Always right the Scottish option
Although Perth is the Scottish venue Gordon Elliott is most synonymous with, this afternoon he heads for the country's western seaboard rather than the eastern side in a bid to land the Scottish Grand National at Ayr with Chicago Grey.
One of just eight horses in the handicap, the easy winner of the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham fully deserves his place at the head of the market. He has been allotted a first-time chasing mark of 151, which is very fair in view of his high-class form.
He is now 5lb and 9lb worse off respectively with the Cheltenham runner-up and third Beshabar and Be There In Five, having easily accounted for both over today's four-mile trip on that occasion.
With Paul Carberry up and the good ground in his favour, Chicago Grey can be expected to reassert his authority over those two.
The negative is his price -- sponsors Coral go as low as 4/1. With no favourite successful in the Grade Three for 11 years, there is value to be had elsewhere.
Two that stand out are Minella Four Star and Always Right. Minella Four Star had Ballyfitz, which reopposes here, and Synchronised behind when winning the Midlands National last time. He will go on the ground, is a proven stayer and is in off a nice weight of 10st 2lb, so he is a live each-way option at 12/1.
However, Always Right is preferred for the win on the basis that he is less exposed. John Wade's nine-year-old has run just seven times in his life, progressing from hunter chases to comfortably win a handicap off 118 at Kelso in February.
He followed that with a fluent display to beat established chasers such as Lothian Falcon, Character Building, Ogee, Beat The Boys, Killyglen and Merigo off a 12lb higher mark in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster last month.
Always Right is effectively racing under another 12lb penalty today, but he travelled and jumped like a horse with more to give at Doncaster, so 10/1 is a fair offering. Even allowing for Peter Carberry's claim on Lothian Falcon, Always Right is still 3lb better off with that one today.
Merigo, impressive winner of this in 2010, has struggled since, but he goes well here for Timmy Murphy, so may be another for a place at 14/1.
The Isle Of Skye Blended Whiskey Scottish Champion Hurdle is the pick of the remaining seven races on the card. Via Galilei should not be discounted, as he has progressed well in recent months and is open to further improvement at just five.
That said, last year's winner Overturn is fancied to collect again.
No horse has carried top weight to victory in this since Adrian Maguire won on Staunch Friend in 1993. Maguire's nephew Jason, who scaled a glorious height on Ballabriggs at Aintree last week, can do likewise now on Don McCain's front-runner.
With the exception of a disappointing run behind Mille Chief, Overturn has performed at a high level over the past year, winning the Northumberland Plate and the Galway Hurdle before chasing home Binocular in a Grade One in January. Most recently, he was seventh in the Champion Hurdle, form that would be enough here.
In the preceding novice chase, Georgio Quercus stands out for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty, who teamed up to win the race with French Opera in 2010. A dual winner over fences -- once courtesy of Dan Breen's disqualification at Sandown -- Georgio Quercus was well beaten when sixth in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.
Nonetheless, three of those that finished in front of him, Finian's Rainbow, Ghizao and Medermit, showed the form in a good light at Aintree last week. Geraghty's mount can do likewise now in a slightly sub-standard Grade Two.
I'm Delilah is another worth consideration in the two-mile handicap chase. Ferdy Murphy's nine-year-old was a fine third behind Silk Drum and Oiseau De Nuit at Aintree, and is weighted to reverse previous form with Elite Land today.
Best bet: Georgio Quercus