JIMMY MOFFATT hopes a return to Aintree will bring out the best in his veteran course specialist Highland Lodge.
The gallant 12-year-old is due to line up in the Randox Health Topham Chase over the iconic Grand National course on April 13.
The mount of Middleham jockey Henry Brooke, owners David and Patricia Thompson ruled out a second National bid after the frontrunner failed to see out the marathon four-mile-plus trip last year. Yet, just like legendary three-time National winner Red Rum, Moffatt’s stable star invariably produces his best form over the National fences.
Winner of the 2015 Becher Chase, Highland Lodge and Brooke were runner-up 12 months later before finishing third in last December’s renewal behind Blaklion and The Last Samuri, leading contenders for this year’s National.
However, Highland Lodge was pulled up when he ran in Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase back in January, a run that confirmed Cartmel-based Moffatt’s belief that the Topham is the ideal race for the veteran.
“We have had to regroup since Highland Lodge ran at Haydock,” he said.
“We are fairly certain now that he needs the Aintree fences to bring out the best in him, so the Topham Chase is the plan.
“We did not feel that he got the trip in the Grand National last year [Highland Lodge was pulled up at the final fence] and, given how well he has run in the Becher, we think the Topham will suit.
“He is a prominent racer and brilliant jumper over the fences, and those sort of horses tend to do well in the Topham.”
With just 10st 4lb after the publication of the weights yesterday, Highland Lodge appears well handicapped in a race headed by the Richard Hobson-trained Shantou Flyer who has been allocated 11st 12lb.
Meanwhile, Warren Greatrex hopes a breathing operation will help La Bague Au Roi bounce back to her best in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown on April 26.
The Lambourn handler plans to step the seven-year-old back up to three miles in the Grade One prize after she suffered her first defeat of the season when last of seven finishers in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
It was a disappointing run from a horse who came to prominence last November with a hard-fought win over Lady Buttons – trained at Catterick by Phil Kirby – at Wetherby on Charlie Hall Chase day.
Greatrex said: “She had a wind op’ since her run at Cheltenham. She looked like she was going to win turning in, then she hit a wall and jumped the last very tired.
“She will go to Punchestown, all being well, and go back up to three miles for the Grade One Stayers Hurdle there.
“I think we went for the right race at Cheltenham, there was a wind issue there and that was the problem. She has taken the operation well and we’ve got a bit of time until the end of April.
“With these mares we could do with a bit warmer weather, but she seems in good form.”
Sovereign Debt will be back for seventh season of action, North Yorkshire trainer Ruth Carr has confirmed, after the popular grey skipped the all-weather season in which he has excelled in the past.
Now nine, the top miler began life with Michael Bell before joining the late David Nicholls in 2014.
Carr took charge of him when Nicholls retired last March.
“He’s back in work and he’s not far off doing some fast work,” said the Huby-based trainer. “He’s certainly as enthusiastic as ever and he looks a picture – if slightly on the tubby side!
“We just gave him a break this winter, but I’d hope to have him out in May.
“We haven’t completely ruled out the Sandown Mile which he won last season.
“We’ll know more when he does some faster work later this week.”
Sovereign Debt won the All-Weather Mile final at Lingfield last year as well the Sandown Group Two and the prestigious Diomed Stakes at Epsom’s Derby day meeting.
Australian superstar Winx will not run at Royal Ascot or York this summer, trainer Chris Waller has confirmed.
Connections of the six-year-old, who is unbeaten in her last 24 races, had been mulling the prospect of an international campaign but have instead opted to stay at home with a fourth Cox Plate victory in October the likely ultimate target.