PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
RARELY can there have been more strength in depth to the field for the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase, not even on the famous day nine years ago when Monet’s Garden got the better of Kauto Star.
No fewer than five of these nine runners won in Grade 1 or Grade 2 company last season, with Sire De Grugy landing the fifth top-level success of his career in the Tingle Creek at Sandown.
God’s Own won the Melling Chase over this course-and-distance in April and then lowered the colours of Ryanair Chase winner Vautour in the Champion Chase at Punchestown later that month.
But that pair both receive 1lb today from Smad Place, who won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham last season.
And his trainer Alan King said: “He had a marvellous season last year, giving us a day we’ll never forget in the Hennessy and seems in good form. We want to have another crack at the Hennessy even though it’ll be difficult off his new mark because he’s not really good enough to take on the top horses at level weights. He wants a prep, even though 2m4f may be a bit sharp.”
Smad Place has twice made the frame in Grade 1 company at Aintree and although he stays well he scored over this sort of trip first time out at Kempton last season.
God’s Own is another who does well here, winning the Melling Chase here last spring but he was also second in a Grade 1 novice chase on his only other visit to Aintree.
His trainer Tom George said: “It’ll be hard to beat what he achieved last spring when he hit a real purple patch. He’s come back very well and he’ll have a couple of runs then have a break before next spring.
“It’s a good race and everyone says when he wins it’s a fluke, but you don’t win three Grade 1s by a fluke. His optimum is probably a right-handed galloping track but he’s good round Aintree as well.”
Sire De Grugy is the other big gun and unlike Smad Place, who steps down in trip, the 2014 Champion Chase winner is stepping up from two miles.
Jamie Moore and Sire de Grugy celebrate Champion Chase victory
PICTURE: Getty Images
“It’s a very tough assignment first time out, it’s a really good race,” said trainer Gary Moore. “He has a lot on his plate but I just hope the ground is reasonable so he can get this run under his belt and we can take it from there.”
All three concede weight to Vibrato Valtat, who runs off his lowest mark since he won the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his first start of last season.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls said: “He goes go well fresh – he went very well in the Haldon Gold Cup last year. The trip won’t be a problem and the ground will be perfect so we’re hopeful of a good run.”
When Vibrato Valtat won the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last November he scored by four lengths from runner-up Third Intention (who is now 13lb better off), with another two and a quarter lengths back to God’s Own (3lb worse off today) in third.
And yet none of them are favourite. That honour falls to Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers and he said: “This is a good starting point. We have a nice weight and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t run really well, fitness won’t be a barrier to his winning and he has the ability. That said, I’m expecting him to improve when we step him up in trip as I know three miles is what he needs.”
Royal Regatta complete the field for the 188Bet-sponsored 2m4f chase named in honour of 2007, 2009 and 2010 winner Monet’s Garden.
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