It can be very frustrating to be a national hunt trainer. One day you think you have a Grand National winner on your hands, the next the BHA Handicapper all but scuppers your chances. Case in point is trainer Phil Kirby with his chaser Top Ville Ben.
Originally targeted at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, following his impressive win Rowland Meyrick win at Wetherby on Boxing Day, connections were deflated the following month when he was well beaten at Cheltenham. The eight-year-old was primed for the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase but was outpaced on the day by both the winner Santini and second-place finisher Bristol De Mai. In fact, despite coming in third, Top Ville Ben was a still a huge 33L off the winner.
Realising that the chaser wasn’t going to be able to step up to that level, he was then scratched from the Gold Cup. At that point, Aintree was definitely on the cards. However, whether he will run in the 2020 Grand National or the Bowl is not yet decided. Entries for the Bowl aren’t out so there’s no way of knowing the potential competition Top Ville Ben would face if that’s the race connections opt for.
Top Ville Ben National Weight
It doesn’t help that the BHA Handicapper has kept Top Ville Ben on his OR of 162 and handed him a weight of 11-02. Unlike some of the other potential runners, his rating was not compressed. Looking through Top Ville Ben’s recent races and the weight he runs off, it’s clear that he frequently carries quite a lot. At Wetherby he ran off 11-11 but that was over three miles with 19 fences.
He regularly runs with more than 11-04 but the Grand National over more than 4 miles with 30 fences is a different prospect entirely. That’s probably been the reason why so many seasoned and new betting sites have been cautious about offering shorter odds on him than currently available.
Speaking to Racing TV Kirby said: “I don’t think he has helped us, to be honest. It is what it is, but he’s left us where we are (on a mark of 162), whereas other horses have had a bit of help and had their marks lowered, or compressed, as people keep saying.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now and we’ll school over some National fences and go from there.”
Grand National Prep
So what now for Top Ville Ben? The Betway Bowl is generally considered to be one of the best races at the Aintree Festival. It attracts a very high-quality field, many of whom have run in the Gold Cup. The Grade 1 race was won by Kemboy last year but the runners also included Clan Des Obeaux, Bristol De Mai and Elegant Escape.
It’s a much shorter race at 3m1f but all runners do carry 11-07. So a less taxing race but more weight.
— Philip Kirby Racing (@PKirbyRacing) February 12, 2020
As for the 2020 Grand National, Kirby is undecided. He said, “I’ll school him over some National fences, see how he takes to them and then decide which way we’re going to go.”
Don’t expect a decision any time soon. On his own website Kirby states: “Top Ville Ben has been allotted 11 stone 2lbs for the big one.
“A few pounds more than we’d like but still a racing weight and his Owners & Phil will make a decision closer to the day if he heads to The Betfair Bowl or The National itself.”
So we may be kept guessing up to the week of the Festival. For now though, those that fancy his chances for the Grand National can back him at general odds of 33/1. If you back him on Paddy Power, Betfair or Betfred, the odds are Non Runner No Bet so if he doesn’t race, you’ll get your money back.