2014 Aintree Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips
It's the middle day of the 2014 Grand National meeting from Aintree - Ladies' Day. And as well as the beautiful Mersey molls, there are seven scorching races to test our wagering mettle. Beginning with...
2.00 TOP NOVICES´ HURDLE (Grade 2)
Ten are due to go to post for the Grade 2 Top Novices' Hurdle, won in the last two years by high class Hendo horses, Darlan and My Tent Or Yours.
Top Novices' Hurdle Trends
From the last seventeen years for all races [my thanks to horseracebase.com for the info]:
12/17 were 1st or 2nd last time (71% from 48% runners)
14/17 aged 5 or 6 (82% from 71% of the runners)
8/17 ran top six at Cheltenham Festival last time (47% winners from 13.5% runners)
Top Novices' Hurdle Form Preview
Josses Hill is the horse bidding for the Hendo hat-trick, and after his second in the Supreme at Cheltenham, he's got a very solid form chance and a perfect trends profile too. He's the highest rated of these and goes on good to soft just fine: in other words, he ought to go very close.
Against him are the a battalion of up and comers, included vanquished Cheltenham rival, Sgt Reckless; Imperial Cup winner, Baltimore Rock; and, pick of the Irish, Art Of Payroll.
Sgt Reckless looked a horse to follow when bombing up the Cheltenham hill to nab fourth, having been well off the pace turning in. He'll relish the goodness of the ground, but has something to find with Amore Alato on two three length-plus defeats to Nick Williams' charge. He looks a false price to me.
Art Of Payroll is Dessie Hughes' runner, and he is a progressive type that should enjoy the state of the turf. He won a Leopardstown handicap hurdle last time off 127 and has been re-rated 142. I think that's a bit high and am actually struggling to make a case for him. Such horses - short in the betting but I can't see why - generally win, so beware!
There is almost certain to be more to come from David Pipe's Baltimore Rock, winner of Sandown's Listed Imperial Cup handicap last time. He was being aimed at the bonus pot for winners of that race who go on to triumph at the Cheltenham Festival, but got balloted out of his intended engagements. He's bound to be better than his current rating of 134, but the question is whether he's the seven to ten pounds better he'll need to be to win this. At 10/1, he's certainly a playable each way type, and I do quite like him.
Two at bigger prices who could run towards the frame are the aforementioned Amore Alato, and The Game Changer. As well as beating Sgt Reckless twice, Amore Alato has also run third to Lac Fontana and second to Irving. Lac Fontana went on to win the hyper-competitive County Hurdle, while Irving disappointed as joint favourite in the Supreme. Amore comes here a fresh horse, and he's over-priced at 12/1 to my eye.
The Game Changer is a strong traveler who may well be better suited to this sounder surface than the soft ground he encountered around the turn of the year. He was beaten in a Grade 1 and a very hot handicap hurdle in that time, but his profile on terra firmer is much more compelling, as a last time second on yielding to soft implies. That was probably still on the slow side for him, and he might prove an altogether better proposition this time. 12/1 is reasonable.
Top Novices' Hurdle Tips
Most likely winner: Josses Hill 15/8 Hills
Each way alternative: Amore Alato 12/1 Betfair sportsbook
2.30 MILDMAY NOVICES´ CHASE (Grade 1)
The RSA sequel is the Mildmay, a race with a truly illustrious recent alumni: Dynaste, Silviniaco Conti, Quito De La Roque, Burton Port, and Big Buck's have all won this since 2008. It's three miles and a furlong, and all six entries this year ran at the Cheltenham Festival.
Mildmay Novices' Chase Trends
Last time out - 9/17 (53%) were 1st or 2nd last time out, while 3/17 (18%) failed to complete that last day. That was from 41% and 21% of the runners respectively.
Age - 12/17 were aged six or seven. All entries this year at that age, so it'll be 13/18 next year!
Mildmay Novices' Chase Form Preview
There's not a lot to go from a trends perspective, so we'll see if we can use good old fashioned form analysis to spot some value. The RSA Chase is the clear starting point, and in that race O'Faolains Boy beat Just A Par into seventh, with Don Cossack falling and Many Clouds brought down.
It should be fair to assume that if both stand up, O'Faolains Boy will beat Just A Par again, but what about the RSA tumblers? Don Cossack has looked like an easy three miles would suit to me, and it was too early to say whether he'd have had a hand in the finish when he came down at Cheltenham. Given he didn't have a hard race there, he might be fresh enough to go close.
Many Clouds was my fancy in the RSA based on his staying on better than O'Faolains Boy at Ascot in their respective preps. That he was brought down was a most unsatisfactory outcome and, while I'm not convinced this more speed-favouring track will play to his stamina strength, I do think the price disparity between him (7/1) and O'Faolains Boy (5/2) is too wide. On Ascot running, Many Clouds had to be in the frame at Cheltenham; and on that basis, he's too big a price here, and I will be trying to claw back some lost pennies.
Holywell raced in the Festival Handicap Chase off 145 and has been re-assessed as 157. That's a pound higher than the RSA winner and a pound lower than Wonderful Charm, who clunked in the JLT Novices' Chase. Holywell was rated 158 over hurdles so he may not have too much wriggle room from his present perch, although the flip side is that a run to that level could be enough to win this. Conditions should suit.
Whilst Wonderful Charm was staying on in the two and a half mile JLT, giving the impression this trip could be the answer, his only run at the distance was a thumping in the World Hurdle last term. It might be that he just doesn't get on with the Cheltenham Festival, or Cheltenham in general where he's been beaten on all three occasions. But he also has to prove his stamina and that's too much of a punt against proven opposition.
I think this is a three way go between the winners of the RSA Chase and the Festival Handicap Chase, and the unlucky nag from the former race. Given that Many Clouds is more than twice the price of the other two, he's the bet.
Mildmay Novices' Chase Tip
Best value play: Many Clouds 13/2 BetVictor
3.05 MELLING CHASE (Grade 1)
The Melling Chase, a two mile speed test, has been graced by some of the very best in recent times: Sprinter Sacre, Master Minded and Moscow Flyer (twice) have all won in the past decade. But not this year... With the highest rated horse on 164, and almost nothing in the race likely to improve much, it's a Grade 3 in Grade 1 clothing. Still, every race has a winner, so let's proceed...
Melling Chase Trends
14/17 (82%) were 1-2-3 last time out, from 49% of the runners
16/17 (94%) were aged seven to ten, from 80% of the runners
Of the nine horses with an official rating since 1997, all were rated 160+
Melling Chase Form Preview
I won't labour the fact that this is a bad race for the grade any more, except to say that it IS a bad race for the grade. I think we need to be looking at a good horse at the top of the ratings and not over-complicate things.
Top rated then is Module, one of the few with the potential to be better than he's shown so far. A seven year old, he ran to within six lengths of Sire de Grugy in the Champion Chase and that might be the best single piece of form in the race, with one exception which we'll come to. Certainly it was Module's best run and, if he can see out this extra three furlongs in the same form here, he will be in the shake up. The distance is a bit of a worry but in such a sub-par affair, he might well get away with it.
Wishfull Thinking was almost seven lengths further back in the Champion Chase, and he's eleven now. But he probably wants this sort of a trip these days as he demonstrated when waltzing away from Double Ross (third in the JLT at the Festival over this trip) in a handicap hurdle. It was heavy ground there and he lugged top weight so it was a really sound effort. His record over fences at Aintree is F12262 and, at 7/1, he's a fair each way bet.
The rest are all rated 158 or below, and that is not what it takes to win a Grade 1 non-novice event over fences. The one exception, to which I alluded above, is Ballynagour, a horse who ran a screamer to hack up in the Byrne Group Plate at the Festival. If he could repeat that he'd have a fine chance in this Grade 1. But he's a 3.14 horse - P1 in other words - and his last run was a win, albeit a facile one, meaning his next one must be a P.
Obviously, it doesn't have to be a pulled up effort in this, but he's one I'm happy to let beat me if he's on a going day.
Boston Bob is very difficult to weigh up. He ran some good races in Grade 1 staying novice chases last term, but has been all over the shop since falling at the last when in front and seemingly the winner in waiting in last season's RSA Chase. He wasn't beaten that far in the Ryanair, form that gives him a squeak here, and in fairness to him his record at two and a half miles reads 11111, including a Grade 1 novice hurdle.
The likes of Rathlin and Rolling Aces are better than they showed last time, but they'd not be Grade 1 animals in your average race of that calibre. Did I mention that this one is sub-standard?!
Melling Chase Tips
Two piggies against the field: Wishfull Thinking 7/1 totesport, Boston Bob 8/1 bet365
3.40 TOPHAM CHASE (Handicap) (Grade 3)
From the faintly ridiculous to the mildly sublime, as we get our Grand National fence legs on for the Topham. A cracking race always, it's a bugger of a puzzle to solve.
Topham Chase Trends
Winners have been placed in all positions last time out; and have been aged five to ten since 1997. However, since 2000, only one horse has won carrying more than 10-12, and no horse has been rated higher than 141
That last point is interesting given that the top dozen are rated 142+. Could this be a trends-busting year?
14/17 (82%) had run in the last 30 days, from 59% of the runners.
7/17 (41%) had raced around Aintree at least twice before, from 25% of the runners.
Peter Bowen has trained four of the last seven winners, including three with the magnificent Always Waining.
Topham Chase Form Preview
A placepot buster of a race very often, it's the lighter weighted nags that have the day as a rule. And I'm going to start with a horse that leaps out as a bet.
Dunowen Point, for Grand National-winning trainer Donald McCain (he has these type of fences at his training base), was fourth in the race last year off a rating of 138 and carrying 10-13. And yet here he is, three runs later, off 130 and due to shoulder just 10-01. It's a fine piece of handicapping and this lad looks to have a serious chance with the quicker ground in his favour. 16/1 looks a belting bet.
The favourite is the tough and consistent novice, Double Ross. He ran a blinder to finish third in the JLT Novices' Chase, and he's been a bit of a Cheltenham machine. The trainer says he jumps well but his problem - possible battle fatigue aside - is the weight. He's got to hump 11-09 here, which is a stack of lead and more than any winner has shouldered since before 1997.
Standing Ovation runs for Team Pipe, in the colours of the late David Johnson (connections successful in the nightcap on Thursday with Doctor Harper). Clearly, anything that yard enters in a handicap deserves a second glance, and Standing Ovation has the hood on for the first time. Pipe hopes this will help him settle better in the early part of the race and, if it does, he should have a bit more left late on.
Sneaking in off the bottom weight, the return to a flatter track should suit, and he wasn't beaten far in sixth in the Festival Handicap Chase. He will not really want the forecast rain though, and could arguably use a bit more mileage in the race distance.
Ma Filleule has too much weight and, despite her trainer winning this last year with Triolo d'Alene, she's not at all obviously well handicapped and looks a short enough price.
Lost Legend is trained by Jonjo O'Neill and is another lightweight for whom this has been the target. If not quite so obviously 'jobbed up' as Dunowen Point, he won a decent Kempton handicap chase last time. As with Standing Ovation, he probably doesn't want too much rain to fall, but off his feather weight he should be thereabouts.
Course and distance winner Rebel Rebellion has paid a heavy price for that in the context of the weight he carries here, and it will be a serious career best if he can double up over these unique barriers. The one thing we do know is he acts on the course.
The old lag, Big Fella Thanks, would be an apt winner after spinning round here seven times, and he's dropped down the weights sufficiently for that to be a possibility. Distance and ground are spot on and, if twelve long years have yet to take their toll, the Big Fella may make the frame.
Your Busy is another older boy - eleven now - and he was a close second in the Grand Sefton behind Rebel Rebellion. He's been kept fresh for this and, as another at the right end of the handicap, could again run well.
Of the bigger prices, Bennys Mist is of mild interest. He's got the hood on for the first time, and that often helps horses relax. If it ekes out some improvement then he has a low weight, a top jockey and experience of the fences (didn't stay in the longer Becher Handicap Chase). Venetia Williams' record at Aintree in recent years is poor, but she did saddle Mon Mome to win over these obstacles and Benny has a better chance than menny.
Make sure your bookmaker is paying FIVE places in this thirty runner contest.
Topham Chase Tips
Best value each way: Dunowen Point 16/1 Seanie Mac (1/4 the odds FIVE places)
Two more against the field:
Lost Legend 14/1 BetVictor (1/4 the odds FIVE places)
Bennys Mist 40/1 bet365 (1/4 the odds FIVE places)
4.15 SEFTON NOVICES´ HURDLE (Grade 1)
This three mile novices' hurdle looks a really good renewal, and the field is headed by the exciting Seeyouatmidnight, unbeaten in three under rules. There are plenty of multiple-winning rivals who are seeking to emulate the likes of At Fishers Cross, Wayward Prince and Chief Dan George.
Sefton Novices' Hurdle Trends
16/17 (94%) finished in the first four last time out, from 74% of the runners
16/17 (94%) were aged five to seven, from 89% of the runners
17/17 (100%) ran in the last 60 days, from 89% of the runners
9/17 (53%) ran at the Cheltenham Festival, from 36% of the runners.
8/17 (47%) finished in the first four at the Cheltenham Festival, from 19% of the runners.
Sefton Novices' Hurdle Form Preview
A lot of unexposed types in here, and the results of the last few years (winners at 16/1, 20/1, 25/1 and 33/1 since 2007) suggest it can be dangerous getting too excited by the top of the market.
Still, it's a sensible place to start our investigations, and Seeyouatmidnight is a brilliant story horse for owner/trainer Sandy Thomson. He trains in the borders near Kelso, and is unlikely to have had a horse as good as this. His handling of Seeyouatmidnight has been excellent, winning a novices' hurdle from the smart Regal Encore first time under rules; and then going on to score twice more, at Musselburgh (broke the track record) and Haydock (in the Grade 2 Rendlesham).
He's a really smart horse, and conducts his business honestly from the front. There are others in this field that like to lead so it's not a gimme that he'll get his own way up top, but if he does he has a really good chance to win.
Killala Quay brings a solid level of form and is a trends pick on his fourth behind Faugheen at the Cheltenham Festival. This longer trip is an imponderable but he's yet to show he can't perform optimally, or maybe even improve for it. 7/1 seems reasonable.
Paul Nicholls' Tagrita has apparently been performing well on ground she should hate, so this quicker ground may be expected to allow for progress. It will need to though, as she has twenty pounds to find with Seeyouatmidnight on official ratings. In fairness, they all have twelve pounds or more to find with the favourite, so if he brings his A game he'll likely win unless there's a monster improver in the midst.
I'm against Beat That after his extended layoff and, anyway, he has to reverse form with Killala Quay and there's no obvious reason why he should. Port Melon has also been off a long time after dumping Daryl Jacob on the tarmac at Cheltenham, and it's a shame he didn't get a run there as he could be a very smart recruit in time. He'd been avoiding the heavy ground all winter.
The Irish haven't won this since Asian Maze in 2005, and if that rot is to be stopped it could be courtesy of Giantofaman. Dessie Hughes got off the mark on day one with Guitar Pete, and it would be an impressive Grade 1 novice hurdle double if Giantofaman could build on his facile Grade 2 win last time out at Thurles. That was two and a half miles on heavy, a very different proposition to three miles on good to soft. He's had a good bit of racing this season which is normally a plus in the Sefton, and 14/1 is not unattractive.
Of the rest, perhaps The Last Samuri could step up enormously on what he's done so far. After all, he's unbeaten in three hurdle starts, and was impressive when bashing up Rare Legend last time out over three and a quarter miles. We know stamina is not an issue, and he has a similar profile to the 2008 winner, Pettifour, who was sent off at 16/1 having won a couple of 'nothing' novices.
Sefton Novices' Hurdle Tips
Most likely winner: Seeyouatmidnight 4/1 PP
Fair each way value: Giantofaman 14/1 Coral
Rag with a possible squeak: The Last Samuri 25/1 Hills
4.50 HANDICAP HURDLE (Grade 3)
A very tricky punting conundrum rounds out the placepot sextet, and it will take some creativity to solve it. To wit, the favourite has an awful record, not winning in the last decade. Let's see if we can find a way in to this head scratcher.
Handicap Hurdle Trends
10/17 (58%) finished 1-2-3-4 last time out, from 45% of the runners
17/17 aged five to nine
14/17 (82%) carried 11-01 or less, from 78% of the runners, so not much advantage
Handicap Hurdle Form Preview
Perhaps the most logical place to start in a minefield of a race like this is with past Aintree Festival winner (the handicap hurdle on the Thursday) and top weight, Attaglance. Malcolm Jefferson's horse was unlucky not to win a handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival, when his jockey electing to take the low road where the high road led to victory.
He reverts to hurdles here, and his handicap mark is not obviously lenient, being as it is two pounds higher than his chase mark. Despite that, he is very tough and very talented and he carried top weight to win that already referenced handicap hurdle here two years ago. He's a definite place player on ground that will suit ideally.
Caid Du Berlais ran a more conventional screamer at the Cheltenham Festival when third to Don Poli in the Martin Pipe. He had a big weight there and he has a bigger weight here so, with no obvious reason why he should improve on that last day effort, he looks booked for a place at best.
Vying for favouritism are two lightweights rising up the handicap in Stonebrook and Zabana. The former is trained by Donald McCain and ridden by AP McCoy for JP McManus. He's likely to go off market leader on connections alone - allied to the string of 1's next to his name - but is he up to a race like this? The answer, naturally, is maybe.
He's clearly progressive and could have more to offer on this step up in trip and better ground. But he may also regress for one or both of those factors and at the price he's respected but overlooked, even though being by Flemensfirth gives hope that he will improve for trip/ground.
Zabana has won on all sorts of ground and over the trip, so no such reservations there, and this pick of the Irish raiding party has a chance in a race that the Irish have won a couple of times in recent years. He has gone up nearly a stone for that first run/win since last summer, which is a lot when stepping into this sort of company. Still, it was an impressive performance the last day, and the front pair pulled right away from the rest in a race which is working out quite well (second, third, fourth and twelfth have all won since). Chance.
At a bigger price, a horse that is not out of this could be Grand Vision. Colin Tizzard's team have been under a cloud for most of the season, and he may have found the ground too quick, or the trip too far, at Cheltenham last time when down the field in the Pertemps. Here, he gets slightly easier turf and half a mile less to travel and, although the big weight is a worry, he's earned the right to carry it. Most of his best form is on flat tracks and he could sneak into the places at 33/1.
There's every chance I haven't mentioned the winner, such is the nature of this race, and I'll be saving ammo to try to steal through the placepot: a horrific final leg though this undoubtedly is!
Handicap Hurdle Tips
Possible win selection: Zabana 7/1 888sport (paying FIVE places)
Best alternative: Attaglance 9/1 bet365
Outsider with a squeak: Grand Vision 33/1 winner
5.25 MARES´ STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE (Listed)
Day two closes with a mares' flat race, which has gone the way of lesser known stables for each of the last five seasons.
Mares' Bumper Trends
Just nine renewals to look at, and five winners of this also won last time out.
Eight of the nine winners (89%) were aged four or five, from 81% of the runners.
Only one favourite has won.
Five of the seventeen horses to have won at this extended 2m1f trip made the frame, and two of them won.
Mares' Bumper Form Preview
Almost every mare in the field will improve either today or in future, so to some degree it's a guessing game. That's confirmed by the poor record of the favourite, and I'm happy to be led by the stats and side with a lass that has shown herself effective at the slightly longer trip here, and was in the top four last time out.
With that in mind, Fergal O'Brien's The Govaness looks a likely type. She won well at Cheltenham last time when beating Lily Waugh in a Listed event. Good mares like Legacy Gold and Miss Mayfair were behind that day, and the way the winner traveled will be a big asset. O'Brien has reportedly been pleased with her improvement since Cheltenham, and the four month absence would not be a worry - two winners had come off similar layoffs to win, from just a handful to try.
Others of interest include Tara Mist, Miss Sassypants, and Avispa. Tara Mist has been running well on heavy and soft without winning, having taken her debut on good ground. She did run second in Sandown's Listed mares' bumper and that is some of the best form in the race. 7/1 is a bit short but she does have chances.
Miss Sassypants is unbeaten in two for Seamus Mullins, a man worth following in these type of races. She's only run on quick ground, and she's beaten the same horse - Dorkas - on both starts, but that one went on to win on her only subsequent start so maybe the form is all right. She's been off since August last year, which is a very long time, mind. Hopefully she's improved in the interim, and it is possible she might be better for a bit more give underfoot.
Avispa is trained by Alan King, and anything he runs in this must be respected. As well as winning the Aintree Mares' Bumper with Senorita Rumbalita, he's also had another five of his fifteen starters make the frame, including at odds of 10/1 and 40/1.
Avispa has had three runs, winning the middle one, and she looks to be another for whom the ground may help garner a spot of improvement.
Ben Case won this in 2011 with Tempest River, and he saddles Midnight Jazz, a twice raced mare who stepped up markedly on her first run to take a Warwick bumper on soft. If she can show a similar level of advancement from second to third run, she'd make the frame at least, though that increment is far from a given.
Mares' Bumper Tips
A trappy race, and token selections as a consequence. I think The Govaness is the pick of the top of the market, and I'm happy to take a bit of a chance on Miss Sassypants and Avispa at bigger prices.
Token win selection: The Govaness 8/1 888sport (FOUR places)
Each way alternatives: Miss Sassypants 22/1 Betbright / Avispa 20/1 Coral
Who are your day two fancies? Leave a comment and let us know!