AINTREE FESTIVAL – DAY 1 (THURSDAY)
Arzal has been campaigned sparingly this season and specifically missed Cheltenham in
order to come here. Harry Whittingdon has always insisted that his charge would appreciate
a flat left handed track as well as a step up in trip so everything appears to be in his favour
this afternoon. He comes here on the back of a near three month lay off but he goes well
fresh and has to have every chance.
Garde La Victoire is usually a sound jumper of his fences but he made an uncharacteristic
error in the JLT at Cheltenham last time. He paid the price when coming to grief four out but
a return to Aintree will suit him if none the worse for that spill. L’Ami Serge had a hard race
when chasing home Black Hercules in the same contest whilst Sizing John may have been
flatted by his proximity to Douvan in a sub standard Arkle. Both now have questions to
Arzal won his two races this season with any amount in hand and Gavin Sheehan is back in
the saddle today. As he is only a six year old there is every chance of further improvement
and he has to rate as a live threat to all of his rivals today.
Arzal (E/W if 9/2+)
The four-year-old Juvenile Hurdle sees many familiar faces from Cheltenham line up including Triumph winner Ivanovich Gorbatov and Fred Winter victor Diego Du Charmil.
Ivanovich Gorbatov gave Joseph O’Brien his first winner as a trainer at a big meeting but has previously fallen sort when the ground has cut in it and with more rain forecast on Merseyside he could be vulnerable once more.
Willie Mullins saddles the next two in the market with Apple’s Jade and Footpad. Those were second and third in the Triumph Hurdle and both will handle the softer ground. It is the former of that pair that looks the most interesting considering she has finished ahead of Footpad since moving from France. She is still unexposed having only had two runs and could have more to offer.
Diego Du Charmil ran on well late to win the Fred Winter but this race look to have the same amount of pace on paper meaning it may not be run to suit him. Paul Nicholls didn’t want to spoil his mark for Cheltenham, so that was the main priority. He will need to find more to beat the Triumph form.
Apple’s Jade (WIN)
Houblon Des Obeaux is a massive price this afternoon but there is no denying that he has a
soft spot for flattish tracks. He came right back to his best last time when hammering The
Giant Bolster by some twenty eight lengths at Newbury in the Denman Chase. Having missed
the rough and tumble of the Cheltenham Festival, he could surprise a few of the more
fancied sorts today.
Cue Card is rated head and shoulders above everything else in the contest and is likely to go
off as a short priced favourite. It is hard to know how close he would have gotten to Don
Cossack when coming to an abrupt halt in the Gold Cup but if over those exertions he may
well have too much in reserve for the re-opposing Djakadam and Don Poli. They were flat
out when chasing home Don Cossack and whether they will appreciate this test so soon
afterwards remains to be seen.
Houblon Des Obeaux has won three times at this trip in the past and Aiden Coleman knows
him inside out. Venetia Williams has had an excellent season and a decent run from her
charge here would be of little surprise.
Cue Card (WIN)
Houblon Des Obeaux (E/W if 9/2+)
The Aintree Hurdle Grade 1 contest sees Champion Hurdle victor Annie Power go in search of glory and give Willie Mullins another winner on these shores, which will help the trainer close the gap for the Trainers Championship.
The classy mare is likely to be able to dictate her rivals here in this small field before kicking for home like she did at Cheltenham and then Punchestown the time before that. She is the class act in the race and barring accidents she will take some beating.
My Tent Or Yours and Nichols Canyon were second and third respectively in the Champion Hurdle. An error at the last checked Nichols Canyon late momentum or else he would have held second place. He was a winner over course and distance in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, so looks the most likely danger to the jolly, with My Tent Or Yours having to prove he stays further than two-miles.
2014 winner The New One was also placed in this race back in 2013. He was a distant fourth behind the trio above at Cheltenham but the return to this flatter track could help his cause but he doesn’t look to have the quality to challenge the likely front two.
Annie Power (WIN)
Pacha Du Polder ran a highly creditable race when fifth to his old foe On The Fringe in the
Foxhunters at Cheltenham last month. He may have finished even closer had a more
seasoned amateur have been on board. There is no doubt that he looked after Victoria
Pendleton as much as she looked after him and he can gain due compensation under his
more regular pilot Will Biddick. They were a good second in this race last year and they
should make another bold effort this afternoon.
On The Fringe just withheld the challenge of Marito last time but that may well have just
taken the edge off him. Without a doubt he is still the biggest threat to the selection in this
race but he is without the brilliant Nina Carberry this afternoon and that tempers
enthusiasm. Major Malarkey ran a better race than his finishing position suggests last time
and this flatter track ought to play well to his front running tactics. He is another that could
go well at decent odds.
Pacha Du Polder has only had a few runs so far this year including when victorious at
Wincanton. He arrives here in peak physical condition and with Paul Nicholls back amongst
the winners of late he looks set to go close.
Pacha Du Polder (WIN)
Fayette County is a lightly raced nine-year-old and off a mark of 130 could have a bit more to come. Last time out he was second to Noche De Reyes, who has won again since giving strength to that form. He hasn’t quite produced his hurdles form over these larger obstacles, which is a slight worry.
Solar Impulse and Dandridge were first and second in the Grand Annual. The former looked to be suited by the better ground and was on a good mark. The nine-pound rise may not stop him here by the manner of that victory. The concern for Dandridge would be the fact the majority of his best form coming on better ground.
Pearls Legend represents John Spearing and the nine-year-old is a fairly consistent son of Midnight Legend. He has set one of the quickest speed figures in this race and that came at Cheltenham in December when beating Going Concern and Workbench. He has placed on all three starts in April and should give his running.
Pearls Legend (E/W)
Shattered Love cost a hefty €50,000 as a yearling but has made that look like an excellent
deal with the manner of her two wins to date. A debut win in a point to point event caught
the eye of current connections and she was transferred into the care of Gordon Elliott. She
made her first start under rules at Naas last month where she was prominent from the
outset. She looks sure to have improved for that experience and now has the added
assistance of Bryan Cooper in the saddle this afternoon.
La Bague Au Roi is also coming into this race undefeated. She will likely go off as favourite
because of a previous win over the course and distance last October. Despite a subsequent
drop in trip she followed up that success with another win at Huntingdon but she has not
been seen since. The lack of a recent run could well catch her off guard and Warren Greatrex
has not had the best of seasons but she still rates as the biggest danger. Mares that win this
race often do so on the back of wins last time out so the likes of Augusta Kate and Copper
Kay appear to have it all to do.
Gordon Elliott had a fantastic Cheltenham and his string continue to be in fine form.
Shattered Love looks as though she has much more to offer and she can go well.
Shattered Love (E/W if 9/2+)