Master Tommytucker has now turned 10, so we might be excused for believing that his best days are behind him.
But he’s different, a horse with so much unfulfilled potential that he has driven Paul Nicholls to distraction.
Better late than never, Friday could be the day when he at last comes of age and takes Aintree’s Melling Chase, the sort of race his handler has long felt he was capable of winning.
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Various setbacks have restricted Master Tommytucker to just 12 career starts, but he has won half of them and would have won more but for his tendency to occasionally treat fences with less than proper respect. In other words, he can be clumsy.
But when he’s good, he’s very good, as he showed when trouncing the smart handicapper Clondaw Castle at Kempton in January, although even then he almost tossed the race away with a final-fence blunder.
Nicholls defended his charge afterwards, while also giving us all a long-range tip for Friday’s contest.
“He jumped great on the whole and he’s got a huge engine,” said the trainer. “He’s in the top races at Cheltenham, but for me he would be awesome over two and a half miles around Aintree. And I know he’s 10, but he’s lightly-raced and I could definitely see him lining up in next season’s King George VI Chase.”
As it turned out, Master Tommytucker warmed up for this task at Ascot and just came off second best to Dashel Drasher after a fierce tussle. That was no disgrace and is fancied to turn the tables on this faster surface, although Jeremy Scott’s chaser is a tough nut.
A huge threat to both, of course, is the grey Politologue, also trained by Nicholls and the winner of this Grade One in 2018.
Also victorious in Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Chase last year (he was a late withdrawal this March after breaking blood vessels), Politologue sets the standard, but though the same age as Master Tommytucker, he has far more miles on the clock and I suspect we may have seen the very best of him.
Classy second-season Irish chasers Fakir D’Oudairies and Notebook command respect, while Nuts Well, trained by Ann Hamilton in Northumberland, also merits a good mention, having given weight and a beating to both Aye Right at Kelso and Clondaw Castle here in the autumn.
Jumpers are generally given plenty of time between races to aid full recovery and predicting which horses running at Aintree this week are over recent Cheltenham exertions is a bit of a guessing game, even for the trainers.
So, though Nicholls’ Bravemansgame is the clear form pick in the three-mile Sefton Novices’ Hurdle after his creditable display at the Festival, this type of race is notorious for upsets and I don’t think he’s one to get carried away with.
Ditto Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House, who took full advantage of Envoi Allen’s early Cheltenham tumble to win the Marsh Chase. But the extra half mile of the Mildmay Novices’ Chase should see him in an even better light if that effort hasn’t taken its toll.
There are no such concerns for Henderson’s Dusart in the Top Novices’ Hurdle. He looked a classy individual when beating the subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory on his debut at Newbury in February and has been held back for this.
Jon Freeman’s selections for Friday
Odds best available as of Thursday evening
- 1.45pm, Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle: Amarillo Sky, 11-1
- 2.20pm, Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle: Dusart, 9-4
- 2.55pm, Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase: Chantry House, 15-8
- 3.25pm, The Melling Chase: Master Tommytucker (Next Best), 6-1
- 4.05pm, Randox Topham Handicap Chase: Huntsman Son (Best Bet), 16-1
- 4.40pm, Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle: Bravemansgame, 15-8
- 5.15pm, Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle: Leoncavallo (Each-Way), 11-1