Well, today (Boxing Day) was a complete wipeout from a betting perspective but was nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable.
What to take from the day?
Dostal Phil duly won for Richard Johnson (without my money) at Fontwell and it turned out that Joshua Moore was the star jockey at the course with a three timer.
Dilrow won the big Hunters’ Chase at Down Royal at 25/1, beating all the big names.
Faugheen was an imperious winner of the Grade 1 novice chase with an exuberant jumping display that put Samcro in his place. I don’t for a moment accept that Samcro was below par, which means that the winner is a serious candidate in March, but in which race? Perhaps the 10/1 for the Marsh Novices’ Chase (formerly the JLT) is attractive?
Mt Leinster dumped my selection Entoucas in authoritative style at Leopardstown.
Aspire Tower was a dominant winner of the Knight Frank Juvenile and is now favourite for the Triumph (but I’d watch out for Goshen).
Notebook (one of my three to watch in the race) was a dominant winner of the Leopardstown featured novice chase. I wouldn’t take too much from this. Mark Walsh lost an iron on Fakir D’Oudairies and Laurina suffered a burst blood vessel.
Fred was an impressive winner of the opening novices’ hurdle at Kempton but I was encouraged by the impressive runner up, Ecco, who I’ll remain faith with.
Slate House was a decent winner of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. It’s a shame that Master Tommytucker fell but he wasn’t looking like the winner at the time. Black Op didn’t live up to the hype – more of hype below – in the King George. This race didn’t produce a Festival winner.
Epatante was an emphatic winner of a below standard Christmas Hurdle. The second and third were 11/1 and 14/1. Fusil Raffles was a big disappointment and has to be disregarded unless or until he progresses.
Clan des Obeaux yet again proved the old maxim of horses for courses (and races).
The King George warrants a new paragraph. I was, as usual, excited during the running of it but, with the benefit of a few hours’ reflection, it was a disappointing race. Clan Des Obeaux did what many horses have shown in recent renewals – demonstrated that certain horses are very well suited to the race.
Clan Des Obeaux is a very good and progressive 7-y-o but he won’t win the Gold Cup and I think that Paul Nicholls knows that. This is his ideal race and he was an impressive winner. Course, distance and conditions suit perfectly and he should be aimed for this next year.
On to tomorrow!
No narrative after today’s disaster, just selections. I couldn’t resist just a few comments and one selection per meeting (underlined).
12:05 Saint D’Oroux (5/2)
12:35 Melon (11/10)
13:10 Chacun Pour Soi(2/5)
13:45 Abracadabras (4/7)
14:20 Moon Over Germany (8/1)
14:55 Chef Des Obeaux (40/1); Liveloughlaugh (20/1)
15:30 Ragnar Ladbrok (4/6)
13:25 (Hunters’ Chase) Winged Leader (evens)
14:00 Fury Road(11/10)
14:35 Colreevy (2/7) (WP horse in a maiden)
15:45 Getabay (7/4) (Jamie Codd in a bumper)
13:00 Tarada (4/9) (Hemmings hot pot – one to watch)
13:30 Goobinator (8/13) (Not a betting option but one I’ve been watching)
14:05 Hawk High (9/4) (I love this horse and really fancy him for this)
12:30 Cap Du Mathan (9/2) to beat big favourite Harry Senior (5/4)
13:35 This race could properly be called a hidden Grade 1. If you had to make a list of the Grade 1s, would you include it? Well, this year’s renewal has attracted a decent Joseph O’Brien horse in the shape of Cerberus (2/1), which is only second favourite behind the Skeltons’ Allmankind (11/10). He beat one of my selections today, A Wave Of The Sea, who was well beaten today (26 Dec) by Aspire Tower, so not overly enthusiastic but looking for a decent price, no more.
14:10 Clyne (6/1). I’m all over this one for what looks like an ideal race for him.
14:50 The Coral Welsh National. Elegant Escape is the appropriate favourite but Potters Corner (15/2) has been laid out for this and would be a great home winner for Christian Williams.
15:55 Jeremy Pass (9/4)
12:45 Homer (11/10) Exactly my sort of horse. Bought by Munir/Souede following outings in Longchamp, Clairefontaine and Saint-Cloud, and then placed with Henderson. An early closer for the Triumph Hurdle and currently trading at 20/1. I could continue with the breeding but…
13:20 The Wayward Lad. I love this race but, let’s face it, it’s not the best renewal. I’m a big fan of Al Dancer (3/1) so I have to stay with him, albeit with limited confidence.
In the words of Shakin’ Stevens, “Merry Christmas Everyone” (released 34 years ago!).
What do I do on Christmas Day (apart from the festivities)? Well, take a good look at the Boxing Day cards of course!
First, a few parish notices. As a one off and no doubt in response to criticism about split screens on congested days , Racing TV is broadcasting a free-to-air dedicated Irish racing programme presented by Gary O’Brien, with all the races from Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal on Freesports (on Freeview HD channel 64, Sky channel 422, Virgin 553, FreeSat 252, TalkTalk 64 and BT Vision channel 64).
Second, Richard Johnson (98), currently second to Brian Hughes (100) in the jockeys’ championship has chosen to take five rides at Fontwell which, on such a prestigious day, must be a notable pointer. His rides are: 12:15 Early Days (11/2), 12:45 I Like Him (7/4), 13:50 Sky Full Of Stars (15/2), 14:25 Dostal Phil (11/8) and 15:00 The Tin Miner (7/2).
Third, as is traditional, the only racing of note on Christmas Day is at Pau. One of my horses to follow, Fret D’Estruval, runs in the 11:15 chase and there is an interesting cross country race at 12:15 featuring Uroquois, who should atone for his unexpected defeat last time out.
12:40 Maiden Hurdle
As might be expected, some decent prospects head the field in this one. I take Joseph O’Brien’s Entoucas (7/2) to beat Mullins’ favourite Mt Leinster (5/2).
13:10 Knight Frank Juvenile (Grade 2)
I see this as between Aspire Tower for Henry de Bromhead (15/8f) and A Wave Of The Sea (5/1), again for Joseph O’Brien, and my preference is for the latter.
This is a legitimate trial for the Arkle and my race of the day. It features the main Irish protagonists, the highly impressive 4-y-o Fakir D’Oudairies (6/4), the equally impressive mare Laurina (6/5) for Willie Mullins and the exciting prospect Notebook (9/1). The Irish definitely have the upper hand in this division and the winner of this one should be the clear favourite for the Cheltenham race in March. I can’t split them and will sit back and enjoy. It’s also worth bearing in mind the 7lb allowances for Fakir D’Oudairies (4-y-o) and Laurina (mare)
12:50 Novices’ Hurdle
We get the card going with a decent head to head between Henderson (Vegas Blue – 2/1) and Nicholls (Ecco – 4/1). Vegas Blue won both bumpers (Bangor and Huntingdon) and Ecco is much more experienced, having been sixth in the Triumph Hurdle and following up with wins at Wincanton and Ascot, before a third in the Grade 2 Supreme Novices’ Trial at Cheltenham last month. I’m prepared to forgive him the last run on testing ground and if I’m right the current 4/1 provides very good value.
13:20 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle
I was at Ludlow to see current favourite Roll Again (3/1) win for very much in form Venetia Williams eight days ago. He went off at 7/2jf but was far from foot perfect and carries a 7lb penalty. Although Venetia is renowned for quick turnarounds, I prefer Doctor Dex at am appealing 15/2.
13:55 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
I’m really looking forward to seeing Master Tommytucker (3/1jf of 3). A fragile horse who has had time off, he won well here over a shorter distance last time out and this should be ideal. Of the rest I respect Slate House.
Nicky Henderson has the first three in the market (Fusil Raffles, Epatante and Verdana Blue). He couldn’t conceal his excitement about Fusil Raffles (2/1) in a recent interview and he’s a confident selection.
15:05 King George (Grade 1)
Currently the highest rated National Hunt horse and at 3.15 the current 6/4 could turn out to have been very good value indeed. His recent form is faultless but this is his biggest challenge yet and I’m not 100% convinced.
Lost In Transation (15/8)
There is nothing to dislike about his recent form and he is definitely the most progressive. He’s coming here on the back of a facile Betfair Chase win and therefore remains on course for the £1million bonus if he wins and goes on to win the Gold Cup. I think that there’s every chance that he will and become the next big thing in chasing.
Clan Des Obeaux (4/1)
Last year’s winner has been there and done it. However, this is undoubtedly a tougher race and I wasn’t too impressed with his return at Down Royal last month when beaten by Road To Respect, albeit that was probably a pipe opener. It’s also notable that Harry Cobden has chosen to ride Cyrname.
A firm favourite as a novice, there’s no doubt that he has lost his way since then and he needs a striking return to form to feature in the shake up (not out of the question but a very big ask).
Won this race in 2016 and was runner-up last season but surely his best is behind him.
A decent handicapper but ground, distance and form are all against him.
Verdict: I think it’s between the front two in the market and my ready preference is for Lost In Translation (15/8) who, although a 7-y-o like Cyrname, Clan Des Obeaux and Footpad, looks like the one with the greatest capacity to move ahead of the rest. Colin Tizzard has shown time and again that he has the capacity to prepare horses for the biggest assignments and the yard is currently in a rich vein of form.
14:40 Greenmount Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Samcro (8/13f) is a dual Grade 1 winner and was looking like he was getting back to his best when falling while in contention at the second last in a Grade 1 last time out. Timeform have him 10lb ahead of the field (168p).
I’ve previously expressed my view about Faugheen (5/2) going novice chasing when rising 12 and I’m still unconvinced that it’s what he deserves. A genuinely great horse in his day but with a habit of clouting one or two, as on the last occasion, I don’t favour this campaign and hope that he has a safe round.
If Samcro doesn’t get round then I favour Castlebrook (16/1) to spring a surprise.
14:10 Rowland Meyrick Chase (Grade 3)
I think that Lake View Lad (13/2) will show a significant improvement on his last outing. He was an impressive third in the Ultima at the Festival, although appeared not to take to the fences when next seen in the Grand National.
Another Hemmings horse to look out for on the card is the very promising Sammy Bill (10/11f) in the 1.35.
14:45 Bluegrass Hunters’ Chase
This is a high quality race with all the leading contenders of note: Edwulf (6/4), Black Hercules (3/1), Burning Ambition (11/2) and my selection Ucello Conti (7/1).
No tips today, well OK just a few. Just a reminder to myself about the horses to watch out for.
12:05 Thyme Hill (very good value at 6/4)
12:40 Mick Pastor (big recruit from France for Nicholls/Geraghty/JP)
13:15 Aye Aye Charlie (one of my horses to follow – e/w)
13:50 Ramses de Taillee (perfect going)
14:25 Siruh du Lac should win this. Can’t understand why Slate House is being supported. Splash Of Ginge for a place at 28/1.
15:00 Tobefair is excellent value at 7/2.
15:30 Avoid this race. Lots are double declared.
16:00 Looking forward to watching Cill Anna in this (11/1) but not betting.
13:20 Petite Power looks exceptional value at 9/4
14:30 Looking forward to seeing Midnight Tune (3/10) before she moves on to a higher order. Just a watching brief.
15:35 Take (possibly) a first look at Grandads Cottage (5/6). This one could well turn up in the spring festivals.
12:50 What the hell is hurdler Faugheen doing in this?! This smacks to me of running out of ideas and what, ultimately, is the point of putting an 11-y-o, rising 12 into a beginners’ chase? As you will have gathered I am really unhappy about this. He might well win but my selection is Dommage Pour Tou who could turn out to be quite interesting.
13:25 I really like Moon Over Germany at a remarkable 5/2.
14:00 I think that Klassical Dream is the real deal. 8/15 could be very generous.
14:35 Blue Sari (3/10) is one to watch and should win. However, I’ll also be watching Fakir (9/1).
15:40 The Big Getaway could be a big player later in the season. Not for me at 4/9, albeit that he doesn’t have much to beat.
I’m writing this on Thursday evening, having successfully swerved any visits from the nonsense that is “trick or treat”. Unfortunately, the tricks I have in mind would probably attract a visit from PC Plod.
So, on to a fascinating day’s racing on Friday. It’s not a betting day (for the most part), but should be very interesting and here are the ones that I’m looking forward to. A notebook day. OK, there’s a bit of betting involved!
12:40 Fury Road (4/5)
13:10 Daylight Katie (4/11)
13:45 Coeur Sublime (6/4 selection) and stablemate Coko Beach (5/2)
14:55 Samcro (chase debut – 1/7)
16:05 Pencilfulloflead (11/8) and Powerful Ted (15/8)
13:55 Sam Spinner (4/5). A good betting option after his winning debut over fences.
14:30 Nordano (11/2) to beat favourite Crealion (4/5)
15:05 A forecast. Guitar Pete (3/1) to beat Demi Sang (16/1)
12:55 Battleofthesomme (11/10 nap)
13:30 France De Reve (Nicky Henderson/JP/Geraghty). Opened at 11/8, now 4/7
14:40 Thomas Darby chase debut (6/4). Also of note: Summerville Boy and Western Ryder
15:15 Heavenly Promise (super hot Fergal O’Brien – opened 11/10, now 8/11)
Britain’s first all weather Group 1 is the Vertem Futurity 2-y-o 1m, relocated at 18:00. My selection is Innisfree at a current 13/2
It’s a big deal that Santa Anita has retained the Breeders’ Cup after its torrid season. However, it’s taking place notwithstanding the opposition and day one sometimes provides betting options, but not obvious ones this time round. Therefore I’ll just choose the ones of interest without any intention of betting:
17:45 Campaign (4/6)
20:12 A’Ali (5/1 Dettori and even though drawn 10)
20:52 Arizona (2/1 O’Brien/Ryan Moore and drawn 12)
As ever, good luck, although bear in mind that, unless you’re very bold, this is overall a watching and noting rather than betting day.
My first bet of the new NH season was Brewin’upastorm in the 2.25 at Carlisle today. Got off to a good start, albeit by a head!
So here are the selections for tomorrow at Cheltenham.
14:00 Braid Blue (3/1)
14:35 Getaway Trump (11/8 second favourite behind Al Dancer)
15:10 Totally random- no bet
15:45 A great race – looking forward to Dinons (100/30) beating Wholestone (9/4) and wary of Mulcahys Hill (10/1)
16:20 A French head to head. I prefer Cap du Mathan at an appealing 6/1.
16:55 Great to have an amateurs’ proper chase over the Old Course and I’m with Doing Fine for Neil Mulholland and Sam Waley-Cohen, again at 6/1
17:30 Totally random race – no bet. If I’m rolling I’ll have a go with Ballydunblaze at 17/2
One of our best options has been to do a Lucky 15. It’s interesting that BetVictor has today announced that it’s cancelling “Lucky” bets because they’re costing them too much! A very good reason to stick with them where they’re available. So here they are (placed with fixed prices with Paddy Power):
Cheltenham 14:35 Getaway Trump 11/8
Cheltenham 15:45 Dinons 100/30
Dundalk 18:45 Thames River 7/4
Newbury 13:40 Bright Eyed Eagle Evs
Good luck! Based on the bet I’ve just placed the potential return is £351.44! Well, part of that will do!
No winners today but Rouge Vic and Emitom came close. I should have stuck to my view that some of the Cheltenham runners would not have sufficient time to recover. The truth is that, unsurprisingly, some of them have and some of them haven’t.
The ground has also turned out to be nowhere near as testing as I expected. It is mainly sandy loam which has the ability to dry out very quickly.
Jockey news is that Barry Geraghty suffered a suspected broken leg following a fall in the Topham. He was due to ride Forza Milan in the 1.45, Unowhatimeanharry in the 3.40 and, most significantly, Gold Cup runner up Anibale Fly in the National.
In light of the inherent greater than usual unpredictability, I’m going to keep it really brief.
Pertemps winner Sire Du Berlais is the current favourite at 4/1, 10/1 bar. Now that was a hard race so I am going to look elsewhere. Mia’s Storm* (e/w) fell twice last season but they were in chases and otherwise the form looks really good (1111FF-11), albeit not at the highest level. 16/1 looks to me like a really good each way option. She’s returning from a 131 days’ break which I regard as a plus.
The form of Brewin’upastorm* (11/4) and Angels Breath* (7/2) is comfortably ahead of the rest and that’s reflected in the betting. However, both failed to live up to expectations at Cheltenham (Brewin’upastorm fourth in the Ballymore and Angels Breath seventh in the Supreme). Champ was second in the Ballymore and won really impressively today. Fakir D’Oudairies, Felix Desjy and Aramon were all ahead of Angels Breath and all have performed well this week, particularly Felix Desjy who won the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle this afternoon.
I can’t choose between or beyond them so, unusually for me, I’m going for a reverse forecast (1st and 2nd in either order).
The bare form of Us And Them** (11/4) when second in the Arkle (13 lengths behind Duc Des Genievres) and second to Le Richebourg in his previous two races, is impressive and the best on offer. Clondaw Castle and Knocknanuss were fourth and fifth in the Arkle, in which Lalor was pulled up and Ornua fell. Lalor can’t be supported until he shows a return to form but could bounce back. Destrier and Caid Du Lin have yet to prove themselves at this level. Overall I think that it’s between the selection and Ornua.
What do we do with Apple’s Jade? Sixth of seven finishers in the Champion Hurdle, the bubble well and truly burst, but that’s not the only time that has happened at Cheltenham. Significantly, she has shown the ability to bounce back and prior to the Champion Hurdle she had won all her outings this season (three Grade 1s and a Grade 2). She was not overly exerted when beaten and there is no problem with the longer trip. I expect her to win well.
Sam Spinner showed a remarkable return to form when runner up to the brilliant Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle (Wholestone fifth) but the overall form suggests that this may have been a one off in terms of recent form. Roksana (winner of the Mares’ Hurdle) and William Henry (winner of the Coral Cup) are both decent horses but some way behind the favourite at her best.
On balance this looks like the ideal opportunity for Apple’s Jade**** (15/8) to resume her winning ways, and at a tempting price.
A word of warning. As far as I can remember I don’t think that I’ve ever selected the winner of this race and I don’t expect that to change this time around.
Kildisart** (7/1) ran well in the JLT at the Festival, coming fourth behind Defi Du Seuil, Lost In Translation, impressive conqueror of Topofthegame in this afternoon’s Mildmay Novices’ Chase and now being touted for great things, and Mengli Khan, who ran well in third in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase yesterday.
It’s a mystery to me why Debece (6/1) is the current favourite on the strength of two Class 4 wins this year at Newcastle and Catterick. Perhaps he’s been primed for this, but I can’t have it.
Mister Malarkey is a much better proposition, taking into account his Grade 2 win in the Reynoldstown at Ascot in February and his fourth at 20/1 in the RSA, albeit some way behind the first three.
17:15 Grand National (Grade 3) 4m 2f 74y – £1,000,000
It would be easy and obvious to select Tiger Roll (9/2) and I really hope that he wins. As I mentioned in the Cheltenham preview, his CV is nothing short of spectacular and a repeat victory will make him one of the all time National greats. However, I’m going to pick a few alternatives.
Trevor Hemmings and the Grand National are synonymous and we know that he acquires horses with the primary intention of having them run in this race.
Winner of the Rowland Meyrick and a creditable third at 25/1 in the Ultima, this horse is very progressive and seems to have had an ideal build up. It’s the first time that he’s been tried at this distance, but the same can be said for many of them. I suspect that this has been the plan for for this 9-y-o for at least a couple of years.
Officially rated just 5lbs behind Tiger Roll, this one won the 4-miler at Cheltenham last season. His only outing to date this season was when winning the Grade 3 Bobby Chase at Fairyhouse in February and he is a top quality candidate for the Mullins/Walsh combination. He’s another who has almost certainly been laid out for this race and it’s interesting that he’s Ruby’s only ride of the day. He also has a very fair weight (11-00). Definitely the biggest challenger to Tiger Roll in my opinion.
Another for Trevor Hemmings, he was placed in the Scottish and Welsh Nationals last season and was second in the Ultima at Cheltenham, his only race this calendar year. Another one that has undoubtedly been aimed at this for a long time.
40 Joe Farrell* (20/1)
This one has only just got into the race and therefore runs off bottom weight (10-02). That’s not bad for last year’s winner of the Scottish National (in which Vintage Clouds was third).
18:20 Conditional and Amateurs’ Handicap Hurdle 2m 103y – £50,000
Not much to say about this so I’ll just point out that Ludlow winner Flashing Glance is the Timeform selection at an appealing 16/1.
Overall Thursday was very moderate on the tipping front with Glen Forsa pulled up, Band Of Outlaws very disappointing and Buveur D’air turned over by Supasundae. However, the Betway Bowl went very much to plan with Kemboy’s victory and The Glancing Queen was an impressive winner of the mares’ bumper.
The most notable feature of the day was the ground which was very stamina sapping. It’s been raining constantly since racing finished and I see this as a major factor for the next two days. It makes the short gap from Cheltenham even more relevant.
The second most notable feature of the day happened after racing when Grand National entries, Don Poli (£170k to Philip Kirby/Darren Yates) and Outlander (£165k to Richard Spencer/Gowing’s Eleven), were both sold in auction. Darren Yates had previously paid £300,000 for Blaklion (a faller at the first last year), only for him to be ruled through injury a few days ago. That’s some serious money to be paying just to have an outsider in the big race (both are 100/1)
Friday’s racing is not up to the standard of the opening day and includes several wide open races, so I’ll confine myself to brief selections. I think that Paul Nicholls might have a good day.
Tedham is the right favourite but I prefer both of the Paul Nicholls runners, Brio Conti (13/2), fourth in the Coral Cup, and Mont Des Avaloirs* (12/1), who should benefit from having swerved Cheltenham and represents excellent each way value.
14:20 Top Novices’ Hurdle Grade 1) 2m 100y – £100,000
Favourite Itchy Feet (7/2) was an impressive third in a strong renewal of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Aramon (4/1) was only just beaten by Supreme winner Klassical Dream at the Dublin Racing Festival but could only manage sixth in the Supreme. However, I’m avoiding the Supreme runners and siding with the highly progressive Precious Cargo (4/1) (Henderson/de Boinville) and, just on balance, my selection Rouge Vif *(11/1), a Grade 2 winner chasing a three timer with form on proper soft ground.
Although I’m contradicting my advice about Cheltenham Festival runners, I can’t look past hot favourite (4/5) and RSA winner Topofthegame***. This is only his fourth run of the season and he seems to be well ahead of the opposition while remaining open to further improvement.
The feature race of the day has attracted an impressive field. For me, Waiting Patiently, second to the mightily impressive Cyrname in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase is too short at 13/8, having his first run at Aintree. I was really impressed with Politologue’s*** (9/4) second to the best National Hunt horse in training, Altior, by just 1 3/4l in the Champion Chase, a race in which Min was fifth. Politologue won this race last year, just beating Min by a neck. So I’m contradicting my Festival runners’ advice again but I think this horse has improved this season and has the perfect profile.
I’m struggling to make a selection for this race so I’m just going to go with a horse that I’ve followed, San Benedeto* (18/1), who seemed to have recovered his form when impressively winning the Grade 3 Greatwood Chase at Newbury on 2 March. This is his first attempt over the National fences but in a 38 race jumps career he’s only unseated once when reaching for a fence at Cheltenham in a novices’ chase. I think he might just have a bit more overall quality than his opponents.
This is another open race but I think that there’s a strong case for siding with the unbeaten Emitom** (4/1), chasing a six timer, albeit that this is by some way his toughest assignment yet. He has form on soft and should benefit from a 35 day break. Champ is the most serious opponent, second in the Ballymore. However, he’s not been tried at this distance and that, along with the prevailing ground, deters me.
Even by bumper standards, it’s hard to know what to make of this lot. The last five winners of this race have been returned at 25/1, 33/1, 25/2, 11/2 and 14/1 so it’s one to approach with considerable caution, particularly when adding the ground factor. However it can also throw up a very good winner (Barters Hill in 2015, Bacardys in 2016 and Lalor in 2017). I won’t be having a bet but my selection is Santa Rossa* (currently 100/30 second favourite).
The first matter of note for this year’s Grand National Festival is that it seems that we will have decent ground, neither to fast nor too slow. As at 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday the going was good to soft on the Grand National course and good to soft, good in places on the Mildmay and hurdle courses.
*UPDATE After further rain this afternoon the ground is now good to soft, soft in places (National course) and good to soft (Mildmay and hurdles courses).
I confess that I haven’t spent much time following the build up to this year’s National Festival so I’ll confine myself to fairly brief comments and selections.
I know I say it every year but the first day of the meeting is a treat for true racing fans. The first four races are all Grade 1s (which you don’t get at the Cheltenham Festival) and they’re followed by the Foxhunters’ Chase with amateur riders taking on the unique Grand National fences.
Although we only have six runners, this is an intriguing race to set the ball rolling.
La Bague Au Roi (7/4)
Not seen at Cheltenham and chasing a five-timer following an impressive win at the Dublin Racing Festival, she is a serious candidate, who is top-rated and benefits from the 7lbs mares’ allowance.
Bags Groove (8/1 > 9/1)
This is another one that swerved Cheltenham. He didn’t beat much in the Pendil Novices’ Chase and was well beaten (5th of 7) behind La Bague Au Roi in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. I’m looking beyond this one to find the winner.
This was my selection for the Arkle but he unseated his rider at the 4th. I’m willing to give him another chance. He’s progressive and the Timeform highest rated behind La Bague Au Roi (5 lbs difference and both have “small ps” (i.e. progressive)). I also think that the course will suit.
Kalashnikov (4/1 > 9/2)
Unseated at the 6th in the Arkle, having been routed by Glen Forsa on his previous outing. Unconvincing this season and best watched.
Mengli Khan (15/2 > 8/1)
Has been a serial underachiever this season and has simply not progressed as expected.
Spiritofthegames (8/1 > 9/1)
Is a fair enough horse but is likely to find two or three too good for him at this level.
Realistically, unless they’re not fully recovered from their Cheltenham excursions, this is between the three market leaders.
Pentland Hills (13/8 > 5/2)
Largely unheralded (20/1) winner of the Triumph Hurdle, benefiting from a particularly good ride, he is unbeaten over hurdles but his only other jumps race was a maiden hurdle at Plumpton. I think that the price is too short.
Fakir D’oudairies (6/1 > 4/1)
Went off 9/2jf in the Supreme and there was a lot to like about his 4th, particularly the way he was staying on. I think that the price is fair and it is conceivable that there is more progression in him. A big race victory would be welcome for the connections (O’Brien/McManus) who tragically lost Sir Erec in the Triumph.
On the face of it, this is a really classy race, comprising four participants in this year’s Gold Cup and two from the Ryanair. However, that is precisely the reason for exercising considerable caution. The gap between Cheltenham and Aintree is shorter than usual (20 days for the Gold Cup participants) and I don’t think that anyone would dispute that the Gold Cup is a tough race which often leaves its mark. Of the Ryanair runners, Road To Respect is way too short at 11/2 and Balko Des Flos is not a top order horse, as reflected by his current 33/1. So let’s take a look at the Gold Cup runners.
Clan Des Obeaux (9/4 > 5/2)
By common consent (including Paul Nicholls) he didn’t stay the 3m 2 1/2f of the Gold Cup and this 3m 200y on a flat galloping track looks ideal. A young horse (7-y-o although all these are 7 or 8) I don’t think that he was pushed too hard when clearly beaten and might therefore have the recuperative powers to bounce back.
I warned about this one’s suspect jumping before the Gold Cup and, sure enough, he unseated at the first. However, that means that he wasn’t subjected to the energy sapping challenge of the race and comes here fresh. The Mildmay fences are fairly stiff but they are very fair and hopefully this small field will help him to keep out of trouble. A very tentative selection.
Bristol De Mai (3/1 > 7/2)
Perhaps he can smell the Haydock air from here?! Beaten by Might Bite in this race last year (Clan Des Obeaux third), critically he didn’t run at the Festival and was on the back of a three months’ break when putting up a good performance. This time round he was hard ridden to secure an impressive third in the Gold Cup. He’s well known for running well fresh after a decent break so I can see the small gap of 20 days affecting him more than the others. For that reason I am bound, very reluctantly, to oppose him. Equally I would be surprised and delighted to see him bounding ahead and winning by 10 lengths but on this occasion it’s head over heart.
Elegant Escape (20/1 > 22/1)
This horse’s form is a great deal better than the price might suggest. He opened his account this season by winning an intermediate chase and followed up with a mightily impressive second in the Ladbroke (Hennessy) at Newbury. His next outing was in the Welsh Grand National which he won and was then a valiant second to subsequent Ryanair winner Frodon in the Cotswold Chase. His sixth in the Gold Cup looked like about the best he was ever likely to manage but was nonetheless creditable. Overall he’s had a hard season and I’m far from convinced that course and distance will suit. It’s very likely that he’ll find one or two who are, quite simply, faster than him in a race of this nature.
15:25 Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 4f – £250,000
This is the most valuable race of the day, with over £140,000 going to the winner. While the same caveat applies (that Cheltenham exertions may have taken their toll), I’ve decided that, based on the prices, this is the one in which we should take the betting plunge.
Last seen when unexpectedly falling at the third in the Champion Hurdle. Nicky Henderson didn’t seem too concerned, pointing out that he is very low and fast over his hurdles, so there is a small margin between brilliance and disaster. As a result, like Kemboy in the Bowl, he can benefit from coming to this race fresh with the Cheltenham outing unlikely to have made a difference. He won this race in 2017 so the distance should not be a problem. While beaten in the Christmas Hurdle, I think that he has everything in his favour in this race and, as such, the slight odds on currently on offer is an outstanding double your money opportunity.
Was a fine, fine horse in his day but has not recaptured the same level of form following a long injury break. Aged 11 and now over a shorter trip than is probably ideal, the best to hope for is a place.
Melon (8/1 > 9/1)
Second but beaten by 15 lengths in the Champion Hurdle (at 20/1) I can’t see him beating Buveur D’air after an uninspiring season.
Supasundae (9/1 > 11/1)
A fine stayer but was beaten in this race last year by L’ami Serge and has not won this season (7th in the Stayers’ Hurdle). A decent place option.
This is the big opportunity for the amateur riders to take their chance over the National fences. As such it can be a bit of a lottery. However, it’s worth noting that the last five winners have been returned at 11/2, 16/1, 15/8f, 5/2f and 7/2.
I was a big supporter of Road to Rome*** (4/1 > 7/2) who was chasing an eighth consecutive win in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen and came fourth. I think that the distance (3m 2 1/2f) did for him and his excellent jumping should see him to the fore in his first outing over the National fences over a distance which should suit much better.
Burning Ambition (11/2) is a progressive 8-y-o. He was eighth of 24 in this race last year. Only 3rd in a P2P at Bellharbour in February, he’s not for me.
Of the others, Kruzhlinin (11/1) is a 12-y-o and has moved from Philip Hobbs to Gordon Elliott for a hunting campaign, but has jumping issues. I don’t have any outsider options but advise against any of the other 12-y-os and definitely the three 13-y-os.
16:40 Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 1m 7f 200y – £90,000
This is a very competitive Grade 3 handicap with all sorts of angles. Favourites have fared poorly with none winning for the last five years (which include winners at 16/1 and 33/1). You really have to just go with your instinct and, having done so, my three against the field are, in order of preference, Diego Du Charmil** (12/1 > 9/1), a winner of the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase at this meeting last season, Lady Buttons (9/1 > 8/1), a Grade 2 winner and fourth in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival, and Brelan D’as (15/2 > 8/1), a progressive 8-y-o,
17:15 Mares’ Bumper (Grade 2) 2m 200y – £45,000
I was reluctant to make a selection for this one and confess that I know very little about these horses. However, for the sake of going through the card I’m with what a think is a bit of value with Miss Heritage* (7/1 > 10/1), who was a wide margin winner last time out, albeit in a very moderate race at Catterick. The Glancing Queen (11/2), fifth in the Cheltenham Champion Bumper, has the best form and is respected.