AINTREE FESTIVAL – DAY 2 (FRIDAY)
With so many runners and Cheltenham Festival form on the table this looks an absolute nightmare for punters to solve, further confused by the fact a couple of these have won the race before. Clondaw Kaempfer won this two years ago off a 3lbs higher mark, his recent form have been absolutely horrific but his yard had a winner here yesterday and his form when winning this before was pretty similar. Theinval took this last season off a 4lbs higher mark and his most recent piece of form resulted in a duck egg gained at the Festival, he ran quite a bit better than the bare form would suggest however and he has hardly had a tough season. Both aforementioned former winners warrant serious consideration but preference in for the latter who looks like he’s been specifically targeted at the race and is therefore handed a speculative vote. Virgilio was reported to have had a breathing problem when bombing at Cheltenham in January, he had looked fairly useful before that though and has an impressive C&D victory to his name. Hopefully connections will have rectified his breathing issues, if so he looks primed for a big run and is worth considering given he hasn’t had as hard a season as some. Ibis Du Rheu finally came good last time in a conditional event at the Cheltenham Festival. Always a type who promised to pop up in a major race he has plenty of scope for improvement and is a big player here despite the 8lbs rise in the weights. A few selected others with chances are Starchitect, Blazer and Ma Du Fou who could be anything and arrives here having won his last three, the rest could be talked up in their own rights and couldn’t be dismissed entirely.
The second race on day two pits some of the best novice hurdlers and future stars up against one another.
There’s no better place to start than with the market leader Limini. Willie Mullins is hunting down the Trainers Championship and hopes his unbeaten five year old can aid his chances by picking up this valuable prize.
Limini was very impressive when winning the Grade 2 Mares Novices Hurdle by over four lengths and looks to maintain her unbeaten record in this Grade 1 event. Her dominance was there for all to see at Cheltenham and with a pull in the weights here has a fantastic chance of pulling out another victory, this time over the opposite sex. In all honesty I was that impressed with her victory at Cheltenham I could go as far as to say that she could be the next Annie Power. I know that’s a bold statement but thats how good I think this horses potential is.
The nearest opposition looks to be Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air who finished a decent third place behind top novice Altior. The five year old certainly has the ability to finish in the mix but I just don’t feel it has the class to topple the favourite.
Of the remaining runners the one I find the most intriguing is Paul Webber’s Gwafa. The former Marco Botti trained flat runner has an impressive lineage and enters a sphere where a huge step up will be needed. This being said however, the way it won its last two starts were very impressive totalling a collective winning distance of twenty one lengths. Obviously the level of opposition in those two winning runs weren’t up to todays standard but at a double figure price it is definitely worth a chance for place money.
Only eight runners, though once again we have an absolutely horrible race to decipher if following the form and to further confuse things, Blaklion, Un Temp Pour Tous and Ballyalton all won at the Cheltenham Festival. Gun to head, Un Temp Pour Tous probably edges the argument of the Festival winners as he’s probably the one with the most improvement left in him over fences but his overall record is patchy. Blaklion is a real pocket warrior who has guts aplenty and though Ballyalton was a shock winner at the Festival his yard were and are still going well. One who didn’t run at the Cheltenham Festival is Henri Parry Morgan who is chasing a hat trick and who was pretty impressive when bolting up in a Huntington handicap last time. This is much tougher than the races he has contested but he deserves his place in the lineup and his yard are operating at a 67% strike rate over the last 14 days. Native River ran a blinder in the Cheltenham 4 miler but may have had a very hard race in the process, he wouldn’t be a no hoper however and he did hammer Un Temp Pour Tous earlier in the season. Otago Trail likes to lead and looks almost certain to be granted an easy time of things up front, he couldn’t be totally written off but a chance will be taken on Henri Parry Morgan proving fresh enough to land us some place money.
Henri Parry Morgan (E/W)
We could acknowledge that Vautour’s opposition are obviously decent horses in their own right but judging on recent form they just aren’t in the same league as Willie Mullins’s runner. The clear Cheltenham Festival winner goes up against probably a lesser level of opposition in todays Melling Chase. Obviously Vautour’s price is less than generous but that’s only a reflection on the horses true chances.
I just can’t see any of the five opponents coming close to troubling the favourite and it just has to be the choice.
Of the remaining runners Al Ferof is clearly a talented horse but I feel Tom George’s Gods Own is the horse that’s most likely to be following the favourite home, the step up to closer to two and a half miles will aid the eight year olds chances and may finish best of the rest.
Benny’s Mist is a real old favourite of mine and did the business over these fences when slamming his rivals in the Grand Sefton earlier in the year. Off a career high mark now he is up against it from a handicapping point of view but his two runs since winning the Grand Sefton resulted in solid placed efforts. On The Fringe’s victory in yesterdays Fox Hunter further added to the theory that course experience is a major factor and so given the fact he’s in such good form, proven over the obstacles and a sort to go on most ground types, Benny’s Mist is selected to defy the handicapper once more. Mr Moonshine is another proven sort over these fences and he caused a major upset when winning over hurdles two starts back. Slightly disappointing when beaten at Carlisle the last day he has a little to prove back in this company but he was entitled to need that and he hasn’t had the hardest of campaigns. Currently trading at 33/1 he is probably worth chancing though he hasn’t quite made it into my selections. Top Cat Henry is another trading at fancy odds, this is a big leap in class for him but Sam Waley-Cohen is a most eye catching booking and the trainer has won the Grand National before. Racing from 4lbs out of the weights today and a type who likes to come past horses he will need a charmed passage, he is only 8 though and intrigue has totally gotten the better of me with him. Village has a touch of class on his day and could take some catching if granted an easy lead, along with Eastlake, Bishops Road and Third Intention they are all worth considering.
Top Cat Henry (E/W)
Benny’s Mist (E/W)
The penultimate race on the card sees a clear favourite in the form of Charlie Longsdon’s Ballydine who’s barely put a foot wrong in winning two and finishing second in two of its four starts this year. A second placed finish behind Barters Hill at Doncaster last time reads pretty well but I fear with such competition in this race it’s up against some likely improvers and at a best price of around 4/1 it’s not great value.
Another horse with a very good record is Brian Ellison’s Tomngerry who is undefeated in its all of its runs. The horse clearly has ability but will have to step up again to compete in this company. It’s not out of the question and I wouldn’t rule it out too readily but I feel the task of winning may be too big to overcome.
I’m pleased to see that Ruby Walsh has opted for Bellshill from the Mullins quartet. The horse was disappointing last time out but I’m hoping a return to three miles will get this horse back on track and hopefully rack up another winner for team Mullins.
Of the remaining runners it’d be remiss of me to not mention Paul Nicholls’ Baoulet Delaroque who is a horse I fancied at Cheltenham, it ran a very credible race and shouldn’t be far away from the money but is another I fear who’s destined to find a few too good again today.
My second selection hails from the top class yard of Phillip Hobbs, blinkers are applied for the first time to Duke Des Champs and after a string of solid efforts didn’t look too good in a Graded race last time out. The horse travelled very well in that race and looked the likely winner before clattering the last hurdle. It’s jumping should improve for what will be better ground and has an each-way chance at a decent price.
Bellshill (E/W if 9/2+)
Duke Des Champs (E/W)
We end day two as we ended day one, with a national hunt flat race.
According to the betting as well as Cheltenham form it would indicate a two horse race comprising of Battleford and Ballyandy , however Champion Bumper form doesn’t always translate to a decent effort at Aintree and although both are undoubtedly capable of winning here I’ll be looking for value elsewhere.
The first of what will be two selections in this race is a horse that is yet to taste defeat. We often see the silks of Magnier and Tabor in a very different sphere but never the less they own the undefeated Utility. A horse that trainer Jonjo O’Neill hasn’t been coy about expressing his admiration for. Needless to say it’ll need to step up on previous form but with the booking of Richard Johnson a huge positive it has to be worth a crack.
The other horse that looks potentially worth backing at a much bigger price is Alan King’s Zipple Back. It is yet to find its head in front but put in a relatively decent performance when finishing third at Huntingdon. This step up in trip is bound to help its chances and the softer ground won’t go against him either. An improvement for its first run has to be on the cards to get involved in this but I wouldn’t put it past the filly who comes from a jumping powerhouse.
Utility (E/W if 9/2+)
Zipple Back (E/W)