Paul Nicholls enjoyed a record-breaking November and could be in for an afternoon to savour on Saturday when he sends out 14 runners divided between Aintree, Chepstow and Sandown Park.
The 11-time champion trainer ended November with a haul of 35 winners, easily his best tally for a single month since when he started training with half a dozen horses to his name almost 30 years ago. For good measure, his first four December runners also won.
I often avoid tipping his horses because the bookmakers invariably price them up defensively, but the layers looked to have dropped their guard a bit this weekend.
Yala Enki and Sametegal look overpriced to win the big races over the Grand National fences at Aintree, while on the same card the dice looks loaded in favour of Frodon in the Many Clouds Chase and yet he is third in the market. That trio will all be partnered by Bryony Frost, who could be excused for believing Christmas has come early.
Nicholls is also strongly represented at Sandown, with his Tamaroc Du Mathan worth an interest in the Grade One Planteur At Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices' Chase – a race in which Betfair are offering all their customers a £5 free bet.
Jockey bookings suggest Hitman, a wide-margin winner on his British debut at Ffos Las last month, is the Nicholls no.1 in the race but Tamaroc Du Mathan created a deep impression when winning on his chasing bow in handicap company at Wincanton 16 days ago (watc hteb closing stages above) and the booking of Nico De Boinville can hardly be described as a negative.
It is a terrific renewal of the race and Tamaroc Du Mathan has much more on his plate than last time, when he won off a mark of 131, but he scored with any amount in hand and the manner in which he jumped and travelled suggests he is every inch a graded performer.
Even after a 10lb hike in the ratings, he’s the lowest-rated runner in the field but it’s a tip in itself that Nicholls is letting him take his chance because he’s not a trainer to sacrifice handicap marks lightly.
By the time the Henry VIII is run, we will have already enjoyed some action over the Grand National fences at Aintree in the shape of the William Hill Becher Chase.
Walk In The Mill seeks a third successive win in the race and has to command respect but both he and Kimberlite Candy, who was runner-up last year, are much higher in the ratings this time.
None have more weight to carry than Yala Enki but that’s become an occupational hazard for the ten-year-old, who has finished a close third in the Welsh Grand National for the past two years carrying similar burdens.
Yala Enki has all the attributes needed to shine at Aintree, being a thorough stayer who usually jumps soundly up at the head of affairs. He was touched off by Ramses De Teillee in a great tussle at Cheltenham on his comeback (watch above) but can turn the tables with the greater emphasis on jumping here more in his favour.
The other race over the National obstacles is the William Hill Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, in which I make Sametegal the best bet of the day.
He’s had only seven races since finishing a fine third to Gas Line Boy and Ultragold, who were course specialists, off a 2lb higher mark in this race three years ago but his latest third in a strong veterans’ race at Sandown suggests he retains all his ability. He travelled best of all and would have gone even closer but for a stumble on landing after the final fence.
I’ll probably end up having a little bit on Dingo Dollar, too, because he’s become dangerously well-handicapped and the top three in the market – Hunstman Son (a prime bounce candidate), Modus (often a sketchy jumper) and Lord Du Mesnil (trip too short) – all look vulnerable.
The William Hill Many Clouds Chase has attracted three of Britain’s best staying chasers in Santini, Native River and Frodon but the only one of the three who looks guaranteed to give his running on Saturday is the last-named, who looked better than ever when defying a mark of 164 on his return at Cheltenham and returns to the scene of his Old Roan Chase win of 2018.
The sharp nature of Aintree is unlikely to be ideal for Gold Cup runner-up Santini, who looks an out-and-out galloper. He also lacks a recent run and, while it may be a red herring, made hard work of keeping up with the inferior Beware The Bear in a recent racecourse gallop at Newbury.
Native River, wide-margin winner of the race last year, seeks to retain his crown but the 2018 Gold Cup winner suffered a tendon injury in the second half of last campaign and is returning from ten months off.
Back at Sandown, I outlined why I think Altior will win the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase earlier in the week and my only other bet on the card will be the evergreen Regal Flow in the Betfair Exchange Back And Lay London national Handicap Chase.
I’m not in the habit of backing horses who are weeks away from their 14th birthday but Bob Buckler’s grand old campaigner does not merit being the 16-1 outsider of the whole field as he has his optimum conditions and is 2lb lower than when beaten a short head in the Veterans’ Final over 3m here at the start of the year.
The extra half-mile of this race will be right up his street – he has a Midlands National win on his CV – and he shaped with plenty of encouragement back at Sandown on his comeback last month.
He’s a horse who has always needed a run to show his best and, moreover, I can see a scenario where he gets an uncontested lead. Appropriately, given the title of the race, he should rate a decent back-and-lay proposition if nothing else.
Cloudy Glen is the short-priced favourite after his impressive return at Fontwell but having followed him closely last season (with mixed fortunes) he’s not a horse I completely trust and, staminawise, this will be a different test.
How To Bet £20 on Saturday
Betfair free £5 bet: 1.50 Sandown: Tamaroc Du Mathan
1.30 Aintree: Yala Enki £2 win and £1 each-way at a general 9-1
1.50 Sandown: Tamaroc Du Mathan £3 win at a general 9-1
2.40 Aintree: Frodon £3 win with Betfair and Paddy Power at 11-4
3.00 Sandown: Regal Flow £1 win and £1 each-way at a general 16-1
3.15 Aintree: Sametegal £3 win and £2 each-way at 11-1 with William Hill and BetVictor
£1.50 Win Patent
1.30 Aintree: Yala Enki
** 2.25 Sandown: Altior (now a non-runner)
3.15 Aintree: Sametegal
** With Altior ruled out, let's put Frodon in.
50p Win Patent
1.50 Sandown: Tamaroc Du Mathan
2.40 Aintree: Frodon
3.00 Sandown: Regal Flow
The five runners in a 20p Win Super Yankee and 40p each-way accumulator
Select any odd to add a bet