Hadrian's Approach primed to hit the ground running
Both Merigo and Hello Bud won the Scottish Grand National (3.50) aged 11 in recent years, but the only horse aged 12 or more to win since the race was transferred to Ayr in 1966 was Wilsford.
That was back in 1995 and, just like the English Grand National at Aintree, older horses tend to struggle.
Admittedly, horses aged 12 or more usually make up a very small proportion of the field each year, but those that do take part rarely make an impression and for betting purposes, I reckon they are best avoided.
Paul Nicholls' Tidal Bay tops the weights and the 13-year-old came home unscathed after the Aintree equivalent last week having unseated Sam Twiston Davies at the first Canal Turn. Tidal Bay is rated 166 and will shoulder the maximum 11st 12lbs, but because the minimum weight any horse is allowed to carry here is 10st, those rated less than 140 will all be 'out of the handicap'. In other words, all horses numbered 12 to 30 on the card will be carrying more weight than they should be.
It's no surprise then, that the majority of the market leaders come from the top part of the weights, although whether Tidal Bay (14/1) can remain competitive at this stage of his career remains to be seen. He's a great horse and records are there to be broken, but, at the prices, I think it's best to look elsewhere for the winner.
One horse that might be overpriced each-way at 16/1 is Nicky Henderson's Hadrian's Approach and Barry Geraghty went easy enough on him when it became clear he wouldn't be finishing near the money in the three-mile handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival. While it would be fair to describe that race as a setback, he previously won the Graduation Chase at Newbury off this mark (146) without too much fuss and it's my guess that he's still favourably handicapped.
The going at Cheltenham was good to firm, but he acts best on ground which is on the softer side of good, so today's conditions are likely to bring out the best in him.
Henderson, who is yet to win the Scottish National, reports that the seven-year-old has come out of Cheltenham in good shape and connections are quietly confident he can manage to place at the least.
Lucinda Russell's Green Flag also catches the eye, but might be a little short at 10/1. He clocked up a hat-trick of victories over fences in October and November and ran a cracking race when fourth in the aforementioned three-mile handicap at Cheltenham.
On the flat at Newbury, Lady Cecil's Noble Mission makes appeal at 5/1 in the Group Three John Porter Stakes (1.50). The son of Galileo was beaten in this race last year at 5/4, but he's since won a Listed race at Newbury and was a good fourth in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.
While he was outclassed in a Group Two at Longchamp last time, his nearest rival today Astonishing has at least 2lbs to make up on official ratings.
The Scottish Champion Hurdle (2.40 Ayr) is a limited handicap and the inclusion of My Tent Or Yours (10/11) means that eight of the 11 runners will be racing out of the handicap.
One that does get in off his proper racing weight is Gordon Elliott's Flaxen Flare and he's generally available at a nice each-way price of 10/1.
The favourite will be very hard to beat, but Elliott is adept at raiding prizes across the water and the consistent five-year-old ran right up to his best when fifth in the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last time.
1.50 Newbury: Noble Mission
2.20 Newbury: Al Thakhira
2.40 Ayr: Flaxen Flare (e/w)
2.55 Newbury: Astaire
3.50 Ayr: Hadrian's Approach (e/w)
Do the double
SOCCER: Liverpool are now as short as 15/8 to win the league and welcome 4/5 title favourites Manchester City to Anfield tomorrow.
The Reds were unlucky to be beaten at the Etihad earlier this season and home advantage will give them an edge this time, with Brendan Rodgers' men brimful of confidence.
Liverpool are tipped to just about shade it at 6/4.
RACING: The Marco Botti-trained Al Thakhira was below form in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last time but she was quite impressive when winning a maiden at Yarmouth and later the Group Two Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket.
As such, her current price of 14/1 for the 1,000 Guineas looks about right.
The Al Shaqab Racing-owned Al Thakhira is fancied to get her campaign back on track in the Group Three Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury this afternoon (2.20), priced around 3/1.