Aintree 2016: Day One Preview, Tips
The first of three days for Aintree's Grand National meeting, and one of the best day's racing in the entire calendar, flat or jumps. Thursday's seven race card explodes from the gun with four consecutive Grade 1 events. The top drawer quartet is followed by a race over the National fences, a fiendish Grade 3 handicap chase, and a Grade 2 bumper. Yum!
1.40 Manifesto Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 2m4f
A cracking renewal of this newish event to kick things off...
I really like two horses in this two and a half mile Grade 1, Arzal and Sizing John. But I won't be backing either. The reasons are the same in both cases. Both horses like to lead in their races, and neither horse has stretched out beyond an extended two miles. Both have form to win this on a line through Vaniteux, who was almost certainly going to be second in the Arkle before unshipping his jockey at the second last.
But this is a two and a half mile race, and the evidence of recent seasons is that those to have shown their stamina already - generally by running well in the JLT at Cheltenham - have fared best. Clarcam did step up in trip to win last year, but he'd won over two and a quarter as a hurdler, something Sizing John and Arzal have never done.
Either can win, of course - there isn't a horse in here I'd be happy to put a line through at the price - but I'm leaning towards demonstrable stamina for the job.
As can be seen from the above, which is the Instant Expert view on Geegeez Gold, only the aforementioned pair have never tried this range; and, of the rest, only Rock The World has failed to score over it (and he's won a G3 at 2m2f and been second over this distance).
The one with a 'line of green' mostly is Garde La Victoire, a faller at Cheltenham in the JLT. That will have saved him from having a hard race and, with conditions in his favour, he is the most appealing if he can jump round. Other, more visual, students than me have pointed to his low trajectory over fences. While that has been a trait of great chasers like Moscow Flyer, it does tend to make for an iffy, or 1FF1 perhaps, leaper.
With his trainer, Philip Hobbs, having won two of the seven renewals to date - both for the same owners as GLV, the Whateley's - and finished third with his other representative, he looks set to go close.
L'Ami Serge runs for the other dual-winning trainer, Nicky Henderson, as does Volnay De Thaix. The former was third in the JLT, just getting run out of second up the hill, and this flatter track should enable him to get home a little better. It would be no surprise if he was closest to the first named pair in this preview early in the race, as per the pace projection grid above (again a feature available to Geegeez Gold subscribers for every race).
To learn more about pace, and specifically how Geegeez Gold applies pace to races, have a gander at this post.
Of the big priced horses, Aso is not without a chance. He will definitely stay, he will probably be played later enabling him to pick up the pieces, and he's 33/1. Those odds reflect, to some degree, the possibility that he might simply be outclassed, but a literal view of his beating of Festival winner, Ballyalton, over two miles five on a flat track give him a tiny squeak.
Put another way, on a line through Ballyalton he has the beating of 9/1 chance, Bouvreuil, if you take a literal view of both races. If you do, 33/1 is the wrong price, clearly.
A very competitive renewal, with marginal preference for Garde La Victoire. Aso should appeal to windmill-tilters in a race where none can readily be dismissed.
2.15 Anniversary 4-y-o Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m1f
A belting renewal of Aintree's answer to the Triumph Hurdle, and it is great news that the first three from that race, as well as the Fred Winter 1-2, line up here.
The Triumph winner, and a convincing one at that, was Ivanovich Gorbatov. Winner of a maiden hurdle on heavy ground, he was then out-slogged in a Grade 3 on the same surface before bolting up at Cheltenham. The Triumph run was in line with expectations - he retained ante post favouritism for most of the winter in spite of that G3 setback - and continued on his ascendant arc which began last flat season in Ireland.
It is quite difficult to see the second or third, Apple's Jade and Footpad, reversing form with the winner. Apple's Jade had the run of the race there but was readily outfooted despite her seven pound allowance; and Footpad looks like he might need more of a stamina test than this.
The Fred Winter winner, Diego Du Charmil, was probably lucky that day. He benefitted from two strong challengers bailing at the last, and from the runner-up - his stablemate, the re-opposing Romain De Senam - being given a smidge too much to do.
Despite that, it is possible to mark up Diego even though he is three pounds worse off with Romain in this level weights contest. Firstly, he may have dossed a little in front and had enough use made of him from about three out. Second, it was his first run in Britain, and his first run for over four months, so he may be entitled to step forward for it. And thirdly, the slightly easier ground may be more in his favour than Cheltenham's rapid turf.
At 10/1 he might be the best each way bet in a race that looks fairly open and shut. He could also be the one for the forecast behind the jolly, if that's your bag.
Alan King has a great record in this race, and with juvenile hurdlers generally, so Sceau Royal may be worth another chance after flopping completely at Chelto. His previous flat track form, at Huntingdon and Warwick, was good; but he might be just shy of top class. At the least, he has something to prove in a strong field.
4yo Hurdle Pick
Ivanovich Gorbatov is quite short at around 6/5 but he'll probably win. I'll be looking for something with which to double him up later on the card. Apple's Jade and Diego Du Charmil look place players, the latter more appealing from a betting perspective at 2.5x the price.
2.50 Aintree Bowl Chase (Grade 1) 3m1f
Probably the highlight of a very high class opening day is the Aintree Bowl, a Grade 1 Open Chase over three miles and a furlong. Grand National-bound Silviniaco Conti has won the last two, when his rating was in the mid-170's both times, the highest since See More Business for the same trainer in 2000.
In fact, only three horses with a rating higher than Silviniaco Conti's 177 in 2014 have contested the race in recent times - Denman, Imperial Commander and Kauto Star. Kauto could fare no better than fourth, while the other pair both failed to get round.
That's very likely coincidence and it shouldn't put you off 176-rated Cue Card if you like him. I do, despite a tumble in the Gold Cup last time which, for the second G1 in a row, meant we didn't get closure on the Don Cossack/Cue Card rivalry.
Colin Tizzard, Cue Card's trainer, has had a phenomenal season, headed by the exploits of this chap and his superstar staying hurdler, Thistlecrack; and he can top it off with a double courtesy of that pair at this meeting. Although a ten year old now, Cue Card has been in career-high form, most notably when nutting the brilliant Vautour on the line in the King George.
That race has been a good portent to this one down the years, the courses being similar in constitution aside from the obvious reverse directions.
Back to Cue Card, and four runs at Aintree have resulted in a win and three second places, the most recent pair both in the Grade 1 Melling Chase over two and a half miles. Three miles is his game these days. Incredibly, given he is a ten year old, he's rated 13 pounds higher now than he was when beaten by Don Cossack in the Melling last season; and six pounds higher than when second in the same race behind a peak-powered Sprinter Sacre in 2013. He must have every chance.
The Gold Cup finishers are represented by the second, third and fifth, Djakadam, Don Poli and Irish Cavalier. Djakadam took silver in the Gold Cup for the second year in succession. Still only seven, he is a very strong stayer and high class to boot. He has had some problems with his jumping but fenced well when chasing home Don Cossack in the Cheltenham showpiece.
Don Poli was given a lot to do that day, or he may have simply not been able to go the gallop. If the latter is true, he has no chance of hanging on to the coattails of his rivals on this quicker circuit. His course and distance win in December was on soft ground and against animals either not good enough or with an eye on another day. I have to let him beat me. GC fifth, Irish Cavalier, is probably not good enough.
Of the rest, Taquin De Seuil has shown more zest in recent starts than for a while, though his hold up style is probably not ideal; while Houblon Des Obeaux is a likeable sort who could sneak into the frame; and, Wakanda might go well on the front for a fair old way. Finally, if he can jump well - a big if - Saphir Du Rheu has plenty of class about him.
The pace may shape up a bit like this:
Aintree Bowl Pick
Cue Card is comfortably the most likely winner, and he'll do for me. I'm not really interested in the each way market here, though Wakanda is probably over-priced without convincing he can cling on for bronze.
3.25 Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m4f
The quality just keeps on raining down on Aintree day one, as the two and a half mile Aintree Hurdle is a fourth Grade 1 in a row. Only six runners go to post, but they include the 1-2-3-4 from the Champion Hurdle three weeks ago.
Annie Power came out in front that day, with My Tent Or Yours in second, Nichols Canyon third and The New One fourth. Camping Ground was a never in it ninth.
Regular readers will know that I had my doubts about whether Annie Power could win a Champion Hurdle, especially off such a light prep. Well, she not only won but recorded a course record in the process of putting most of five lengths between herself and the long-absent My Tent Or Yours.
That one will do very well to repeat his effort after such a layoff and, anyway, has never run beyond an extended two miles. Given his strong-pulling nature, I'd be surprised if he was able to make the frame, impressive though that seasonal bow was.
Annie on the other hand would probably call this distance optimal. She'll be having just her third run of the season and, if in the same form as at Cheltenham, will be devilishly hard to beat.
The one for the forecast could be The New One. He's been called some names over the years, most of which have been deeply unfair, as he's a high class animal who just finds two miles in the very top races on the sharp side. He's actually won an incredible 16 of 24 races, and been in the frame in all bar three of those two dozen contests.
All three unplaced efforts came at the Cheltenham Festival. Obviously, then, his record at Aintree is better. A win in the Grade 2 bumper here in 2012, beating My Tent Or Yours into second, was followed by silver then gold in this race, in 2013 and 2014. He's twice the price of Nichols Canyon, which seems a bit strange, to my eye at least.
The Mullins second string will also be suited by this step up in trip, and won the novice equivalent of this race last year over course and distance. He followed that up with a Grade 1 win in the Punchestown equivalent, showing that two and a half miles on a sound surface suits very well.
Although Camping Ground was readily seen off in the Champion Hurdle, there is a sporting chance he'll be a different proposition this time. He'd earned his place in the Champion line up thanks to a breezy win in the Relkeel Hurdle over this trip, and a non-staying effort in the Cleeve Hurdle on his subsequent start.
But both the ground and the opposition were too quick at the Festival, and he didn't have a hard race once his chance was gone. I'd still be concerned about good to soft turf - his impressive Relkeel victory was achieved on heavy - so any significant rain would aid his chance.
Aintree Hurdle Pick
This is Annie Power's to lose. She was very very good at Cheltenham, and should be just as good over this extra half mile. True, some of her rivals might be better at this range and could narrow the gap. If there's a bet in the race it might be The New One without Annie Power. He's 3/1 with BetVictor, which looks alright to me.
4.05 Fox Hunters' Chase (Class 2) 2m5f
From the sublime to the faintly ridiculous as, after the quartet of G1's, we plummet down to Class 2 action, and the Fox Hunters' Chase. This has largely been a predictable top of the market yarn, though one with a couple of massive-priced stings in the tale to punctuate its narrative.
The cases for the top two in the betting are easy to make. On The Fringe is on a Festival five-timer after a hat-trick across the Spring triple crown of Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown last season, and a repeat win in the Cheltenham version three weeks ago.
Jamie Codd takes over from Nina Carberry, who has ridden On The Fringe to all four of his Festival wins and who clearly knows the horse inside out. Codd is an excellent pilot, as he showed with his superb exaggerated waiting ride on Cause Of Causes in the Kim Muir last month; but he may just not have the 'feel' of this one.
In a race where luck is needed for the later runners - this is run over the National fences - I'm prepared to let the favourite beat me, for small stakes, despite his obvious credentials.
The clear second choice is runner up from this race last term, Pacha Du Polder. Reunited with regular rider, Will Biddick, after some entertaining interjections from Victoria Pendleton, Pacha was in front soon enough when picked off by On The Fringe a year ago. Pendleton showed that the horse could benefit from a waiting ride when creeping into the longer Cheltenham version last time and, if Biddick can get a lead to the last, he might go one better. Form wise, everything is in his favour.
I'm not sure I trust the lightly raced, soft ground-loving Marasonnien, or Current Event, though that one has a fascinating jockey booking in Katie Walsh. Trip and ground are fine and if Katie can get him jumping better - unshipped in this last year - and possibly closer to the pace, he has a chance - a chance factored into quotes of 11/1.
What if it's to be one of those bomber years? 13 year old Cottage Oak has been 8th and 5th in his two attempts at the race, and is a similar price to 100/1 Tartan Snow when that one prevailed, aged 13, three years ago. This is his trip, he has the top speed rating in the field and he has got round twice in two attempts previously. Worth sixpence each way.
Or how about 14 year old Ockey De Neulliac? Ridden by S W Coltherd, whose old man trained Tartan Snow to victory, he was going well in third last year when tipping up at the 13th (unlucky for him). Recent form suggests he's as good as ever - which is around 120, so not ostensibly good enough to win this - and he may offer a bold showing on or close to the pace at 66/1 or thereabouts.
Fox Hunters' Pick
On The Fringe has an obvious chance but will again need luck if adopting his customary hold up style. Ditto Pacha Du Polder and, actually, most of the field, and all of those held up! Front rank has been the place to be quite often so in a race where I have little interest (there, I've said it), I'll have throwaway each way interests in Cottage Oak and Ockey De Neulliac, with a bookie paying four places.
4.40 Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m
The first handicap of the week, an impossible two mile chase. It's the sort of race in which I'm historically clueless, so I won't waste your time or insult your intelligence by going through the form.
Instead, I'll tell you that younger less exposed horses have a very good record and that the Irish haven't won since 2005. I'll also flag that four of the last six winners returned 33/1, 20/1 twice and 16/1.
In that spirit, maybe Katachenko (14/1) or the more exposed Croco Bay (25/1) will outrun their odds. And maybe they won't.
5.15 Mares' Open National Hunt Flat Race (Grade 2) 2m
If I was clueless in the handicap chase, then I'm absolutely clueless in this. That said, I did flag Avispa a couple of years ago, based on Alan King's remarkable record in the race. King won it in its inaugural running, 2005, and again in 2014. He's also had another five mares placed, from 19 total entries, including FOUR second places!
This year he runs two: My Khaleesi and Cajun Fiddle. The latter is an 80/1 shot who will probably finish ahead of half the field; the former is 16/1 and a winner last time out (and would probably be unbeaten but for trouble in running in a big field on debut). We know Alan knows what is needed here, and she's a bet on the strength of her trainer's record regardless of the merit of her form.
It gets harder after day one. Actually, it gets harder after race four on day one! So, good luck with your opening day wagers.