National now possible for enigmatic Bristol De Mai.
TRAINER Nigel Twiston-Davies described it as disappointing while Anthony Bromley, representing owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, called it a "headscratching" performance - but connections aren't giving up on Cotswold Chase third Bristol De Mai.
The Betfair Chase winner did nothing in Saturday's Grade 2 contest to shed the tag of steeplechasing enigma, fading out of the fight behind Definitly Red and American and once again failing to build on his 57-length demolition job at Haydock in November.
With an apparently below-par effort in the King George over Christmas sandwiched in between those two races, connections and supporters are left with a mass of contradictory evidence as to the true level of Bristol De Mai's ability.
One potential theory is that the grey son of Saddler Maker is less effective around Cheltenham than on flatter tracks such as Haydock, a hypothesis that could point Bristol De Mai towards Aintree.
But yesterday morning Twiston-Davies was far from ready to concede that his star chaser has an unconquerable aversion to Prestbury Park.
Twiston-Davies said: "I really don't know. He was very disappointing so everything is on hold a bit.
"He has run well around Cheltenham before and other places. We'll just have to see how he comes out of it."
Bromley agreed there would be no rush to judgement over Bristol De Mai's latest disappointment but did confirm that the Randox Health Grand National was one of three races under consideration at Aintree in April.
"It was better than Kempton but it seemed a slightly laboured run in conditions that were there to suit," said Bromley.
"It's a head-scratching situation but not insurmountable. Over the next few days we'll do some more veterinary checks and the general feeling is to try to freshen him up and maybe aim at Aintree, although that could be in one of three races.
"It could be the three mile Grade 1 on the Mildmay course, it could be the Topham or it could be the Grand National. He'll get an entry on Tuesday but it's not a given that he runs in the National."
Bromley reiterated that the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup had not been ruled out and that much would depend on whether any further reason for Saturday's effort came to light.
"Cheltenham is still up in the air and he is entered," said Bromley. "The first reaction was that he may not be a Gold Cup horse but let's see if something comes to light that might alter that."
The two-tone green silks of Munir and Souede were strongly in evidence in several of Saturday's main events, continuing a fine season for the owners.
Although L'Ami Serge just failed to reel in Wakanda in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, Bromley and trainer Nicky Henderson were satisfied ahead of a busy spring campaign back over hurdles.
Meanwhile Wholestone also just came off worst against Agrapart in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle and will return to Cheltenham in March with the same likely target as L'Ami Serge, the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.
"L'Ami Serge ran fine and it was worth a shout to try him off his lower mark [over fences]," said Bromley.
"We didn't quite get the result we wanted but we were pleased with him and we'll go back to plan A and go for the Stayers' Hurdle. Wholestone and he will have their next starts at Cheltenham and Daryl [Jacob] will have to choose which one he rides."
'The first reaction was that he may not be a Gold Cup horse but let's see if something comes to light that might alter that'