Paul Nicholls believes Topofthegame has improved since the Cheltenham Festival as he looks to double up in the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree.
The giant seven-year-old headed into the RSA Novices’ Chase as a maiden over fences, but that did not prevent him winning what looked a classy renewal.
That was just his third outing of the season, and champion trainer-elect Nicholls senses it may even have brought him on.
“I would say he has come on from Cheltenham, because he has only had three runs this season and he hadn’t run for a long time before Cheltenham,” said the Ditcheat maestro.
“The lad who looks after him is pleased with him, and he seems fine at home. He won’t mind the track, because he is quite versatile, so hopefully he will be okay.”
Rebecca Curtis’ Drovers Lane was going as well as anything coming down the hill in the RSA before failing to see out the trip, and his trainer is inclined to blame the ground.
She said: “I think it was unfortunate the ground went very soft, which isn’t his ideal conditions. The ground is fine now but it is a bit of a worry if any more rain comes.
“We’ll see how the ground is. But other than that, he’s in great form, came out of Cheltenham well – and I think Aintree as a track will suit him.”
Nicky Henderson’s Mr Whipped missed Cheltenham and is having his first run since Haydock in early December.
“Mr Whipped is a top-class horse,” Henderson told his Unibet blog.
“Unfortunately he had a problem after his last run, and I thought he was out for the season, but we have got back into action.
“I think this will be one of the best races of the week. He is quite good – whether he is that good I am not sure – but he will be competitive.”
Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation steps up in trip – while Chris’s Dream, Top Ville Ben and Crucial Role make up the field.
In the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle the third, fifth and sixth from the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle all meet again.
At Cheltenham Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet was in front of Felix Desjy and Aramon – and the trainer admits it could boil down to which horse can back up again quickly.
“If he turns up in the same form he was in at Cheltenham he’ll go very close,” said Murphy.
“I suppose it will be about which horse can handle a quick run after Cheltenham, because a lot of them had hard races.
“He was none the worse for it. Better ground will help him, and the flatter track will suit him well.”
Nicholls runs Southfield Stone, the Dovecote winner who skipped Cheltenham to wait for this.
“He has just astonished me how he has improved this season. When he won the other day at Kempton he did that quite nicely,” said Nicholls.
“The form of that race, though, might not be the hottest in the world now – looking at it. He keeps on winning, though, and he loves good ground.
“He is fresh and well and is the sort of horse that could run really well. He had plenty of stick, so we thought we would give him some time after Kempton – and Aintree was always going to be ideal for him.”
Another Ditcheat inmate who skipped Cheltenham was Trevelyn’s Corn, who runs in the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle after just two runs under Rules.
“He is a really lovely horse. He is really unexposed and is rated 130,” said Nicholls.
“You might say he has a bit to find, but he has only run twice and he won well the other day at Wincanton. He is improving all the time and he could run a real tidy race.”
Lisnagar Oscar was strongly fancied for the Albert Bartlett but could only finish fifth for Curtis, he felt he was given plenty to do.
“He’s in great form after Cheltenham, but unfortunately he ended up quite far back in the Albert Bartlett and he had quite a lot to do,” she said.
“He ran a nice race, and most of those who finished in front of him aren’t here.
“I think Aintree will suit. He was very impressive at Haydock, which is another flat track, so we’re hopeful of a good run.”
One who does run is Henderson’s Champ, who steps up in trip after finishing second in the Ballymore. Stablemate Downtown Getaway, Warren Greatrex’s Emitom and Gordon Elliott’s Dallas Des Pictons are others to note.
A maximum field of 30 lines up in the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase over the National fences – headed by Henderson’s Jannika, who will be glad there is no Siruh Du Lac to worry about.