Here’s my tuppence worth for Saturday.
SATURDAY 4th APRIL
1.45 JOHN SMITHS MERSEY NOVICES HURDLE (Grade 2)
4yo + 2m 4f
The entries feature a number of horses who also have the option of running in the two miles novice on Friday. These include the likes of COPPER BLEU, OSCAR LOOBY and SOMERSBY. KARABAK, who is entered in the three miles novice on Friday, could also feature, although this trip could be on the short side given the way he travelled at Cheltenham last time. The other two entrants who stand out are ACCORDING TO DICK and CAPE TRIBULATION. The first named has won his last two starts at Sandown and Newbury and has looked progressive, while the latter should be better suited by this flat track than Cheltenham last time. Fancied to run well in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Festival, he came home a slightly disappointing fifth. Beaten around ten lengths by Weapons Amnesty, his trainer Malcolm Jefferson feels he didnt stay despite winning over three miles at Doncaster on his previous start by 17 lengths. The one concern would be the ground as the Malton handler has maintained all along, he wont risk him on fast ground. However, if he gets the go-ahead, he looks the one they all have to beat.
2.15 JOHN SMITHS MAGHULL NOVICES CHASE (Grade 1)
5yo + 2 miles
During the last 20 years, 17 horses who were PLACED in the ARKLE TROPHY have gone to post, and 6 have won.
3 of the last 20 winners had NOT run at the CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL.
Only 2 of the last 19 winners had run MORE than 6 times that season.
17 of the last 18 winners had run at least 3 times over fences.
15 of the last 16 winners had won a NOVICE CHASE earlier in the season.
10 of the last 15 winners had won a GRADED NOVICE CHASE earlier in the season.
12 of the last 14 winners had been AGED 5 7.
FAVOURITES have won 3 of the last 9 renewals.
In the last 11 years, the BIGGEST WINNING SP has been 6/1 (2001).
PAUL NICHOLLS has won the race 4 times in the last 10 years.
- CORNAS has run three very good races over fences winning on his chasing debut at Ludlow in January before finishing a close second in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novice Chase at Sandown. He then finished a creditable seventh in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham last time. Beaten eleven lengths, he travelled strongly before making a mistake two out and he will be better suited by this flat track (his two career wins have been gained at Wincanton and Ludlow). Nick Williams gelding handles good ground, too.
- KALAHARI KING, as discussed, has taken well to fences winning three times. Runner-up in the Arkle Trophy last time, he will have conditions to suit on his first visit to Aintree. Although four of his five wins have been gained on right handed tracks, his record going left handed is: 4243122 (run well twice at the Cheltenham Festival). His victory at the Punchestown Festival last season proves he can maintain his form until the end of the season.
- PASCO has been entered as a possible back up for Tatenen should fast ground rule him out. Ninth last time in the Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham, he will be much more at home on this flat track. A dual winner at Newbury and Huntingdon, he is officially rated 141 which leaves him some way behind the principals. However, he shouldnt be underestimated with conditions expected to suit.
- PLANET OF SOUND did well to finish third in the Arkle considering his early mistake and the fact he lost his position. Effective on good ground, he was only five lengths behind Forpadydeplasterer. His record on flat left handed tracks is: 322111.
- SONG OF SONGS was beaten 20 lengths by Planet of Sound at Newbury in January but he was ridden with a view to the future and he has improved significantly since. James Fanshawes seven year old has won at Leicester and Sandown under A.P.McCoy (3 wins from 7 rides) and both wins were gained on good ground. Rated 129 over hurdles, he was pulled up in a valuable handicap at this meeting last year but is already looking a better chaser (rated 144). He needs to improve but is unexposed and is interesting.
- TATENEN is on something of a recovery mission following his fall in the Arkle Trophy last time. Fast ground is a concern although the fact he is already a course and distance winner is a big plus. He is also a fresh horse having not had a proper race since Boxing Day.
CONCLUSION: Conditions look ideal for KALAHARI KING who bids to go one better than in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham. Tatenen is clearly a big danger but the ground is a worry. I respect the challenge of the improving Song of Songs but the chief danger may be CORNAS who is worth a saver.
2.50 JOHN SMITHS AINTREE HURDLE (Grade 1)
4yo + 2 miles 4 furlongs
17 of the last 19 winners had previously won over 2m 4f.
16 of the last 20 winners had RUN at the CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL.
11 of those 20 winners had run in the CHAMPION HURDLE beforehand.
10 of the last 12 winners had won a race EARLIER IN THE SEASON.
9 of the last 11 winners had raced between 9 and 17 times over hurdles.
11 of the last 13 winners had been AGED between 6 & 8.
Only 1 FIVE YEAR OLD (AL EILE in 2005) has won since 1985.
2 NOVICES have won in the last 18 years.
IRISH TRAINED RUNNERS have won the race 5 times in the last 6 years.
With the exception of RHINESTONE COWBOY (2004) & AL EILE (2008), who were both JOINT FAVOURITES, NO OUTRIGHT FAVOURITE has won since 1999.
- AL EILE is attempting to make it four wins in this Grade 1 event matching the achievements of Morley Street. John Queallys nine year old was a ten lengths winner of the race last year from Osana. Injured soon afterwards, he made a belated return at Dundalk on the Flat in February when winning a twelve furlongs event by three lengths. His record at the track reads: 11611 and he must have every chance given the fact he is likely to get his favoured good ground.
- CATCH ME has been in superb form in Ireland this season winning all four of his races including the Grade 1 Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November from Brave Inca. An eleven lengths winner from Oscar Rebel in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last time, this will be his first run at Aintree. He has run twice in the UK (3rd in the Ballymore Properties Hurdle in 2007 and 6th in the Champion Hurdle last year). His record over 2m 4f reads: 3F111 and he gets on very well with Andrew McNamara (5 wins from 7 rides).
- CELESTIAL HALO will be trying two and a half miles for the first time but has always left the impression he will relish it (runner-up in the Melrose Handicap over 1m 6f on the Flat). The five year old produced a career best last time when a neck second to Punjabi in the Champion Hurdle. A five lengths at Sandown in January, he has only had three runs this season and handles good ground. Runner-up in the Grade 1 4yo hurdle last season at the track, it is sharper than ideal but the extra distance will hopefully compensate for it.
- FIVEFORTHREE is a fresh horse who won his prep on his seasonal reappearance at Wexford last month. A seven lengths winner from Splurge (rated 127), he scored in facile style. Successful in the Ballymore Properties Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, he is unexposed over the trip having only raced twice (2nd in a Grade 1 at Punchestown) over 2m 4f (a half-brother to Celestial Gold). His record on good ground is: 332 but he will have a different jockey as Ruby Walsh, who is the only person to have ridden him over hurdles, is expected to maintain his partnership with Celestial Halo. The fact he is fresh, taking on horses who endured hard races at Cheltenham, is a big advantage.
- KATCHIT has not won any of his four races this season but showed signs of returning to form when sixth in the Champion Hurdle last time. Beaten around six lengths by Punjabi, it was his first start since December. This will be his first race beyond two miles (never won beyond 1m 2f on the Flat) but his record at Aintree is: 11.
CONCLUSION: A fascinating contest with AL EILE bidding to make it a record equalling four wins in the event. He warmed up for it by winning comfortably on the Flat at Dundalk and the fact he is fresh is a big plus. Clearly Celestial Halo is going to be a tough nut to crack, especially over this longer trip and Fiveforthree is unexposed at this level.
3.25 JOHN SMITHS HANDICAP CHASE
5yo + 3m 1f
One horse stands out amongst the 33 entries which were unveiled on Monday afternoon. ISLAND FLYER was made favourite for the Hennessy Gold Cup on the strength of his second to Cornish Sett in the Badger Ales Chase at Wincanton in November. Beaten a nose, he was found to be wrong (scoped badly and given six weeks off) after his run in the Hennessy where he finished a tailed off eleventh. A three times winner during the spring last season, we know he goes well fresh (126 days off) and he is only six pounds higher than his run at Wincanton. It is hoped Paddy Brennan will be available to ride him (1112) and he is a confident selection.
4.15 JOHN SMITHS GRAND NATIONAL (Grade 3)
6yo + 4 miles 4 furlongs
17 of the last 20 winners have been in the HANDICAP PROPER.
Only 5 of the last 20 winners have carried MORE than 10st 8lb.
ALL of the last 16 winners have been AGED between 8 & 12.
EVERY WINNER since 1970 (Gay Trip being the last one) had won over THREE MILES over FENCES beforehand.
15 of the last 20 winners had won BEYOND 3m 2f.
ALL of the last 13 winners have been OFFICALLY RATED at least 136.
10 of the last 20 winners were OFFICIALLY RATED between 147 & 156.
15 of the last 18 winners had won a race over at least 3m 1f.
15 of the last 18 winners had run in the previous 35 days before the National.
ALL of the last 13 winners had run in the past 49 days.
ALL of the last 11 winners had run at LEAST 10 times over fences.
13 of the last 18 winners had run at LEAST 14 times over fences (including PTPs).
Only 4 of the last 16 winners had run at the CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL beforehand.
Only 2 of the last 18 winners had FALLEN in the season of their victory (NUMBERSIXVALVERDE was BROUGHT DOWN last year during his National winning season).
Only 3 of the last 18 winners had raced MORE than 6 times that season.
Only 4 of the last 18 winners started longer than 16/1.
Only once has a WEIGHT in excess of 11st been carried to victory since 1983 (Hedgehunter in 2005).
12 of the last 18 winners were running over the NATIONAL FENCES for the FIRST TIME.
11 of the last 17 winners had WON or been PLACED in one of the major NATIONALS (ie. IRISH, MIDLANDS, SCOTTISH or WELSH).
16 of the last 17 winners had won a race containing at least 14 runners.
There has been only 3 winners in the last 16 years in their first season OUTSIDE NOVICE COMPANY.
Only 3 FAVOURITES have won in the last 16 years (COMPLY OR DIE Joint Favourite last year).
NONE of the 103 FRENCH BREDS to have run in the race during the last 16 years have won.
The 119 horses to wear HEADGEAR (ie. Blinkers, Visors, Cheekpieces) in the last 15 years have produced 2 winners and 5 places (COMPLY OR DIE worn blinkers last year).
- BATTLECRY is one of the best handicapped horses in the race off 144 (same mark as when a close second to Big Bucks in the Grade 2 novice chase at this meeting last year). However, he has struggled to finish his races this season including last time in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton. Travelling equally as well as the winner Nacarat five out, he suddenly began to back peddle and was eventually pulled up. His best form has been achieved on flat tracks on decent ground which he is most likely to get here. It is possible he is better in small fields (his wins have been gained in field sizes of 9, 8, 4, 8) but if Nigel Twiston-Davies can get him back to his best, he is no forlorn hope (he has been running like a horse with a wind problem perhaps they will try a tongue tie for the first time). Tom Scudamore will ride him for the first time and he reportedly schooled well last week, according to the owners racing manager Michael Meagher. Best Price: 50/1 (generally)
- BLACK APALACHI has won two of his four races this winter including the Becher Chase by no less than 74 lengths in atrocious conditions. It was his first win since December 2005 and he was also successful in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse (Soft) in February. Fifteen pounds higher than when he won the Becher, all his wins have been gained on soft or heavy ground. Denis ORegan (1 from 1) is set to partner him again but it is debatable whether he is quick enough on good ground. Best Price: 14/1 (gen)
- BUTLERS CABIN was in the process of running a blinder last year when unfortunately falling at Bechers Brook second time around. The nine year old will race off exactly the same mark of 147 and he ran well in his prep at Cheltenham in the Kim Muir Chase finishing fifth. A former Irish National winner, his trainer Jonjo ONeill continues in good form and this has been his main target ever since he fell twelve months ago. There is every chance he could repeat what West Tip did by falling at Bechers and making amends the following year (1986). Best Price: 10/1 (Bet365, BetFred, Paddy Power, VC Bet, W. Hill)
- CLOUDY LANE runs off top weight (11st 10lb). The nine year old was beaten 33 lengths in sixth last year and is now seventeen pounds higher in the ratings off 158. Successful in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January, he was a faller at the first at Kelso last time. This has been his target all season but he couldnt win it last year, so why should he this year off seventeen pounds higher? Best Price: 40/1 (William Hill)
- CORNISH SETT, who travelled well until two out, was twelfth in the race last year and is four pounds higher now. However, the ten year old underwent a wind operation during the summer and he has run two very good races this season. A narrow winner of the Badger Ales Chase at Wincanton in November off 137 (now 144), he was also a very good second to Notre Pere in the Welsh National at Chepstow. Well beaten in awful ground at Haydock last time in the Blue Square Gold Cup, he handles decent ground and has been trained for the race. Best Price: 33/1 (generally)
- DARKNESS was a high-class novice winning the Feltham Novice Chase in 2005. Off the track through injury from April 2006 until November last year, Charlie Egertons gelding clearly retains plenty of ability. Third to Possol at Haydock in November, he found the ground against him in the Welsh National next time. However, he was back to winning ways in a veterans chase at Newbury in February beating Church Island by 11 lengths. Good ground brings out the best in him but his record in field sizes containing 15 runners or more is: 303P3P. A big plus is the fact Dominic Elsworth will be riding him for the first time, provided he is fit following his fall at Towcester last week. Best Price: 25/1 (generally)
- HEAR THE ECHO won the Irish National by twelve lengths last season off a mark of 132. Now rated 153, his rating has outraged his trainer Mouse Morris (only four pounds behind his Gold Cup winner War of Attrition). Without a win in four runs this term, he unseated his rider at Gowran last time in the Red Mills Chase over an inadequate two and a half miles. All four runs have been on soft or heavy and he will be much more at home on the better ground. Paddy Flood (1 from 1) rode him in last years Irish National and could be on board again. Despite his big weight of 11st 5lb, this has been his target all season and he shouldnt be discounted. His trainer sent out Lastofthebrownies to finish fourth in 1989. Best Price: 20/1 (Bet365, Totesport)
- HIMALAYAN TRAIL won the Midlands National last season for Sue Smith by 22 lengths off a mark of 124 (now 140). Bought by Jimmy Mangan for 130,000gns at the Doncaster Spring Sales with the National in mind, he has yet to win in six starts for his new trainer. However, all six races have been on soft or heavy ground and he ran respectably in the Becher Chase at Aintree in November when fifth to Black Apalachi. "His run in the Becher was on desperate ground and he still produced a good run. Barry Geraghty was delighted with him afterwards and he was absolutely thrilled with the way he jumped the fences. We gave him a spin over hurdles at Naas in February, when he was 11th, but that was on bottomless ground and he’s a different horse in the spring. He’s really turned inside out since the weather has got warmer and better ground is the key for him, so we will be hoping that the rain stays away, reported Mangan, who won the National in 2003 with Montys Pass, last week. The ten year old has only had eight races over fences and remains relatively unexposed. In traditional Irish fashion, he warmed up for this with a run over hurdles. Best Price: 33/1 (BetFred, Coral, Ladbrokes, William Hill)
- IRISH INVADER has won five of his fifteen races over fences including his last three. All three wins have been gained over two miles or two miles two but he was in the process of running well in the Kerry National at Listowel in September when falling three out. A four and a half lengths winner from Carthalawn (who had previously won a Grade 2 Chase at Naas from Schindlers Hunt) at Thurles last time, he is a similar horse to Slim Pickings who ran so well in this race in 2007. A winner on good and heavy ground, he is likely to be ridden by Paul Townend (2 from 2). The trip is the obvious concern but the drying ground is a big plus. Best Price: 25/1 (BefFred, Coral, Ladbrokes, Totesport, William Hill)
- KILBEGGAN BLADE has enjoyed a productive season winning three of his four races, two of which have been over hurdles. Tom Georges ten year old won the London National for a second time at Sandown in December by three parts of a length from LAventure off a mark of 137. Four pounds higher now, he will be ridden for the first time by Graham Lee. Pulled up in the Scottish National last season, he races off a career high and it is questionable whether he has the class to win a race such as this. Best Price: 25/1 (BetFred, Ladbrokes, VC Bet, William Hill)
- MALJIMAR came mighty close to winning the William Hill Chase at Cheltenham last month. Nick Williams gelding was trying three miles for only the second time and he looked all set to win the valuable handicap at the Festival only to be collared on the line by Wichita Lineman. The trip is an unknown and he is a better horse when fresh (only 25 days since his last run) but he is interesting especially as he is four pounds well in, having been raised that amount by the handicap since his last run. Best Price: 40/1 (VC Bet, William Hill)
- MY WILL is officially eight pounds well in, as he is due to race off a mark of 152 with his readjusted mark now being 160 following his excellent run in the Gold Cup. Beaten 24 lengths by stablemate Kauto Star in fifth, he missed the whole of last season and is a fresh horse having only raced twice this year. Fifth in the Hennessy, too, in November, his record on the Mildmay course at Aintree reads: 32F2. He appreciates decent ground and should go well under Ruby Walsh (5 wins from 19 rides). However, the negatives are the fact he hasnt won since November 2006 and his wins have been gained in field sizes of: 4, 5, 7, 6, 5, 6, 6, 12. Best Price: 8/1 (generally)
- RAMBLING MINSTER is in the form of his life despite being an eleven year old. Officially six pounds well in, he won the Blue Square Gold Cup at Haydock by three and a half lengths from Coe in February. James Reveley, who rode a winner over the National fences in November, gets on extremely well with him (3 wins from 7 rides) and he handles most types of ground. Keith Reveley reports him in tremendous form at home. Best Price: 11/1 (Stan James, VC Bet)
- SNOWY MORNING ran a terrific race last year finishing third to Comply Or Die. Beaten five and a half lengths, he is now eleven pounds higher and he doesnt arrive in quite the same form. Off the track since runner-up to Black Apalachi in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse, he was beaten 17 lengths but didnt enjoy the heavy ground. A better horse on a livelier surface, he will have conditions in his favour (record on Good ground: 143) but did he miss his opportunity last year? Best Price: 33/1 (Bet365, Ladbrokes, William Hill)
- SOUTHERN VIC was a smart novice chaser (won four times including a Grade 1 during 2005/2006) but hasnt won a race since October 2006 losing his last eleven races. Third last time in the Leinster National at Naas, he wore blinkers for the first time. He unseated his rider in the Becher Chase in November and he has yet to prove himself on good ground. He has run once on yielding with all his other 21 races under Rules being run on soft or heavy. Niall Madden rides. Best Price: 20/1 (Blue Square, Totesport)
- STATE OF PLAY is only five pounds higher than when he won the Hennessy in 2006. A much better horse when fresh (99 days off), the nine year old won the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November before finishing fourth to Nozic in the Rowland Meyrick Chase over the same C&D on Boxing Day. He has been saved for this and appreciates good ground. Racing off his lowest mark since winning the Hennessy, he is a winner on the Mildmay course at Aintree. It is no great surprise to see market support for him with conditions set to suit. Best Price: 18/1 (William Hill)
- WAR OF ATTRITION, unlike stablemate Hear The Echo, has been given a big opportunity by the handicapper rating him 157 (rated 174 after his Gold Cup win in 2006). Absent from December 2006 until October last year, he has won two of his four starts this term. Runner-up to Exotic Dancer in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, he hasnt run since. Good ground brings out the best in him and he has been the subject of sustained support in recent weeks. His record in the UK is: 2721 and his rider Davy Russell (2 wins from 3 rides) gets on well with him. Undoubtedly well handicapped and he is a class act but it is a big ask off 11st 9lb for a horse who has had his share of problems in recent years. Best Price: 14/1 (Bet365, BetFred, Boylesports, Coral, Totesport, VC Bet, William Hill)
CONCLUSION: The Grand National will doubtless be a magnificent spectacle once again. I am keen on the prospects of HIMALAYAN TRAIL (33/1) and IRISH INVADER (25/1). I would also suggest a saver on HEAR THE ECHO (20/1), if lining up. If not, then STATE OF PLAY (18/1) should be supported. If there is going to be a big upset then a revitalised BATTLECRY (50/1) could provide it. Apologies for selecting what appears half the field but it is a one off race and we may as well make the most of it.
5.35 JOHN SMITHS CHAMPION STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE (Grade 2)
4-6yo 2m 1f
Four highly regarded youngsters to look out for in the concluding event include CRANKY CORNER, who travelled smoothly for much of the race in the Festival bumper at Cheltenham before finishing seventh. This track should suit Willie Mullins Fairyhouse winner. LIDAR is considered a high-class horse in the making by Alan King. Third on his debut at Newbury, he was a most impressive nine lengths winner next time at Doncaster. Proven on fast ground, he must go close and is worth supporting. PREMIER SAGAS could be the best young horse Nicky Richards has trained since Monets Garden. Sporting the same colours as the dashing grey, he was a twelve lengths winner at Kelso on his second start last month. He has a tremendous amount of potential, as does Huntingdon winner SAGA DE TERCEY. Like Premier Sagas, he is by Sagacity and landed some hefty bets at the Cambridgeshire track. The four year old won by a dozen lengths and is considered the number one bumper horse currently in Alan Swinbanks yard