Old Roan Chase Tips: More success due for Murphy

Olly Murphy will be hoping to win this for the first time with Itchy Feet (far side).
Olly Murphy will be hoping to win this for the first time with Itchy Feet (far side).

Joe Tuffin previews Sunday's Grade 2 Old Roan Chase, a race which boasts a very impressive roll of honour...

The Jumps are well and truly back. The age old discussion of ‘When does the Jumps season actually start’ has raged on for a few weeks now, with some already donning their National Hunt caps after Chepstow’s Persian War meeting, some about to put them on at Cheltenham races today, and for some, it’s the Old Roan Chase at Aintree that signals the start of the season proper.

The classy Grade 2 event has been won by some of racing’s most recognisable names, including Albertas Run, Monet’s Garden and one of the greatest ever from this sphere, Kauto Star. The 2020 renewal may not feature Tingle Creek and future Gold Cup winners, but the inclusion of Grade 1 winner Itchy Feet at the top of the market adds both class and intrigue. A staying on winner in Sandown’s Scilly Isles Chase provided trainer Olly Murphy with a first success at the top level and he was subsequently sent off as the second favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival, but he never looked comfortable and shipped his rider at the sixth obstacle. Still very unexposed after effectively only two runs over fences, he looks the class pick in this field and having won first time out previously, there’s not too much of a concern that he’ll need the run, making him the one to side with.

The horse that chased Itchy Feet home at Sandown was Sue Smith’s Midnight Shadow, a Grade 2 winner with some solid form under his belt, namely as a hurdler when winning both the Scottish Champion and the Relkeel Hurdle. Unfortunately for him, the Grade 2 contest win he managed at Cheltenham on New Year's Day does contain a bit of an asterix, as he appeared to be easily beaten by the loopy but talented Champ, who promptly decided instead to throw himself through the second last rather than over it. There’s no doubting Midnight Shadow has class in abundance and he’ll likely win another Graded race at some stage this year, though he may have to settle for the places on Sunday.

Speaking of loopy, one of racing's much loved maniacs makes his debut for his new connections, with two-time Festival winner Yorkhill lining up at a double figure price for trainer Sandy Thompson. It's difficult to know what to expect from him here, but he was once seen as one of the finest equine athletes in this sphere when under the guidance of Willie Mullins back in 2016/17, before seriously losing his way over the past few seasons - recording only one win since his Marsh success back in 2017. If these new surroundings have revitalised him and he somehow rediscovers his form of old then he’ll scoot clear of this bunch, but at the age of 10 that seems unlikely and though I’ll be having a nostalgic each-way play, he’s hard to recommend on form alone.

Paul Nicholls is the joint most successful trainer in the race with three victories (tied with Nicky Richards) and puts his trust this year in Magic Saint, who at the time of writing sits third in the market. Rated 154 - the same as Itchy Feet - he’s a constant in some of these valuable handicaps, bagging one at Newbury last year. There are a few too many question marks lingering over his head, however, having failed to finish in the top three over this trip since 2018 and also recording most of his best form on good ground - a worry with a day of rain due at Aintree races on Saturday. He’s another that will play a leading role at some stage this year, but it’s unlikely to be here. 

Clondaw Castle and Oldgrangewood are the final two currently available at single figure prices, with the latter coming off the back of a brilliant season for Dan Skelton. Twice a winner in big handicaps, including the Grade 3 Paddy Power Chase at Cheltenham in January, he proved plenty of doubters wrong and introduced himself as one of the Skelton’s stable stars when finishing an admirable fourth in the Festival Plate. Possibly just within the grasps of the handicapper now on a mark of 147, he’ll have to up his game once again to win here, though he'd be of interest as an each-way alternative should he drift to a double-figure price. Clondaw Castle hasn’t been seen since winning in February earlier this year, and prior to that has some useful form under his belt - including two fourth place finishes at Grade 1 level. It is worth adding that he was well beaten in those events, and top handicaps/listed events seem more his forte.

Nuts Well comes into this race as top weight with a mark of 155 - 1 lb higher than Itchy Feet and Magic Saint - after four wins and an admirable third last season saw him shoot up 25 lb from his 2019 December rating of 130. Despite being rated higher than a Grade 1 winner, this is only his second venture into Class 1 company and these sorts of events could be beyond him. Though he gave the impression that the ceiling is yet to be hit and he has useful 3 lb claimer Danny McMenamin aboard, it’s a big ask to come in at Grade 2 level off top weight and beat a Grade 1 winner.

Imperial Presence, Crievehill and Vision Des Flos all offer punters each way alternatives at around the 12/1 mark, with the former seeking a hat-trick after two wins earlier in the season. Coming here off the back of two runs is a huge bonus for the Philip Hobbs’ runner, as is having Richard Johnson onboard, but he’s got plenty to find and failed to land a blow at any of the top handicaps last season - expect the same here. Crievehill recorded two disappointing ninths at the back end of last season when hiked up the weights, and though he has first time out form, he’s only come down 3 lb from those disappointing runs and looks to still be at mercy of the handicapper. Vision Des Flos is one that has shown he is capable of winning at this level with a Grade 2 already to his name, but that came over hurdles and so far his chasing exploits have been severely underwhelming, winning only once in a match race, so he’s hard to advise off the back of that.

Likeable mare Annie Mc will look to put her ninth-placed finish in the Marsh Novices’ Chase behind her and regain her winning ways here, but that was the first time she faced up against some real superstars and she was severely outclassed. She opposes Itchy Feet here, who you can assume would have had her beat that day at Cheltenham should he have stayed on all fours, and she’ll have to settle for minor honours again here.

The field of 13 is completed by Cracking Destiny and Really Super, both of whom are winners over fences, but both at a lesser level than this. Really Super, who is effectively a summer horse, may be able to get involved in the places if the ground stays good, though there is not much to recommend for the former and he may well find himself tailed off at the business end of the race. With that in mind, it looks worth siding with Itchy Feet to make a winning start to the campaign. 

Selection

Old Roan Chase, Aintree, Sunday 25th October - back Itchy Feet at 7/2

Old Roan Chase
Itchy Feet silk

Itchy Feet

placed
2021 Cheltenham Festival

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