The standout performance of the weekend came from Copperhead. Under conditions which required solid jumping and oodles of stamina, Copperhead scored on both counts in winning the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices' Chase. Pym and Sam Brown simply couldn't cope, Danny Whizzbang folded in the straight and even the plucky Two For Gold found the effort a struggle.
This was a step up from handicap company for the Copperhead, who has a really likeable way of going about things. Prior to Ascot, Copperhead had looked more obviously a National Hunt Chase than an RSA candidate, but his effort here may well get connections pondering the switch.
Cyrname relief as Riders completes hat-trick
Cyrname was the star attraction over jumps this weekend, odds-on for the Betfair Ascot Chase, and though he would have run well below form had he completed, that is secondary to the relief that he got up seemingly none the worse from a horrible fall at the final fence. Cyrname will hopefully be back, young enough to make a major impact again next season, his trainer Paul Nicholls suggesting that drawing stumps for the season after a second successive weak finish the right thing to do.
The outsider of the four runners, Traffic Fluide, who ought to have been outclassed and hadn't run for 15 months, also took a heavy fall at the last, in a much better position than Cyrname and likely to have gone close, even if he hadn't won. Traffic Fluide was in the race primarily to start over fences before March 17 to meet a condition of running in the Grand National and for most of the race he looked booked for fourth of four. However, the leaders began to slow into the straight and Traffic Fluide was suddenly in with a shout.
The two departures left Riders Onthe Storm clear and enabled him to make it three wins from three starts since joining Nigel Twiston-Davies. The argument that he had done plenty in the last mile in tackling Cyrname from some way out seems the right view to take and as such suggests Riders Onthe Storm wouldn't have been at his best; he'd have been giving Traffic Fluide 13lb in a handicap, but there would have been a lot less than that between them had both stood up.
Riders Onthe Storm has the Ryanair as his target and although his form lacks a bit of substance, he's probably the British-trained runner with the best chance in what is looking a weak Grade 1 potentially. Traffic Fluide is an interesting Grand National candidate, if all is well. He's on a generous mark on the form of his win at Ascot when last seen, though he would be taking a significant step up in trip and the extra distance would be a major concern on testing ground.
National clues point to Lord
The Grand National was the focus elsewhere at Ascot, as well as at Haydock. Ballyoptic got back on track in a finish of veterans to Ascot's three-mile handicap chase, turning in one of his best rounds of jumping under a positive ride to deny Valtor and Regal Encore. Ballyoptic is a very smart chaser on his day and one with plenty of stamina, but his previous efforts over the National fences don't encourage support, nor do those of the placed horses.
Haydock's Grand National Trial was won by the 33/1-chance Smooth Stepper, who isn't entered at Aintree and wouldn't get a run if he was (he's a probable for the Midlands version). There were some disappointing efforts from the more obvious Aintree candidates - a lacklustre Elegant Escape; 2018 winner One For Arthur, who seemed to lose interest and was reported to have a fibrillating heart; and Yala Enki who was treading water a long way out - but the runner-up Lord du Mesnil might just be interesting.
Lord du Mesnil has done nothing but improve since stepped up to long distances this season, his mark now 32lb higher than when beaten at Stratford at the end of October. He's a sound jumper and very experienced over fences for his age, Saturday his 17th start in a chase. Lord du Mesnil is only a seven-year-old and it is 80 years since a horse of that age (Bogskar) won at Aintree, but eight year olds have been doing well since the fences were modified and very few aged seven have the credentials that Lord du Mesnil does.
One final Grand National entry to mention is Ramses de Teillee, who coincidentally ran in the race as a seven-year-old last season, though he found the task all too much. He won the Grade 2 novice hurdle at Haydock in gritty fashion, a third win from three starts over hurdles this winter. He's likely to go now for the Albert Bartlett, in which he'd have good claims of making the first three, particularly on testing ground, which would draw out his stamina. He's currently 15.5 to back on the Betfair Exchange.
Sporting John Ballymore-bound after Ascot success?
A couple more from Haydock: Emitom was a convincing winner of the Rendlesham Hurdle, to earn his place in the Stayers' Hurdle field, though with The World's End running a stinker this was a contest that took less winning than anticipated. Emitom has quite a bit more to find to tackle Paisley Park. Sir Pyscho progressed again in winning the Victor Ludorum for juveniles, and deserves to take his chance in the Triumph (also in the Supreme). He has won on less testing ground, but he looks well suited by the mud.
The Ascot card had opened with a four-runner novice hurdle. This was another race that perhaps didn't come quite up to expectations - Master Debonair didn't appear to stay, upped in trip - but Sporting John continues to look an exciting novice, this a third win from three starts. He's in both the Supreme and the Ballymore, though the latter seems a better fit for him. His owner also has Chantry House, discussed here last week, and Sporting John's victory surely increases the chance of that one being kept to two miles for the Supreme.