2014 Aintree Grand National Day Preview, Trends, Tips
The big day is upon us. Thrills, spills, stories, plots, winners, losers. Yes, folks, it's Grand National Day 2014!
If you're in a rush and just want the big race preview, that's here. Otherwise, read on for a full preview, trends and tips for racing's big public day.
1.30 MERSEY NOVICES´ HURDLE (Grade 1)
We kick off with a Grade 1 novices' hurdle over two and a half miles...
Mersey Novices' Hurdle Trends
All stats are based on the last seventeen years unless stated, and are based on data at the excellent horseracebase.com
10/17 winners (59%) finished first or second last time out, from 43% of the runners
15/17 winners (88%) were aged five or six, from 71% of the runners
13/17 winners (76%) were in the first two in the betting, from 21% of the runners
17/17 winners (100%) last ran between 16 and 60 days ago, from 81% of the runners
The Neptune is the best trial for this, with six of the 20 runners from there winning here, and another four placing. The Supreme has been responsible for five winners from 29 runners, with another seven making the frame.
Paul Nicholls has won this three times in the last ten years, and Nicky Henderson twice in the last three years (and was second in the other year).
Mersey Novices' Hurdle Form Preview
Cheltenham form is the best place to start here, and specifically the Neptune. Alas, none of the Neptune field lines up; so the next best place to look is the Supreme field. Although no Supreme winner has come to this race since 1997, fifteen horses placed second to sixth have. And, between them, they've won the Mersey five times, and placed on another four occasions.
In the absence of Neptune entries, those who ran well in the Supreme are far and away the strongest contenders. That form is represented here primarily by Wilde Blue Yonder. Alan King's five year old was unlucky not to hold a four race win streak heading into Cheltenham as he fell at the last flight on two separate occasions. The son of Oscar leapt like an old pro at the Festival and was a gallant eight length fifth to the runaway Vautour. His profile maps very well to this contest, and he should run very well accordingly.
Un Ace was a further two and a half lengths back in the Supreme, having been outpaced, and this longer trip should be ideal for Kim Bailey's charge. He was soundly enough beaten in the Champion Bumper here last year, but could make the frame at a big price on the back of that Cheltenham effort.
More obvious contenders perhaps are Paul Nicholls' Lac Fontana, and Nicky Henderson's Volnay de Thaix: after all, they've won five of the last ten renewals of this race between them.
Lac Fontana is a bit of a Cheltenham specialist, with his last five runs having been at that track (three wins, including the County Hurdle). How he'll fare over this longer trip and on this flatter track is open to question, but he ran on very well in the County. On breeding, the jury is out: Shirocco is a good influence for a twenty furlong trip, but the damsire is Josr Algarhoud, which is perhaps not so promising.
Hendo's Volnay de Thaix dodged the Festival, and comes here a fresh horse as a consequence. He's won four of his last five, and only one horse beat him on the other occasion: Nicholls' Irving. That one ran a clunker in the Supreme, but was sent off joint favourite. By tenuous extension then, we can give Volnay a very good chance, especially when considering his trainer's 112 record in the race in the last three seasons.
The highest rated in the field has not run since losing a six race unbeaten record at the hands of The Liquidator. That was at Cheltenham in November, and before that his wins had all been on flat tracks, so the return to a level playing field - literally - is a big plus. The form of those summer wins have largely worked out well, and he might be the 'forgotten horse' here (if such a thing ever exists).
Dell'Arca and Splash Of Ginge are two that don't appeal: the former had a very hard race in a CheltFest handicap - form which is not normally good enough anyway; and the latter looks flattered by his Betfair Hurdle win at Newbury.
A horse I'd love to see win is one that beat Slipper Satin, a filly in whom I own a share (with Councillor Jim), Kilcooley. He is a very strong travelling sort, and a flat track is what he needs. If there's a spot or three of rain, that will help his chance and, though he's got a stone or so to find with the best of these, he may have more scope than most to find at least some of it.
Mersey Novices' Hurdle Tips
Tentative win selection: Wilde Blue Yonder
Obvious danger: Volnay de Thaix
Two outsiders with squeaks: Un Ace, Kilcooley
2.05 MAGHULL NOVICES´ CHASE (Grade 1)
Seven will go to post for the 'Liverpool Arkle', a two mile novice chase won by such as Sprinter Sacre and Tidal Bay in recent years. There was a shock last year when 28/1 Special Tiara nicked it, but generally this is a race for the top of the market.
Maghull Novices' Chase Trends
16/17 (94%) finished in the first three last time out (13), or fell (3), from 68% of the runners
17/17 were aged five to eight, from 84% of the runners
14/17 came from the first two in the betting (82%), from 30% of the runners
14/17 winners (82%) ran at the Cheltenham Festival last time out, from 47% of the runners
Maghull Novices' Chase Form Preview
It's Cheltenham form we're after here, and the pick of it may come from a horse that unseated his rider there. Hinterland was travelling well in the Champion Chase, a non-novice event, when coming to grief four out, and the fact that connections felt that was a plausible option gives him an obvious chance here.
Prior to unshipping the last day, he'd won the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown and, whilst that track configuration is very different from this one, it's still a fine piece of form.
Against him, Trifolium was third to Western Warhorse in the Arkle, and brought the pick of the Irish form to Cheltenham. He was a Grade 1 winner back home, and seems to go on any surface.
Alan King's team enter Balder Succes and this fellow swerved Cheltenham and comes here fresh. He was bashed up by Hinterland at Sandown three starts ago but has since won back-to-back Grade 2's on a slower surface. He does like to front run usually too, and will have little chance of doing that with the pace nutter, Next Sensation, in the field. It's hard to see him reversing form with Hinterland, and he's not on my shortlist.
The aforementioned pace nutter, Next Sensation, is a great story horse, and has progressed in fantastic fashion through the ranks this season. Starting out winning a Plumpton novices' chase, he then destroyed his oppo in a handicap chase, before unseating rider in a hot little handicap chase at Newbury. He put that right next time out when again pulverising his field from the fornt in a novices' handicap chase.
And he did his level best to repeat the dose in the hyper-competitive Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival, only giving way after the last fence and eventually finishing a one and three quarter length fourth of 23. That level of handicap form translates well to a novice chase, even a Grade 1 novice chase, and if rated a bit better by regular pilot Tom Scudamore (Richard Johnson took the ride last time), he could burn them all off.
Ted Veale, winner of the 2013 County Hurdle, has a big race over fences in him, and it wouldn't be the biggest shock if it was this one. He goes on good to soft just fine, travels very well and has plenty of experience. The negative is his tendency to clout one or two, a foible which saw him decant Davy Russell at the Festival. Barry Geraghty takes over here.
Maghull Novices' Chase Tips
A tricky old puzzle despite the small field, and Hinterland might be the answer. Trifolium will be a tough nut to crack too, but he's been shown to be crackable, and that swings the pendulum just in favour of Paul Nicholls' nag. I'd love to see Next Sensation win, and am very much looking forward to seeing him run, such is his electric approach to the game. He's a far better chance of lasting home on this less testing circuit than last time, and he'll give supporters a great run for their pennies.
Most likely winner: Hinterland 9/4
Sporting selection: Next Sensation 4/1
2.50 STAYERS´ HURDLE (Registered as The Liverpool Hurdle) (Grade 1)
A race that has been robbed of a good part of its interest with the withdrawal of More Of That, the unbeaten winner of the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. His dirty scope is good news for the rest of the field, and it looks to be an interesting renewal without having the star quality imbued by the great Big Buck's, winner of this from 2009 to 2012.
Liverpool Hurdle Trends
14/17 winners (82%) ran at the Cheltenham Festival last time, from 60% of the runners
Liverpool Hurdle Form Preview
Another race where Cheltenham form is paramount, regardless of what the 'over the top' merchants will have you believe. Even excluding Big Buck's' stranglehold on the race for four years, ten other winners since 1997 last ran at the Festival. Five of this seven strong field ran there, three in the World Hurdle, one in the Champion Hurdle and one in the Coral Cup.
The World Hurdle was responsible for twelve of the seventeen Liverpool Hurdle winners in the sample, and At Fishers Cross was third there, leading home Zarkandar (fourth) and Salubrious (ninth). Both At Fishers Cross and Zarkandar won at the Aintree Festival last season, the former taking the Sefton Novices' Hurdle over course and distance, and the latter winning the Aintree Hurdle over a half mile shorter.
At Fishers Cross has struggled with his form this year, due to a combination of a bad back (I know the feeling!) and a virus in the yard, but he seemed close to his best last time when beaten six lengths behind two highly progressive animals in More Of That and Annie Power, neither of whom show up here.
He had two lengths to spare over Zarkandar, and given that he's now in much better health, I'd be quite hopeful that At Fishers Cross would win this.
Salubrious was well beaten in the World Hurdle, but he's better than he showed there, and is more fairly judged on his trio of seconds, behind Reve de Sivola, More Of That, and Return Spring respectively. That might be the problem with this chap though: he has tended to find one too good since taking the Martin Pipe at last year's Cheltenham Festival. Any further yield in the turf would be to his advantage, and if there were three places to go at rather than two, I'd still be mildly tempted at 20/1. But there aren't.
Whisper was second to Saphir du Rheu in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, run over two and a half miles, before winning the Coral Cup (2m5f) last time out. This is his first try at beyond 2m6f, and I'm not certain he'll stay. I'll be taking him on on that basis, though he's a very likeable horse at around two and a half.
And Melodic Rendezvous steps up a full mile from his Champion Hurdle flop. He really needs a bit more juice in the turf, but they're sure to go a clip slower here than that last day and he is a classy sort, as a Grade 1 and three Grade 2 wins attest. One of those was on good to soft, but the balance of his best form is on softer so, unless the rain comes, I'm reluctantly against this old friend.
The other pair, Thousand Stars and The Knoxs, are getting on a bit now, and both have been beaten under a variety of conditions in recent starts without giving any indication that this might be an optimal test.
Liverpool Hurdle Tips
I think At Fishers Cross will win, and 7/4 with Boyle is a fair price though not standout value. Of the rest, Zarkandar should run his race again; Melodic could go well if a bit of rain arrives; and Salubrious is better than he showed last time.
Most likely winner: At Fishers Cross
3.25 HANDICAP CHASE (Listed Race)
A highly competitive handicap chase precedes the National, but it's been a friend to punters with eight of the last ten winners returning at 12/1 or shorter.
Handicap Chase Trends
10/17 winners (59%) were in the first three last time out, from 40% of the runners
16/17 winners (94%) were rated 145 or lower, from 89% of the runners
Handicap Chase Form Preview
Very little in the trends to help us, so it's form to fore for this head scratcher. Unioniste is the top weight and he deserves that honour, as a consequence of a series of credible efforts at this sort of range, including a win in a Listed chase over course and distance three runs ago.
That was a small field non-handicap and, despite the presence of good horses like Wishfull Thinking, Katenko and The Giant Bolster, this is a different game under top weight. He did run well under similar conditions in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster last time, a race which looked to take its toll, so it is no surprise that he's been freshened up since then.
As a track and trip winner, this will have been the plan, and he ought to make the frame if jumping round, and is the brave man's placepot banker. (Note, not me, but the brave man!)
Johns Spirit has been running well at Cheltenham all season, and two wins there have seen his handicap rating elevate from 129 to 148. He surely has it to do off the latest revised perch and on a track which may not suit as well as the Cotswolds' undulations.
Victor Hewgo looks an interesting contender. He's a novice, with four chases to his name, and the only two horses to have beaten him are Holywell and Western Warhorse, winners of the Festival Handicap Chase and the Arkle respectively at Cheltenham! In here off 139, he looks like taking a lot of beating if that form is anywhere near literally correct.
This is a bit of a drop in class for Duke Of Lucca who ran very well in the Cross Country Chase last time to finish fourth. He's one of those horses I've followed through thin and thinner, and I can see him running a good race, perhaps even winning now I've deserted him. Certainly conditions are ripe, and he's a full ten pounds below his last winning mark.
It's hard to know what to make of Wetak. He was a good horse in France - fourth in a Grade 2 - but he's not obviously well in here, and might need to be massaged down the handicap a bit further before pouncing.
Saint Are on the other hand has reverted to a winning mark. He's a dual scorer at Aintree, including in this race two years ago, and he's eight pounds lower than that victory. This will almost certainly have been the target and he's respected off 10-02, though the stable could be in better form.
It would be unexpected if something else won. But then Aintree is pretty good at rustling up the unexpected.
Handicap Chase Tips
Nap selection (yikes) - Victor Hewgo 4/1 Betfred
Each way play: Saint Are 10/1 Ladbrokes
4.15 CRABBIE´S GRAND NATIONAL CHASE (Handicap) (Grade 3)
It's the big race of the day and, for many, the only race they bet on all year. Some race to place your only bet!
To recap my fancies in the race, I've copied those over:
Most likely 2014 Aintree Grand National winner:
Teaforthree 10/1 (each way 1/4 odds 1-2-3-4-5) sportingbet
2014 Aintree Grand National Best Value Each Way plays:
Two more I hope will run well in the 2014 Aintree Grand National:
GET PAID DOWN TO SIXTH PLACE IN THE GRAND NATIONAL
GET YOUR MONEY BACK IF YOUR HORSE IS SECOND
GET YOUR MONEY BACK UP TO £20 ON YOUR FIRST BET IF IT LOSES
5.10 HANDICAP HURDLE (For Conditional Jockeys and Amateur Riders)
Just five years old, this race has hardly been a friend to punters despite Cockney Sparrow's 5/1 success last year. Before that the winners were 11/1, 14/1, 28/1, and 66/1! So, will it revert to big priced type, or will another shortie claim the spoils? Let's try to fathom it out...
Handicap Hurdle Trends
Trends should be taken lightly in the context of the lack of evidence, but these were interesting pointers:
13/20 win and place positions (65%) were claimed by horses priced 14/1 or bigger
14/20 win and place positions (70%) went to horses that finished first or second last time out, from 35% of the runners
13/20 win and place positions (65%) went to horses rated in the 130's, from 44% of the runners
Handicap Hurdle Form Preview
Nicky Henderson is a great supporter of these races, probably because he has some of the best conditional jockeys. And, in Nico de Boinville, he has - in my opinion - THE best conditional jockey. de Boinville rides Nesterenko here, and he comes into the race off a victory last time. While that wasn't much of a race, the form of his Cheltenham fourth to Lac Fontana, County Hurdle winner since, is solid and he has a light weight under optimal conditions with some scope to progress.
Hendo's other runner is Vasco de Ronceray, a class dropper from Graded hurdles, and ridden by Peter Carberry. Vasco was last seen a year ago, in the 4yo Grade 1 here where he finished a thirteen length seventh, having been fifth in Our Conor's Triumph Hurdle before that. Fitness is taken on trust, of course, but he's slipped to a nice mark of 139, and if he is tuned up will go well.
Paul Nicholls also has a strong hand to play here, albeit from just the one runner. That runner is Fred Winter second, Katgary, and he is entitled to come on for that British debut. However, it was a rough old race at Cheltenham and he is not one to be grabbing a short price about to my eye. It would be no surprise to see him win, but remember that this is a race where long shots have generally held sway, and plenty of fancied beasts with ostensibly strong profiles have already gone west in the first five renewals.
John Quinn saddled the only winning fancied beast, and he has two this time in Kashmir Peak and Scots Gaelic. The former has not run over hurdles since a heavy defeat in the Greatwood last November, but has been performing with credit on the all weather. Fitness is certain, and talent is there, notwithstanding that it wasn't shown in back to back Cheltenham runs.
Prior to that, he'd won two flat track novices, one of which was a Grade 2, and it could well be that this flat track sees a return to his best form. 16/1 is playable to that end.
Scots Gaelic won last time out in a weak race, and he is open to more improvement. But he'll need to be as the bare level of form is some way short of what ought to be required here.
Irish raider Drumlee could be a possible if acting on this quicker turf. He won a huge field maiden hurdle in Ireland and has placed in a couple of reasonable handicaps. The very talented young rider Ger Fox takes over from David Casey, and the away team won with via Paul Nolan's Far Away So Close in 2011.
More than a few others with chances in a wide open race.
Handicap Hurdle Tips
It's a placepot salvation mission rather than a bold wagering race, but I do think that Nesterenko looks to have a chance off his low weight, with the excellent Nico de Boinville riding. Katgary is an obvious danger if unscathed from a brutal race in the Fred Winter, and Kashmir Peak may well run better than he has done at Cheltenham the last twice.
Token each way selection: Nesterenko
Token each way alternative: Kashmir Peak
5.45 CHAMPION STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE (Grade 2)
And the curtain comes down on Aintree's Grand National Festival with a flat race, and a good one at that. But it's a race in which I have absolutely no opinion. So my advice is to use the geegeez racecards to make your own pick. Good luck!