1.45 Aintree – The Manifesto Novices’ Steeple Chase (Grade 1)
This is a relatively new race with only eight previous editions having been run. However, there are two particularly strong trends which have come to prominence so far.
Firstly, the key trend is that all eight of the previous winners have started in the first three in the betting. This may be due to the fact that this race has not had the big-fields which are seen in some of the other races throughout the week. The market-leader this time around is Top Notch at around the 5/4 mark, with Cloudy Dream (3/1) and Frodon (5/1) making up the top three in this year’s field.
Another trend which was applied to the other renewals of this race is that all eight winners had a prominent style of running. It is often the case on the Mildmay Chase Course that a positive running style is important and the eight winners of this race have all raced handily or were not obviously held up, with four virtually making all of the running. In this year’s renewal, the tactics employed by Cyrius Moriviere and Frodon could stand them in good stead if they are able to get into a nice rhythm at the head of the field.
In addition to these two main trends, six of the eight winners also ran well previously at the Cheltenham Festival. With this race being run over two and half a miles on the flatter track of Aintree, the two races to focus on the Festival are the Arkle Tropy and the JLT Novices Chase as they have both provided three of the previous winners. For this year’s contestants, Cloudy Dream finished a creditable second to Altior in the Arkle and Top Notch was runner-up to Yorkhill in the JLT.
Top Notch heads the market for the race and holds strong claims based on the trends. Trained by Nicky Henderson (one of the only two multiple winning trainers of the race alongside Philip Hobbs), the six-year-old comes here on the back of a fine second to Yorkhill in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham. He had been progressive over fences before that, landing the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown to bring up a four-timer over the bigger obstacles. With more progress possible for his top stable, Top Notch is deserving of his place at the head of the market.
Cloudy Dream is yet to finish outside of the top two in five career chase starts, winning two, and also comes here on the back of a good performance at Cheltenham. The Malcolm Jefferson-trained seven-year-old was a clear second to Altior in the Arkle, staying on up the run-in after being held-up. Although those patient tactics may not be ideal at Aintree, this race is over half a mile further than the Arkle so the step up in distance looks like it could suit.
Making up the shortlist is Frodon who has been busy over fences this season, racking up six wins from eight starts for champion-trainer Paul Nicholls. The youngest in the field at five-years-old, he won the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton last time out racing prominently throughout. However, Paul Nicholls’ horses have unusually generally struggled in this race and he is coming up against proven performers from Cheltenham this time around.
2.20 Aintree – The Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle Race (Grade 1)
Unsurprisingly, 12 of the last 17 winners of this race contested the Triumph Hurdle, so favourite Defi Du Seuil obviously fits the trend after winning the race impressively on his last run. Also, Landin and Nucky Thompson contested the race, although 8th and pulled up aren’t great form figures to be carrying into this race. Defi Du Seuil also won the Finesse Hurdle at Cheltenham, which has been a good guide to this race in the past with Katchit, Walkon and Grumeti doing the double in the last ten years, while he also won the Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow, a race that five of the last 16 winners of this race have finished in the first four in. The favourite has also won seven of the last 12 runnings of the 4-y-o hurdle, since it was upgraded to a Grade 1, so the signs are very positive for Defi Du Seuil.
Fillies have a superb record in the race, with five winners since 1993 from less than 10% of all runners but there aren’t any female representatives in this year’s renewal. Neither are there any runners from Alan King’s stable – one that has saddled four of the last ten winners, so there are two trends that fall by the wayside this time around.
Ten of the last 12 winners were placed at least at the Cheltenham Festival, so the likes of Defi Du Seuil, Flying Tiger and Divin Bere receive a good boost by virtue of having done so this year, while French bred horses have interestingly won half of the last 18 renewals despite having less than 25% of the total runners. Again, Defi Du Seuil and Divin Bere get another tick next to their names in terms of trend hitting.
Only five of the last 27 winners had not won twice over hurdles previously, so it’s a big negative for the likes of Bedrock, Landin, Nucky Thompson and Ronnie Baird, while failing to contest a Pattern race is a big no-no. Thankfully for the most of the field this year, they fulfil this category, apart from Forth Bridge – the best race he’s contested so far has been at Listed level.
Defi Du Seuil
Off the back of his wildly impressive Triumph success at Cheltenham, Philip Hobbs’ Defi Du Seuil is clearly the one to beat here and the trends support his very strong claims. He’s well clear of his rivals on both counts and odds of 1/3 look realistic for a horse that looks every inch a Champion Hurdle contender for next year – if that’s the path connections choose to take.
However, it’s interesting that the other two that do well on the trends didn’t run in the Triumph, but rather in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson believed that Divin Bere had a shed load in hand of the handicapper there and he was proved right, but only to see another very well-handicapped juvenile in Flying Tiger power up the hill and pip him at the post. A neck was the final distance between them there and off level weights now, you would expect the 5lb swing in favour of Henderson’s horse to count for a lot.
However, Nick Williams’ charge was very keen that day and still managed to fly home to win under Richard Johnson, so it’s not impossible to think that the places may not be reversed if Flying Tiger can settle a little better – the difference in price between the two does look quite large (Divin Bere 5/1, Flying Tiger 12/1) and he looks the best value selection in the race. Still, it’s asking a lot for either to defeat the majestic Defi Du Seuil barring accidents, so it could be a good idea to back the Fred Winter 1-2 in the ‘without the favourite’ market, or even just in place markets.
3.25 Aintree – The Betway Aintree Hurdle Race (Grade 1)
This race has been a particularly good one for Irish challengers with eighteen of the forty-one renewals of the race going to horses trained across the Irish Sea. Despite being outnumbered most years they have a very strong record and Identity Thief and Rashaan will be looking to enhance that this time around.
Last year’s edition of the race has also been a good pointer towards finding the winner and two of the field contested the 2016 Aintree Hurdle. Although The New One fell in the race it was too early to say how he would have fared. He renews his rivalry with My Tent Or Yours who was second to Annie Power last year, although it is a shame that she will not get the chance to defend her crown here due to injury.
Previous winning form at this meeting is also useful with eight of the last sixteen winners having previously won at Aintree during this week. The New One and My Tent Or Yours both tick this box as well. The New One won a thrilling renewal of this race in 2014 as he got the better of Rock On Ruby by a head. My Tent Or Yours was successful a year earlier in the Top Novices’ Hurdle and they will both be hoping to use their previous Aintree experience to help them on Thursday.
Buveur D’Air is the third horse in the line-up to have won at the Aintree meeting previously, having gained victory in the Top Novices’ Hurdle last year. However, the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner will have to overcome the trend that six of the last ten Champion Hurdle winners to run in this race have been beaten. Although the six-year-old won at Cheltenham in fine style, some of the very best have come up short here after a having a tough race.
The New One
My Tent Or Yours
Experience could come to the fore on Thursday, with The New One looking to become a duel winner of the race. The nine-year-old’s experience of Aintree will help, although he will have to put a fall in the race last year behind him. This season Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gelding has shown that he at retains his ability at the very least, landing two Grade 2s, and the step up in trip after the Champion Hurdle looks like it will suit at this stage in his career.
The New One will be looking to reverse the form from the Champion Hurdle where he finished fifth as My Tent Or Yours was runner-up in the race for the third time. Nicky Henderson’s ten-year-old will be looking to go one better than he did at Cheltenham and also has good previous form at Aintree. However, one trend against him is that only one of the last sixteen Champion Hurdle runners-up to have run has won this race.
4.05 Aintree – Randox Health Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase
One of the strongest trends relating to this race is that the first four in the betting have dominated over the years. This group has accounted for all but three of the last four winners and that may be due to the fact that this race doesn’t have as much strength in depth as some of the other big-field races throughout the week. The market leader this time around is Enda Bolger’s On The Fringe at around the 2/1 mark, with Pacha Du Polder (7/2), Balnaslow (10/1) and Rebel Rebellion (12/1) making up the favoured quartet in this year’s field.
As we know, the Grand National fences pose something of a unique test compared to other obstacles so experience over them can prove valuable. 8 of the last 12 winners had run over the Grand National fences before and there are twelve in this year’s field with such experience on their CV, namely Pacha du Polder, On The Fringe, Big Fella Thanks, Black Thunder, Dineur, Poole Master, Richmond, Distime, Mendip Express, Rebel Rebellion, Sam Cavallaro and Top Cat Henry.
Ex-handicappers have also held the upper hand on their rivals in recent years, having accounted for the winner of nine of the last 15 renewals. On The Fringe is a Hunter Chaser, having been exclusively campaigned in point-to-points and hunter chases throughout his career but his main market rival Pacha Du Polder hails from the handicapping sphere, having gained his most high-profile success in the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury in 2013.
The final key trend to mention is that only two winners in the last 24 years had not won a race earlier in the season. The vast majority of this year’s field clear that particular hurdle but a couple of those towards the head of the market without such form to their name are Rebel Rebellion and Mendip Express.
Pacha Du Polder
On The Fringe
Big Fella Thanks
The Cheltenham Foxhunters’ has proved the best guide in recent years so it is no surprise to see this year’s main protagonists locking horns again here. Pacha Du Polder got his head in front on that occasion, racing prominently throughout before staying on well up the hill to see off the chasing pack. He was given a fine ride by Bryony Frost on that occasion and having run well here in the past, it is hard to see him finishing out of the frame here at Aintree.
It is worth considering though that he has found On The Fringe to be too good in the last two renewals of this race, for all that he finished in front of Enda Bolger’s gelding at Cheltenham. Now a twelve-year-old, On The Fringe’s powers may be beginning to wane but it is too soon to write him off, given he was only beaten two and a half lengths at Cheltenham. Arguably his most impressive performances in recent seasons have come over the Grand National fences and if he can step forward from Cheltenham, he still looks the one they have to beat.
One who comes out well on the trends at a bigger price is Big Fella Thanks, who has plenty of experience over the Grand National fences having been placed in both the National and the Becher in the past. Clearly at the age of fifteen, he is not the force of old but he looked a fine recruit to the hunter chase sphere last year when winning at Cheltenham in April and if he is rejuvenated by the return to Aintree, he could outrun his sizeable odds.
4.40 Aintree – Betway Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
One of the strongest trends in recent years has been the success of younger horses, as although Oiseau De Nuit won at the age of eleven in 2013, only two of the last 28 winners were older than nine. Most of the fifteen runners in this year’s field sit on the right side of this pattern, although there are three horses who miss out, the pair of ten-year-olds Gino Trail and Witness In Court and the eleven-year-old Parsnip Pete.
Another strong trend has concerned the weight carried by winners with only two horses having carried more than 11st 2lb to victory since 1999. If we apply that to this year’s field, it removes the top five as they appear on the racecard, with the exception of Foxtail Hill, whose jockey’s 3lb claim takes him below the 11st 2lb threshold.
The reason for that may be that the less-exposed runners tend to sit towards the foot of the weights in these sorts of races and therefore it is no surprise that novices have fared well in recent renewals. In fact, a novice has won eight of the last fifteen races and they are well-represented this year with just over half of the field including the likes of Theinval, Double W’s, Astre de La Cour and Bun Doran.
It also seems that younger jockeys also have a good record in the race as four of the last nine winners were ridden by conditional jockeys. Conditionals often have a weight allowance which can prove useful in races as competitive as this and Brendan Powell, Paul Gallagher and Sean Quinlan have all used their claims to good effect in recent years. Jamie Bargary is the only conditional booked to ride in this year’s race and he partners Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Foxtail Hill.
In terms of trials, the Grand Annual has proved a good pointer in recent seasons, with seven of the last eighteen winners running in the Cheltenham Festival finale. This year’s renewal is represented by Theinval and Dandridge, who finished third and fourth respectively, as well as Witness In Court, who was unplaced.
The final factor to consider is the betting and although there has only been one winning favourite in the past decade, the market has still proved a strong guide to finding the winner. 12 of the last 18 winners came from the first five in the betting, so it may be best to focus your attention on Theinval, Dandridge, Astre de La Cour, Alisier D’Irlande and Double W’s who sit towards the head of the market in this year’s race.
With the Grand Annual having proved a useful guide in recent seasons, it is little surprise that the third and fourth from this year’s race, Theinval and Dandridge sit towards the head of the betting for this race.
Arthur Moore’s eight-year-old is no stranger to this race having finished second to Katachenko off the same mark twelve months ago having had a similar preparation to this year’s race. He clearly acts around here and the way he has been campaigned suggests that he has been trained to peak in the Spring, so it would be no surprise to see him take a step forward from Cheltenham here.
However, he could have his work cut out to reverse the placings with Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old who has a few less miles on the clock than his rival. He has shown his best form on a sound surface in the past and it was no surprise to see him run so well at Cheltenham. The fitting of cheekpieces for the first time also seemed to bring about further improvement and he looks a leading contender here.
The final member of the shortlist is Double W’s who won twice over fences in the early part of the season. He showed signs of a return to form at Cheltenham last time, where he ran well for a long way but failed to see out the extended 2m4f trip. The drop back to two miles should be in his favour and with his trainer having had his fair share of winners here in recent years, he too is fancied to run a big race.
5.15 Aintree – Goffs Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Grade 2)
As a Grade 2 for just the second year, trends aren’t easy to come by in this due to the large leap in quality from when the race was a Listed bumper, but some things can be picked out from the last few runnings of the race, including the fact that in the last six renewals, there haven’t been any four-year-old winners. Although that age group won three of the four renewals between 2007 and 2010, they’ve found success hard to come by recently, possibly due to the increased competitiveness of the race as time has gone on.
So on the face of it, that’s bad news for the likes of Brian Ellison’s Shearling. However, this four-year-old filly is pretty experienced and battle-hardened for her age, winning her first two bumpers over a mile and six and a mile and a half at Weatherby before being edged out at the same venue under a double penalty. Her conqueror that day, Mountain Path, runs again here, but off level weights, I’d be very surprised if the result isn’t turned around. She stepped up to two miles for the first time at Catterick and seemed to relish the trip as she hacked up by four lengths despite giving 10lb to the second (after jockeys’ claims were factored in). With Richard Johnson on board, this daughter of Rail Link looks to have a huge chance of improving the recent record of four-year-olds and I’m very keen on her chances.
Although it’s not been a race for favourites in the past (one winner from the last ten renewals), Petticoat Tails comes into this race looking a deserved favourite after a great effort in Sandown’s Listed bumper in March, just being touched off by Fergal O’Brien’s impressive mare Cap Soleil. She looks as if she’ll appreciate the better ground that she’ll get here and this Warren Greatrex-trained five-year-old should be there or thereabouts barring accidents. Her Huntingdon win over Passing Call reads well, especially giving that filly over a stone at the time, and she’s clearly a smart mare for the future.
Also running in that Sandown race was Martello Park, who took on the keen Redhotfillypeppers at the head of affairs for much of the race before eventually weakening into fourth up the home straight. She will have learned plenty from that, as will her rider and I expect a much more measured approach this time around. Whether or not the better ground will suit is a question we’ll have to take on trust, but given a more energy-conserving trip round, she should be bang there. She’s actually rated the same officially as Petticoat Tails, even though that mare was 12 lengths in front of her at Sandown.
A mention does have to go to Nicky Henderson’s mare, Polly’s Pursuit, a half-sister to Polly Peachum whose dam is an unraced sister to Denman. She got off the mark in impressive style on her third start in a jumpers bumper at Lingfield, hack1ng up by seven lengths, before her saddle slipped on her next run, giving an excuse for finishing second to Tom Lacey’s The Big Bite. She could have plenty more to come back on a sound surface on turf, but there is a slight concern about her not seeing out her first two races on that surface, even though Nicky Henderson’s taken this race twice in the last ten years.
Sweetlittlemystery is another who deserves a shout – Brendan Powell’s mare is unbeaten from two starts, showing a superb attitude on both occasions. She won well enough under a penalty on the second occasion at Ascot and she should be in there punching coming up the home straight here. However, this is a big step up in class and will be the quickest ground she has encounteres, so you do worry whether there will be one or two too quick for her.