Calgary Bay steps up National bid

Calgary Bay's campaign is being geared towards the Grand National this season but he can pick up a big prize on the path to Aintree in this afternoon's Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.

Henrietta Knight's strapping eight-year-old is yet to live up to the hype which surrounded him very early on in his career, but he was a high-class novice chaser and a leading fancy for the Arkle won by Fordpadydeplasterer.

That defeat at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival exposed a lack of speed in his make-up, but he has since excelled at distances of around three miles and ran a blinder in the Gold Cup last year, only fading late on to finish an honourable sixth.

After three runs to bring him to the boil this campaign, he returned to Prestbury Park for the Vote AP McCoy Gold Cup and despite racing over an inadequate 2m5f, he stayed on strongly up the hill to collect a share of the place money.

Importantly, he has produced smart performances on his only two previous visits to Town Moor, making I'msingingtheblues pull out all the stops in a novice chase before slamming Alderburn by seven lengths over today's course and distance 13 months ago.

He races off a mark just 1lb higher now and will take some stopping.

Should the Doncaster course fail a 7.30am inspection, Calgary Bay will be switched to Cheltenham and connections of Rose Of The Moon have also taken the same precaution, although they will be hoping the cold Yorkshire weather does not get into the ground too much because their grey is a legitimate contender for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.

Stamina will be at a premium in the contest that is better known as the River Don, and Milton Harris's six-year-old has appealed as a future stayer since breaking through at the second time of asking in a Uttoxeter bumper on heavy ground in October.

He was pitched into a Listed race at Cheltenham on the back of that effort and stuck on into fourth behind Rock On Ruby, before returning there for his jumping debut, which resulted in a fine second to Bobs Worth on New Year's Day.

Both the winners of his last two races clash in the red-hot Grade Two in the Cotswolds this afternoon so the form is strong, and Rose Of The Moon should actually improve again for going beyond three miles.

There is a valuable pot up for grabs in the Handicap Chase and Paul Nicholls has opted to let his useful novice Pepe Simo take on some battle-hardened rivals.

A leading novice hurdler last season, if slightly below the very best, he looked anything but a chaser when blundering around Fontwell on his introduction to fences, eventually pulling up under Ruby Walsh.

But since teaming up with today's pilot Sam Thomas, Pepe Simo has not looked back, winning at Sandown before claiming the notable scalp of his more illustrious stable companion Noland in a Kempton 'jumper's bumper'.

He reverted to obstacles on the rearranged King George card a fortnight ago and lost little in defeat in attempting to give exciting prospect Nadiya De La Vega 11lb and a close run, going under by just a length.

He is handicapped slightly higher than over timber, but he has more scope for improvement in this sphere and should have strengthened up.

Nicholls also looks to hold the best hand in the Grade Two Lightning Novices' Chase, courtesy of Robinson Collonges.

The French import took to British obstacles like a duck to water when sauntering to victory at Bangor in October and had the Rising Stars Novices' Chase all wrapped up until pitching on landing over Wincanton's third-last.

A confidence-boosting Hereford success followed, before a crack at the big Cheltenham handicap won by stablemate Poquelin proved too much too soon.

He remains an exciting prospect for the champion trainer, however, and the drop back to an extended two miles will not be an inconvenience, given how smoothly he travels in his races.

The Doncaster Mares' Hurdle also carries Grade Two status, although there is a disappointing turnout quality-wise and it will be surprising if Alegralil can't regain the winning thread.

Donald McCain's six-year-old fell in what used to be the Gerry Feilden at Newbury before floundering on bottomless ground at Sandown.

But she picked up a similar race to this at Wetherby on her return to action and should prove a class apart.

The Handicap Hurdle gets proceedings under way at 12.40 and appears a good opportunity for Nicene Creed.

Well-touted when arriving from Ireland, he has only been beaten twice on these shores – behind Cue Card at Aintree and when performing pacemaking duties for Menorah in the International – and there is more to come from him.

There is not much to go on by way of form in the concluding All On Website 'Junior' Standard NH Flat Race, but Go Set Go was third behind a fair sort on his Fontwell debut and sets the standard which Nicky Henderson's newcomer Dark Shadow must aspire to.

Mostly Bob could be Cheltenham-bound following his gutsy performance under top weight in the Simpson Millar Novices' Handicap Chase at Doncaster yesterday.

The 3-1 joint-favourite, trained by Philip Hobbs, is likely to have a choice of engagements at the Festival after he put in an efficient round of jumping in this three-mile contest.

Richard Johnson took closer order on the eight-year-old gelding on the second circuit before going on at the 12th fence.

He had pulled several lengths clear of the chasing pack by the third last and showed no signs of stopping as he went on to score by eight lengths from Frankie Anson with Strongbows Legend third.

Monet's Garden may not be far off a return to Nicky Richards's Greystoke yard in Cumbria as he continues to recover from his potentially life-threatening injury.

The 13-year-old picked up an infection in a hoof injury after winning the Old Roan Chase at Aintree for the third time.

His rehabilitation is continuing at Oaklands Veterinary Centre in Yarm and the team, led by vet Caroline Blackiston, reduced his medication recently and continue to reduce the size of the specialist shoe he has been wearing.

"Everything seems to be going along steady at the moment," said Richards.