IT REALLY was such a brave decision to bypass this year’s Cheltenham Festival with LA BAGUE AU ROI and her connections deserve to be rewarded in this afternoon’s Devenish Manifesto Novices’ Chase (1.45pm).
Warren Greatrex’s eight-year-old mare has arguably been the star of the novice chasing division so far this campaign, rattling off four straight wins over fences, including the last two at Grade One level.
She beat last month’s RSA Chase winner Topofthegame when winning the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and then won again at the highest level in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown back in February.
A trip to Cheltenham seemed the obvious thing to do, but her trainer is fully aware the track doesn’t play to her strengths and has opted to wait for this.
The last-minute defection of JLT Chase winner Defi Du Seuil means she runs here rather than in the three-mile novice chase, but the recent rain has come in time to make this a viable alternative.
She gets a handy 7lb allowance here and that should be enough to ensure she rewards backers at a best-priced 7/4.
This won’t be a walk in the park, though, as there are plenty of smart types in against her.
Both Glen Forsa and Kalashnikov are on the comeback trail after disappointing in the Arkle at Cheltenham, with the step up in trip likely to help both.
Mengli Khan bounced back to form over this distance in the JLT Chase and this track is also likely to suit better too.
It is also hard to rule out either Bags Groove or Spiritofthegames, both of whom will need to improve to step up but seem to be improving.
However, La Bague Au Roi is so incredibly tough and hard to pass that I’d be surprised if any of her five rivals were able to wrestle the lead off her late on.
We get our first look at the National fences when 27 line up for the Randox Health Foxhunters' Chase (4.05pm).
Prolific winner Road To Rome heads the betting at around 4/1 and will surely take plenty of pegging back under Sam Waley-Cohen.
He led them all a merry dance until the petrol ran out over further in the Cheltenham equivalent and the drop in trip will definitely suit.
However, he is fairly short considering he has never jumped fences like this in public and has had a pretty hard season.
Irish raider Burning Ambition has had a light season in comparison and is challenging Road To Rome for favouritism.
He too will be suited by the drop in trip and will go well if taking to the fences.
However, I'm going to risk a few quid each-way on another Irish raider in the shape of KRUZHLININ at around 8/1.
Formerly trained by Philip Hobbs, and before that Donald McCain, the 12-year-old has been a revelation since switching to Gordon Elliott, winning seven times already this campaign.
He has had plenty of experience over these fences having run in two Grand Nationals and a Becher Chase, so that has to be a big positive.
The trip may well be on the short side, but he arrives here in great heart and looks overpriced.
La Bague Au Roi 1.45pm Aintree
Kruzhlinin e/w 4.05pm Aintree