We won’t be posting a Stat Attack today. Instead, you lovely lot get to read my thoughts on today’s card at Aintree. I should warn you that I wrote this review in the early hours of this morning before heading to bed which is probably why I somehow managed to reference Tupac, re-runs of the 1999 PL season, Man City and various other nonsense. Hopefully I have also managed to highlight some winners along the way too.
Any official bets at Aintree will be posted on the Forum once I eventually wake up.
RACE 1 - SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices' Chase (Grade 1) (GBB Race) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Firstly, it must be said that this is arguably one of the worst Grade 1 races I have ever seen in the UK and it is a bit of a travesty that one of this lot are going to leave Liverpool as a G1 winner but there we go. The market is currently headed by the Colin Tizzard trained, WAR LORD (11/4) and for me he is the most likely winner of the contest. I was pleasantly surprised by the way he performed in the Arkle. Whilst he had the cruising speed to hold his own early on, he was readily outpaced at the business end before staying on again after the last to finish 4th. He steps up in trip today, which is almost certain to suit and with conditions in his favour he will be hard to beat.
As far as the rest of the field are concerned, in a normal Group 1, ERNE RIVER would probably be hopelessly outgunned, but this isn't a normal G1. He has progressed rapidly, and it would be great to see him run well but he will need to step up significantly on his recent form. Similar comments apply to MILLERS BANK and WIDDOW MAKER with the former also having work to do to reverse prior form with PIC D'ORY. Whilst a case could be made for Paul Nicholls horse, I am not his biggest fan, and he is likely to be pestered for the lead throughout by GIN ON LIME who gets the mare’s allowance. I guess at a push you could put forward an argument that the weight allowance could make all the difference in such a week contest but she's been off for 146 days and I don't think there is any doubt that she would have been destroyed by MY DROGO if he hadn't fallen at Cheltenham so her report card probably reads "must do better'.
In summary, a god-awful race to start the meeting but I do think that WAR LORD is a decent animal with a bit of class and scope and if he jumps well, he'll win.
SELECTION - WAR LORD (11/4) - WIN
RACE 2 - Jewson Anniversary 4-y-o Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) (GBB Race) (Class 1) (4yo)
This race is Aintree's equivalent of the Triumph hurdle. The only difference is that most of the horses are miles short of being good enough to contest that race and that is really evidenced by the current market which sees the Triumph third (PIED PIPER) sitting at 11/10 and the Boodles winner (BRAZIL) sitting at 9/4.
It must be said that I was negative about PIED PIPER going into Cheltenham, but he ran a solid race to finish 3rd behind our two Cheat Sheet selections on the day. Whilst he didn't exactly do anything wrong, both the winner and his stablemate quickened better than him up the hill and he had no excuses. However, whilst this race obviously doesn't have anything of VAUBAN'S quality in it, he does have a very worthy adversary in the shape of BRAZIL who broke the hearts of Irish punters everywhere when he beat GAELIC WARRIOR in a driving finish in the Boodles. Given the weight of money behind GW that day and given that BRAZIL suffered heavy interference in the run and was giving 8lb to his rival, I think we must mark it down as a truly exceptional performance. However, I think he had a hard race and the record of Boodles/Fred Winter winners in this race has not been great over the years by any means whereas the Triumph has been a key trial. I think that alone heavily tips the scales in favour of PIED PIPER.
As far as the rest of the field are concerned, I can't really make any kind of case for IN THE AIR, INCA PRINCE, KNIGHT SALUTE, IMPULSIVE ONE or TOO FRIENDLY. I do however think it is worth having a second glance at the French pairing of PETITE TONNERRE and FAUTINETTE because let’s face it, something must finish 3rd and BRAZIL might be vulnerable. The former ran out a ready winner on his first start for Jonjo at Market Rasen and whilst he didn’t beat anything of note, he shaped with plenty of promise and his French form is also solid. The latter is having her first start for Venetia today having completed a hattrick in France on bottomless ground. She has a nice pedigree, and it is fascinating that her trainer is willing to throw her into the deep returning from a layoff. Whilst it is obviously hard to back either with any confidence for win purposes, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if either were to sneak a place.
In summary, this is clearly PIED PIPER’S race to lose but the fact that Gordon has only had 3 winners since MIGHTY POTTER went to post in the Supreme is a monumental negative and is more than enough to put me off backing him at a short price. With that in mind, I am going to take a speculative punt on FAUTINETTE who travelled well and jumped efficiently when winning at Vichy and can hopefully sneak a place at the very least.
SELECTION – FAUTINETTE (16/1) – EW
RACE 3 - Betway Bowl Chase (Grade 1) (GBB Race) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Over the years, this race has been a joy to watch but I am not sure that this renewal will be one worth setting the sky plus to record. The reason for that is simply that every single runner has a chink in their armour, in fact, I’d argue that most of them are borderline untrustworthy at this point in their respective careers, but we will look at the runners and riders and see if we can find anything worth backing.
The market is currently headed by PROTEKTORAT and I am certainly not going to tarnish him with the untrustworthy brush as he has been a model of consistency for his connections and ran a blinder in the Gold Cup. I think it is fair to say that if he’s come out of that race well (Dan Skelton says that he has) then he deserves his place at the head of the market but at the same time, I don’t really have any interest in backing him at 3/1 despite of the fact that he probably has the beating of ELDORADO ALLEN and ROYALE PAGAILLE.
Having ruled out the three horses above (at least for betting purposes) I proceeded to take my red pen of shame to NUTS WELL, BRISTOL DE MAI, ITCHY FEET and KEMBOY. Now I know KEMBOY will have his supporters today, but I will certainly not be one of them. I know he’s been kept fresh for this race but that means very little to me as he would have had zero chance in the Gold Cup anyway. The bigger issue though is that he is just impossible to predict and that makes him unbackable in my book. That leaves us with just two runners; CONFLATED and CLAN DES OBEAUX and in my opinion, it is easy to split them. Whilst CONFLATED took a fall at Cheltenham, he was almost certainly booked to finish 2nd and is upwardly mobile whereas CLAN DES OBEAUX looked like age had finally caught up with him both at Kempton and Newbury. Whilst the blinkers may spark him back into life, their appearance can only be a negative and for that reason, I am going to put my faith in Davy and Gordon and hope that PIED PIPER bolts up in race 2, thereby easing my concerns about the stable form.
SELECTION – CONFLATED (9/2) – EW
RACE 4 - Betway Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1) (GBB Race) (Class 1) (4yo+)
As a punter, it is always nice when you can rule out half a field in less than 2 minutes and that was certainly the case in this race. Rightly or wrongly, I got my red pen of shame out again and instantly put a line through; BREWIN’UPASTORM, GLORY AND FORTUNE, MCFABULOUS and GUARD YOUR DREAMS. Now whilst one of them may go and prove me wrong, I am confident that they will have to improve massively if they are to trouble the two horses at the head of the market and that’s enough for me to discount them.
Now comes the difficult questions,
1. How do you split ZANAHIYR and EPATANTE?
2. Could MONMIRAL suddenly bounce back to form?
3. Is Tupac still alive and if so, what does he think of Will Smith?
I’m going to start with the second question first because I think that the answer is a simple, ‘yes but it’s unlikely’. Whilst MONMIRAL was an emphatic winner on this card last year, he suffered an injury at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth and that put his season on hold. He reappeared at Fontwell back in February and whilst it was an okay performance, he was a little keen and when he came under pressure, he hung a little and raised his head. Now, if Paul has managed to iron out the creases since then, then of course he will be a danger to all but the step up in trip is a worry for me especially in this small field and ultimately, the market will probably tell us everything we need to know.
Now we get to the question that will ultimately decide our bet in this race (not Tupac related) and I have to say that it is not easy to split the two horses at the head of the market. EPATANTE is a horse that I have a serious soft spot for, and she ran an absolute blinder in the Champion Hurdle beating ZANAHIYR in the process albeit not by much. The key to victory here therefore will seemingly come down to which horse improves the most for the step up in trip and for me, that horse is EPATANTE. If we watch the final stages of the Champion Hurdle, she really dug deep up the hill despite landing on all fours at the last and there is also no doubt that ZANAHIYR had a much better tactical position coming into the closing stages two out. It may not be the most scientific approach but arguably a Punter’s eyes are their most valuable weapon [save for having a bookie that will actually take a bet], and, on this occasion, they are telling me all I need to know.
SELECTION – EPATANTE (15/8) - WIN
RACE 5 - (Grand National) Randox Foxhunters' Open Hunters' Chase (Class 2) (6yo+)
I am not a big fan of the Hunter Chase discipline at least not from a punting perspective. It certainly plays an important parting in National Hunt racing, but I do feel that the concept has been diluted slightly in recent years and for that reason I am not going to spend an awful lot of time on this race.
Having gone through the card at a rate of knots, I ended up with a shortlist of 5; MIGHTY STOWAWAY, PONT AVEN, DOWN THE HIGHWAY, CAT TIGER and PORLICK BAY. Now obviously we can’t go backing 5 horses in any race, so I had to narrow the field down further and the first 2 to face the axe were, DOWN THE HIGHWAY and CAT TIGER. The former simply has too low a rating to be given a real chance of winning and the latter is likely to be held up midpack which is a big no no in a race such as this unless you’re an incredibly strong traveller. That left us with just 3 and whilst I probably could have just had a small ew punt on all of them, I’ve opted to side with PORLOCK BAY (a tracker horse) and MIGHTY STOWAWAY who should both have the speed to hold an early position and who both jump efficiently an accurately. Now watch in awe and disbelief as DOWN THE HIGHWAY goes and bolts up at 100/1..
SELECTIONS – PORLOCK BAY (15/2) + MIGHT STOWAWAY (16/1) - EW
RACE 6 - Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (GBB Race) (Class 1) (5yo+)
By the time that I get to this point on any race card, my enthusiasm is starting to dwindle and when I am then confronted by a 17-runner handicap, I just want to turn on Sky Sports, find some re-runs of the 1999 season and remember simpler days when Man United were good and I didn’t care about collateral form, jumping technique, horses, or Man City! However, those days are long gone and thankfully, this race was a relatively simple puzzle to solve.
It is obvious that this race revolves around FRERO BANBOU and therefore the first port of call is to look for linear and collateral form lines with that horse and we have a lot of them. The one that punters have obviously latched onto is the race at Sandown when FRERO finished 2nd, with DOLOS in 1st, and GUNSIGHT RIDGE back in third. GUNSIGHT RIDGE set a truly ferocious gallop that day. He jumped beautifully throughout but he paid the price for his early exertions in the finish and was basically legless jumping the last. I don’t think there is any doubt that he is better than a mark of 134 but there must be a slight concern that he’s in no-man’s-land as far as his ideal trip is concerned. A big field handicap might be exactly what he wants though and if Aiden can get a prominent position and get settled, then I see no reason why he can’t reverse prior form with both DOLOS and FRERO BANBAOU and if that proves to be the case, the only horse that might be capable of beating him is BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Sam Thomas has been a revelation this season and I love the way he campaigns his horses. BEFORE MIDNIGHT went into a lot of notebooks following his win at Cheltenham in October and he backed that performance up with hard fought win at Ascot on his next start. He was then outclassed at Kempton behind Shishkin but like GUNSIGHT RIDGE, he wants a strongly run race and whilst he may struggle to give weight away to that rival, I am sure he will be bang there jumping the last and then the final challenge will probably come from FRERO BANBOU who will be held up for the late run as the pace collapses.
In summary, a fascinating contest featuring 2/3 horses towards the head of the market who all deserve considerable respect. It is not easy to split them but with GUNSIGHT RIDGE carrying a mere 10-7, he is my tentative selection.
SELECTION – GUNSIGHT RIDGE (7/1) - EW
RACE 7 - Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Grade 2) (GBB Race) (Class 1) (4-6yo)
SELECTION - Figure it our yourself, I am too tired to type any more words.