Portrait King has a superb chance of becoming the first Irish-trained winner of the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr this afternoon.
Athy-based Maurice Phelan has got a wonderful tune out of the grey this year. At Fairyhouse in December, Portrait King finished second in the handicap chase that also threw up the Irish National hero Lion Na Bearnai before he progressed to win both the Punchestown Grand National trial and the Eider Chase in impressive style.
At just seven years of age and with 10st 8lb on his back, he could well have the scope to prove the match of his 9lb hike for that excellent Newcastle triumph. The Eider is certainly a good trial for this, Merigo having also won it prior to his coup here in 2010. Indeed, Merigo is another that has genuine each-way appeal today.
A dour stayer that goes on any ground, he is trained by the shrewd local handler Andrew Parker, and ran a blinder here 12 months ago to be second off a 15lb higher mark than when he won in 2010.
This year, as ever, he took time to come to hand, but burst back to life in timely fashion to bag a three-mile chase here in March. A 5lb penalty for that still leaves Timmy Murphy's mount off an 8lb lower rating than 12 months ago, which must give him a serious chance under just 10st 2lb now, not least when you consider his Ayr form figures of 3112121.
While it's hard to see Merigo not making the frame -- likewise Portrait King -- at prices of around 7/1 and 8/1, the bookies look to have them both about right. The Paul Nicholls-Ruby Walsh representative Harry The Viking, still inexperienced and carrying plenty of weight at 10st 11lb, doesn't appeal at even shorter odds, with Junior also opposable under his massive burden of 11st 12lb.
Of the 25 runners, Abbeybraney is the one that may signify the best value at odds of up to 33/1. Formerly in the care of Wexford's John Berry, the 11-year-old was a classy novice, with Grade One form behind the likes of Big Zeb, Notre Pere and Weapon's Amnesty. In December, after 18 months off, he failed to show in two starts for Nicky Richards.
However, on switching to the respected Borders handler George Bewley in the new year, he turned the corner, finishing third in an Ayr handicap off 129, before far exceeding that effort to fill the same spot at Kelso last month.
On that occasion, off unfavourable weights, he served it up to the 148-rated Master Of The Hall and According To Pete (147) -- which was in contention before exiting at Becher's second time round last week -- with the 2010 Aintree victor Ballabriggs held in fourth.
Arguably, there isn't a single better piece of form on offer, so that Abbeybraney is 4lb out of the handicap now for an effective mark of 132 is no real concern. If he stays the four-mile trip for the ever-reliable Brian Harding, he should win.
In the preceding Isle Of Skye Blended Whiskey Champion Hurdle, Edgardo Sol has genuine claims to follow up his Aintree win over fences under Walsh and his second to Alderwood in the County Hurdle is a fine recommendation.
Nonetheless, the improving Charm School is preferred for Evan Williams and Adam Wedge. John Gosden's 2009 November Handicap scorer has made giant strides over flights in recent months, accounting for five subsequent winners when obliging for a second time by a comfortable five lengths at Newbury in March. He is up 9lb for that now, but gets in off just 10st 6lb, and might still be on the up.
In the Grade Two Novice Chase, Lucky Landing could continue his recent progression for Tony Coyle, while Bronterre may be the one in the Greenham at Newbury.
A winner of his first two starts at two, Richard Hannon's Oasis Dream colt was fourth to Parish Hall in the Dewhurst in October, form that was franked when his stablemate Trumpet Major routed the field in the Craven Stakes on Thursday.
Best Bet: Bronterre