AINTREE FESTIVAL (THURSDAY – DAY 1)
Cheltenham form is brought to the table here and the market leaders all ran in the Arkle with varying degrees of success. Vibrato Valtat was the strongest fancied of these and although he was beaten five lengths by the re-opposing Josses Hill, it is likely he paid the price having attempted to keep tabs on the brilliant Un De Sceaux. Previous to that the Nicholls challenger had looked a highly progressive sort and whilst having to prove his stamina here, it is likely he will stay and he is taken to turn the tables on Josses Hill and go in. Josses Hill himself has been rather disappointing over fences and has shown clear jumping frailties throughout, his third in the Arkle makes him the one to beat but you just get the feeling that he received a clever ride that day and simply ran past horses blown away by the impressive winner. Clarcam is another whom ran respectably in the Arkle, he ran a fine second here over hurdles last season and ought to run his race once more, he does have plenty to find however and a victory looks unlikely.
Vibrato Valtat (WIN)
The second race today is a Juvenile Grade 1 Hurdle where the class horse in the race and current race favourite is The JCB Triumph Hurdle third placed horse Hargam. A horse that I was very keen on that day and although it finished third and was beaten by two stablemates it was a huge ten lengths ahead of fourth place (Devilment finishing fourth and challenges again today) If the horse runs similarly today it will take a lot to be beaten in what has to be considered a much weaker race and I can’t look elsewhere for the winner.
Of the remaining runners if a likely danger had to be selected I’d be swayed towards one of Paul Nicholls’s runners and number one on the card All Yours. It was fancied for a decent handicap at The Festival and didn’t disappoint finishing fifth. The horse is lightly raced and may have more to come but this is a step up in class and has to show it can hang at this level.
The highest rated staying chaser in the UK, double King George victor and defending champion in this, Silviniaco Conti once again flopped in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and comes here seeking to bounce back. Although difficult to totally forgive that rather lifeless effort last time, he clearly has a dislike of Cheltenham and did similar last year before brushing aside the high quality Dynaste with ease in this. Back on his preferred flatter style of track, Paul Nicholls nine year old is handed the vote and can jump them silly. Holywell was a super novice last term whom won grades both here and at Cheltenham, his forth in the Gold Cup was a cracking effort and he’s sure to have his followers on this better ground. Quite what he achieved in that forth at Cheltenham is highly questionable however and he makes very little sense as the market leader if the Nicholls horse turned up close to his best, there have also been previous jumping issues so the percentage call is to oppose. Menorah likes it here and could well prove to be the fly in the ointment on his favoured better going, he wouldn’t have as much to prove as the likes of Ma Filleule and Smad Place if on a going day and is probably the likeliest winner should the Nicholls horse once again flop.
Silviniaco Conti (WIN)
The Aintree equivalent to Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle and we see a few of the runners from that race in this one. If Jezki can reproduce its best it should be able to pick these runners apart but more was expected from the JP McManus owned seven year old in this years festival two mile showpiece. Despite the horse only being seven I fear it may have lost something and may not have the arsenal it once had in its locker.
It would’ve been a massive shock if Arctic Fire had won this years Champion Hurdle and it wasn’t too far away from happening when storming up the hill to follow stable mate Faugheen home. The horse ran way above expectations and finished like a train to storm up that formidable uphill finish. The step up to two mile four will be of huge benefit and like a diamond in the rough it looks like today, now with the addition of Ruby Walsh in the saddle, it may be his day to shine.
A horse that avoided Cheltenham is Dan Skelton’s Blue Heron but the drying ground shouldn’t aid this ones chances and with their only being two places in this it doesn’t look a feasible betting proposition.
Harry Fry’s former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby has to be feared as another horse that, if it returns to its best, will take a serious hand in this. However I fear the horse is very difficult to place. This former two mile hurdle champion has been tried its hand at chasing and hurdling over three miles and now a return to a distance somewhere in-between I just don’t know how good a horse we have on our hands any more.
Arctic Fire (WIN)
On The Fringe produced a devastating performance at Cheltenham when powering 17 lengths clear of his rivals and arrives here as the clear form choice. The obvious concern is that he has never encountered these big fences before and historically doing the Cheltenham/Aintree has proven very difficult (Last achieved by Double Silk in 1993) Enda Bolgers charge is massively respected and is a most worthy favourite but is probably worth opposing as we just don’t know how he’ll cope here. Warne has won this before and has run some very nice races over these big fences, it is likely this has always been the aim and his rider has a tremendous record over these fences. A recent winner of a point, he will likely set out to make all and is taken to have enough steam at the business end to place. Big Fella Thanks is another whom has ran some cracking races over these fences, he has a top amateur aboard today and is sure to be popular. The concern for him is however is the run in as he has previously appeared to do very little in front, he should figure whatever the result but is likely to find at least one too strong. Last Time D’albain ran a belter when third in last seasons renewal and arrives here on the back of a convincing victory in a point, his form gives him a very strong chance and despite unseating in the National last season, he ought to go very close if completing.
Last Time D’albain (E/W)
Warne (E/W if 5/1+)
The final chase of the day is very very open with cases easily being made for the majority of the runners here. So open in fact that I’m plumping for two selections in this.
The last race of this years Cheltenham Festival saw a lot of money come for Ned Buntline and the horse still ran very well despite finishing fourth. Compared to most of its rivals today it is quite lightly raced this season and I think it may have shook off a bit of ring rust from its previous exploits and may be primed for this. With the additional assistance of having “The Champ” in the saddle this looks like a good chance for the Noel Meade trained horse to pick up a win.
Challenging for favouritism is the Phillip Hobbs trained Royal Regatta but the horse has raced very frequently this season and although I think it’ll have a good chance of placing I don’t think it has what it takes to win and therefore if we are looking for a horse to place we need to find better value elsewhere.
Surf And Turf is a course and distance winner and for that alone has to be respected but the proverbial bridesmaid with placed finishes in its last seven races doesn’t strike me with much confidence.
My second selection therefore falls to another Irish trained runner who, despite finishing seventh, still ran an eye catching race at Cheltenham. The drying ground will definitely suit and a return to its last winning handicap mark gives Ted Veale a great chance.
Ned Buntline (E/W)
Ted Veale (E/W)
Call The Cops did us a tremendous turn when winning the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham and arrives here with the obligatory seven pounds penalty, he has every chance once more of going in but doubling up is a serious ask and we are to search for a couple of value alternatives instead. Bear’s Affair was another to compete with credit at the Festival and has held his form well all year, usually with big weights to carry. Nicky Henderson’s apparent forth string ( Trains Call The Cops, Dawalan and Hammersly Lake ) may well prefer the nature of this track and the drying ground is no issue either, currently around 33/1 he makes plenty of each way appeal and is handed a rather speculative vote. One could only assume that Ulzana’s Raid had a physical issue that forced him to miss Cheltenham or that he has been deliberately aimed at this, either way he had looked an extremely progressive type and though he was disappointing when beaten at Cheltenham in January, he had looked the type to find further progress. A winner of five of his eights starts, he looks as good an each way bet as any and he could prove to be one of the fresher ones. Lac Fontana in short looks pretty slow and once again failed to land a blow last time at Cheltenham, this trip could be the making of him though and he is a serious challenger for an inform yard. Many punters will also be looking at the McCoy factor given this is the great mans final National meeting, he has every chance of improving upon his second behind Call The Cops last time and is another to respect in an extremely tough race to call.
Ulzana’s Raid (E/W)
Bears Affair (E/W)