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William Hill Supporting Greatwood Veterans' Handicap Chase
Focus on the future as Aintree plans start to come together
With these venerable old timers closer to the end of their careers than the start, you would have thought that the emphasis on racedays would always be the here and now.
However, connections of several of the runners have their eyes on future targets, chiefly the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree next month.
The market leaders for this contest - Abolitionist, The Last Samuri, Carole's Destrier and Joe Farrell - all hold entries at Aintree, as do Exitas, Ziga Boy and Milansbar.
Abolitionist is the shortest of the group in the betting for the Aintree showpiece and trainer Richard Newland said: "You never know for sure with a horse of his age - and one who has been fragile - if they still have it, but he's training fine and the plan remains for him to have this one run and then go on to Aintree.
"I think the only way we might be tempted by another run would be if he looked like getting into the Pertemps Final. He could be ring-rusty and he hasn't run over fences for a long time but I want him to be competitive."
With this contest also being a qualifier for the veterans' final at Sandown in January several trainers will also be eyeing up that prize, including Venetia Williams, who runs Sandown scorer Houblon Des Obeaux.
Last chance as Fry charms handicapper
A return to Aintree has always been the priority for The Last Samuri, and a bit of sweet talking to the handicapper from his trainer Harry Fry allows him to warm up for the race in this contest.
The Last Samuri was dropped to 151 following his most recent effort at Taunton, and Fry was able to get an extra 1lb knocked off to allow the 11-year-old to line up here.
"He looks like he's on a winnable mark," Fry said. "He's enthusiastic in his training at home and he seems as well as ever, so we're hoping for a big run."
Michael Yeadon remembered
The fourth race at Newbury on Saturday will be run in memory of the Michael Yeadon, co-founder of Greatwood, who died on February 19 after a long illness. Yeadon was a lifelong lover of horseracing, and it is for this reason that along with his wife Helen, Greatwood Charity came into existence 21 years ago.
What they say . . .
Alan King, trainer of Ziga Boy
It will be his first run for a long time having been forced to miss a similar event at Doncaster recently due the ground. He's entered in the Grand National but looks most unlikely to get a run at Aintree. He's ready to start back but he's sure to come on for the run.
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Theatre Guide
He's in lovely form at home and that was a good run at Sandown last time. On that form, he's one of the better ones in the race and these veteran races are different class from open handicaps so it's nice to have him in it.
Rebecca Curtis, trainer of Joe Farrell
He's really well. He was ready to run in October before he got a niggling injury and I've had to push him a bit to get back for this race. We want to give him a prep run or two before one of Nationals in the spring so, while I think he'll run a good race, I think he'll improve for it.
Philip Hobbs, trainer of Perform
He's been very consistent this season and he continues to be in good form at home, so there's every reason to hope he'll run another good race.
Venetia Williams, trainer of Houblon Des Obeaux and Marcilhac
Houblon Des Obeaux won the final of this series in January but then didn't run so well at Sandown last time - I'm not really sure why. We're aiming to get him qualified for next year's final by running here. Marcilhac has needed time to come right and this looked a good race to start in. Both of them would like a bit more cut in the ground ideally.
William Hill Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup
Hobbs switches War back to flat course for big-race bid
While most of the racing world is fixated on Cheltenham and the upcoming festival, War Sound and those associated with him believe getting away from the course is just what they need.
Having thumped his rivals by six lengths on his seasonal reappearance at Aintree, the ten-year-old has come a cropper in his last two races, both when tackling the ups and downs at Cheltenham.
As such, trainer Philip Hobbs, who has enjoyed a fantastic season, is returning War Sound to a flat course in the hope he can recapture the form he showed at Aintree.
Hobbs, who also runs Gala Ball for the first time in 707 days, said: "War Sound did very well when winning on a flat track at Aintree so we're hoping Newbury will suit him better than Cheltenham. We think it should be more what he wants and he's in good form.
"Gala Sound is coming back from an injury and hopefully he'll run a sound race, but he's had a lot of time off and is likely to improve for it."
Nicholls out to reach cloud nine
No trainer has a better record in this race than Paul Nicholls, who saddles three runners in his bid to land the contest for a ninth time.
Dolos, sporting the colours of owners Johnny and Samantha de la Hey, leads the trio for Nicholls as he aims to further boost his prize-money advantage over Nicky Henderson in the trainers' championship.
Nicholls, who also saddles Warriors Tale and San Benedeto, said: "Dolos has gone up in the weights a bit for winning last time but Lorcan Williams takes off a valuable 5lb and he should be thereabouts as he is a consistent type.
"Warriors Tale has to bounce back from a disappointing effort but he's done that before and has winning form at the course. San Benedeto's fresh and well, and two and half miles is his trip these days - he has a good each-way chance."
Can Diva deliver against the boys?
After a string of consistent efforts, Happy Diva took her opportunity at Huntingdon last time when gamely holding off Magic Of Light to win the Listed Lady Protectress Chase.
Victory provided trainer Kerry Lee with a mixture of joy and relief; joy at a deserved success for such a likeable mare and relief she won the last mares' race of its type over two and a half miles this season.
"I was absolutely thrilled with her last time," Lee said. "I don't think she's particularly got much in hand with the handicapper, but we don't have any option but to go back against the boys as there are no two and a half mile mares' races left this season, apart from one at Haydock which she's not qualified for.
"That said, she deserves to have a go at a race like this and she'll be trying her hardest to win."
What they say . . .
Fergal O'Brien, trainer of Master Dee
He's been off a while as he had a little hold up after his last run. He normally takes a run to put him spot on and he's being geared towards the Grand National. I hope he runs a nice race.
Amy Murphy, trainer of Mercian Prince
Mercian Prince had a huge hike after Kempton and it makes sense to let him take his chance in a better grade race. He's in great form and his main asset is his jumping so if he can get on the front end and get into a rhythm like he did at Kempton then he absolutely deserves to go down this road.
Emma Lavelle, trainer of Javert
He had two pretty hard races before his run at Cheltenham, plus I think he is better on a flatter track. Newbury should be perfect and I'm very happy with him.
Alan King, trainer of Valdez
I've been looking forward to running Valdez as he should be just about spot on now having finishing an encouraging fourth at Ascot just before Christmas when he appeared to show the benefit of stepping up to this trip.
Richard Newland, trainer of Dustin Des Mottes
The funny winter has not been in his favour and we have been waiting for the ground. He would really prefer it to be softer than it looks like being at Newbury, and this does look a tough race, but he is a nice horse and capable of running well.
Charlie Longsdon, trainer of Nightfly
It's been her target the whole time. She ran way better than her rating in the Listed race at Huntingdon. I thought she was third best but paid for trying to go with the front two. She only went up 2lb to 132 as well. I think she ran at least to a mark of 135 that day.
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Shanahan's Turn
He didn't do anything atChepstow last week and I didn't think he tried very hard so we've got him out again. He's got it all to do and it's a hot race. On his day he's alright, but he hasn't shown it this season and we're trying to run him more often to see if it will bring any life into him.
Edinburgh Gin Premier Kelso Novices' Hurdle
Nicholls set to play Trump card
Paul Nicholls sends Getaway Trump on the 730-mile round trip from Somerset to the Scottish borders in the hope of a slice more luck than the six-year-old enjoyed in the rearranged Betfair Hurdle at Ascot two weeks ago.
The season's leading trainer conceded things did not go entirely to plan on that occasion, after his charge got shuffled back and found himself with something of a mountain to climb off the home-turn.
He said: "He ended up too far behind and never really got into it with Al Dancer. That should not be a problem this time around and he has been in really good form at home since that unlucky run. "This race looks tailor-made for him, the ground conditions in Scotland will be fine but he seems to take most types of ground in his stride.
"As far as future plans go there is every chance he could bypass the Cheltenham Festival and go to Aintree next month."
Nicholls won this race in 2016 with Le Prezien, who then went on to the Aintree Festival the following month and finished runner-up behind Yorkhill in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices' Hurdle.
Back on song
Another long distance traveller will be the Harry Whittington-trained Rouge Vif, who missed an intended engagement at Kempton a week ago with a bruised foot but is reported to be back in good heart.
Wantage-based Whittington said: "He's in great form at home but had to miss the Dovecote Hurdle last weekend, that's all behind him now and he will take his chance in the race. "Admittedly, it is a step up in grade for him but he is a horse with plenty of speed and the sharpish track and decent ground have to be in his favour," Whittington added.
"It has yet to be discussed whether he goes to Cheltenham or waits for Aintree but this race should tell us more."
One for punters
Horses at the head of the market have a very good record in this Grade 2 event in recent years. Favourites have collected the spoils in three of the last four years, with second favourite Glingerburn triumphing in 2015.
888Sport Grimthorpe Handicap Chase
Rocky's Treasure out to plunder Grimthorpe gold on handicap debut
Rocky's Treasure makes his handicap debut over fences after producing a first below-par run of the season when finishing third in a Listed novice chase at Warwick in January.
A string of excellent efforts, including wide-margin wins at Kelso, Fakenham, Weatherby and Doncaster, plus a second to Santini at Newbury, resulted in the eight-year-old going off the 6-5 favourite at Warwick.
However, he could only manage third behind National Hunt Novices' Chase favourite Ok Corral on that occasion, but trainer Kim Bailey was far from disappointed with the performance. "I thought he ran well last time," Bailey said, "All his opponents were rated higher over hurdles and he was giving them weight too. It was his first proper test and I thought it was a good race - I was happy with him and far from disappointed."
Rocky's Treasure carries top weight in the Grimthorpe, a race Bailey won two years ago with The Last Samuri, and the trainer added: "He's only a small horse and he's carrying a lot of weight, but I'm happy with him and hope he can put up a good performance."
Dingo looking to rebound
Unlike Bailey, trainer Alan King was less jovial with the performance of Dingo Dollar last time, who could only manage sixth when sent off favourite for the Sky Bet Chase at this course last time.
King said: "The Scottish National is Dingo Dollar's main target. Though disappointing in the Sky Bet Chase last time, he had earlier jumped superbly when finishing third in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, so fingers crossed he can bring that bit of form to the table."
The unseasonably warm and sunny weather over the past few days has allowed the veteran Looking Well to enjoy plenty of time resting after his success at Doncaster ten days ago.
Trainer Nicky Richards, who also saddles Chidswell, said: "Looking Well normally likes a bit of time between his races, but he didn't have a hard race last time and has been out in the paddock plenty. He seems fresh and well and really enjoys the course.
On his other runner, Richards added: "Chidswell won really well at Kelso and he'll enjoy the ground. If he gets the extra distance I think he'll run a good race."
Change of fortunes
Trainer Fergal O'Brien is hoping the time has come for Barney Dwan to run a good race having met misfortune in his races recently.
"If he didn't have bad luck he'd have no luck at all," O'Brien said. "He'll love the ground and I'm really looking forward to running him. It's not a big field and I think that will help him too."
The ground could be key to the chances of Beau Du Brizais too, and trainer Philip Hobbs said: "He handles quick ground well and he seems to have plenty in his favour."