2015 Aintree Festival Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips
The middle day of three - Day Two even - of the Aintree Festival, and it's Ladies' Day. Here are geegeez, we love people having a good time, and Ladies' Day is the epitomy of that, despite how an unkind media often elect to portray things.
To the sport, and what fine sport it is. Three Grade 1's, two of them novice events sandwiching the feature Melling Chase and perhaps the highlight as a spectacle, the Topham Chase over the National fences.
1.40 Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m4f)
A big field to start the day, and some big priced winners in the recent past. As such, it might pay to use some trendage to narrow the contenders for a race where I'll be doing no more than try to get through the opening leg of the placepot. At least, that's what I thought until I saw a certain horse was running...
The following are taken from horseracebase.com and are based on the 18 renewals since 1997.
Horses aged six to nine have the best winners to runners record, collectively taking 89% of the wins from 73% of the runners. Six year olds have an excellent record: this group is largely comprised of first and second season hurdlers who still haven't revealed their full ability to the handicapper.
Weight hasn't been hugely important, winners coming from all areas of the handicap. That said, those in the handicap proper and carrying up to eleven stone have done better than might have been expected. Those set to carry ten stone or less after any claim by the rider are 0 from 60 since 1997.
And that's as helpful as the trends get. Hmm.
Let's start with the winner... Although he is too young according to the stats (actually, only three 4yo's have run since 1997, one of them placing), The Saint James has every chance of becoming a 'cliff horse' for me (as in, I'll follow it off a cliff). I had a nice little bet on him in the Fred Winter, only to see that huntsman amongst huntsmen (not Cockney rhyming slang!), Paul Carberry, sit tight. And sit tight. And sit tight. And... oh, the race is almost over and he's finished third...
He probably should have won that day - through my blinkers anyway - but let's just assume it was the 2m1f trip which was too short. If that's right, and in fairness, there ought to be some truth in that, then this two and a half mile range could suit well. The other factor in his favour is that Carberry steps down - phew - and that man McCoy steps up: The Saint James won't want for assistance from the saddle this time!
A couple of others that can go well in a typically wide open Festival handicap are Dell' Arca and Pearl Swan.
It was too early to say whether Dell' Arca would get involved in the finish at Cheltenham when he came down at the fourth flight. That at least ensured he didn't have a hard race, something that a good number who re-oppose may have done. His previous form includes a Grade 3 handicap win on good ground, and a close up third over course and distance in the Grade 1 novice hurdle at this meeting last year. Both of those runs put him in the shake up, with trainer David Pipe continuing in excellent form.
Pearl Swan was a very good horse before injury intervened, and he showed signs of returning to former glory when a good sixth at Cheltenham. He'd been off for four months prior to that race and may just have lacked for match fitness at the business end. As a consequence he comes here fresher than most, and fitter than the last day.
Lots of others with chances, but my placepot will revolve around the above. And I'll obviously be backing The Saint James.
'Cliff horse' selection:
1pt win The Saint James 7/1 Coral, bet365
*Max stake £25
2.15 Top Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 1/2f)
A speed test for novice hurdlers, and a race which has attracted a better class of horse in the recent past. The last four winners were all rated 145+ (average 149.75) compared with the previous four being individually rated no higher than 138 (average 132.75).
Danger lurks in making categorical observations on small subsets of data such as this, but I'd be happy enough to make this a 'top of the market' race, with eight of the last ten winners priced at 7/1 or shorter. The other pair returned 14/1.
Nicky Henderson's recent record commands respect: he's won the last three, and four of the last five.
Horses who were first or second last time out have won 72% (13/18) of the renewals since 1997 from 49% of the runners. They were marginally profitable at SP as a group.
Age seems irrelevant with wins and/or places aligning almost exactly to representation for each age group.
Eleven face the starter this year, and it looks a good betting race. Favourite is likely to be the highly progressive Glingerburn. Nicky Richards' seven year old is unbeaten in his last four, including a pair of flat track successes at Donny, and a Grade 2 at Kelso last time. His rating of 152 is already higher than all bar two Top Novices' winners since 1997 (of those to have a rating), and only one Top winner had a higher rating - Nicky Henderson's 4/11 shot, My Tent Or Yours.
Glingerburn is older than most winners of the race, but he's also a good bit better than most older competitors in it. He'll take some stopping.
On official ratings, there's ten pounds between the favourite and the next horses, Qewy and Cardinal Walter. The former looked a serious animal when dominating the latter at Newbury in February. That was on soft ground, though, and all his best form looks to be with some dig. The Cardinal bids to maintain the Top Hendopoly by giving his trainer a fourth consecutive winner. A true run speed test on a flat track should be ideal, and I'd expect him to reverse places with Qewy this time.
An interesting one is Paul Nicholls' Vago Collonges. He's proved difficult to win with thus far, but quicker ground could see him in a better light. He doesn't need to improve much from his current level to get in the shake up, Glingerburn aside, and he brings the fastest speed figure to a race where a big speed figure will be needed.
Cyrus Darius is stepping up in class but deserves a crack at the big time, and Commissioned has to defy a long absence but looks to have been saved for better ground.
It's a really good race, and one in which the favourite has strong claims. After him, there are three or four with place prospects.
Top Novices' Hurdle selection:
No bet. Glingerburn most likely winner, but price not compelling (would take 5/2 if it drifts)
*Max stake £25
2.50 Mildmay Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m1f)
The first of three Grade 1's on the card, and a race with an impeccable pedigree. Its most recent alumni are Holywell, Dynaste, and Silviniaco Conti; and further back brings in Big Buck's, Barton and Cyborgo amongst others. This is very much a kingmaker race.
Run over three miles and a furlong, a combination of speed and stamina is needed to come home in front. Paul Nicholls is double-handed in a bid for a fourth Mildmay since 2006, and Saphir Du Rheu bids to match the feat of his owner-mate, Big Buck's, who took the prize in 2008.
He comes here off the back of a valiant second to the newly decongested Cole Harden in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham, and on his hurdle form he'd be some sort of certainty. And if he can stay on his feet, that may be the case; but the problem is that in two of his three chase starts to date he's failed to complete, first when unseating Sam Twiston-Davies and then when falling behind Coneygree. It may just be coincidence that the day Sam T-D didn't ride, he put eleven lengths and more between himself and some decent embryonic chasers, the closest of which was Horizontal Speed.
Nicholls' other runner is Irish Saint. This chap has had a fair bit of racing this season, with six runs under his belt since November. He's won three of them, but has failed to cut the mustard in each of his five Grade 1 starts. That sequence includes two well beaten efforts at this meeting.
No, if Saphir Du Rheu fails to complete or runs below form, perhaps the main beneficiary will be Neil Mulholland's Carole's Destrier. He too has had six starts this term, albeit spread over a month longer, and he too has won three of them. Deliberately absented from Cheltenham, the flat plains of Aintree look right up his street - previous wins at Wetherby, Kempton and Huntingdon, among others. Good ground holds no fears, and he is worth taking on the jolly with.
Ainsi Fideles has been making hay while the sun shone, including when beating the 62-rated Flichity in a two horse race at Fakenham last time out. This is light years tougher and, though he does bulldoze along in front, he might not get an easy lead with Wakanda and Irish Saint in opposition.
Mildmay Novices' Chase selection:
Although Saphir Du Rheu will be very tough to beat with a clear round, Carole's Destrier might be a spot of value against him, win and place.
1pt e/w Carole's Destrier 7/1 Paddy Power (13/2 bet365 1/4 1-2-3)
*Max stake £25
3.25 Melling Chase (Grade 1, 2m4f)
Quite probably a better race than the Ryanair, CheltFest's equivalent, this is a cracker of an intermediate distance championship chase. It features a confluence of form lines from the Champion Chase (Sire De Grugy 4th, Simply Ned 5th), the Ryanair (Don Cossack 3rd, Johns Spirit 5th, Balder Succes 7th, Wishfull Thinking pulled up), and notable Cheltenham absentees Al Ferof, Cue Card and Champagne Fever.
That's some race, albeit one that is very tough to unravel. Those with twenty furlong form are favoured, as are those with Grade 1 good ground form. That whittles us down to a primary shortlist of Cue Card and Don Cossack. There are reservations about both - about the entire field in truth - but price-based propositions can still be assembled from the quandary.
The worry with Don Cossack is that he's been on the go a long time, and he had a hard race at Cheltenham. Nevertheless, that two-part question is less of an interrogation than most of his rivals and he looks a relatively safe option. His third in the Ryanair was an impeded one and, with a clear run, he might have finished a place closer.
A Grade 1 win in the John Durkan over this trip and on only slightly easier ground is as close to today's test as any of this field has recently prevailed, and he has had his season well mapped out, with spaces between his races.
Cue Card looks, if anything, even better suited to today's conditions on the pick of his form. The problem with Colin Tizzard's nine-year-old is that he's not shown even close to his best since the King George of 2013. In his defence, he wasn't beaten far in this season's Betfair Chase, and he can claim a silver behind a top-of-his-game Sprinter Sacre in this race (good ground) two years ago. At around 7/1 he might be worth a small each way play.
Although eight of Champagne Fever's nine wins have come on yielding or softer turf, he did triumph in the 2012 Cheltenham Champion Bumper on good. Given that his two other races where the going description contained the word 'good' (and the word 'soft') were highly respectable, there's no reason to believe he won't act on it; and he is a three-time winner at the trip. Two of those races were Grade 2, so he seems to have the moves for this sort of groove, but he's just been a tad disappointing at the top level over fences. As a result, I'm happy to take him on at short of 3/1.
Of the remainder, I'm a big fan of Al Ferof, especially after a break. And here's why (click image to view full screen) :
He has won ALL of his five completed starts after a break of 60 days or more, and he's won the last three at this sort of trip. But... he doesn't have the greatest record on good ground, even allowing for his Grade 1 Supreme Novices' Hurdle win of 2011. 6/1 is fair without being generous, and were he to drift to 8's he'd be tempting.
Sire De Grugy has never stretched out to this far in 28 UK starts so, while he's a relatively fresh horse, he's not sure to stay. Again, 15/2 looks about right.
I'm finding it hard to enthuse about any of the rest, though it's almost possible to make a tiny case for Wishfull Thinking at 33/1. He won a course and distance Grade 2 in October and gets the combination of two and half miles and a flat track for the first time since another Grade 2 win in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon last December. It may very well be wishful thinking, but the value proposition is easier to state with him than many.
Melling Chase selections:
1 pt Don Cossack 9/2 Betfair sportsbook
0.25 pt e/w Wishfull Thinking 40/1 PP (bet365 33/1 1/4 1-2-3)
*Max stake £25
4.05 Topham Chase (Grade 3, 2m5 1/2f)
The feature race of the day, a big field handicap chase over the National fences, the Topham demands perhaps the ultimate combination of speed, stamina and good fortune outside of the Grand National itself.
The trends are largely inconclusive, though only one horse has won with a rating above 141 since Dublin Flyer 20 years ago. Exactly half of this year's 30-strong field are rated 142+, which is interesting because some strong fancies are amongst the top weights.
Favourite at around 10/1 is Rajdhani Express, ridden by the galloping dentist. The horse is having his first try over the National fences, but its rider, Sam Waley-Cohen, is bidding for a remarkable sixth victory on the National course.
Sure to have been well schooled over these type of fences at home, I just can't escape the notion that he might be better with a bit more rain in the turf. That, allied to an anchoring weight, will make it difficult.
Another with a big weight, but who was bought for this job, is Splash Of Ginge. A capable horse, his best form has come on flat tracks, most notably when winning the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. He's run twice at Aintree, winning and finishing second, but his form has tailed off a little this term and it leaves the suspicion that the plan here is to a) give him a first look at the fences and b) give his local owners a day out. On balance, I'll let him beat me if he can.
And yet a third heavyweight with a chance is A P McCoy's mount, Eastlake. A winner of ten of his 30 races, he's been unfairly pigeonholed a soft ground beast in some quarters, but I'm not buying that. His last two wins were on good, including at this track, and though he wasn't a winner in 2014, he did finish third in this race... on good ground. Just two pounds higher here, he could be ratings trends buster.
Poking their heads just above the 142 ratings parapet are both Bennys Mist and Monetaire. Benny was a place in front of Eastlake in this last year, and also third over course and distance in the Grand Sefton, running off 138 both times. Another five pounds doesn't help, and he looks to be a player without probably getting cast in the lead role.
Monetaire's day was at Cheltenham and, but for a bungled start and wind operated rival, he'd have had his day. The record shows he was beaten a length and a quarter there, so a five pound rise for being beaten is hardly a bonus. But he's only had three starts for David Pipe and finished that Festival Plate as though there was more in the tank.
Ruben Cotter represents the champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, and he's started the meeting in brilliant form. He stays further than this, loves fast ground and has winning form on flat tracks. That's an attractive combination with the yard in flying form. He's the freshest horse in the race after a single run this season - a win - 27 days ago meaning he has all the required attributes within his control. Outside of that he'll need some luck, but 11/1 is worth a small play.
At bigger prices, a couple at which to look twice are Montoya's Son and Wings Of Smoke. Montoya's Son is on a heck of run, having won his last five, all at around this trip and on varying ground including good. True, the sequence has been racked up in lower class, but who is to say his improvement is complete? He'd had a nice break prior to his penultimate run/win, so comes here without concerns of a long season. His prominent racing style, though usually behind the trail blazers looks ideal, and he could offer some fun at around 25/1.
Wings Of Smoke loves fast ground. He's an infrequent winner, right enough, but nine places in 16 chase starts makes him a credible each way ticket. A return to this combination of trip and ground can see Tim Vaughan's reliable jumper make the frame.
Topham Chase selections:
With thirty to pick from, I'm going to take the liberty of nominating four, for varying stakes.
1 pt win Monetaire 10/1 general
0.5 pt e/w Ruben Cotter 11/1 general
0.25 pt e/w Wings Of Smoke 50/1 Coral (1/4 1-2-3-4-5)
0.25 pt e/w Montoya's Son 25/1 PP, Bet Victor (1/4 1-2-3-4-5)
*Max stake £25
4.40 Sefton Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m 1/2 f)
One of the weaker Grade 1 novice events in the calendar, it is still a good punting race, with plenty of decent priced winners.
17 of the last 18 winners finished in the first four last time.
14 of the last 18 winners had won over at least 2m5f.
Half of the last 18 winners did NOT run at Cheltenham, and they tend to be value prices.
It's not a race I'll be taking a keen betting interest in, but a couple that can go better than their odds suggest are Flintham and Our Kaempfer.
Flintham has won three of his last four, including when sluicing up in a heavy ground handicap last time out. This is a step up in class, and he was beaten in Grade 2 company at Warwick two back, but over this longer trip and on better ground he is worth another try for the Gold Cup-winning stable of Mark Bradstock.
Our Kaempfer steps up to Grade 1 after back-to-back wins in solid-looking novice hurdles on top of the ground and flat tracks. First, he beat Optimistic Bias, a winner of his only start since; and then he saw off the talented Port Melon, also a winner from his only start since. So the form is solid if below Grade 1 level.
Charlie Longsdon's son of Oscar is on a steep upward trajectory, and the longer trip is expected to play to his strengths. With track and ground looking optimal, he's surely better than a 33/1 shot and is a fairly hopeful each way play.
At the top of the market, Minella Rocco has looked top class in his two wins thus far. Both were on soft ground, and both were over three furlongs shorter. There's every chance he will improve for further and quicker, and it is clear that trainer Jonjo O'Neill really likes this lad. At 3/1 he's unexciting but ought to run a big race.
Another interesting one, potentially at least, is Alpha Des Obeaux. Second in a pair of lesser Graded races on soft ground, he's shown distance versatility with a full mile splitting that brace of silvers. Prior to that he bolted up on yielding, giving hope to the prospect of more to come for better ground. If he does improve on terra firmer, then he's a big price at around 18/1, and it's to be assumed that Irish trainer, Mouse Morris, wouldn't have sent him over if the lawn was too hard.
Lots more nice horses in here, and I'm happy with a token tickle on a couple of the above.
Sefton Novices' Hurdle Selections:
0.5 pt e/w Alpha Des Obeaux - 18/1 bet365 1/4 1-2-3
0.25 pt e/w Our Kaempfer - 33/1 bet365 1/4 1-2-3
*Max stake £25
5.15 National Hunt Flat Race (Grade 2, 2m1f)
A decent bumper which has been won by some huge priced horses down the years. Winners at 66/1, 50/1, 33/1 twice, 28/1, 25/1, 20/1 and 14/1 twice since 2000 tell you that lumping on a shortie is a generally disastrous ploy. Instead, let's throw some vaguely educated mud at the wagering wall and see if any of it sticks.
Those beaten in the Cheltenham bumper have been very profitable to follow. Since 1997, 31 horses have rocked up here, and five have won for an SP profit of 47 points. Another seven have placed.
The duo for consideration this time is Bellshill and Davy Doubt, both of whom were comprehensively beaten by Moon Racer up the Cheltenham hill. This is a very different test, however, and the flat plains suit different horses.
Of the pair, Bellshill is a third of the price of Davy Doubt at around 7/1. But there's no evidence that his thumping the last day was due to ground rather than track, or some other issue. As such, and given the history of the race, I'm more interested in Davy Doubt.
This lad had previously won on good ground, and he had previously won - and won well - on a flat track. That race, at Doncaster, looked like it might be competitive behind the easy-travelling winner, but by the line David Pipe's Kalanisi gelding had put fresh air gaps between himself and the second, second and third, third and fourth... in fact, all the way through the field.
It's too early to say what the value of that form is worth, but what I can confidently say is that horses with prior good form that had a legitimate excuse (potentially, at least) for Cheltenham Bumper defeat have bounced back here enough times to take the chance. He's 33/1 with Paddy and Betfair Sportsbook just now. We can afford to be speculative at that rate of return.
The jolly, Persian Delight, is trained by Paul Nicholls, and is 7/2 after a single win on soft ground at Taunton. Whilst it's perfectly possible that he'll readily improve for better ground and the experience, 7/2 is hopelessly short in this field. Especially so when we note that of the two horses to come out of race and run again, neither has even made the frame, and they've had five tries between them.
Buveur D'Air and Barters Hill are closely matched on Newbury running in a Listed bumper on soft. Barters won there with Buveur less than a length back, the latter having more scope to go on after just a single run compared with three for the winner. Again, the early signs are that the form is only all right, and the price is not tempting - 6/1 each of two.
As stabs in the dark go, Justanother Muddle has a minor case to be made for him. A six-year-old - 6 wins from 56 runners since 1997, and a level stakes profit of 107.25 units - he'll stay further and the form of his bumpers last year has worked out well. He's not been seen since winning over 2m3f at Fontwell (good to soft) 381 days ago, during which absence he might have come on tremendously... or not. But 66/1 is again worth a tiny aspirational investment.
If I had to side with one from the top of the market, it would most likely be Brain Power. This once raced Kalanisi gelding was snapped up by Michael Buckley after winning a Newcastle bumper in cheeky fashion. The winning margin of half a length could have been five, eight or ten had the jockey got serious with the horse. But he didn't need to. That form is working out well, and 10/1 is all right.
It's a guesser's race, and if I'm guessing I want to do it at bigger prices, especially in the historical context of the winning SP's. That's reflected in the below, all to win only, please.
Aintree Champion Bumper selections:
0.5 pt win Brain Power 10/1 general
0.25 pt win Davy Doubt 33/1 PP
0.25 pt win Justanother Muddle 50/1 general
*Max stake £25
Still to make up your mind on the National? Have a good read of this stats and form magnum opus:
p.s. How was your day one? Winner? Unlucky? No good? Leave a comment and let us know.