THERE will not be a more popular winner of the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock today than Silver By Nature, with Lucinda Russell’s grey attempting to lift the prize for the third time.
He has been sidelined with a leg injury since the 2011 Grand National, and Russell admits the absence is a concern.
“He has been ready to run since after Christmas and while he’s extremely tough and genuine, he does seem to need his first run of the season,” she said. “He is really, really well and I fancy him to run a big race on Saturday, but we’ve been here before with him. He has been off for quite a long time, and being an older horse, the question of him needing the run is obvious.
“We’ve done everything we can to put plenty of work into him, and ideally we would have liked to have got a race into him first, but that hasn’t been possible. It’s the right track, right ground, right trip – it’s just the race.”
Silver By Nature, owned by former St Johnstone chairman Geoff Brown, was 12th at Aintree, but has not been entered this time.
Russell said: “The owner wasn’t that keen. He’d much rather win the Scottish National and that’s a realistic option, if the ground was suitable.”
At Ascot, Philip Hobbs feels Captain Chris will adapt to the testing ground when he goes for glory this afternoon in the Betfair Ascot Chase. The nine-year-old handled conditions well enough to win the Amlin 1965 Chase at the Berkshire course in November, and then ran a tremendous race in the King George VI Chase at Kempton when he was only beaten a neck by Long Run.
“Ideally he wants better ground but he won the Amlin on heavy,” said Hobbs. “He seems in great form and he was always going to have a few weeks off after the King George. You can always supplement for the Ryanair, but the Gold Cup has always been the plan and we want to keep our horses apart. He ran a fantastic race at Kempton and is in very good form. He always had a tendency to jump right, so it shouldn’t matter too much at Ascot.”
Finian’s Rainbow has something to prove after finishing a well-beaten last of four behind Captain Chris on his seasonal reappearance. Last year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase hero has had a wind operation since then and needs a run. “We’ve always said we don’t want to run him on soft ground, but we haven’t got a choice and there’s nowhere else to go,” said trainer Nicky Henderson. “I’d have loved to have had another week but I want to give him a run and we will be able to decide about Cheltenham after Saturday.”
Colin Tizzard expects Cue Card’s performance will tell him which race to go for at Cheltenham, the Ryanair Chase or the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase, while Somersby’s rider Dominic Elsworth is expecting a decent run as the nine-year-old returns to the Berkshire venue. “I’m looking forward to it. I was pleased with his run at Cheltenham and he has come out of the race well,” he said. “Obviously it was his first run for a while and he was against Sprinter Sacre, so you had to be pleased enough with the run. He’s back at Ascot, where he has run very well in the past, and I don’t see the trip being too much of an issue – he has won over two and a half miles.”
Ghizao was well ahead of Finian’s Rainbow when third to Captain Chris here in November. His co-owner Andy Stewart believes the nine-year-old will be hard pressed to land this prize. “He is 100 per cent fine, but probably not good enough to beat Cue Card. It’s a competitive race,” he said.
At Sandown yesterday, Lance Bombardier Jody Sole needed the help of champion trainer Paul Nicholls to finally win the Royal Artillery Gold Cup on Gwanako.
Dating back to 1863, the prize is one of the oldest events in the calendar and raises the curtain for a small series of races at the Esher course restricted to amateur riders from the Armed Services. Nicholls was happy to engage active point-to-point jockey Sole for Gwanako as he had won the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Memorial Hunters’ Chase aboard the gelding last season.
The 7-4 favourite was produced late on the scene yesterday to draw eight lengths clear of Fine Parchment.
“I’ve been second in it a few times, including last year and the year before,” said Sole. “I’ve won the Grand Military Gold Cup and the Queen Mother Memorial, but being an ex-King’s Troop, Royal Artillery man, it means a lot to finally win it.”