Ascot Winners Among Those Heading to Aintree for Grand National Festival


During the winter months, Ascot Racecourse in Greater London hots a number of key trials for the spring jumps festivals. One of those, the Grade 2 Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle, is proving particularly strong form-wise.

My Drogo, a racehorse named after a Game Of Thrones reference, ran out a strong winner of that event in December. Trained by Dan Skelton, he has a bright future on the track and during his winter break saw Kennel Gate third Soaring Glory plunder a valuable graded handicap at Newbury.

Although both that event and the Ascot race often act as trials for the Cheltenham Festival, My Drogo takes a different route. He returned to action up in the Scottish borders at Kelso where he defied a penalty and landed the Premier Novices’ Hurdle by nearly 10 lengths.

Skelton is now targeting the Grand National meeting at Aintree with My Drogo, where races such as the Top Novices’ Hurdle and Mersey Novices’ Hurdle are options. His Kelso win was over two-and-a-quarter miles and further than his Ascot success, so the decision rests on whether to go up in distance again or drop back.

A quick turnout at the Cheltenham Festival is not something that Skelton is keen on. The close proximity of just three weeks between the two major National Hunt meetings this spring explains his thinking.

It might also be a case of either Cheltenham or Aintree where we see Paul Nicholls’ Next Destination, who is unbeaten over fences. Greater London tracks such as Kempton and Ascot staged potential prep runs for this former Willie Mullins trained hurdler, who spent two seasons sidelined by injuries.

However, Nicholls avoided the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park and the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot, preferring to run Next Destination at Warwick instead. He found plenty when pressed in the Hampton Novices’ Chase there, defying a penalty and defeating Ascot Noel Novices’ Chase runner-up Fiddlerontheroof.

The Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase is one race that connections think Next Destination will be tailor-made for. He’s already among Grand National day 2 predictions and tips for Aintree regardless of whether he takes up Cheltenham entries or not.

Away from novice company, Ascot Hurdle hero Song For Someone faces potential springtime targets off the back of a disappointing defeat in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. Younger rival Goshen looked a completely different horse from their previous encounter at Cheltenham and bounced back to form in terrific style.

Tom Symonds’ stable star had been campaigned superbly with his easy Ascot Hurdle victory the second of three consecutive Grade 2 triumphs during the calendar year of 2020. Staying over two miles for the Champion Hurdle may no longer be preferred, however, as the Aintree Hurdle on the opening day of the Grand National Festival back up in trip could suit him better.

Ascot may be a clockwise track compared to the left-handed courses at Cheltenham and Aintree, but jumps races run at the home of the royal meeting on the Flat in June look sure to impact the spring festivals.