It's been a fantastic week of punting and sport so far, and I don't mind admitting that I'm largely retiring from the betting ring for this week, with a healthy four figure profit already nailed down. I'll be topping up on the Grand National itself of course, and also placepotting, but that's all for me today.
In the spirit of community however - after all, you come here for your own ends rather than vicariously to pore over what I might or might not have achieved! - I shall do my usual run through the card, with an obvious and unapologetic emphasis on the feature race of the day, week, month and year... so here goes.
[I've also added a bit of bold and italics to my summations for those that requested this potted summary element - can't believe you don't want to read every word of my long form bluster! ;)Â Â ]
We start off at 1.45 with the Mersey Novices Hurdle over 2m4f, and contested by a number of the leadingÂ lights from the various novice hurdle races at Cheltenham. Spirit Son and Cue Card represent those stepping up from two mile Supreme Novices form; Rock On Ruby is the nominee dropping back slightly from the 2m5f Neptune distance; and Sam Winner is also stepping up in trip after that had to be seen (and punted on) to be believed whirlwind finish for fourth in the two mile and a bit Triumph Hurdle.
A certain Peddlers Cross won this last year, following in the footsteps of the likes of Tidal Bay and Garde Champetre, so there's plenty of class on parade generally. This time around, there are three horses who could be very good.
The one I'm happy enough to dismiss - rightly or wrongly - is Spirit Son. He had beaten nothing prior to a fantastic second in the Supreme, where he jumped and traveled brilliantly. So why am I happy to dismiss him? Simply because I'm not sure about his resolution matching his undoubted class.
Put another way, the first time he saw a battle was when Al Ferof came upsides, and Spirit Son was easily fended off. Nicholls runs another high class scrapper here in the shape of Rock On Ruby, and I think he's a much better bet at the prices. Ruby, who will not be ridden by Ruby, was just touched off in the Neptune, and his previous form behind Bobs Worth, with some huge reputations diminished in behind, sets the novice bar here for me.
That said, there's a certain Cue Card in the race too. He's had some Premier League battles this season, and lost little in defeat. In the Supreme, he surely wasn't fit enough to do himself justice. There will be no such excuse this day, and I'm hopeful rather than expectant that Cue Card will win or at least run close.
Sam Winner completes the quartet of main protagonists here, and he is the chosen mount of Ruby. He's also a four year old and, whilst Bouggler did strike for that age group two years ago, their overall profile is forgettable. Moreover, the fact that he was so badly placed in the race and consequently outpaced at a key time in the Triumph, does not necessarily mean the horse wants a step up to 2m4f.
Ruby clearly feels he has unfinished business here, but I can't see Sam Winner besting his olders and betters here. (Obviously, if he does it would further twist the knife after that crazy run in the Triumph Hurdle).
There is one horse in the race who may be as good as those, but has much longer odds today, and that's Bold Sir Brian. He was an easy enough winner of a Grade 2 at Kelso last time, and had Desert Cry (5th behind Topolski here yesterday) and Wyse Hill Teabags (third in a competitive handicap hurdle here on Thursday) behind him in the lower podium slots.
Storm Brig, the 6/4 favourite and only 7th that day, reopposes here and, if you can forgive a horse a (very) bad run, then you might be tempted by the 50's available on him.
Ultimately, this is a no bet race for me, but I'm hoping that Cue Card can win, and maybe see off Rock On Ruby in the process. I'd not be at all surprised to Bold Sir Brian make the frame at a nice price (14's generally).
Next up, at 2.15, is the Maghull Novices Chase for the speedsters over two miles. Cheltenham's Arkle form is represented by Ghizao, Dan Breen and Finian's Rainbow; and Starluck, a high class hurdler whose chasing career still has potential, adds more spice to the mix.
The longest priced winner of this race in nine years was 4/1, so it may not pay to get too cute here. The top two are Finian's Rainbow and Ghizao, with the former odds on at 8/11, and the latter a 10/3 shot. In cases like these, where there's not much between them, and one is almost an each way price, it's a no brainer for me to side with the 10/3 shot.
That doesn't mean Finian's hasn't got a slightly better chance of winning. Rather, it's that he doesn't have that much of a better chance to justify the price disparity - to my eye at least.
Those odds are clearly framed around the Arkle form, but Cheltenham is a hugely different track from Aintree - wide, undulating, galloping against tight, sharp, flat - and Ghizao is undoubtedly a better horse than he demonstrated last time out. Whether he's sufficiently better to beat Finian's Rainbow today remains to be seen. But, at the prices, he's worth the chance.
Starluck is a bottler. He has a cruising speed that most private jets would envy but, when push comes to shove - as it invariably does in championship races - he generally finds nil. He's also shy of experience here, with just the two runs over fences. If he wins, fair enough, but for me he's no value at 6/1.
Dan Breen is fit and well, but he might not be quite up to these.
So it's Ghizao at the prices with Finian's Rainbow the obvious danger.
The John Smith's Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f is next, and many people will see this as Binocular's opportunity to show what he might have done at Cheltenham. Which of course it is. Unfortunately for him, this is half a mile further and he's less likely to benefit from that than his two main market rivals.
He's never won beyond 2m1f in his career, which is primarily down the fact that he's never raced beyond that distance. However, look a little further and you'll note that his dad, Enrique, was a seven furlong horse and most of his progeny have been favoured by a trip around two miles when they've run over jumps.
He is readily opposable at the odds. Peddlers Cross is the obvious one, having won here over this trip last season, and lost nothing in defeat when finally ceding his unbeaten tag whilst getting down and dirty with Hurricane Fly in that mega-tussle up Cleeve Hill.
I do wonder if the labours expended there will take their toll here should a battle ensue and, as such, whilst I think Peddlers is the form pick, he's not for me at 6/4.
The one I'm struggling to see out of the frame is Oscar Whisky. This is a horse who has had a light campaign, who they thought was a World Hurdle horse, and yet who still had enough speed for a bronze medal in the Champion Hurdle. The track and trip should be ideal, and he is a relatively fresh horse. 11/2 and a quarter the odds the first three may be a very nice bet to nothing.
Less obvious dangers are hiding further down the card, with Thousand Stars a decent horse and Celestial Halo sure to make a bold fist from the front here.
But, at the prices, I'll take Oscar Whisky over Peddlers Cross, and Binocular to possibly not make the frame.
Excitement will be mounting by now for the main event, but there's one more warm up contest first, a 3m1f handicap chase featuring a range of winners and losers from the big March Festival.
Bensalem, that reliable punting conveyance (ahem), heads the market after laughing in the face of his doubters - me among them - last time by fending off the game but not quite as able Carole's Legacy. Reve De Sivola was third that day, Rare Bob was pulled up and Great Endeavour fell. Oh, and Carrickmines was stuffed. All reconvene here this afternoon.
Bensalem had a hard, hard race there, with Carole's making him pull out all the stops. He might not be able to reproduce that here, though he does travel very well in his races.
Great Endeavour took a nasty fall at the second last, but was still in contention at that point, and was at least spared the grinding battle up the hill. That makes him slightly the fresher horse.
Reve De Sivola is perhaps just shy of the class required to win a handicap like this, and may actually be a better hurdler. He'll give his best and might make the frame, but I'd be surprised if there wasn't at least one better as they pass the lollipop.
The interesting one for me is Invisible Man, who is perhaps the forgotten horse of the race (geddit?). He may ghost into contention and spirit away. In fact, they may not see which way he went! Haha. Not. Embarrasingly bad puns aside, he's got a definite chance with plenty of fast ground flat track form, and a shrewdie trainer in Ian Williams.
There is a slight stamina worry, and a bigger class concern (!), but he's a nice price and as you'll know by now, I do often favour those who weren't beaten up at Cheltenham when looking for an Aintree wager.
So Invisible Man is a sporting each way bet with limited confidence, and Great Endeavour is fancied to do best of the Cheltenham posse.
To the main event. The biggest race in the world. The Grand National 2011. I could write a book on the race (or at least a fat pamphlet), but time precludes such wanton word wastage, so I'll cut to the chase (awful pun intended). Here's why your horse CAN'T win the National... as usual, I'm guaranteed to be 97.5% right... 😉
Don't Push It (IRE) - last year's winner has too much weight, and there's been no repeat winner since Red Rum doubled up in 1973/4. That said, he doesn't have much more weight and he the top man on board. Place prospects.
Tidal Bay (IRE) - better than the names he's been called, and thrice a winner round Aintree. Lots of weight, drops himself out (which won't help here) and may not take to the fences. Capable if all fell right for him.
What A Friend - almost snatched third in the Gold Cup, and placed horses there have a reasonable record here. Probably too young and probably won't stay, and Nicholls' National record is poor for a serial champion trainer.
Vic Venturi (IRE) - wants it softer, and not good enough. Plenty of weight for what he's done laterly. Eleven now.
Majestic Concorde (IRE) - interesting from the Dermot Weld yard. This might be a sighter for next year, as he's too inexperienced this time around.
Or Noir De Somoza (FR) - French bred, hasn't raced in UK, hasn't won beyond 2m6f. I've got more chance.
Dooneys Gate (IRE) - probably wants it softer, might not stay, amateur rider (talented, has finished 2nd on both mounts this week, including in the Foxhunters over these fences)
Big Fella Thanks - jumped round twice but doesn't truly stay the trip, might be able to bag a place. Won't win.
The Tother One (IRE) - only nine chase starts, only one chase win. Not good enough, not experienced enough, and Nicholls' National record is poor for a serial champion trainer
BallaBriggs (IRE) - hails from a multiple Grand National-winning yard, and respected on that alone. Hasn't raced at this class before though, and first sight of the National fences here (though probably schooled over them at home). Not good enough, I wouldn't have thought.
The Midnight Club (IRE) - the main Irish hope. Trainer/jockey combination to be feared as they teamed up for Hedgehunter's win in 2005. Most of Mullins' horses get round here and, that being the case, he may be hard to keep out of the frame. Inexperienced though and not yet sure about his battling qualities should he be in to win at the Elbow.
Niche Market (IRE) - formerly smart staying chaser who won the Irish National as a novice. Hasn't won since, pulled up in this last year, and another saddled with the Curse of Nicholls
Silver By Nature - needs a bog, won't get it. Won't win as a consequence. Nice horse for the future though.
Backstage (FR) - the horse that gives me palpitations. Everything about him says he can't win: class, breeding, stamina... and yet, he's trained by that man Gordon Elliott (won with Silver Birch in 2007), and has a chance for that reason alone. I'll be amazed if he wins, but Elliott is an amazing trainer!
Chief Dan George (IRE) - not without a shout. Fell last time which meant he didn'tÂ have a hard race, fifth in a Scottish National and has a hint of class on his day. Track, ground and trip should be ok. Good place prospects at a juicy price.
Calgary Bay (IRE) - hasn't won since 2009; did win a Grade 2 novice back then, and could surprise at long odds. Stamina a bit of a worry though ground is fine for him. Probably not good enough and might be too young at eight (though he is experienced).
Killyglen (IRE) - won a novice here over 3m1f, so course is fine. Also likes good ground. All wins in smallish fields though (pulled up last four runs in 13+ fields), and this will be very different.
Oscar Time (IRE) - bought for the job after finishing second to Bluesea Cracker in the Irish National. Amateur ridden. Good amateur at that. All form on softer ground.
Quinz (FR) - seven year old novice. Nice horse, can't win.
Becauseicouldntsee (IRE) - slugger, stays, not good enough, not experienced enough.
Comply Or Die (IRE) - former winner and second, only twelfth last year but got round for a third time. Might be better on the slightly quicker ground, and Red Rum came back to win so it can be done. Now or never for Comply Or Die - he's twelve years young.
Quolibet (FR) - French bred, hasn't won beyond 2m6f, no chance whatsoever.
Grand Slam Hero (IRE) - likes his hooves rattling, trainer won this multiple times, probably just not good enough
State of Play - loves it here, having won a handicap chase and been fourth and third in the last two Grand Nationals. Seasonal debut here is a big worry, even for a horse who goes well fresh, and the frame must be the aim again this time.
King Fontaine (IRE) - fast ground Haydock wins hint at a chance, no big field wins suggests this will be bamboozling experience for him. Not a great jumper either. Can't see him getting round.
In Compliance (IRE) - high class, but major stamina doubts and the ground looks too quick for him. Has also developed a tendency to skyrocket his pilot in recent runs, which is far from ideal here!
Hello Bud (IRE)Â - fifth last year and won the Becher Chase over these brutes since. He's 13 now, which is too old, but he's from the right yard, jumps, stays and might nick a place.
West End Rocker (IRE) - more like West End Shocker on his last run. Previous progressive form gives him a chance though and he puts his best hoof forward I can see him being in the shake up.
Santa's Son (IRE) - two and a half miler, who won't stay and won't win.
Bluesea Cracker (IRE) - Irish National winner is off a very feasible weight here, bought by McManus and punted since. Normally jumps well and stays very well, she's the right age and ticks all the boxes. Except she's a she, and she's don't generally win the National (nor, in fairness, run in the thing!)
That's Rhythm (FR) - French bred, who hasn't won in a decent sized field and isn't good enough anyway.
Surface To Air - formerly useful, but awful on reappearance after two years off, and massively inexperienced in any case with just four chase starts to his name. Highly unlikely.
Piraya (FR) - French bred two and a half miler who has only won in small fields on soft ground. You'd be bonkers to back this one here.
Can't Buy Time (IRE) - fell in this the last two years, which hardly inspires confidence. If he could jump round, he'd have a squeak because there's definitely talent there. Big if though...
Character Building (IRE) - never won above Class 2, not going to start today. Under-priced, over-rated money vacuum.
Ornais (FR) - Another of the Nicholls battalion, this one at least jumps and stays. He is inexperienced but, aside from that, might turn out to be the pick of the Nicholls pile at a three figure price.
Arbor Supreme (IRE) - dodgy jumper, lots of class, and stays well too. If he can get round, he might go close for those men Mullins and McManus.
Royal Rosa (FR) - Frenchie, lots of form over the fences at shorter trips, unseated in this last year. Not bereft of chance, and 125/1 is tempting for 15p each way.
Skippers Brig (IRE) - not good enough
Golden Kite (IRE) - not good enough
So there you have it. Why they won't win. Now for my selections. Using a combination of trends, hunches and form, I've come up with the following who will be my 'team' for the race.
Oscar Time, State Of Play, Bluesea Cracker, Chief Dan George, West End Rocker, Dooney's Gate and Arbor Supreme.
Yes, I know there's seven of them - it's a very hard race!
The last two races are somewhat irrelevant unless you're still in the placepot, and if you are, you'll need a few lines to get through a 22 runner conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle! Look to the top of the weights is my advice. With that in mind, Eradicate should continue his run of excellent efforts.
I'll also take Via Galilei and Total Excitement (at a massive price).
Finally, the bumper. Montbazon was beaten by the Cheltenham Bumper winner, Cheltenian, on debut and hacked up in his other race. He'll win this, barring a very good horse about to reveal itself.
The very best of luck to all runners, riders and punters today. Although it's a terribly tired old cliche, I'm sure you'll share my sentiment in hoping that they all - and we all - survive to run, ride or punt another day.