The Scottish Grand National is last but by no means least on the spring rota and Ayr takes centre stage on Saturday afternoon.
The eyes will be firmly fixed on the likes of Vicente, going for a hat-trick of wins in the race for Paul Nicholls, while Gordon Elliott attempts his clean sweep of Irish, English and Scottish Grand Nationals with Fagan under Aintree hero Davy Russell.
While Russell and Elliott were rejoicing in their Merseyside glory, it was a case of ‘what-if’ for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who would have been filled with angst when his Blaklion was brought down early in the piece.
The Naunton handler has saddled three previous Scottish National winners and looks to hold solid claims here with 10/1 chance Ballyoptic.
He’s looked a promising novice since going chasing this term, with two wins from five attempts. He beat a fair yardstick for this test in Vintage Clouds at Wetherby in February and should be suited by the searching stamina test he’s going to encounter now.
Perhaps most noteworthy, however, was his fourth behind Presenting Percy last month in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. The winner was in a league of his own but Ballyoptic finished the race well, and that Grade 1 form gives him every reason to be hopeful in the Ayr showpiece.
There’s also a high-end Flat card at Newbury on Saturday afternoon, with some potential Classic clues on offer and Group-race action to savour.
We haven’t seen Defoe since his bubble burst spectacularly in the St Leger at Doncaster in the autumn, but he can get right back on track in the Group 3 John Porter Stakes (14:00), for which he’s 5/4 favourite.
Roger Varian’s charge was progressive last term in racking up a winning sequence that made him many people’s favourite for the Leger. He won’t be the last horse to be undone by that sapping test on Town Moor and looks suited back here over a mile-and-a-half on a track where he claimed a Group 3 success last season.
Later on the card it might be worth giving a reprieve to 22/1 chance Ballard Down in the ultra-competitive Spring Cup Handicap (15:45). He flopped last month in the Lincoln at Doncaster although it was no easy task on his reappearance and he didn’t have the best of draws to help him.
William Knight’s runner was an improving sort last term, culminating in an impressive success in a 1m soft-ground handicap at Newmarket in July. This will be just his fifth turf start all told and, from a decent draw in stall 14, Martin Harley should have him well placed for a pop at this prize – something he was never able to achieve last time at Donnie.
Over in Ireland, Matthew Smith’s Warnaq is fancied to follow up his recent handicap debut success at Navan when goes in the 1m3f handicap at 16:10.
Wayne Lordan made all the running to score in that one-mile event and the four-year-old filly shouldn’t be overburdened by a 9lb hike based on that smooth six-length success. She’s already a winner over 1m2f on soft going so this trip isn’t as big a change in tack as might appear the case at first glance.
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