Given the prevailing conditions – 3m on good ground around Down Royal – then I think I would have chosen to ride Valseur Lido in the JNwine Champion Chase at 2.35pm.
He wasn’t at his best when we last saw him at Sandown in April but that was at the end of a long, hard season and he had earlier run a cracker when chasing home Vautour in the Ryanair.
He can go well when fresh, and I just think conditions will suit him more than Don Poli. He has more speed.
I won on Don Poli first time out at Aintree last season – though he was getting weight from Many Clouds and it was soft ground – and he went on to win the Lexus, and finish third in the Gold Cup.
I don’t know how straight he will be today, but he could find others a bit too quick for him here. He’s a genuine Grade 1 horse, though, and one who I obviously have a lot of time for, and I see Gordon has put cheek pieces on him, which is interesting.
Silviniaco Conti could hold the key to this race. If he returns to his best then he is probably the one to beat, and he had physical excuses for a modest campaign last season, that runaway win at Ascot aside.
He is the best horse in here on official ratings, and we know how good Paul Nicholls is when bringing horses over to this meeting, but he is a 10yo with something to prove, I guess.
Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri is not out of it on official ratings either – he is only 2lb inferior to Don Poli if you believe the handicapper – and the likes of Monksland, Lord Scoundrel and Sadler’s Risk are all class horses in their own right.
But they all have to improve a good deal to win this, and I imagine all roads will lead to Aintree in April for the Last Samuri and that he won’t be hard-fit here.
It is a tricky race to call, but I would probably like to be riding Valseur Lido.
Gigginstown have Tout Est Permis in the opener at 12.50pm, but I don’t know a lot about him, sorry. His only run was in France in the summer, and I haven’t sat on him at home.
In the 1.25pm, Bel Ami De Sivola is a lovely big horse. He was very impressive when winning a Punchestown bumper last time and will be a cracking staying chaser of the future, though hopefully he will win his fair share of hurdles before then, maybe starting here.
The team also have Optimised in the race. He came from the point-to-point field and is a 3m chaser of the future as well, though I imagine he could go back to bumpers after this.
The other big race on the card is the Grade 2 chase over an extended 2m3f at 3.05pm, in which Gigginstown have three runners. I would like to be riding Outlander in the race.
He won his Grade 1 when beating Monksland at Leopardstown in February and is a very consistent horse, and also a versatile one as regards trip, too.
He ended last season with a second to Zabana over 3m1f at Punchestown, where recent Limerick winner Sub Lieutenant was in behind, but he certainly doesn’t lack pace and I think he has the speed to cope with this step back in trip.
He has a 7lb penalty for his Grade 1 win, as does Zabana who re-opposes here, but I’d still expect him to be competitive. I still had plenty left in the tank when he fell 4 out in the JLT and he is a lovely-moving horse for whom good ground isn’t a problem.
As with Silviniaco Conti, you have to respect what Nicholls sends over, as he has won an amazing seven of the last eight runnings of this race. In fact, Don Cossack and I were responsible for the only defeat for him in that period, in 2014!
That record alone makes Le Mercurey a big threat to everyone, and Sub Lieutenant is also bang there on official ratings, too. It’s a good race.
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