1.40 Aintree – Alder Hey Childrens Charity Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
With 22 of the last 28 winners having won earlier in the season, including seven of the last eight, it looks as if horses that have already proved their wellbeing in the same campaign have an advantage – only Zubayr, Sky Khan, Mad Jack Mytton and Hawk High have not done so in this field, but Party Rock won this last year off the back of being pulled up on his only start in that season, so it’s not impossible to defy this trend.
Novices have a more than 50% strike rate over the past 15 years that this race has been run, so the likes of Rather Be, Geordie Des Champs and Thomas Campbell amongst the eight novices in the field this time, have to be respected as unexposed and improving novice hurdlers.
Trainer-wise, Nicky Henderson has done well in this race in the past, with two of the last four winners, so Rather Be and Thomas Campbell have to be respected, as do any entries owned by JP McManus – he’s owned five of the last 18 winners of the race – good news for Geordie Des Champs and Dream Berry fans.
Irish-trained horses have won five of the last 19 renewals from very limited representation, so the only Irish entry this year, Ice Cold Soul, may be one to keep an eye on. He also falls on the right side of the line when it comes to the betting market – 12 of the last 14 winners of the race started at 10/1 or bigger, so the well fancied Thomas Campbell, North Hill Harvey and Rather Be will have to bust this trend, especially the first mentioned – there have been just two winning favourites in the last 28 years.
Interestingly, prominent racers have a really poor record in this race, with 15 of the last 21 runnings going the way of horses being held up in the rear or in mid-field of the contest. Music to the ears of Dream Berry, Rather Be and Sky Khan supporters. The Coral Cup has been the best guide to this from the Cheltenham Festival recently, there have been seven winners of this race to have run in that contest since 1993, so as the only representative from that race this year, Hawk High has a chance to improve that record even further.
Weights-wise, no horse carrying over 11st 4lb has won the race in the past ten years and even though two of the last three renewals were taken by horses carrying that top number, this does seem to go to an improver making their way up the handicap, getting better for better ground. North Hill Harvey, A Hare Breath, Runswick Royal, Zubayr and Thomas Campbell all carry more than that benchmark here, so will have to break that pattern if they’re to be successful.
Geordie Des Champs
With five horses tied atop the trends table, it’s relatively simple shortlist this time around. Nicky Henderson will be going all out to win the Trainers’ title this week and Rather Be looks primed for a big performance. He was well-fancied in the Martin Pipe, but was badly hampered and unseated Charlie Deutch at the second hurdle. He’ll be nice and fresh for this as a result though and surely runs a big race.
Geordie Des Champs is already a C&D winner on good ground this season when taking a novices’ hurdle under a penalty. Jonathan Moore is reunited with his mount that day and his 3lb claim will help here in a handicap. He was second to Theligny on his handicap debut off a mark of 129, so effectively just 3lb higher here, he’s got everything in place to run well after a 3 month break.
Only 13th in a very well-contested County Hurdle when last seen, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Crievehill is a very big price here (33/1 at the time of writing), but holds real claims on the strength of his third to Neon Wolf in soft ground at Haydock. He didn’t get involved at Cheltenham, but wasn’t disgraced, keeping on up the hill to be beaten 13 lengths and you can’t help but think this step up in trip on better ground will help him, especially hailing from the Twiston-Davies stable that always seem to produce horses that get better with age and distance. Jamie Bargary takes 3lb off and from a mark 2lb lower than his Cheltenham mark, he could spring a surprise.
Completing the shortlist is the highly unexposed Dream Berry from the Jonjo O’Neill stable. This six-year-old has an upwardly mobile profile and looks a highly progressive sort to go to war with after three runs in handicap hurdles this season. He met trouble in running on his last run behind Brio Conti at Kempton in the Silver Plate and would surely have finished much closer than four lengths off the winner if he’d been given a clear passage. He’s improving, enjoys better ground and should go well at a fair price (14/1) off the same mark as that Kempton run.
2.20 Aintree – Crabbie’s Top Novice’s Hurdle (Grade 1)
A key trend for the race is that nine of the last seventeen winners of the race recorded a top-six finish in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. This shows that class comes to the fore at Aintree and, as long as Cheltenham hasn’t taken too much out of the horse, the Festival can be a strong guide to finding the winner. The only horse in the field this year who fits the bill is River Wylde, who finished a creditable third in the Cheltenham race.
Another trend which backs up the quality of the race is that twenty-one of the last twenty-six winners started in the first four in the betting. The market this time around is headed by River Wylde, followed by Moon Racer, Mount Mews and The Unit. The favourite is well-fancied due to his Cheltenham form and also represents the top trainer in the race. He is from the Nicky Henderson yard, who has won five of the last seven runnings of the Top Novices’ Hurdle. Whichever horse he aims at the race has to be respected with such a strong record.
Outside of the Supreme, a first or second place finish last time out is important as all but five of the last twenty winners had won or finished runner-up on their previous outing over hurdles. Supreme runners should be considered irrespective of whether they finished in the first two or not, as four of the five that didn’t had run with credit in finishing between third and sixth in the Supreme. Therefore, this trend is a negative that Pinghou and Bulkov will have to overcome (Moon Racer was pulled up in the Supreme).
River Wylde heads the market for the Top Novices’, coming here off the back of a good third in the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham. He represents the top stable in this race and can add to Nicky Henderson’s fine record here. The six-year-old had won his three starts over hurdles, winning the Grade2 Dovecote at Kempton in impressive fashion before the Festival and he can continue on his upward curve at Aintree.
His main challenge could come from Northern raider Mount Mews for the Malcolm Jefferson yard. The trainer has built up a strong partnership with jockey Brian Hughes this season and will bid to cap it off with success at Aintree. Mount Mews was a wide-margin winner of a Grade 2 at Kelso on his previous run, albeit only one other rival completed, and the six-year-old has to be respected having won five out of six career starts, finishing second by a neck on the other occasion.
The Unit has more experience over hurdles having run eight times overall, and could be involved here having a record of three wins from five since November. The Alan King-trained six-year-old put up a strong performance when winning a Taunton handicap by eight lengths last time out, the Paul Nicholls-trained Qualando in second, and will aim to build on that run here.
2.50 Aintree – Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Being the Grade 1 novice chase over 3m at the meeting, it is little surprise that the RSA run at the Cheltenham Festival has proved a useful pointer in recent seasons. In fact, five of the last 12 winners contested the race although only Star De Mohaison and Monsieur Le Cure have completed the double in the last 34 years, not a good sign for supporters of Might Bite.
It has however proved useful to have run at the Cheltenham Festival, with all but three of the last fifteen winners having taken in Prestbury Park en route to Aintree. Of this year’s field, there is only Dan Skelton’s Virgilio who didn’t go to Cheltenham, having been off the track since finishing second in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
In terms of experience, it Is worth noting that 32 of the last 36 winners had won at least twice over fences prior to winning here. Only the Irish raider Marinero cannot boast that in his form, having gained his sole success over the larger obstacles at Downpatrick in September.
A final factor worth considering is the betting and this has been a race which has been kind to punters with ten favourites and three second-favourites having won in the last 20 years. Only one of the last 28 winners was sent off at bigger than 10/1, so it seems sensible to conclude that this is not a race in which shocks occur. Might Bite is a warm order for this year’s renewal at 4/7 with stablemate Whisper next best at around the 11/4 mark.
On the trends, this looks likely to be a match between the first two home in the RSA at Cheltenham, Might Bite and Whisper. The former looked to have the race at his mercy before having a wander after the last and assuming the same doesn’t happen again here, you would have to think that he will confirm the placings in some style tomorrow. Having said that, the Mildmay course does open up after the second last so there is plenty of room for the favourite to have a look at should he wish to do so.
Should he do the unthinkable for a second time, his stablemate Whisper looks the best-placed to pick up the pieces. He ran a fine race to finish second at Cheltenham and having won twice at this meeting before over hurdles, this track seems to suit him better than Cheltenham. Davy Russell seems to have struck up a fine partnership with the nine-year-old and he looks the pick of the remainder of the field.
3.25 Aintree – JLT Melling Chase (Grade 1)
There is a perception amongst many people when it comes to Aintree that horses who bypassed the Cheltenham Festival hold an advantage because they haven’t had hard races just three weeks prior to this meeting. However, the history of this race suggests that isn’t the case as only two of the last 25 winners bypassed March’s Cheltenham meeting. Looking at this year’s field, the only ones who opted to miss Cheltenham are Kylemore Lough and Royal Regatta, so it might be worth steering clear of them.
With Cheltenham in mind, 12 of the last 22 winners had finished in the top-three in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a positive for this year’s runner-up Fox Norton. However, the Ryanair has also produced half of the last 12 winners, so it could be worth keeping an eye on Sub Lieutenant, Josses Hill and Uxizandre, who finished 2nd, 5th and 7th in this year’s renewal.
One of the strongest trends relates to course form and form specifically at this meeting, with 19 of the last 26 winners having won or placed at this meeting in the past. There are five of our field who can boast such form this time around with God’s Own, Uxizandre and Josses Hill having won here and Traffic Fluide and Fox Norton having filled the places in recent years.
Proven class also tends to go a long way in this particular Grade 1 contest, with only one of the last fifteen winners having not having won a Grade 1 earlier in their career. The ones with proven Grade 1 form over fences in this year’s field are God’s Own, Uxizandre and Kylemore Lough, although it is worth noting that Fox Norton was only beaten a head in the Queen Mother Champion Chase a few weeks ago.
The final factor worthy of consideration is the betting and it is little surprise that those towards the head of the market have fared well in recent years. 15 of the last 22 winners came from the first two in the betting and only last year’s winner God’s Own was sent off at double-figure odds in the last decade. Fox Norton heads the market this time around at 3/1 with God’s Own and Sub Lieutenant battling it out for second spot at around the 7/2 mark.
With all things considered it looks pretty tight at the top and despite stepping up to 2m4f for the first time, Fox Norton has to have leading claims based on his run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last time. He was staying on all the way up the Cheltenham hill but was just denied by Special Tiara and if he can back up that run, it is hard to see him finishing out of the frame.
God’s Own could only finish fifth behind Fox Norton at Cheltenham but he made a shuddering error at the second last which put paid to his chances and without that error, he would have finished a good deal closer. He benefitted from the fall of Vautour to win this race last year and with this year’s race lacking a runner of that quality, a strong case can be made for him becoming the first back-to-back winner since Voy Por Ustedes in 2009.
The final member of the shortlist is Uxizandre who won the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham back in 2015. He has only run twice since, running well on his reappearance at Cheltenham in January before running a little below expectations at Cheltenham last time. On his best form, he would have a leading chance and with the visor which he wore to success in the Ryanair refitted, he makes some appeal at a slightly bigger price.
4.05 Aintree – Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
Run over the National Fences, this is a tough race to solve as it always attracts a lot of runners. The maximum field size of thirty are due to line-up tomorrow. One key trend to help narrow down the field is that nine of the last thirteen winners had run over the Grand National fences before. As de Mee boasts strong form as he is a winner over the fences this season, landing the Grand Sefton Chase over course and distance in December. The top three from that race all reoppose this time around with the runner-up Seefood and Henryville also returning to Aintree.
Last year’s edition of the Topham is also a good guide with seven of the last eleven winners having run in the previous season’s race, with five finishing in the first four. There are four horses from last year taking part this time around. Eastlake bids to defend his crown and then As de Mee, Third Intention and Ballykan make up the quartet. The experience of racing over these fences can prove to be invaluable, especially as trainers see the Topham as a potential stepping stone to running in the Grand National.
Another important factor is weight as eight of the last thirteen winners carried no more than 10st 7lb. The top two in the betting, Go Conquer and Seefood, both look to be well-treated as they both run with on 10st 4lb. However, top-weight Alelchi Inois could find it difficult to improve on trainer Willie Mullins’ good record in the race. In addition, a strong trend to consider is that nine of the last winners had failed to win over fences earlier in the season, something that could be a positive for Go Conquer and Henryville.
Henryville will bid to improve on his good third in the Grand Sefton Chase here earlier this season in December. The experience will stand Harry Fry’s eight-year-old in good stead on Friday. His only run since then has been in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at the Cheltenham Festival – seven runners in the Cheltenham race have gone on to win here since 1996. Ballykan also has previous form over the fences. Although he finished down the field in the race last year, he may be able to build on that this time for trainer Nigel Twistion-Davies. The other to make up the shortlist is the Donald McCain-trained Katachenko, who won the Red Rum Handicap Chase at this meeting last year.
4.40 Aintree – Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
The biggest and most solid statistic when looking at the winners of this race has to be the fact that 19 of the last 22 winners had won at least twice over hurdles already in their career, even at this early stage. That puts a huge question mark next to the well-fancied West Approach.
Seven of the last ten winners skipped Cheltenham altogether, positives for the likes of Moulin A Vent, Testify and Debece amongst others, while the other three winners all ran in the Albert Bartlett, giving The Worlds End, Constantine Bay and Elegant Escape a reprieve on missing this particular criteria. All three Irish-trained winners of the race bypassed the Cheltenham Festival, something the only Irish-trained contender, Moulin A Vent, did indeed do, so there’s another big tick in the box for Noel Meade’s charge.
Winning form over three miles is an advantage, as it shows that the horse definitely stays the trip and it suited well to the unique demands of a staying hurdle. Constantine Bay, The Worlds End, Ballymalin and Testify are all winners over staying trips already, so a bold showing looks assured from them, while Beyond Conceit and Moulin A Vent have their stamina to prove.
Experience again comes to the fore in these long-distance contests, with only four of the last 24 winners not having run at least four times over hurdles, bad news for Beyond Conceit and Monbeg Charmer.
This hasn’t been a race for favourites over the past ten years, with only At Fishers Cross justifying a position at the head of the market, so The Worlds End will have to defy this statistic if he’s to take victory here. In fact, eight of the last ten winners have been priced at 8/1 or bigger, so it’s certainly a race where you can go hunting for some value.
Moulin A Vent
The Worlds End
Trends-wise, this is an extremely close call, with nine of the 12 declared runners being within one point of the top-rated, so most possible winners wouldn’t be huge trends busters. Joint-top is Nicky Henderson’s Albert Bartlett fourth, Constantine Bay, who has proven his liking for three miles and a flat track when battling well to defeat No Hassle Hoff at Doncaster in January. His fourth at Cheltenham was a decent effort considering he was badly hampered by the fall of The Worlds End two out, just as the pace was ramping up, and was unable to recover that lost ground. He should go very well here for a trainer who is eyeing a Trainers’ Championship.
The aforementioned The Worlds End cannot go unshortlisted considering the eye-bulgingly rapid headway he made between three out and two out at Cheltenham before departing at that second last obstacle. The Tom George-trained six-year-old was absolutely flying before coming to grief and if he’s none the worse for that tumble, you’d expect him to be bang there. Who knows, he may well have hacked up in the Albert Bartlett and would therefore have been a darn sight shorter in the market than the current 9/4 you can get on him.
This race has had its fair share of bigger-priced winners and the one currently trading at double-figure odds to make the shortlist here is the Noel Meade-trained Moulin A Vent. He’s following the path of previous Irish winners of the race in that he didn’t go to Cheltenham and this better ground should suit him much better than the heavy he’s been running on recently. Tin Soldier, who beat him by a length last time out, was a staying on eighth in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham, so there’s some decent form in his book, including defeats of Brelade, Runfordave and Cheltenham winner Champagne Classic. He’s run well over 2m 6f already and didn’t look as if it was the distance that beat him, so while he does have 3m stamina to prove, he’s unexposed and could go well at a price.
5.15 Aintree – Weatherbys Private Bank Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Grade 2)
The curtain comes down on Day 2 of the Grand National meeting with the bumper and the first place to start is with those who ran in the equivalent race at Cheltenham. Claimantakinforgan was the best placed of those lining up here as he finished third behind Fayonagh, staying on strongly up the hill in the closing stages. He also had to concede weight to both of those who finished in front of him and I think his effort needs marking up on the back of that. Perhaps surprisingly, Nicky Henderson doesn’t have the best of records in this race, but he was a rare runner for the master of Seven Barrows at Cheltenham and he looks a must for any shortlist.
Just behind him in fifth was Western Ryder who made up a lot of ground on the inside having been shuffled back on the turn for home. His trainer Warren Greatrex has a fine record in bumpers throughout the season and this looks to be the pick of his crop this time around, having won a valuable contest at Ascot in December. He sets a pretty good standard in terms of form but there are a number of unexposed performers in the field and a couple could just improve past him.
One stable who has gone from strength to strength this year is that of Tom George and he is doubly represented here by Black Op and Clondaw Castle. The former got the better of Claimantakinforgan at Doncaster last time on his first start in the bumper sphere and he looks a smart prospect having been bought for £210,000 this time last year. Adrian Heskin seems to have picked him over his stablemate and he looks to have a leading chance. Having said that his stablemate may not be without a chance having won his only bumper last month and as a winner of an Irish point, there should be more to come from him in the future.
Another trainer that has to be respected in the bumper sphere is Harry Fry and he saddles If The Cap Fits in the colours of Paul and Clare Rooney. The five-year-old has won in impressive style on both of his starts to date and there must be more to come from him. The Fry yard landed the valuable Newbury bumper a few weeks ago and with Noel Fehily riding as well as ever, he is another who has to go on the shortlist.
There are a number of horses with just the one run to their name but perhaps the most interesting is Niceandeasy who made a winning debut at Newcastle at the beginning of March. Keith Dalgleish’s four-year-old won by ten lengths despite showing signs of inexperience throughout and he clearly has quite an engine. As a four-year-old he gets a 6lb weight allowance from his elder rivals and he looks one of the more interesting runners at bigger prices.
A couple more to note at bigger prices include Neil Mulholland’s Tikkanbar who has won two of his three starts in bumpers and his only defeat saw him beaten a nose on debut. He has made good progress since then and whilst he will likely need to take another step forward to win here, he can’t be discounted.
The final one to mention is Rose Dobbin’s Some Reign who justified strong market support to win at Wetherby on his debut in January. He just failed under a penalty at Kelso the following month but the ground was probably soft enough for him on that occasion and returning to a sounder surface, he could run better than his odds of 50/1 suggest.
If The Cap Fits