1.45 Aintree – Alder Hey Children’s Charity Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
Novices have a very good record in this race having won nine of the last sixteen renewals and six in the last ten years. It could be that these horses haven’t yet fully shown their ability to the handicapper and they could therefore be better than their current mark suggests. The only novices in this year’s field are Storm Home and Landin.
Whilst novices have done well, that is not to say that we should be looking for a horse who has been laid out for the race as recent winners have tended to have been kept quite busy through the season. Only one of the last ten winners had run less than three times earlier in the season, a concern for supporters of Who Dares Wins and Wilde Blue Yonder, who only have two runs to their name this term.
A recurring theme in a lot of races this week is that horses with previous form at Aintree have fared well over the years. That includes three of the last five winners so clearly there is something that they have in hand on their rivals. This stat splits the field exactly in half but some of those to come out on the right side of the trend include Court Minstrel, who won at this meeting in 2014 as well as the likes of Ivanovich Gorbatov and Zubayr.
Weight can play a big part in the outcome of these fiercely-competitive handicaps and as you would imagine, those with lower weights have held the upper hand in recent years. No winner in the last decade has carried more than 11st 4lb, which rules out the top four as they appear on the racecard, with the exception of Court Minstrel whose jockey’s claim takes his weight below the ceiling.
Only one trainer has won this race on more than one occasion in the last ten years and that is Nicky Henderson who landed the spoils with Minella Forfitness in 2013, Theinval in 2015 and Rather Be twelve months ago. The master of Seven Barrows is doubly represented this year by Jenkins and Lough Derg Spirit.
Lough Derg Spirit
Lough Derg Spirit has yet to fulfil his potential but his three runs so far this term have suggested that he could be up to winning a handicap of this nature. He probably found the ground too soft at Cheltenham last time but the flatter nature of Aintree should suit him well and it would be no surprise to see him put up a bold show.
Colin Tizzard’s Storm Home has improved with experience this term and although he is still relatively lightly-raced, he seems to be getting the hang of racing. He couldn’t have been more impressive when winning a novice hurdle at Wincanton last time and he looks an intriguing contender on his handicap debut.
The veteran Court Minstrel won a similar race to this at the beginning of the season and although he has struggled since, he could run better than his odds suggest with his jockey taking a valuable 7lb off his back.
The final member of the shortlist is the other novice Landin who looked progressive when winning at Lingfield in March. His jockey’s 5lb claim negates the 8lb rise he got for that victory to a large degree and it would be no surprise to see him run well here.
2.20 Aintree – Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
A key trend for this contest is that nine of the last eighteen 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. Claimantakinforgan was a creditable fifth in the race but wasn’t declared at the 24-hour stage, so Slate House (seventh when falling at the last) looks the strongest contender from the Supreme.
However, Nicky Henderson’s runners should always be respected here as five of the last eight winners of the race have hailed from Seven Barrows – Style De Garde represents the Lambourn-trainer this time around.
Another trend which backs up the quality of the race is that twenty-one of the last twenty-seven winners started in the first four in the betting, even though last year’s winner, Pingshou, was a 16/1 shot. The market this time around is headed by impressive Dovecote winner Global Citizen, followed by Vision Des Flos, Scarlet Dragon and Style De Garde.
Speaking of the Dovecote at Kempton Park, it has been a decent guide over the years, with Sire De Grugy and Forgotten Voice both winning that race before being placed here – a plus for Global Citizen, while other races to look at closely are at Newbury, especially the Betfair Hurdle. All Nicky Henderson’s runners have won at that track this season, and the likes of Lalor (13th) and Irish Roe (pulled up) ran in that showpiece handicap. The EBF Novices’ Hurdle, run at Cheltenham in December, has been a very good recent guide to the race, with last year’s winner, Pingshou, was the latest winner of the Top Novices’ Hurdle to have run in that contest. Lalor is the only horse to have contested that race this time around.
With Punchestown just around the corner and very much in the forefront of many Irish trainers’ minds, it’s no surprise to see that Irish-trained novices have a poor record here, with just two victories from the last 40 renewals of the race. Therefore, Impact Factor, Mind’s Eye and Ornua look to be up against the weight of history.
Style De Garde
With many of the top novice hurdlers swerving this due to their exertions at Cheltenham or with an eye on Punchestown, this looks a wide-open renewal of the race. Nicky Henderson’s Style De Garde represents a trainer with a sensational record in the race and he’s bang at the top of the trends table. His form on flatter tracks is excellent, with a Newbury success to his name this year already and he looks as if he’ll be difficult to keep out of the frame, especially with the four-year-olds’ weight allowance.
Global Citizen was a runaway winner of the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle, burning his rivals off after the final bend at Kempton Park before staying on strongly to record a nine-length success. That was an eye-opening performance by Ben Pauling’s novice and the market seems to think he’s going to go very close. However, even though he has already won on soft ground, that run was on some of the best ground we’ve seen all season, so you wonder whether he’d like a much quicker racing surface than he’s likely to get here. Still, even though his price is very short for a race of this nature, it is a weak-looking renewal and he looks a decent prospect so should certainly go close.
Second in the Dovecote was hurdling debutant Scarlet Dragon for Alan King. He’ll have learned a lot from that experience and given a more prominent ride, there’s plenty of hope for him to close the gap between him and Global Citizen. He stayed on nicely that day and if handling this softer ground, could well outrun his odds. Rated 107 on the flat, he has the potential to go close to the top over hurdles and if he’s improved for that first run over timber, he could be a real player.
2.50 Aintree – Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Experience over fences has proved an important factor here with all but four of the last 37 winners having previously won at least twice over fences. The only horse in this year’s field without those credentials is Snow Falcon, whose sole success over the larger obstacles came at Leopardstown in December.
It may be tempting to side with a horse who has yet to try 3m but history suggests that proven stamina goes a long way. Only three of the last 27 winners had failed to win over 3m beforehand, a concern for Hogan’s Height, Snow Falcon, Terrefort and Testify.
Although it is easy to get drawn into picking a horse who missed the Cheltenham Festival and is coming here fresh, the stats suggest that it is best to focus our attentions on those who went to Prestbury Park. Only three of the last 16 winners did not run at the Cheltenham Festival and those to miss the meeting this time around are Captain Chaos, Mia’s Storm, Hogan’s Height and Snow Falcon.
In terms of age, the six and seven-year-olds have held sway having accounted for 15 of the past 21 winners of this race. The last five-year-old to win the race was Big Buck’s but since then the three five-year-olds to contest the race have failed to get their head in front.
Black Corton and Elegant Escape are closely-matched on form and although Colin Tizzard’s six-year-old finished ahead of his old rival in the RSA last time, I wouldn’t expect there to be too much between them again here. The fitting of cheekpieces could bring about further improvement from the latter and he looks a similar type to Native River, who won this race two years ago.
Of the rest, the mare Ms Parfois showed she was a strong stayer when finishing second over 4m last time and having looked progressive prior to that, she looks to have a solid chance, especially if the ground is on the soft side.
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 prior to this meeting. However, the history of this race suggests that isn’t the case as only two winners of the Melling bypassed March’s Cheltenham meeting. Looking at this year’s field, the only horse who missed Cheltenham is Sizing Granite.
With Cheltenham in mind, the last 14 winners contested either the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Ryanair Chase. There were two horses in the line-up who ran in the Champion Chase with Irish-raider Min finishing runner-up to the mighty Altior. In fourth place that day was the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue. There were also two runners who took in the Ryanair this year. Balko Des Flos was an impressive winner of the contest and he had Cloudy Dream behind him in third.
One of the strongest trends relates to course form and form specifically at this meeting, with 19 of the last 27 winners having won or placed at this meeting in the past. There are half of the field who can boast such form this time around with Sizing Granite having won the Maghull Novices’ Chase in 2015 and Cloudy Dream and Le Prezien 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 winners since 20001 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 Balko Des Flos, Min, Politologue and Sizing Granite.
Balko Des Flos
Irish challengers have to be respected in the Melling and their two representatives this year come out on top with the trends. Balko Des Flos was an impressive winner of the Ryanair at the Cheltenham Festival for Henry De Bromhead. The seven-year-old was thought to have needed better ground that day but travelled powerfully through the race before getting the better of the admirable Un De Sceaux. He had showed improved form prior to that performance when finishing a good second to Road To Respect in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase over three miles. Gigginstown’s previous winner of the Melling was Don Cossack in 2015 and they will be hoping that Balko Des Flos can build on his Cheltenham success to add victory at Aintree. His main threat could be Min who is stepped up in trip by Willie Mullins after finishing runner-up to Altior in the Champion Chase. The seven-year-old has not finished outside of the top two for his current trainer and looks likely to make another bold bid on Friday.
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. A couple of key trends to help narrow down the field are a) that nine of the last fourteen winners had run over the Grand National fences before and b) that seven of the last twelve winners had run in the previous season’s race. horses from last year’s contest include the winner, Ultragold, as well as O O Seven, Bouvreuil, Eastlake and Clarcam.
Another important factor is weight as nine of the last fourteen winners carried no more than 10st 7lb and fourteen of the last seventeen carried less than 11st. All the runners from 13 in your racecard, Midnight Shot come in below 11st, while from 21, Rathlin Rose, downwards are the 10st 7lb or less brigade.
Interestingly, the only winners under the age of 9 in the past 14 years were all bred in France, so the trends claims of Bouvreuil, Art Mauresque, Beau Bay and Clarcan are all enhanced by this. Also, there has only been one winner of the race aged older than 10 in the past ten years (triple winner Always Waining) so the veterans look to be up against it – Eastlake, Ballyalton, Village Vic, Highland Lodge and Notarfbad all get a black mark for this stat.
All the last ten winners of the Topham ran between 25 and 31 days ago, which is a staggeringly pinpoint statistic and thirteen of the field fall within this range, including O O Seven, Bouvreuil, Kilcrea Vale, Ultragold and Shanahan’s Turn.
Irish trained horses have a poor record in the race, so Clarcam, Newsworthy, Polidam and Devil’s Bride look to have their work cut out, while Nicky Henderson and Peter Bowen have the best records in the race, a positive for the claims of O O Seven, Kilcrea Vale and Flying Eagle.
It’s very rare for a horse with a hold-up style of running to win this, so much so that only two winners in the last 37 renewals of this race were officially ‘held-up’ – the likes of O O Seven, Village Vic, Art Mauresque, Greybougg and Mystifable are all prominent racers and their style of running should suit this race nicely.
O O Seven
Nicky Henderson’s record of three winners in the last five renewals certainly looks good for the chances of O O Seven and Kilcrea Vale and the pair are both close to the top of the trends league. Kilcrea Vale carries a nice racing weight in 10st 9lb and could well find some improvement off his mark for this unique test, while O O Seven has already proved his liking for these fences when fourth last year, hitting the front a bit too early but staying on well regardless. He does carry 11st 10lb, but two of the recent trends busters in terms of weight carried were both trained by Henderson (Rajdhani Express, 11st 8lb, 2015 & Ma Filleule, 11st 7lb, 2014), so he’s fully aware of what quality of horse is required to defy a welter burden. O O Seven has also been the recent recipient of a slight drop in the weights of 2lb and has no problems with soft ground, so he’s surely primed to go close back over this ideal two-and-a-half-mile trip.
Elsewhere, Bouvreuil looks a well-handicapped horse for Paul Nicholls off a mark of 142. He was brought down early in the Grand Annual so is still a relatively fresh horse and races off a 3lb lower mark than when tenth in the race last season. His stamina and hold up style are concerns here, but he was well-backed prior to the Grand Annual and could be primed for a big showing.
One outsider who looks to have an interesting live chance is the Colin Tizzard-trained Shanahan’s Turn – he’s been lightly raced since his switch of stable in October 2016, running just twice under his new handler but his promising effort in the Brown Advisory Plate at this year’s Cheltenham Festival (ninth) suggest that he could be ready to bounce back to his best. If he does, a mark of 134 could be woefully inadequate for a horse that won the Galway Plate off an 8lb higher mark in 2015. He’d probably prefer drying ground, but soft ground should prove no issue and he’s a fascinating 33/1 shot in an open contest.
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 20 of the last 23 winners had won at least twice over hurdles already in the season. Only four of the line-up have not got a victory to their name this campaign so they could it find it difficult against the likes of Roksana, who arrives at Aintree looking to make it a four-timer.
Seven of the last ten winners skipped Cheltenham altogether, positives for the likes of Good Man Pat, Count Meribel and Roksana. Of those who did run at the Festival, the Albert Bartlett is the best guide and the five from that race take each other on again at Aintree, including the second, third and fifth: Ok Corral, Santini and Tower Bridge.
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. Good Man Pat and Chef Des Obeaux are the only winners over the distance already, so a bold showing looks assured from them.
Experience again comes to the fore in these long-distance contests, with only four of the last 25 winners not having run at least four times over hurdles, bad news for Santini, Point Of Principle and Louse Talk.
Good Man Pat
Chef Des Obeaux
Top of the trends is Good Man Pat who will be looking to cause an upset as there was in the Albert Bartlett, which saw Kilbricken Storm land the three mile novice at 33/1. Trained by Alan King. he has won his last two races at Southwell and Bangor so will need to step on that form upped in class, but the five-year-old has shown good progress this season over the staying distances. He is proven over the Sefton trip which could see him go well at big odds at Aintree. The only other horse in the line-up to have won over three miles is Chef Des Obeaux for Nicky Henderson. He was well-fancied for the Albert Bartlett but did not live up to expectations at Cheltenham. He had won his previous three starts, including an impressive Grade 2 victory at Haydock, so he will be a big player if bouncing back.
Making up the shortlist is the Dan Skelton-trained Roksana who arrives at Aintree in fine form. The mare has racked up a hat-trick of wins this season, progressing to land a Grade 2 handicap at Newbury last time. She looks well-worth a try at this grade and has to be respected.
5.15 Aintree – Weatherbys Racing 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. Interestingly, only once contender for that race lines up here and that’s Fergal O’Brien’s Mercy Mercy Me, who was eighth in that contest under Cleeve Hill. Even though the race was run on very soft ground and was a sapping contest, that experience will serve this Shirocco gelding well and he could run a good race.
Kempton Park bumpers could hold the key to this race though and the two main contenders according to the market were both impressive winners of National Hunt flat races at that venue on their previous start. Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher may just be a four-year-old, but his victory a month ago was an excellent start to his racing career. The Jeremy gelding took a bit of time to understand what his job was under Ned Curtis there, but once he got into top gear, he strode home powerfully to defeat some useful prospects. Even though four-year-olds don’t have the best record in the race, he’s one who could have any amount of improvement left in the tank and he also has the services of Nico De Boinville here.
However, another Kempton winner, Danny Kirwan, looks the one to be with here. Paul Nicholls’ son of Scorpion went up against the much-touted Nicky Henderson horse, Pym, in his first run after coming from the pointing field and it looked a tough task, but the market said otherwise as he was backed into favouritism. The horse certainly backed that money up as he cruised through the race, having to be switched wide by Sam Twiston-Davies before hack1ng up to the lead over a furlong out and only needed to be pushed out as he lengthened away in the final furlong to win by a couple of lengths. He certainly stamped himself down as a well above-average type and the way he travelled through the race was very exciting with a view to the future. Although there’s a 7lb swing in the weights here, I fully expect him to confirm the form with Pym and improve further – Danny Kirwan could well be something a little bit special.
One who may give him most to do is Oliver Sherwood’s Sevarano, who was an extremely eye-catching winner of a Kempton bumper at the beginning of February. He defeated some useful types and the second placed horse, Rhythm Is A Dancer, was fourth behind Mister Fisher last time out, so there’s substance to that run. The way he travelled so strongly and cleared away in the final furlong was impressive and if he’s come on again, then Sherwood’s five-year-old could have serious claims.