It's the middle day of Aintree's Grand National jamboree, and that means Ladies' Day. If you're thinking Royal Ascot Thursday in June then you're part right... only here there's a lot more rollers and slap on display (and, if it's not sexist to say it, I love it!)
Anyway, there's also some excellent racing as we wend our wagering way inevitably towards 4.15pm on Saturday, so let's roll through the Friday Aintree card, starting with the...
2.00 ROSE APPEAL SUPPORTS ALDER HEY TOP NOVICES´ HURDLE GRADE 2 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m 1/2f)
A decent, if not spectacular, novices' hurdle run over half a furlong short of the minimum; and a short field to boot.
This revolves around 'former wonderhorse', My Tent Or Yours, which bids to replicate late stablemate Darlan's success a year ago. He went into the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival as banker material, and came out of it as the latest short-priced jolly in a long line of short-priced jollies to get turned over there.
In fairness, he ran a cracker and was only just bested by the stouter stayer, Champagne Fever. This flatter circuit will suit better, for sure, but there has to be a doubt about whether he'll bring his A game here after two seasonal targets (Supreme and the Betfair Hurdle) already. At the prices, I'm prepared to accept that he's a likely winner but not one I'll back, and look for something against him.
Forgotten Voice is the obvious one, despite being relatively old at eight. A very smart flat horse (rated 115 at his peak, and still 111 now), he took a while to get the hang of the longer races over hurdles, having pulled his chance away a couple of times. But he settled much better last time out when bolting up in the Grade 2 Dovecote over a similarly flat Kempton track.
He's got abundant class, and will tank into this if he doesn't pull early. Whether he can outwing MTOY in the closing stages is conjecture, but at the prices I'd rather take that chance on a fresher horse.
Of the remaining trio, nothing appeals: Brick Red looks exposed now, having made hay earlier in the season; Zuider Zee is progressive but has a mountain to climb; and has a lot on his plate too, as well as never having raced on good ground (of course, he could improve for it).
Sporting selection: Forgotten Voice 4/1 PP (BOG)
Obvious danger: My Tent Or Yours 4/9 general
2.30 JOHN SMITH´S MILDMAY NOVICES´ CHASE GRADE 2 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m1f)
Another short field and another race which revolves around a vanquished banker from Cheltenham. This time, Dynaste is the nag in question, and he ran an equally good race to MTOY at the Festival, but was outstayed by Benefficient there.
Here, he has the flatter course and the better ground to deal with. The track should be no problem, after wins at Kempton, Newbury, Haydock and Kempton; but the quick surface is a slight question mark.
Specifically, his two runs on good quick ground have resulted in the two biggest defeats of his career. Whilst one is possibly forgivable in that it was the Grade 1 World Hurdle, the other was a fairly routine handicap hurdle. That quick ground is a negative for me, and you don't want many (any?!) of those when backing a shortie.
Rocky Creek is next in the ratings, and he too has slightly suspect fast ground form, as well as a progressive profile on slower surfaces. He was a neck second in a very good novices hurdle earlier in his career, but quite how that form pans out when compared to a decent Grade 2 like this is anyone's guess.
The one which loves tarmac-like underfoot is Sea Of Thunder. He's not run for 139 days, but his wins have all been on good ground. He's classy too, as he showed when lobbing all over a Cheltenham Grade 2 field last season before crashing out at the last. I've been a fan of this horse, and the ground will be plum for him. Chance.
Super Duty is as tough as the proverbial ancient footwear, and he too may have conditions to suit, in trip and ground terms at least. A horse which stays well, and is as game as any in training, his ideal trip might be this two and a half miles, as evidenced by the fact that four of his five wins (and all of his last four) have been within a furlong of two and a half miles.
Indeed, four of his five wins have been on good or good to soft ground too. He's probably not classy enough to win this, but if it was to turn into a scrap, that would support his chance somewhat. On balance, not quite good enough.
The field is completed by Third Intention and Vino Griego. Both are hardened hosses, and both are likely to run their races. But neither has much scope for improvement, and the balance of their form to date is just shy of what should be needed here. Of the two, Third Intention is better suited by quick ground and would be my pick in a match bet. I'm not quite sure he stays two and a half top class miles though.
In summary, it's a tricky old race, and one where I'd not be getting too involved. I am prepared to oppose Dynaste on the ground; and Rocky Creek for the same reason; and I'd really like Sea Of Thunder if he'd had a more recent run. He has gone well fresh in the past, though, and if I had to pick one, I'd roll with Sea Of Thunder.
Tentative each way pick: Sea Of Thunder 9/1 William Hill
Obvious dangers: Dynaste 15/8 Boyles, PP, SJ (all BOG), Rocky Creek 5/2 Ladbrokes, William Hill
3.05 JOHN SMITH´S MELLING CHASE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m4f)
One of the races of the week - if not the year - as superequine Sprinter Sacre faces his stiffest test to date in the multi-faceted shape of four Grade 1 winners and a Mad Moose!
Let's cut to the chase: Sprinter Sacre remains 'bar a fall' material, and is likely to do so for as long as he keeps gracing racecourses. He's a beast of a generation, and one to enjoy. If you get the chance to see this fellow in the flesh, take it. He's a monster: a superb specimen of equine athleticism.
Yes, he's going half a mile further. But so what? I reckon he could win a Gold Cup, such is his cruising speed. But, just for the record, let's look at the oppo:
Flemenstar and Cue Card vie for second market choice, and both are very good horses in their own right. This is their trip too, and the ground should be fine for both. In another year, they'd likely fight this out.
But this is not another year. It is 2013. The year of the Sprinter. Bar a fall.
Selection: Sprinter Sacre 4/11 totesport
Value against him: None.
3.40 JOHN SMITH´S TOPHAM CHASE HANDICAP (Grade 3) (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m 5 1/2f)
The feature, from a betting and competitive perspective, if not from a class one. Thirty horses covering 61% of the Grand National trip, and one notable absentee is triple winner, Always Waining, who takes his chance in the big race proper. That's a shame because he'd have had a great shout here again, and I don't believe he'll stay the National distance with a taxi waiting at Becher's second time around.
Let's focus on those which are here though, and before that, consider a few trends.
Young horses have a pretty moderate record here, despite a pair of West Country French imports doing the bizzo for Messrs. Pipe (MC) and Nicholls (PF) at age five. Those precocious kids aside, horses aged younger than eight are one from 68 in the last sixteen years.
Nine and ten year olds by contrast have nabbed ten of the last sixteen runnings. (My thanks to horseracebase for these pearls).
At the other end of the age range, only one horse from 76 aged older than ten has prevailed: the hat-trick-achieving Always Waining himself.
All bar three of those sixteen winners carried 11-01 or less, and interestingly (perhaps), none of the sixteen won off a higher mark than 141. Eight horses attempt to overcome that historical ceiling here.
Fourteen of the sixteen winners in that time were running within 30 days of a previous racecourse performance, and the other two were backing up within two months. Time off the track is a big negative here.
The horse with the bombproof profile for the race is Tartak. He's got plenty of Aintree form, including when well beaten in this race last year. But he raced off 153 there, and has just 130 here! That's more than a stone and a half less, and he actually finished third in a handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
He's been given a real chance by the handicapper, loves fast ground, and this is his trip. He's a 14/1 chance and I like him.
If you're not sold on the case for Tartak, others to consider are There's No Panic (will love ground and trip, and Ruby Walsh rides for Paul Nicholls); and Gullible Gordon (trained by Peter Bowen, Always Waining's trainer; goes on ground; stays; and run two nice races over these fences, falling once).
Best each way: Tartak 14/1 general
Alternative each ways: There's No Panic 14/1 general, Gullible Gordon 16/1 general
4.15 JOHN SMITH´S SEFTON NOVICES´ HURDLE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (3m 1/2f)
After the novelty of the Topham, we're back to Grade 1 fare here, and perhaps the bet of the week. Everything here seems to point to impressive Cheltenham Festival winner, At Fishers Cross. Everything, that is, except the going.
AFC has won some of the most competitive novice races of the season, and remains unbeaten. He beat Salubrious (winner of two since, including at the Festival) on 1st December; Inish Island, Medinas and Monetary Fund (all winners since, including Medinas at the Festival) on 14th December; The New One and Whisper (both winners, including The New One at the Festival) on 26th January; and, of course, he beat African Gold et al in the Albert Bartlett.
Yes, he has the most robust novice form available, with the possible exception of Our Conor's demolition job in the Triumph Hurdle. So let's look at the negatives. Well, in truth, there aren't any direct negatives, but there are a couple of a possible question marks.
First, as I say, the ground could be against him. He's never raced on quicker than soft: obviously, that doesn't mean he won't act on it, but it does mean he might not act on it. And secondly, he's had some hard races this year, most notably when chinning the The New One by a neck. Those exertions could have marked him and there's a chance - just a chance - that he might be 'over the top'.
But, on form, he's impossible to oppose.
Of the rest, Gevrey Chambertin is closest on official ratings, seven pounds behind AFC. This ought to be more his trough of water than the 23 runner handicap hurdle he contested at the Festival. Moreover, he's won a good ground hurdle race here before, albeit a seven runner maiden affair back in October last year. He's a nice horse, but he's not in the same parish as AFC for me.
Road To Riches is interesting. He's unbeaten over hurdles in two runs, the second of which was Grade 3 (walked through the last, didn't stop him), and both on deep ground. Whilst I'm not a massive judge of such things, his action suggests he could be a bit better on quicker. The Meade yard think a lot of him, which explains why they're taking on At Fishers Cross. He might give the jolly most to think about.
Of the rest, it's hard to see Master Of The Sea being good enough to trouble AFC after a five length fourth to Medinas (beaten 10.5 lengths by AFC). But Yesyoucan is a possible each way dark horse.
Picked up at the sales for just six grand, this chap has been very well handled by Brian Ellison to win three of his six races and finished second on two more occasions. Most of that form was a) in handicaps and b) on soft ground, but he travels well and has a likable attitude. Almost certainly not good enough to win but could give each way players a run for the place money.
Best bet: At Fishers Cross 11/8 PP, SJ (BOG)
Of mild each way interest: Road To Riches 8/1 Boyles (BOG)
Outsider with a (small) squeak: Yesyoucan 12/1 general
4.50 JOHN SMITH´S DAILY MIRROR PUNTERS CLUB HANDICAP HURDLE (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m4f)
A carnage race for jolly backers in recent times, this is a punting proposition to be taken lightly and wagered in similar vein. Six and seven year olds have had the best of it in recent times, taking seven of the last ten, and eleven of the last sixteen, renewals. As with most Festival handicap races, it's hard to win with much more weight than eleven stone (the Grand National nowadays a notable exception, due to 'discretionary handicapping'), and 11-01 is the cutoff here, with just three of the last sixteen winners overcoming that bar.
I'm quite drawn to the fact that nine of the last sixteen winners of this race swerved the Cheltenham Festival, and indeed the three winners coming here off a layoff of four months or more have recorded a huge level stakes profit. Those pointers lead me to a bit of a punt on a horse which ran well behind Attaglance in the Martin Pipe race at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival, Grandad's Horse.
He came out and won his next race after Cheltenham, at Haydock in early April, and that was the last time he was seen. Now 363 days later, fitness obviously has to be taken on trust. But he's got loads of good ground form, and had been off for five months before that excellent Cheltenham run (sixth, beaten four and a half lengths).
Two others on handy weights are former high class hurdlers, Khyber Kim and Punjabi. The former won the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle in 2010 and was second in the Champion Hurdle; the latter, as Tony Stafford will tell you, won the Champion Hurdle in 2009, and was second in the 4yo Grade 1 here in 2007.
Of course, that's a relative lifetime ago, but both horses had been off the track for some time prior to this season, and both are relatively lightly raced for their age. The handicapper has given them chances here off marks of 147 (Khyber Kim) and 135 (Punjabi).
I really, really hope Punjabi runs well for Tony (and his guv'nor, Raymond Tooth, of course), and with Nico de Boinville taking another seven pounds off his back, he must have a decent chance off - effectively - 128. He was rated 164 after his Champion Hurdle win, and will relish this quicker ground. He's a big priced horse with real class if the fire still burns. If.
There are plenty of others in here with more 'obvious' claims, and fair play to you if you bet one of those and it wins. In a race like this, I'll ask for a small smattering of jam on my bread and hope for the best.
Each way speculative: Grandad's Horse 33/1 Ladbrokes
Another each way speculative: Punjabi 33/1 general
5.25 JOHN SMITH´S MARES´ STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE (Listed Race)(CLASS 1) (4-6yo) (2m1f)
The mares' bumper and, in what I believe to be a new initiative this year, the bumpers have official ratings. That helps in two ways: firstly, it means the right horses (by and large) get into the race, and secondly it gives us a starting point for assessing all these lightly raced lasses with 1's next to their names!
I have to declare another interest here, and it may have clouded my judgment. As most of you will know, Geegeez has a horse syndicated with Anthony Honeyball, a trainer I've long been a fan of. He won this race last year, and he's hopeful of a big run from Taradrewe this time around too. She was beaten by Carole's Spirit in soft ground last time, and while connections were a little disappointed with that, the ground did for her, plain and simple.
Here, it's nice and slick and she's every chance of reversing form (gave four pounds, beaten twelve lengths) on that sounder surface. Taradrewe was sent off favourite that day and Rachael Green, who rode her there, insisted that she traveled like a good horse before getting bogged down.
Given that Carole's Spirit is likely to be vying for favouritism, Taradrewe is a big-priced horse with a chance. She could well reward each way support.
Be My Present could be interesting too, given that she's having only her second run on a sound surface here, and she won her first in a fair race by four lengths. She has had her problems mind, and may run no sort of race.
Centasia is another which can be given a chance on her fast ground win, by six lengths, back in October last year. She wasn't beaten far behind Molly's A Diva last time, where the ground may have been against her, and I'd expect them to be closer together this time.
The Pirates Queen is a short enough price, after a debut second on soft ground, especially as her Irish breeding implies a preference for sodden turf. That said, her trainer, Alan King, has been trying to win this race again after taking the inaugural running in 2005 ever since, and peppered the target. Indeed, he's had FOUR second places since then, and a third place too. He also runs Our Pollyanna, but The Pirates Queen should go better of the two and may also go close if acting on the quick stuff.
It's quite possible I haven't mentioned the winner in the above, as it's that sort of a race. I'll be backing Taradrewe, partly because I like the trainer, and partly because the trainer likes the horse. He's generally a pretty good judge and, in a race of 'could be anything's', that's as good a play as any.
Small each way tickle: Taradrewe 22/1 SJ (Best Odds Guaranteed)
Equally speculative each way alternative: Centasia 16/1 Coral
Simple Aintree System
After a 7/2 winner yesterday for the simple Aintree system (from four qualifiers, meaning a marginal profit), here are Friday's qualifiers on that score:
My Tent Or Yours (IRE) 2.00 Aintree 1/2
Dynaste (FR) 2.30 Aintree 15/8
Super Duty (IRE) 2.30 Aintree 13/2
Vino Griego (FR) 2.30 Aintree 6/1
Cue Card 3.05 Aintree 6/1
Sprinter Sacre (FR) 3.05 Aintree 4/11
At Fishers Cross (IRE) 4.15 Aintree 15/8
Meister Eckhart (IRE) 4.50 Aintree 10/1
Salubrious (IRE) 4.50 Aintree 10/1
Aintree Day Two Placepot Bankers and Blowouts
It was a case of close but no cigar yesterday, with the handicap chase eluding me after I'd found the 33/1 and 40/1 2nd and 3rd in the Foxhunters. I had 80p running on, and the 'pot paid £3,890.30. No matter, for plenty of others will have exited at the same point as me, the poor buggers.
For Friday, I'm keeping it simple. I will be banking on Sprinter Sacre and At Fishers Cross, and may also bank on My Tent Or Yours if all five run (with a place lay saver to cover my stakes if things go pear-shaped at the outset).
That will leave me plenty of ammunition to spread around the remaining three legs of what could be quite a skinny dividend (at least, it will be if I'm right about the bankers).
You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear any more than you can fashion a big divvy from a bunch of bankers, and I won't be forcing the issue here.
Best of luck to all. Do share a comment if you have a fancy for Friday's action.