Apr 20 2012 Ayrshire Post (main ed)
THE first four in the betting for Ayr’s annual jumping finale hold the key to uncovering the winner of the Coral Scottish Grand National on Saturday, writes Alan Tracy.
Bookies rarely get it wrong and that old adage again rings true when close inspection is applied to the various credentials of the market principals, all of whom have outstanding claims.
The trick, of course, is rearranging them – Harry the Viking, Ikorodu Road, Merigo and Portrait King – in an order which will inflate your wallet at around 3.40pm on Saturday.
Likely favourite Harry the Viking (6s) is destined to be all the rage for this, considering he’s trained by champion-elect Paul Nicholls, ridden by punters’ pal Ruby Walsh and owned by none other than Sir Alex Ferguson.
His lofty connections aside, Harry the Viking boasts all the hallmarks of a top class staying chaser in the making, having beaten the fancied Ikorodu Road this season and then running on up the hill over four miles in Cheltenham Festival’s amateur riders’ National Hunt Chase for novices.
There are negatives that cause concern, however.
Amateur-ridden races are often a poor form guide and Harry has only got three chases tucked under his belt. And, like others in the field, he will have been primed to peak at the Festival by his trainer.
If there’s one person who can bring them back up, though, it is the champion trainer.
Ikorodu Road is strongly fancied for this and rightly so, as his profile has been on an upward curve this season, beating Junior in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster and then Ouzbeck at Newbury over three miles and three.
But he’s another that’s been on the go all season and should run well without quite getting his head in front.
Andrew Parker’s Scots charge and Ayr favourite Merigo looks all set to run another big race after winning here last month for the fourth time.
The 2010 Scots National winner and 2011 runner-up must have more than a sporting chance once more with all the same ingredients on offer for the 11-year-old.
However, within the big four in the betting, the one that ticks the most boxes is Portrait King (10s).
The former Irish stayer Portrait King charged into the reckoning for all the big spring marathons after a fantastic performance in Newcastle’s Eider Chase over the same distance and probable underfoot conditions as we will get on Saturday.
Having breezed into the lead three out, Denis O’Regan’s mount made a Horlics of the second last, a serious blunder which might have been enough for many beasts to call it a day near the end of a hot four mile contest.
But Portrait showed great heart and came storming back after the last to nail Posh Bird in the shadow of the post.
Before that, he also won Punchestown’s Grand National convincingly.
He has been on the go since October, but has had a nice break since the Eider, is clearly on the upgrade with improvement surely to come and the trip and ground hold no fears.
His trainer said last week that he wants to mould Portrait King into a Grand National horse for next year. We may well catch a glimpse of what he’s capable of on Saturday.
Of the others, Junior – a runaway winner of the amateur riders’ Fuke Walwyn at the Cheltenham Festival last year and ran a solid second to the fancied Ikorodu Road in the Grimthorpe will be top weight if running.
But he ran in the Grand National last week, only making it to the second fence.
One might think plenty petrol will then still be left in the tank.
However, you have to wonder if he was primed to peak seven days ago and I’d be worried about the fall being fresh in the horse’s mind.
Westend Rocker, another casualty of Aintree’s second fence last week, is entered for compensation here.
His esteemed trainer Alan King, however, wanted more rain the ground at Aintree for this mud-lover and, although showers are forecast, it might not be enough to slow the field down for this guy to land a telling blow.
King also has also left novice Walkon in the race at the five-day stage, but he had a hard race at the Cheltenham Festival (5th in the RSA) and has plenty to prove in terms of jumping and stamina.
George Charlton’s charge Knockara Beau has run creditably in some graded chases this year, not least when, as a rank outsider, he lived large with the big boys in the Cheltenham Gold Cup for much of the race, before understandably folding four out.
But he’s been on the go since November and fresher animals are preferred for this competitive end- of- season target.
The well named Fruity O’Rooney will make sure this contest is run at an honest clip, should he go to post.
He ran a cracker behind Alfie Sherrin in a Cheltenham Festival handicap, but this is a tough gig for a front runner and he’s been known to jump violently to the left and may run well for a long way before succumbing to pouncing rivals in the home straight.
Jonjo O’Neill’s Galaxy Rock catches the eye, especially after being given a sharpener over hurdles last month. Although not proven over this trip, he shaped like an out and out stayer when winning over three and a half miles at Cheltenham last spring.
He is also entered in next week’s Bet 365 Gold Cup at Sandown, however, and may end up there instead.
If you’re looking for something at a big price, Any Currency (25s) cuts an interesting figure near the foot of the handicap for Martin Keighley.
Any Currency hasn’t run since being completely outclassed in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham in January. But he was first reserve for last week’s National and his trainer said this week his charge will go close.
He is still on the comeback trail after spending last season on the sidelines, but was shaping like a promising staying chaser beforehand and could run well at decent odds if rediscovering that form.
1st: Portrait King
3rd: Ikorodu Road
4th: Any Currency