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Aintree Festival 2017: Day Two Preview, Tips

The middle day of three, Ladies' Day, and the spectacle is easy on the eye, both on course and on track, writes Rory Delargy.

1.40 - Alder Hey Children's Charity Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m4f)

There is no dyed-in-the-wool front runner here (Bigmartre has led on a couple of recent starts over two miles, but isn't certain to be ridden aggressively now stepped up in trip), leaving Crystal Lad just about the most likely pacesetter. But plenty of the field tend to race prominently, and hopefully that means a solid pace is likely. That alone doesn't make the race much easier to solve, but it should mean the hold-up horses aren't especially disadvantaged, and there are one or two at big odds who appeal.

A Hare Breath didn't cope with the fences in the Arkle, but he ran a fine race in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, and could well bounce back now switched to hurdles again, with the step up in trip giving hope for a bit more improvement given that he's a point winner, and has won over 2m5f under rules, albeit in a weak race.

Marginal preference in terms of a bet is for Sky Khan, however. Lucinda Russell's gelding is taken to put some uninspiring efforts behind him now that he's back on the big stage. His best efforts over hurdles came at the big festival meetings last spring when placed in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham and in this corresponding race. He then went on to be fifth of 25 at Punchestown, and is clearly well suited to the demands of big-field handicaps at around this trip.  Rated 140 when fourth to Party Rock in this 12 months ago, he has slipped to 130 now, and would have finished closer at Uttoxeter last time but for some interference. That suggested he was beginning to find form, and while more is required, he looks worth risking at a general 16/1.

2.20  - Crabbie's Top Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m103y)

River Wylde ran well when third in the Supreme, and that is just about the best recent form on offer; but it's not outstanding, and there isn't a great deal between the market leaders in terms of achievement, with Mount Mews impressing in quieter waters and possibly helped by missing Cheltenham. Moon Racer's desperate run in the Champion Hurdle merely serves to muddy the waters rather than narrow the field. The former Champion Bumper winner is clearly much better than he showed, and the decision to pull him up means he was spared a hard race, but it's very difficult to gauge where he stands in relation to the others, and that makes the race an unappealing betting medium.

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2.50 - Betway Mildmay Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m210y)

The Mildmay promises to be a fascinating rematch between Might Bite and Whisper. The former is the bigger talent, but Whisper is the more honest battler, and has stepped up to the plate here in the past. Given Might Bite always gives the impression that he's capable of throwing it all away, it would take a brave man to back him at 4/7, and if there had to be a bet here, it would be on the wily Davy Russell to get the better of the mercurial favourite as he so nearly did in the RSA. It's possible that one or both of the market leaders will underperform, but that's what the others are hoping for if there is to be a surprise.

3.25 - JLT Melling Chase (Grade 1, 2m3f200y)

I was keen to back Sub Lieutenant when the market opened for the Melling Chase, and this superb jumper ought to find the nature of the Mildmay Course right up his street. That said, he's now found his way to favouritism, and the value angle is slightly harder to justify. Still, I'm not inclined to jump ship, and just hope that support for one or two others on the day will make him a backable price again.

He's undeniably an improved performer since joining Henry de Bromhead, and his second to Sizing John at Thurles in January was both a highly creditable effort in light of the winner's subsequent wins at the top level, but also better than it looks given that the selection was probably not helped by having to bypass the last fence, on a day when he generally gained ground over the winner at their obstacles. He certainly pushed Sizing John all the way there, and was merely underlining the worth of that form when second to Un de Sceaux in the Ryanair last month.

God's Own was almost seven lengths adrift of Fox Norton in the Champion Chase, but looked like throwing down a big challenge until badly misjudging the second last, and that pair are harder to separate than the form lines suggest. God's Own has also gone well here in the past, even if he was somewhat fortunate to win this a year ago, and seconds to Sizing Granite and Third Intention do not represent the acme of achievement, meritorious thought they are. Fox Norton kept on strongly in the Queen Mother, but previous connections didn't peg him as in need of further than two miles, so the jury is out on whether he will find extra for the step up in trip.

4.05 - Randox Health Topham Chase (Grade 3 handicap, 2m5f19y)

One of my favourite races in the calendar, the Topham suits bold-jumping horses with the early speed to keep out of trouble, and there can be plenty of hard luck stories. The race tests stamina from the second-last fence, but doesn't particularly suit out-and-out stayers. Last year's winner Eastlake gained his other 11 wins under rules at 17 furlongs or less, for example, and the ability to have been effective in decent races over shorter is not to be underestimated. Go Conquer fits the bill as a progressive chaser who ran well from the front at Cheltenham (Ultima) last month until his stamina ebbed away, and it's clear enough he ought to do better if jumping as well as he did there. He has had problems in that department, however, falling at Ascot in December, and making mistakes next time, so makes only limited appeal at the top of the market.

Gold Present has looked quirky, but he's jumped well for a novice this season, and it's hard to knock his second in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson has an excellent record in this race, winning it with the relatively inexperienced Ma Filleule and Triolo D'Alene in recent years, and five times in all, with the other trio all owned by Robert Waley-Cohen.

He'd be near the top of my shortlist, as would Mr Diablo, who is trained in County Kildare by Philip Dempsey. The 8-y-o picked up an injury in the summer, and was presumably not right when ridden against type at Cork in October, but he bounced back with a tongue tie fitted at Leopardstown a month ago, jumping well, and in control when eased after jumping the last. He looks fairly treated still, and with the tongue tie retained, can be expected to put up another bold show. Gowanauthat is a rank outsider who could be underrated, especially if getting the early lead.

Selections:

1.40 - Sky Khan e/w 16/1 general

3.25 - Sub Lieutenant 10/3 Boyle, 3/1 general

4.05 - Gold Present e/w 11/1 (1/4 FIVE places, BetVictor)

4.05 - Mr Diablo e/w 20/1 (1/5 SIX places, SkyBet)

2015 Aintree Festival Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Aintree Day Two Tips/Preview

Aintree Day Two Tips/Preview

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

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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)

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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)

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 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) :

Al Ferof has won all completed started after a 60+ day break

Al Ferof has won all completed started after a 60+ day break

 

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)

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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)

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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

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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

Get a free bet to the same stake as any 3/1+ winner at Aintree today (Betfair sportsbook)*

Get a free bet to the same stake as any 4/1+ winner at Aintree today (Ladbrokes)*

Get a risk free bet to the same stake as any 4/1+ winner at Aintree today (bet365)*

*Max stake £25

**

Still to make up your mind on the National? Have a good read of this stats and form magnum opus:

http://www.geegeez.co.uk/crabbies-grand-national-2015-preview-trends-tips/

Matt

p.s. How was your day one? Winner? Unlucky? No good? Leave a comment and let us know.

 

2014 Aintree Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheeky Aintree Day Two Preview

Cheeky Aintree Day Two Preview

2014 Aintree Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

It's the middle day of the 2014 Grand National meeting from Aintree - Ladies' Day. And as well as the beautiful Mersey molls, there are seven scorching races to test our wagering mettle. Beginning with...

2.00 TOP NOVICES´ HURDLE (Grade 2)

Ten are due to go to post for the Grade 2 Top Novices' Hurdle, won in the last two years by high class Hendo horses, Darlan and My Tent Or Yours.

Top Novices' Hurdle Trends

From the last seventeen years for all races [my thanks to horseracebase.com for the info]:

12/17 were 1st or 2nd last time (71% from 48% runners)

14/17 aged 5 or 6 (82% from 71% of the runners)

8/17 ran top six at Cheltenham Festival last time (47% winners from 13.5% runners)

Top Novices' Hurdle Form Preview

Josses Hill is the horse bidding for the Hendo hat-trick, and after his second in the Supreme at Cheltenham, he's got a very solid form chance and a perfect trends profile too. He's the highest rated of these and goes on good to soft just fine: in other words, he ought to go very close.

Against him are the a battalion of up and comers, included vanquished Cheltenham rival, Sgt Reckless; Imperial Cup winner, Baltimore Rock; and, pick of the Irish, Art Of Payroll.

Sgt Reckless looked a horse to follow when bombing up the Cheltenham hill to nab fourth, having been well off the pace turning in. He'll relish the goodness of the ground, but has something to find with Amore Alato on two three length-plus defeats to Nick Williams' charge. He looks a false price to me.

Art Of Payroll is Dessie Hughes' runner, and he is a progressive type that should enjoy the state of the turf. He won a Leopardstown handicap hurdle last time off 127 and has been re-rated 142. I think that's a bit high and am actually struggling to make a case for him. Such horses - short in the betting but I can't see why - generally win, so beware!

There is almost certain to be more to come from David Pipe's Baltimore Rock, winner of Sandown's Listed Imperial Cup handicap last time. He was being aimed at the bonus pot for winners of that race who go on to triumph at the Cheltenham Festival, but got balloted out of his intended engagements. He's bound to be better than his current rating of 134, but the question is whether he's the seven to ten pounds better he'll need to be to win this. At 10/1, he's certainly a playable each way type, and I do quite like him.

Two at bigger prices who could run towards the frame are the aforementioned Amore Alato, and The Game Changer. As well as beating Sgt Reckless twice, Amore Alato has also run third to Lac Fontana and second to Irving. Lac Fontana went on to win the hyper-competitive County Hurdle, while Irving disappointed as joint favourite in the Supreme. Amore comes here a fresh horse, and he's over-priced at 12/1 to my eye.

The Game Changer is a strong traveler who may well be better suited to this sounder surface than the soft ground he encountered around the turn of the year. He was beaten in a Grade 1 and a very hot handicap hurdle in that time, but his profile on terra firmer is much more compelling, as a last time second on yielding to soft implies. That was probably still on the slow side for him, and he might prove an altogether better proposition this time. 12/1 is reasonable.

Top Novices' Hurdle Tips

Most likely winner: Josses Hill 15/8 Hills
Each way alternative: Amore Alato 12/1 Betfair sportsbook

**

2.30 MILDMAY NOVICES´ CHASE (Grade 1)

The RSA sequel is the Mildmay, a race with a truly illustrious recent alumni: Dynaste, Silviniaco Conti, Quito De La Roque, Burton Port, and Big Buck's have all won this since 2008. It's three miles and a furlong, and all six entries this year ran at the Cheltenham Festival.

Mildmay Novices' Chase Trends

Last time out - 9/17 (53%) were 1st or 2nd last time out, while 3/17 (18%) failed to complete that last day. That was from 41% and 21% of the runners respectively.

Age - 12/17 were aged six or seven. All entries this year at that age, so it'll be 13/18 next year!

Mildmay Novices' Chase Form Preview

There's not a lot to go from a trends perspective, so we'll see if we can use good old fashioned form analysis to spot some value. The RSA Chase is the clear starting point, and in that race O'Faolains Boy beat Just A Par into seventh, with Don Cossack falling and Many Clouds brought down.

It should be fair to assume that if both stand up, O'Faolains Boy will beat Just A Par again, but what about the RSA tumblers? Don Cossack has looked like an easy three miles would suit to me, and it was too early to say whether he'd have had a hand in the finish when he came down at Cheltenham. Given he didn't have a hard race there, he might be fresh enough to go close.

Many Clouds was my fancy in the RSA based on his staying on better than O'Faolains Boy at Ascot in their respective preps. That he was brought down was a most unsatisfactory outcome and, while I'm not convinced this more speed-favouring track will play to his stamina strength, I do think the price disparity between him (7/1) and O'Faolains Boy (5/2) is too wide. On Ascot running, Many Clouds had to be in the frame at Cheltenham; and on that basis, he's too big a price here, and I will be trying to claw back some lost pennies.

Holywell raced in the Festival Handicap Chase off 145 and has been re-assessed as 157. That's a pound higher than the RSA winner and a pound lower than Wonderful Charm, who clunked in the JLT Novices' Chase. Holywell was rated 158 over hurdles so he may not have too much wriggle room from his present perch, although the flip side is that a run to that level could be enough to win this. Conditions should suit.

Whilst Wonderful Charm was staying on in the two and a half mile JLT, giving the impression this trip could be the answer, his only run at the distance was a thumping in the World Hurdle last term. It might be that he just doesn't get on with the Cheltenham Festival, or Cheltenham in general where he's been beaten on all three occasions. But he also has to prove his stamina and that's too much of a punt against proven opposition.

I think this is a three way go between the winners of the RSA Chase and the Festival Handicap Chase, and the unlucky nag from the former race. Given that Many Clouds is more than twice the price of the other two, he's the bet.

Mildmay Novices' Chase Tip

Best value play: Many Clouds 13/2 BetVictor

**

3.05 MELLING CHASE (Grade 1)

The Melling Chase, a two mile speed test, has been graced by some of the very best in recent times: Sprinter Sacre, Master Minded and Moscow Flyer (twice) have all won in the past decade. But not this year... With the highest rated horse on 164, and almost nothing in the race likely to improve much, it's a Grade 3 in Grade 1 clothing. Still, every race has a winner, so let's proceed...

Melling Chase Trends

14/17 (82%) were 1-2-3 last time out, from 49% of the runners

16/17 (94%) were aged seven to ten, from 80% of the runners

Of the nine horses with an official rating since 1997, all were rated 160+

Melling Chase Form Preview

I won't labour the fact that this is a bad race for the grade any more, except to say that it IS a bad race for the grade. I think we need to be looking at a good horse at the top of the ratings and not over-complicate things.

Top rated then is Module, one of the few with the potential to be better than he's shown so far. A seven year old, he ran to within six lengths of Sire de Grugy in the Champion Chase and that might be the best single piece of form in the race, with one exception which we'll come to. Certainly it was Module's best run and, if he can see out this extra three furlongs in the same form here, he will be in the shake up. The distance is a bit of a worry but in such a sub-par affair, he might well get away with it.

Wishfull Thinking was almost seven lengths further back in the Champion Chase, and he's eleven now. But he probably wants this sort of a trip these days as he demonstrated when waltzing away from Double Ross (third in the JLT at the Festival over this trip) in a handicap hurdle. It was heavy ground there and he lugged top weight so it was a really sound effort. His record over fences at Aintree is F12262 and, at 7/1, he's a fair each way bet.

The rest are all rated 158 or below, and that is not what it takes to win a Grade 1 non-novice event over fences. The one exception, to which I alluded above, is Ballynagour, a horse who ran a screamer to hack up in the Byrne Group Plate at the Festival. If he could repeat that he'd have a fine chance in this Grade 1. But he's a 3.14 horse - P1 in other words - and his last run was a win, albeit a facile one, meaning his next one must be a P.

Obviously, it doesn't have to be a pulled up effort in this, but he's one I'm happy to let beat me if he's on a going day.

Boston Bob is very difficult to weigh up. He ran some good races in Grade 1 staying novice chases last term, but has been all over the shop since falling at the last when in front and seemingly the winner in waiting in last season's RSA Chase. He wasn't beaten that far in the Ryanair, form that gives him a squeak here, and in fairness to him his record at two and a half miles reads 11111, including a Grade 1 novice hurdle.

The likes of Rathlin and Rolling Aces are better than they showed last time, but they'd not be Grade 1 animals in your average race of that calibre. Did I mention that this one is sub-standard?!

Melling Chase Tips

Two piggies against the field: Wishfull Thinking 7/1 totesport, Boston Bob 8/1 bet365

Your first 30 days for just £1

**

3.40 TOPHAM CHASE (Handicap) (Grade 3)

From the faintly ridiculous to the mildly sublime, as we get our Grand National fence legs on for the Topham. A cracking race always, it's a bugger of a puzzle to solve.

Topham Chase Trends

Winners have been placed in all positions last time out; and have been aged five to ten since 1997. However, since 2000, only one horse has won carrying more than 10-12, and no horse has been rated higher than 141

That last point is interesting given that the top dozen are rated 142+. Could this be a trends-busting year?

14/17 (82%) had run in the last 30 days, from 59% of the runners.

7/17 (41%) had raced around Aintree at least twice before, from 25% of the runners.

Peter Bowen has trained four of the last seven winners, including three with the magnificent Always Waining.

Topham Chase Form Preview

A placepot buster of a race very often, it's the lighter weighted nags that have the day as a rule. And I'm going to start with a horse that leaps out as a bet.

Dunowen Point, for Grand National-winning trainer Donald McCain (he has these type of fences at his training base), was fourth in the race last year off a rating of 138 and carrying 10-13. And yet here he is, three runs later, off 130 and due to shoulder just 10-01. It's a fine piece of handicapping and this lad looks to have a serious chance with the quicker ground in his favour. 16/1 looks a belting bet.

The favourite is the tough and consistent novice, Double Ross. He ran a blinder to finish third in the JLT Novices' Chase, and he's been a bit of a Cheltenham machine. The trainer says he jumps well but his problem - possible battle fatigue aside - is the weight. He's got to hump 11-09 here, which is a stack of lead and more than any winner has shouldered since before 1997.

Standing Ovation runs for Team Pipe, in the colours of the late David Johnson (connections successful in the nightcap on Thursday with Doctor Harper). Clearly, anything that yard enters in a handicap deserves a second glance, and Standing Ovation has the hood on for the first time. Pipe hopes this will help him settle better in the early part of the race and, if it does, he should have a bit more left late on.

Sneaking in off the bottom weight, the return to a flatter track should suit, and he wasn't beaten far in sixth in the Festival Handicap Chase. He will not really want the forecast rain though, and could arguably use a bit more mileage in the race distance.

Ma Filleule has too much weight and, despite her trainer winning this last year with Triolo d'Alene, she's not at all obviously well handicapped and looks a short enough price.

Lost Legend is trained by Jonjo O'Neill and is another lightweight for whom this has been the target. If not quite so obviously 'jobbed up' as Dunowen Point, he won a decent Kempton handicap chase last time. As with Standing Ovation, he probably doesn't want too much rain to fall, but off his feather weight he should be thereabouts.

Course and distance winner Rebel Rebellion has paid a heavy price for that in the context of the weight he carries here, and it will be a serious career best if he can double up over these unique barriers. The one thing we do know is he acts on the course.

The old lag, Big Fella Thanks, would be an apt winner after spinning round here seven times, and he's dropped down the weights sufficiently for that to be a possibility. Distance and ground are spot on and, if twelve long years have yet to take their toll, the Big Fella may make the frame.

Your Busy is another older boy - eleven now - and he was a close second in the Grand Sefton behind Rebel Rebellion. He's been kept fresh for this and, as another at the right end of the handicap, could again run well.

Of the bigger prices, Bennys Mist is of mild interest. He's got the hood on for the first time, and that often helps horses relax. If it ekes out some improvement then he has a low weight, a top jockey and experience of the fences (didn't stay in the longer Becher Handicap Chase). Venetia Williams' record at Aintree in recent years is poor, but she did saddle Mon Mome to win over these obstacles and Benny has a better chance than menny.

Make sure your bookmaker is paying FIVE places in this thirty runner contest.

Topham Chase Tips

Best value each way: Dunowen Point 16/1 Seanie Mac (1/4 the odds FIVE places)

Two more against the field:
Lost Legend 14/1 BetVictor (1/4 the odds FIVE places)
Bennys Mist 40/1 bet365 (1/4 the odds FIVE places)

**

4.15 SEFTON NOVICES´ HURDLE (Grade 1)

This three mile novices' hurdle looks a really good renewal, and the field is headed by the exciting Seeyouatmidnight, unbeaten in three under rules. There are plenty of multiple-winning rivals who are seeking to emulate the likes of At Fishers Cross, Wayward Prince and Chief Dan George.

Sefton Novices' Hurdle Trends

16/17 (94%) finished in the first four last time out, from 74% of the runners

16/17 (94%) were aged five to seven, from 89% of the runners

17/17 (100%) ran in the last 60 days, from 89% of the runners

9/17 (53%) ran at the Cheltenham Festival, from 36% of the runners.

8/17 (47%) finished in the first four at the Cheltenham Festival, from 19% of the runners.

Sefton Novices' Hurdle Form Preview

A lot of unexposed types in here, and the results of the last few years (winners at 16/1, 20/1, 25/1 and 33/1 since 2007) suggest it can be dangerous getting too excited by the top of the market.

Still, it's a sensible place to start our investigations, and Seeyouatmidnight is a brilliant story horse for owner/trainer Sandy Thomson. He trains in the borders near Kelso, and is unlikely to have had a horse as good as this. His handling of Seeyouatmidnight has been excellent, winning a novices' hurdle from the smart Regal Encore first time under rules; and then going on to score twice more, at Musselburgh (broke the track record) and Haydock (in the Grade 2 Rendlesham).

He's a really smart horse, and conducts his business honestly from the front. There are others in this field that like to lead so it's not a gimme that he'll get his own way up top, but if he does he has a really good chance to win.

Killala Quay brings a solid level of form and is a trends pick on his fourth behind Faugheen at the Cheltenham Festival. This longer trip is an imponderable but he's yet to show he can't perform optimally, or maybe even improve for it. 7/1 seems reasonable.

Paul Nicholls' Tagrita has apparently been performing well on ground she should hate, so this quicker ground may be expected to allow for progress. It will need to though, as she has twenty pounds to find with Seeyouatmidnight on official ratings. In fairness, they all have twelve pounds or more to find with the favourite, so if he brings his A game he'll likely win unless there's a monster improver in the midst.

I'm against Beat That after his extended layoff and, anyway, he has to reverse form with Killala Quay and there's no obvious reason why he should. Port Melon has also been off a long time after dumping Daryl Jacob on the tarmac at Cheltenham, and it's a shame he didn't get a run there as he could be a very smart recruit in time. He'd been avoiding the heavy ground all winter.

The Irish haven't won this since Asian Maze in 2005, and if that rot is to be stopped it could be courtesy of Giantofaman. Dessie Hughes got off the mark on day one with Guitar Pete, and it would be an impressive Grade 1 novice hurdle double if Giantofaman could build on his facile Grade 2 win last time out at Thurles. That was two and a half miles on heavy, a very different proposition to three miles on good to soft. He's had a good bit of racing this season which is normally a plus in the Sefton, and 14/1 is not unattractive.

Of the rest, perhaps The Last Samuri could step up enormously on what he's done so far. After all, he's unbeaten in three hurdle starts, and was impressive when bashing up Rare Legend last time out over three and a quarter miles. We know stamina is not an issue, and he has a similar profile to the 2008 winner, Pettifour, who was sent off at 16/1 having won a couple of 'nothing' novices.

Sefton Novices' Hurdle Tips

Most likely winner: Seeyouatmidnight 4/1 PP

Fair each way value: Giantofaman 14/1 Coral

Rag with a possible squeak: The Last Samuri 25/1 Hills

**

4.50 HANDICAP HURDLE (Grade 3)

A very tricky punting conundrum rounds out the placepot sextet, and it will take some creativity to solve it. To wit, the favourite has an awful record, not winning in the last decade. Let's see if we can find a way in to this head scratcher.

Handicap Hurdle Trends

10/17 (58%) finished 1-2-3-4 last time out, from 45% of the runners

17/17 aged five to nine

14/17 (82%) carried 11-01 or less, from 78% of the runners, so not much advantage

Handicap Hurdle Form Preview

Perhaps the most logical place to start in a minefield of a race like this is with past Aintree Festival winner (the handicap hurdle on the Thursday) and top weight, Attaglance. Malcolm Jefferson's horse was unlucky not to win a handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival, when his jockey electing to take the low road where the high road led to victory.

He reverts to hurdles here, and his handicap mark is not obviously lenient, being as it is two pounds higher than his chase mark. Despite that, he is very tough and very talented and he carried top weight to win that already referenced handicap hurdle here two years ago. He's a definite place player on ground that will suit ideally.

Caid Du Berlais ran a more conventional screamer at the Cheltenham Festival when third to Don Poli in the Martin Pipe. He had a big weight there and he has a bigger weight here so, with no obvious reason why he should improve on that last day effort, he looks booked for a place at best.

Vying for favouritism are two lightweights rising up the handicap in Stonebrook and Zabana. The former is trained by Donald McCain and ridden by AP McCoy for JP McManus. He's likely to go off market leader on connections alone - allied to the string of 1's next to his name - but is he up to a race like this? The answer, naturally, is maybe.

He's clearly progressive and could have more to offer on this step up in trip and better ground. But he may also regress for one or both of those factors and at the price he's respected but overlooked, even though being by Flemensfirth gives hope that he will improve for trip/ground.

Zabana has won on all sorts of ground and over the trip, so no such reservations there, and this pick of the Irish raiding party has a chance in a race that the Irish have won a couple of times in recent years. He has gone up nearly a stone for that first run/win since last summer, which is a lot when stepping into this sort of company. Still, it was an impressive performance the last day, and the front pair pulled right away from the rest in a race which is working out quite well (second, third, fourth and twelfth have all won since). Chance.

At a bigger price, a horse that is not out of this could be Grand Vision. Colin Tizzard's team have been under a cloud for most of the season, and he may have found the ground too quick, or the trip too far, at Cheltenham last time when down the field in the Pertemps. Here, he gets slightly easier turf and half a mile less to travel and, although the big weight is a worry, he's earned the right to carry it. Most of his best form is on flat tracks and he could sneak into the places at 33/1.

There's every chance I haven't mentioned the winner, such is the nature of this race, and I'll be saving ammo to try to steal through the placepot: a horrific final leg though this undoubtedly is!

Handicap Hurdle Tips

Possible win selection: Zabana 7/1 888sport (paying FIVE places)

Best alternative: Attaglance 9/1 bet365

Outsider with a squeak: Grand Vision 33/1 winner

**

5.25 MARES´ STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE (Listed)

Day two closes with a mares' flat race, which has gone the way of lesser known stables for each of the last five seasons.

Mares' Bumper Trends

Just nine renewals to look at, and five winners of this also won last time out.

Eight of the nine winners (89%) were aged four or five, from 81% of the runners.

Only one favourite has won.

Five of the seventeen horses to have won at this extended 2m1f trip made the frame, and two of them won.

Mares' Bumper Form Preview

Almost every mare in the field will improve either today or in future, so to some degree it's a guessing game. That's confirmed by the poor record of the favourite, and I'm happy to be led by the stats and side with a lass that has shown herself effective at the slightly longer trip here, and was in the top four last time out.

With that in mind, Fergal O'Brien's The Govaness looks a likely type. She won well at Cheltenham last time when beating Lily Waugh in a Listed event. Good mares like Legacy Gold and Miss Mayfair were behind that day, and the way the winner traveled will be a big asset. O'Brien has reportedly been pleased with her improvement since Cheltenham, and the four month absence would not be a worry - two winners had come off similar layoffs to win, from just a handful to try.

Others of interest include Tara Mist, Miss Sassypants, and Avispa. Tara Mist has been running well on heavy and soft without winning, having taken her debut on good ground. She did run second in Sandown's Listed mares' bumper and that is some of the best form in the race. 7/1 is a bit short but she does have chances.

Miss Sassypants is unbeaten in two for Seamus Mullins, a man worth following in these type of races. She's only run on quick ground, and she's beaten the same horse - Dorkas - on both starts, but that one went on to win on her only subsequent start so maybe the form is all right. She's been off since August last year, which is a very long time, mind. Hopefully she's improved in the interim, and it is possible she might be better for a bit more give underfoot.

Avispa is trained by Alan King, and anything he runs in this must be respected. As well as winning the Aintree Mares' Bumper with Senorita Rumbalita, he's also had another five of his fifteen starters make the frame, including at odds of 10/1 and 40/1.

Avispa has had three runs, winning the middle one, and she looks to be another for whom the ground may help garner a spot of improvement.

Ben Case won this in 2011 with Tempest River, and he saddles Midnight Jazz, a twice raced mare who stepped up markedly on her first run to take a Warwick bumper on soft. If she can show a similar level of advancement from second to third run, she'd make the frame at least, though that increment is far from a given.

Mares' Bumper Tips

A trappy race, and token selections as a consequence. I think The Govaness is the pick of the top of the market, and I'm happy to take a bit of a chance on Miss Sassypants and Avispa at bigger prices.

Token win selection: The Govaness 8/1 888sport (FOUR places)

Each way alternatives: Miss Sassypants 22/1 Betbright / Avispa 20/1 Coral

**

Who are your day two fancies? Leave a comment and let us know!

Grand National Meeting: Day Two Preview and Tips

Aintree Ladies Day Preview 2013

Aintree Ladies Day Preview 2013

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

Click here for the latest betting on the Top Novices Hurdle.

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

Click here for the latest betting on the Mildmay Novices' Chase.

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.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Selection: Sprinter Sacre 4/11 totesport
Value against him: None.

Click here for the latest betting on the Melling Chase.

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

Click here for the latest betting on the Topham Chase.

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

Click here for the latest betting on the Sefton Novices' Hurdle.

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

Click here for the latest betting on the Mirror Punters' Club Handicap Hurdle.

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

Click here for the latest betting on the Mares' Bumper.

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.

Matt