'It's a big ask for him' - Gordon Elliott on Tiger Roll's return to Aintree
Saturday: 2.05 Aintree
Unibet Many Clouds Chase (Grade 2) | 3m1f | 4yo+ | ITV4/RTV
What to make of Protektorat? That is the question which comes to mind when assessing this Grade 2 chase because he is the horse on the up against several who are going the other way.
That latter comment probably applies to big-name pair Native River and Tiger Roll, Gold Cup and dual Grand National winner respectively. Native River is respected but at the age of 11 may be past his best, while Tiger Roll is being trained with another tilt at Cheltenham's Cross Country firmly in mind.
The problem with Protektorat is he is rarely missed in the market. He has gone off favourite on five of his six starts over fences and is again forecast to head the betting here.
He has delivered on only three occasions and was called a few names after twice being beaten at odds of 1-2 last season. So is he a bookies horse who is underachieving over fences? Or is that conclusion too harsh? The best way to judge is to use the expected wins measure (xW).
I liken this measure to the expected goals (xG) statistic, which is now widely used by the media in football to measure how many goals each team could have been realistically expected to have scored in each match, judged on the quality of the chances they created.
For horses, the xW uses the combined odds for each of the horse's races to measure how many times a runner could have been realistically expected to win, according to the market.
To calculate the xW for Protektorat over fences, we need to convert his fractional odds for each run into percentages and then divide by 100. Add together the resulting values and that gives you the number of times Protektorat should have won chases, according to the market.
Protektorat has been sent off at prices of: 5-4 (44 per cent/100 = 0.44), 6-5 (46/100 = 0.46), 1-2 (67/100 = 0.67), 1-2 (67/100 = 0.67), 17-2 (11/100 = 0.11) and 11-2 (15/100 = 0.15).
Add together the values in bold and Protektorat has an xW value of 2.5, so he has actually won more races over fences than the market would have realistically expected him to have.
Far from being a bookies horse, Protektorat has been profitable to follow. You'd have won £7.95 backing him in all his chases, and £8.45 in all his races, despite a record of just 4-14.
This proves that those who labelled him an underachiever last season were wrong to do so and let's not forget he is still only six and had just turned that age when suffering his two reverses at 1-2 last January and February. Dan Skelton's horses often improve over time.
Furthermore, it's easy to think that 1-2 favourites should just win unchallenged but, in reality, it's only around an 8-1 chance that two 1-2 shots will be beaten and that is a similar price to Protektorat's SP (17-2) when he won here in April. He made up for his defeats in one swoop.
Protektorat's results point to him relishing a challenge. The harder the task (ie bigger the price), the better he runs and this is his toughest assignment yet. A victory over former Gold Cup hero Native River could confirm Protektorat a true Gold Cup horse himself.
Race analysis by Graeme Rodway
Imperial Aura has 'very good chance' of bouncing back
The sky appeared to be the limit for Imperial Aura, but he is now on a retrieval mission after failing to finish on his last three starts.
Regarded as one of the most exciting chasers around after winning the Grade 2 1965 Chase at Ascot last season, the Kim Bailey-trained eight-year-old unseated at Kempton in January and was pulled up in the Ryanair when he reportedly bled.
Returning in the Betfair Chase after wind surgery last month, Imperial Aura travelled and jumped well before falling at the 13th.
"At that stage I was very happy with him, but whatever happened he wouldn't have won as the winner [A Plus Tard] was very impressive," said Bailey.
"He's come out of the race fine and has schooled very well since and, fingers crossed, he's okay."
Prior to having three letters to his name Imperial Aura was a model of consistency, winning seven of his 11 starts and never finishing out of the first three.
Although his best form has come over shorter, Bailey is optimistic Imperial Aura will prove his credentials over the 3m1f trip.
He said: "I think he's got a very good chance. The track should suit him and I don't think three miles is a problem as he's bred for this trip. I hope we get our lives back on track and see where we are."
What they say
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Native River
If you take his last two runs, when he was fourth in the Gold Cup and the race he won at Sandown [rearranged Cotswold Chase], I think he is nearly as good as ever. On our gallops you would say he's better this year than he was last year. It's not an easy race but he has won it and been third in it. I think he has a major chance.
Dan Skelton, trainer of Protektorat
Three miles has been on our minds for a while as two and a half looked short in the Paddy Power. This race should work out nicely as you've Native River and a couple of others up there, and it looks a good race to step into three miles. He's got to confirm his promise, but he's the younger horse and it's up to him to step forward. They'll jump out and go a good gallop and, having run over two and a half last time, he'll jump off into the bridle. It's a good thing they'll go a gallop. It's not like it'll be tactical and the best horse will win. I think he'll stay, it's more the step up in class against a former Gold Cup winner in Native River; it's a different league.
Anthony Honeyball, trainer of Sam Brown
We've had a clear run with him at last and have him better this season than we have for a while. He wants soft ground at least, so the softer it gets the better. We're wrong at the weights on ratings, but on soft ground he's got a good cruising speed and a decent engine.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Simply The Betts
It was a toss-up of keeping him for Cheltenham next weekend or running here. It's a good-looking race, but he's a consistent horse who always runs well. He's come on a ton from his run at Cheltenham last month and I'm keen to try him at three miles.
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Tiger Roll
I obviously don't need to tell anybody that he's getting on in years and he's probably not the horse he was but he seems to be in good form at home. It's a big ask for him as it looks a hot race but hopefully he can give a good account of himself. James [Bowen] has ridden for me before and he's a good, young rider.
Reporting by Andrew Dietz
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