whom Crowley rode to success at Goodwood last season.
Abernant Stakes (Thursday 19 April)
The Abernant Stakes is a Group 3 Race run over 6-furlongs at Newmarket that is open to horses aged four and older. This year’s contest could see La Brivido and Spirit Of Valour renew rivalry after finishing first and second in last year’s Jersey Stakes. However, last year’s winner Brando looks sure to be primed to go close again as Kevin Ryan tries to train his fourth winner of the race in five years. 2016 winner Magical Memory also looks interesting for in-form Charlie Hills with that man Frankie Dettori again set to be on board.
Craven Stakes (Thursday 19 April)
The Craven Stakes is one of the major trials for the 2,000 Guineas and it is run over one-mile at Newmarket. John Gosden hasn’t saddled the winner since way back in 1993, but he looks sure to have the favourite this year in Roaring Lion. Owned by Qatar Racing, Roaring Lion will be bidding to enhance the form of last year’s Racing Post Trophy, with the winner of that race Saxon Warrior disputing favouritism for the first Classic of the season. The form was somewhat let down by the third The Pentagon last week, but the sixth-placed Chilean has won already this season. Roaring Lion has 5lb and more in hand of his rivals on two-year-old form.
Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase (Friday 20 April)
This 2½ mile handicap chase is the highlight of the first day of Ayr’s Scottish Grand National Meeting, where it’s traditionally easier for the British-trained horses to win than either Cheltenham or Punchestown. It features some old favourites who look to have been lined-up specifically for this meeting, including Forest Bihan, Go Conquer, Garde La Victoire, Art Mauresque, and Shantou Village.
Dubai Duty Free Stakes (Saturday 21 April)
Formerly known as the Fred Darling Stakes, the Dubai Duty Free Strakes takes place over 7 furlongs at Newbury. The Hannon Stable won it in 2013 and 2016 and has three possible entries in All Out, Natural, and Taajanus. Meanwhile, Mick Channon could bid for a third winner of the race with Dan’s Dream. Another to note could be the Charlie Hills trained Chrisellaine.
Greenham Stakes (Saturday 21 April)
This Group 3 2,000 Guineas Trial has been won by some serious horses in the past few years such as Paco Boy, Kingman, and the mighty Frankel, whilst last year’s winner Barney Roy went on to finish second in the 2,000 Guineas. Khalid Abdullah often sends his best 3-year-old colts here and it’s interesting that Expert Eye is among the early entries, however he has something to prove after his flop in last season’s Dewhurst.
Scottish Champion Hurdle (Saturday 21 April)
One big statistic is that 16 of the 18 winners this century carried less than 11-0, with the other two carrying 11-1 and 11-6. Meanwhile, if you want a daft statistic, the names of the last five winners all began with the letter “C”. If the weights don’t go up, last year’s winner Chesterfield will surely go close to repeating his victory, and the more the ground dries up the better for him. A dry few days leading up to the meeting is forecast.
Scottish Grand National (Saturday 21 April)
A real mix of light-weights and bigger-weights have won this since the turn of the century, so don’t be put off whatever weight your horse is carrying. Remembering the early “note to self”, Gordon Elliott has two possible runners in Folsom Blue and Fagan. The former is much improved since being brought down on the 2016 renewal, whilst Fagan’s second in the 2016 Albert Bartlett suggested that stamina could be his strong suit.
However, though it could be fatal last words, Irish-trained horses have a poor record in this race as a rule. Of the British-trained runners, Vicente bids for a hat-trick whilst last year’s closest pursuers Cogry, Benbens, and Alvarado could all renew rivalries, as could Missed Approach and Vintage Clouds. Meanwhile, Ballyoptic looks an interesting novice, and Nigel Twiston-Davis deserves a change of luck after Blaklion was brought down at the first in the Grand National.
However, I know what you’re going to say – why not ask your son what’s going to win! I’ll keep you posted.