There wouldn’t have been a lot of joy in the air standing beside Nigel Twiston-Davies at Aintree last week when Blaklion was taken out of the Grand National by a stricken rival.
It was hard not to feel sympathy for the affable Naunton handler given he’d overseen a meticulous return to Merseyside for his would-be National hero.
Whether Blaklion stays the four-mile-plus trip is open to some debate, and no doubt we’ll be doing just that again next season, but for now there might be some compensation for the trainer at Ayr as he saddles 10/1 chance Ballyoptic in the Scottish Grand National (16:05) on Saturday.
This is a race Twiston-Davies knows all about winning, having done so three times before, and Ballyoptic looks a lively contender after his run in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last month.
He’d previously won two from four since going chasing, including at Wetherby in February over three miles on heavy going, but it was his fourth behind Presenting Percy in the Cotswolds that caught the eye.
The RSA was essentially a one-horse race from a long way out but Ballyoptic finished out his own race in good enough style and should be suited by the near-four-mile test on offer now. He’s a sound jumper on what we’ve seen and won’t be inconvenienced by the drying ground at Ayr.
Vicente goes in search of a third-straight win in the race for Paul Nicholls while Gordon Elliott is after a Grand National clean sweep with Fagan, but Ballyoptic could be the one to halt them all in their tracks.
There’s also a high-end Flat card at Newbury on Saturday afternoon, with a mixture of Group-race action and tough handicaps to solve. In the Group 3 John Porter Stakes (14:00), Roger Varian’s Defoe is fancied to justify 5/4 favouritism and put his St Leger flop firmly behind him.
He was a progressive sort last season, racking up four straight wins before wilting in the heat of battle at Doncaster. That particular Town Moor test has been the undoing of many before him and he won’t be the last to cry enough in the Leger.
This drop in trip should suit and Defoe can prove that he’s got another promising season in front of him with a win back at the Newbury track where he twice scored last season, including a Group 3 victory in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes.
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).
Things didn’t go his way last month in the Lincoln, where he was a much shorter price, but he didn’t have the best draw in that race and was never really in position to challenge.
This will be just his fifth career start on turf so he merits a pass on that run and it is worth recalling the impression he left when coming away to win a one-mile Newmarket handicap last summer on soft going.
From a much more appealing berth in stall 14, in-form pilot Martin Harley should be able to get him in the sort of position from which he’s flourished before for a decent challenge.
The Newbury action concludes with the Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire Handicap (17:30) over 1m2f.
The Richard Hughes-trained Bid Adieu looks somewhat overpriced here at 33/1. The form of his maiden win at Dundalk has worked out well, with Aidan O’Brien’s Clear Skies making rapid progress subsequently.
On his first start for Hughes, it is very likely the Pour Moi gelding found a mile around Southwell much sharper than ideal. Now upped in trip, he could be capable of throwing his hat in the ring at a big price in this competitive finale.
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