Our first stop has to be, as usual, the ground. I’ve been noting on Twitter the unusual deluge in the last few days and the going stick reading on the Mildmay course on Tuesday was 4.1 which is apparently the lowest (i.e. softest) reading in recent years (the National course was 3.7). On Wednesday afternoon the readings were 5.4 on the Mildmay, 5 on the hurdles and 4.2 on the National courses. So what does that mean? The going stick ranges from 0 (beyond waterlogged) to 15 (a tarmac road) and the vast majority of readings are in a range from 5-10. Here’s what matters. Based on thousands of readings the mean for heavy is 5.2, soft 6.0, good to soft 6.8 and good 7.7. Clerks of the courses tend to suggest that the ground is better than the readings suggest (and can often be right). Today has been dry; a little rain is forecast overnight, but there has been no drying wind and it’s been overcast all day. I’m sticking with my view that, overall, it will be soft and adding that it will be heavy in places on the National course.
Here’s the view from the Met Office:
So, in summary, I’m taking the view that we should look for confirmed soft ground horses and bear in mind that the ground will churn up as the week progresses.
1.45 Manifesto Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m4f (Mildmay)
Embed from Getty ImagesThis is a poor Grade 1 and my selection process has been based on which horses I least dislike. Although he’s been favourite until just now (on Wednesday evening) I don’t like Brain Power. This course is likely to suit him better than Cheltenham, but he had a hard race in the Arkle, picking up the pieces when 14l behind Footpad, and is not guaranteed to get round. I can’t have Finian’s Oscar under any circumstances and Modus is not a Grade 1 horse, even in this company. Rene’s Girl would have to improve a lot but could do so. She jumps well and has the half a stone mares’ allowance which could be important on this ground. An each way chance at a rapidly shortened 6/1.
However, Cyrname looks all over the winner to me. He swerved Cheltenham, has had a decent break (last out on 24 February), and has good form (including on soft) on flat tracks. He was beaten by just a neck by the very promising Terrefort over the same distance in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase. Timeform have him him level with Brain Power on 174 but with the all important “small p”.
2.20 Doom Bar 4-y-o Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 1f
Apple’s Shakira***** (9/4)
Beau Gosse** (18/1 e/w)
Embed from Getty ImagesNow this is an intriguing race, won in 2016 by Apple’s Jade (maybe you can see where I’m going!). Regular readers know that I have keenly followed Apple’s Shakira all season and she was included in my top three bets for Cheltenham, only to finish fourth in the Triumph (the only blot on her copybook). She was far too keen in that race and has a hood on for this outing. I think that Barry Geraghty will have realised from the Triumph that she needs to be held up and the evidence now shows that she certainly needs to be. She also has form on soft ground and has the potentially all important 7lb mares’ allowance.
We Have A Dream is on a five timer but hasn’t beaten much and that leads me on to my reference to this race being intriguing. As the blog demonstrates, I’m very interested in French racing and Guillaume Macaire is bringing Beau Gosse here, notwithstanding that he is in the same ownership (Munir/Souede) as We Have A Dream. There is no way that he’s here as a pacemaker for We Have A Dream and it’s a long old hike from Royan (not that far from our house in south west France). He was well beaten in the Adonis Hurdle but has listed winning form on trés souple at Auteuil and, for me, has an outstanding each way chance.
2.50 Betway Bowl Chase (Grade 1) 3m 1f (Mildmay)
Bristol de Mai*** (11/2)
Clan des Obeaux* (14/1)
Embed from Getty ImagesSometimes you have to keep the faith and that is what I’m doing with my selection in this one. I think that it was absolutely the right thing to do to avoid Cheltenham with Bristol de Mai and he has a tendency to run well after a break (75 days). Haydock used to be renowned as an Aintree trial course (albeit for the National course and with stiff fences – until they were unforgivably taken away) but it is a park course renowned for its testing ground and Bristol de Mai excelled in one of the performances of the season when winning the Betfair Chase on heavy ground by a staggering 57 lengths (beat Cue Card, Outlander and Tea for Two). It’s too easy to say that he’s just a Haydock specialist. He’s a classy horse with a gruelling pace on at least soft ground and this should suit him down to the ground (no pun intended).
Might Bite had a hard race behind Native River in the Gold Cup and, with a few notable exceptions, not many Gold Cup horses do well for the remainder of the season. There is also the famous quirk of this horse to run all over the place. Take a look at the featured image in this post. There is loads of room for him to take a wander over the last two furlongs.
Embed from Getty ImagesAs for the places, I really like Clan des Obeaux. He has great form, lots of room for improvement as a 6-y-o, and could be on his way to being a championship contender. I think that he’s nailed on for a place.
3.25 Betway Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 4f
Cyrius Darius* (22/1 e/w)
Right, well let’s get this out of the way, I don’t like Supasundae. 2m 4f is undoubtedly better for him than 3m but the Stayers’ Hurdle was no classic renewal and his recent form is more down to the failings of his opponents than establishing him as a Grade 1 performer. The New One and My Tent Or Yours have been great and I was very close to selecting the latter for a place. However, I’m firmly of the view that they’ve had their best days.
Embed from Getty ImagesSo, this is a race that is crying out for a progressive horse and that one, for me, is Cyrus Darius. From a northern yard, he was thought to be good enough to run in the 2017 Champion Hurdle (finished last of those that completed). He didn’t blossom when sent chasing but won last time out over hurdles in the Morebattle at Kelso, beating among others, 6/4f Chti Balko. He likes flat tracks and has winning course form.
I would have been interested in Diakali, had not W P Mullins unloaded him and he’s well and truly in at the deep end on his first outing for Gary Moore.
4.05 Foxhunters’ Chase 2m 5f (Grand National)
Unioniste** (12/1 e/w)
So, who is riding which horses? That’s very often the key to this one. Jamie Codd is riding Grand Vision (9/2) for Colin Tizzard, Nina Carberry is riding On The Fringe (9/1), Derek O’Connor is riding Balnasflow (5/1), David Maxwell is riding Unioniste (12/1) and Sam Waley-Cohen is riding Wonderful Charm (7/1).
Let’s get On The Fringe out of the way. He’s been a fine horse but is a 13-y-o and has no form to speak of this season. Grand Vision has never faced the National fences and had a hardish run in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’. Balnasflow has been frequently touted for races of this nature but is becoming a bit of a nearly horse and Wonderful Charm flopped in the Foxhunters’.
Embed from Getty ImagesAdopting the strategy of bet-lose-repeat I’m going again with Unioniste. The course is a concern but he’s only a 10-y-o and was by far the classiest of these in his earlier years. He was 10th in the Foxhunters’ but has followed up with a win.
I have to give a mention to Distime (16/1) who has course form and is bringing good pointing form into this race.
4.40 Red Rum Chase (Grade 3) 2m (Mildmay)
Bun Doran* (8/1 e/w)
I doubt very much that I will have a bet in this race. I selected Theinval for the Grand Annual but if the ground is as soft as I expect, I can’t have him, taking into account in particular that his last outing was undoubtedly the season’s target.
Everyone seems to be with King’s Socks, with the prevailing view that the drop in trip will suit. However, it can’t be avoided that David Pipe has had a shockingly bad season.
I’ve been here before (like Unioniste in the last race) but I like Bun Doran, who is a consistent performer, was third in this race last year (Theinval was second) and ran well on soft when second to Gino Trail at Cheltenham last December, with Bentelimar third, another that appeals (albeit modestly).
5.15 Mares’ Bumper (Grade 2) 2m 1f
I’m not going to pretend that I have any great knowledge about these horses. I know that Paul Nicholls rates Posh Trish but, if I’m inclined to have a go, it will be on Dissavril, who seems to me to have a lot of potential.