Five Grand National pointers in January and February

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Burrows Saint could prove to be a big threat to Tiger Roll.
Burrows Saint could prove to be a big threat to Tiger Roll.

As the spring festivals begin to slowly edge into the horizon, Sean Raymond suggests five races to keep an eye on with the Grand National in mind, including one at the weekend...

Classic Chase, Warwick - Saturday 11th January

The action kicks off immediately this weekend as we get to enjoy one of the best fixtures of the campaign at the brilliant Warwick Racecourse. The race has quickly developed into a key pointer for the Grand National thanks to a certain One For Arthur, and the stands will be packed out as we settle in to watch several classy chasers clash for one of the best staying handicap chases of the year.

Last year we saw Impulsive Star finally get his head in front for Neil Mulholland, and he looks likely to head back in a bid to follow up that success for the Conkwell Grange handler. Poor form this year is a worry, but the course and distance clearly suits the horse which will give connections a confidence boost as they head north before the race.

Cheltenham Festival hero Le Breuil will have top weight, and it would be no surprise should last year's National Hunt Chase hero have Aintree on his radar come April. Should he win, he wouldn't be the first to do well in the National of late having come out on top here, with both the aforementioned One For Arthur (2017) and Milansbar (2018) going on to run mighty races in the Jumps racing showpiece a couple of months later. 

Sky Bet Chase, Doncaster - Saturday 25th January 

The big staying handicap chases are going to be coming thick and fast over the next few weeks, and it will continue on January 25th with the Sky Bet Chase the feature at delightful Doncaster. 

Registered as The Great Yorkshire Chase, the Sky Bet is a listed contest over three miles and nearly always tends to be run in testing conditions. It doesn’t necessarily have a great track record of late as a key Grand National trial, though it was traditionally a key pointer for Aintree, and both ESB and Nicolaus Silver won this race en route to National success half a century or so ago.  

Dingo Dollar is one such horse that could turn up in Yorkshire on the road to Aintree for connections, while similar comments apply to Cloth Cap - who is a fascinating horse on the right path for Jonjo O’Neill. The eight-year-old runs in the famous Trever Hemmings colours, which we have seen carried to victory by Ballabriggs, Many Clouds and Hedgehunter in the National since the turn of the century, and the famous owner will surely be hoping Cloth Cap could be his latest staying star.

The Sky Bet is always a cracking spectacle and this season should be no different, which ensures that this is another Aintree pointer to watch.

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Grand National Trial, Haydock - Saturday 15th February

Perhaps ironically, the Grand National Trial at Haydock has struggled to live up to its name - with no horse ever being able to follow up at Aintree in the same year - but we'll keep our fingers crossed that 2020 is the year.

The ground will no doubt be deeper than the pockets of JP McManus at the Lancashire track on the day, which isn’t always great news given the reluctance of trainers to give their Aintree horses a hard race less than two months before the big one in the spring.

That said, we can expect at least one or two interesting animals to take their chance at Haydock in the popular Grade 3 event. Recent winners of this one include National specialist Vieux Lion Rouge - who could yet have another crack at the Liverpool race in his legs - and the excellent Silver By Nature, who won this race twice for Lucinda Russell.

We will certainly be expecting plenty of punters to pour into Haydock for the National Trial this season, and although it may not be littered with potential stars, there are likely to be one or clues to be gleaned.

Boyne Hurdle, Navan - Sunday 16th February

The Boyne Hurdle at Navan is not necessarily an obvious stop on the road to the world’s most famous steeplechase, but that could certainly prove to be the case in 2020.

The Grade 3 event run over a trip of two miles and five furlongs was won by a certain Tiger Roll last year, and all the indications at this stage are pointing towards a repeat bid. The dual-National winning legend sprang a huge shock to win the classy race last year before going on to make history at Aintree, and following a setback it appears as if connections are now keen to take the same route.

Tiger Roll can expect some stiff opposition at Navan, but he has proven himself more than capable of competing at this level in the past. The Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham and of course a hat-trick attempt in Liverpool remain his two big targets, but fans of the game should be keeping a close eye on the County Meath venue next month with a legend of the sport expected to return.

The 2018 and 2019 Aintree hero doesn’t have to win the Boyne Hurdle this time, but a positive seasonal debut will be high on the wish-list and this is one not to miss!

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Bobbyjo Chase, Fairyhouse - Saturday 22nd February

The key Grand National Trial in Ireland over the past decade has, without question, been the Bobbyjo Chase - and that will surely be the case again in 2020.

Named after the legendary Grand National winner of 1999, the Bobbyjo will be run at Fairyhouse on Saturday 22nd February and we can certainly expect a high calibre of entry. Willie Mullins has farmed the contest in recent years - with no less than nine winners to his name - including Hedgehunter, who famously won in 2005 before also winning the National just a few weeks later.

The Closutton handler has also tasted success with horses such as Pleasant Company (2017) and Rathvinden (2019), who both went on to place at Aintree. Mullins could yet decide to let Burrows Saint take his chance at Fairyhouse, and last year's Irish Grand National winner is considered by many to be the main threat to Tiger Roll - which is enough alone to ensure this race is etched in the diary.

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