The start of the Grand National meeting at Aintree with Liverpool Day seeing seven races at the Merseyside track.
This piece will be a quick look at the races and hopefully find some nice winners ahead of Saturday’s showpiece event in the Grand National.
1:40 – Manifesto Novices Chase
A six-runner affair to start off with and it doesn’t look the greatest of races in all honesty. I didn’t think Josses Hill jumping would be good enough to contest in an Arkle let alone get close. However I’ll admit I was wrong and he produced a good round of jumping and was beaten by a class horse in Un De Sceaux and a back-in-form Gods Own. This looks an easier contest and would be the one to side with but the price isn’t attractive. Expect the Arkle form with Vibrato Valtat to be franked here. One of the seven-year-olds victories came on good ground at Doncaster, so he should cope with the quicker ground better than some of his rivals. Aintree isn’t a stiff track compared to Cheltenham so he should go well here. The only worry is if this will be a tactical race due to the small nature of the field size. Gold Cup winning jockey Nico de Boinville takes the ride in place of the injured Barry Geraghty.
Vibrato Valtat may find the ground too quick, which will be a hindrance and despite having a higher handicap rating than Josses Hill. Plus the races he has won don’t look to be strong affairs compared to those the selections race wins. One thing on the grey’s side is that his best form comes in small field sizes. Clarcam may be the main danger for Gordon Elliot and ridden by Ruby Walsh. The five-year-old has room for improvement after his eighth at Cheltenham in the Arkle but his form suggests this step-up in trip should suit as the majority of his wins have come over 2m1f or 2m2f rather than the minimum trip. He ran away with the Grade 1 Racing Post Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day and for me is the one to finish behind Josses Hill. Has form on good ground including a second in the Juvenile Hurdle here at last year’s meeting.
This is a big step up for Cash And Go over fences where he has only had three runs (two wins and an unseating.) He has won a Grade 1 over hurdles but this is a different kettle of fish. Venetia Williams yard have only had three winners in their last 26 runners. Three Kingdoms has won at this distance over hurdles and was second to Vibrato Valtat earlier this season in Grade 2 at Kempton. The step up in trip is likely to suit and is dangerous. Val De Law is an unknown but looks a little out of his depth. Two runs over fences where he fell on debut at Exeter and then second of three last month at Leicester where he was an odds-on favourite plus that was only a Class 4 race.
The price for Josses Hill is rather short so I’ll chance the forecast of Josses Hill (1st) and Clarcam (2nd.)
2:15 – Betfred Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle
After his third in the Triumph Hurdle, behind stable mates Peace And Co and Top Notch, this race looks like Hargam (evens) to lose. The grey was third at Cheltenham as his stable mates pulled clear over the final hurdle. He should be suited by the Aintree track and is probably going to be prominently ridden here as he was at the festival in March. A few of these were in behind at Cheltenham and that form is likely to be repeated here as the Henderson horse looks to have a Grade 1 win in him after that run. The only concern would be that that race took a lot of him and could be vulnerable to Bristol De Mai who bypassed the festival. The 8lb rise after that performance shouldn’t be a probably and this is a perfect opportunity for AP McCoy to open his account at his final Aintree meeting.
Devilment was a place behind Hargam in fourth at Cheltenham and stayed on well but in the end was 10l behind the Henderson grey however he should go well despite having his fourth different jockey on board. He seems an uncomplicated type so that shouldn’t be a probably and for me is the one again to follow Hargam home. The previously mentioned Bristol De Mai won a competitive Juvenile Hurdle on dead ground at Chepstow so this looks to be a little more difficult and all form is on softer ground. Of the Nicholls pair Bouvreuil would be the one after his second in the Fred Winter over All Yours who was fifth. Of the rest Hostile Fire has the hood on for the first time, so if he settles he could be dangerous. Winner Massagot won ten days ago at Kempton in an eye-catching performance where he travelled beautifully and at the business end of the race jumped quickly and could have a chance here.
Advice – Hargam to win
Other ways in – Winner Massagot e/w (33/1) & Devilment w/o fav (11/4)
2:50 – Betfred Bowl Chase
This is a seven-runner race but one that is quite interesting with the market leaders. Holywell (2/1) is the favourite for this race after finishing fourth in the Gold Cup, another horse that outperformed my expectations. He is rightly favourite after winning the Mildmay Novices Chase here last year, in that race he beat this year’s Hennessy winner Many Clouds, so the form looks quite strong. This eight-year-old does seem to perform better on spring ground and should have no problem here.
Silviniaco Conti won this race last year and after another disappointing run in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham but seems a hard horse to judge. I’d expect him to go well but can’t really say that with much confidence after his recent runs. Of the rest Ma Filleule performed well at Cheltenham where she was second behind Uxizandre but how much did that take out of her would be my concern. However she gets a weight allowance of 7lb and has good form it is just a case of proving it at a further trip, as she was third of four over this distance at the track. At a price Menorah would be worth watching. A horse that runs well fresh and hasn’t ran since disappointing in the King George Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He won the Grade 2 Charlie Hall at Wetherby and followed that up with a second in the in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock. Two years ago he was second in this race at a big price and he can outrun his odds again here.
3:25 – Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle
Rock On Ruby (3/1) missed Cheltenham but will have been primed for this run here. Only on two starts has he been out of the top three in, one being a National Hunt Flat race on debut and the other over fences, that suggests he is an ultra-consistent type and one who will go well here. He has previously been rated 170 but is now 10lbs lower at 160 so he can easily replicate his best form from this mark and is a really likeable sort. His last win at Cheltenham he won pretty much from the front and does what he does really well – fend off the challengers. That day the third was Cole Harden, who went onto win the World Hurdle at Cheltenham after having a wind operation, so he has beaten good horses.
Arctic Fire would be the main danger stepping up to 2m4f. The way he stays on towards the end of races over 2m suggests this should suit. He was a strong finishing second in the Champion Hurdle and Willie Mullins fancies his chances over this trip. For me he would the one behind Rock On Ruby ahead of Jezki, who does have class, as he showed when winning the 2014 Champion Hurdle and the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December 2013 over this distance. These are the three that should finish in the first three places as they are the quality horses on show in this race.
4:05 – Crabbie’s Fox Hunters Chase
I said this at Cheltenham before tipping the 8/1 winner! This sort of race isn’t one that I can claim to be an expert one.
That winner I mentioned was On The Fringe (4/1) and I’ll stick with the Edna Bolger and Nina Carberry pairing to do the Cheltenham/Aintree double. A slight concern would be the shorter trip as he has won over further but due to the quick speed expected the stamina he balances it out. He does have the necessary speed as he showed when powering clear from two out at Cheltenham. He won at Punchestown on this ground so that shouldn’t be a problem. You could argue he is a short price for a race of this nature but I can’t really find much to beat him, especially on form and his solid jumping. A strong contender and potentially nap of the day at a good price.
Warne won this last year by 13l and is dangerous but was beaten by the selection at the Punchestown Festival later on in the year. Since then he had a race in a Point-To-Point, which he won and that was ideal prep for this. He will be a danger after the manner of his success last year however this looks a stronger renewal so he may struggle. However Sam Waley-Cohen has won this race three times and could well make it four.
At a price Chosen Milan (25/1) could be the one to fill a place after her fifth at Cheltenham and off bottom weight can beat a number of her male counterparts. She has form on most grounds and the second to Alskamatic on good ground at Exeter, suggests that drying ground won’t be a problem. While her wins have been on slow ground so the National course, currently Good To Soft, shouldn’t be a problem. At Cheltenham she jumped fairly well, there was a noticeable error when she was leading at about five from home but one poor jump wasn’t the excuse. The shorter trip should see her go well and is very promising at that price.
Of the rest Last Time D’Albain and Quinz could be worth siding with on form and are both each-way prices.
4:40 – Betfred Red Rum Handicap Chase
Parsnip Pete (14/1 each-way) won this race last year but hasn’t been running at tracks that play to his strengths since. Here he could go close at a big price and his win here in October off a mark of 141 makes me believe he can go close again of 144. Newbury and Sandown are tracks to suit him and back at Aintree where he has both of his starts and can complete the hat-trick. A couple of jumping errors made on that day but he still looks fairly well-handicapped, so at a big price he is worth chancing at a track he likes.
Astracad finished fourth last year but the Twiston-Davies yard doesn’t seem to have the firepower and his horses haven’t been in-form recently. Royal Regatta is progressive and will be going up by 4lb in the handicap after this. He had a hard race only 11 days ago at Ascot when he was second by a shoulder to Un Ace and with worries over jumping makes it difficult for him to be in with contention. Next Sensation won the Grand Annual at Cheltenham and could repeat that here if he settles into his race. Claret Cloak reappears for the first time since November and could be the danger having form on this better ground and he was a fast finishing third last year. Despite being top weight he has Sean Bowen on board who is very much in-form and with his 5lb will be close.
5:15 – Injured Jockeys Fund Handicap Hurdle
Taglietelle (8/1, right of picture blue silks) was fourth in the Grade 3 Coral Cup at Cheltenham. That renewal looks fairly strong on paper and in my opinion is a stronger race than what many of his rivals today ran in at Cheltenham. Over 2m5f in the Coral Cup he stayed on really well to suggest that this step-up in trip to 3m should suit. This is his first attempt at this trip, so there are question marks when up against proven rivals but the nature of his last run makes me believe that this shouldn’t be problem considering the quick gallop in that race and his strong finish. A 5lb rise for that run wouldn’t worry me, especially as Aintree isn’t as undulating as Cheltenham and the ground plays to his liking, so they should balance the rise out.
Call The Cops won the Pertemps Final and due to that is the obvious danger. He carries a 7lb penalty for that success and being a lightly raced gelding he should be close to the frame. Katgary was a winner last time out at Newbury and steps up to 3m for the first time too. At five-years-old he has room for lots of improvement and would need to make a big one to stand a chance in this competitive field. Bear’s Affair at the top of the handicap will win another race but only when his mark falls to something kinder as he seems to be in the handicappers grip. Unique De Cotte was second to Call The Cops at Cheltenham and that was an encouraging run after failing to make an impact over the distance on his previous attempt however I still think he’s better at 2m5f.
At a bigger price Apache Jack (16/1) with the visor for the first time could be an each-way gamble. He has been chasing but unsuccessfully and returns to hurdling where he did have some success last season. The form looks strong from his third in the 2014 Albert Bartlett behind Very Wood and Deputy Dan. Prior to that run back in January 2014 he was 2¼l second to Briar Hill in the Grade 2 Slaney Novice Hurdle.