On day one the Betway Bowl, Aintree Hurdle and the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase are some of the key highlights so there is plenty to look forward to.
We give you all the key stats for all the main LIVE ITV races – these will help build-up a better profile of horses that have done well in each race over the years.
Let’s get cracking
14.20 – DOOMBAR ANNIVERSARY 4YO JUVENILE HURDLE 4YO GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo) 2m1f ITV
Several familiar faces from the Triumph Hurdle on show here with all eyes surely on Apple’s Shakira, who flopped as the well-backed favourite in that race. Nicky Henderson’s 4 year-old could only manage fourth that day – beaten 6 ¾ lengths – so certainly has plenty to prove to win back her fans. On a plus, 14 of the last 15 winners of this race ran at Cheltenham last time out – with 11 of those 15 having also contested the Triumph Hurdle. Gumball (PU) and Sussex Ranger (7th) are others that we last saw in the Triumph but being even further behind Apple’s Shakira that day would both need big turnarounds.
Apple’s did seem to race a bit keen last time and in the end that was probably her undoing – using up too much early energy in soft ground, and also against the best opposition she’s raced against over hurdles. We can expect the Henderson camp to have worked on getting her more settled and, of course, we can all overlook one poor run. The flatter Aintree track will also provide a different test but the long straight should suit and there is no obvious reason why she won’t act on it, with soft ground also fine. However, for me, she looked in trouble a long way out last time and I’d prefer to take a watching brief on her until we see a return to form on the track.
Henderson could have another chance in the race though with – WE HAVE A DREAM. This 4 year-old bypassed Cheltenham so will be fresher than most and after four straight wins since joining the Seven Barrows yard has done nothing wrong. Yes, he’ll have to give 7lbs away to Apple’s Shakira, who receives the mares’ allowance but it’s hard to fault what he’s done so far. He’s not the flashiest horse but seems to grind out wins and in these conditions that will be a big asset. He’s won on flat tracks like Musselburgh and Doncaster already this season too so really, it’s hard not seeing him being involved and of the Henderson pair I’d rather side with him.
The other one I like here is the Dan Skelton-trained NUBE NEGRA. This 4 year-old was third (of 22) in the Fred Winter last time out at Cheltenham but before that was an easy 8 length winner at Doncaster and ran Apple’s Shakira to 3 ½ lengths at Cheltenham back in December. Yes, he’s got a bit to find on that form with Apple’s but I think he’s improved a fair bit since and whereas the last run of Apple’s was a step in the wrong direction, I feel Nube’s third in the Fred Winter was still a move forward. He’s a strong traveller that should be more at home on this flatter track after just getting a bit tired up the hill at Cheltenham last time too – so looks sure to play a big part too.
Of the rest, Malaya is another to note and having finished in the first two in all her 8 UK hurdles starts for Paul Nicholls then she looks a cracking option to hit the frame at worse. She’s another that gets the mares’ allowance and we last saw her winning by just over 3 lengths at Ascot – beating a useful Gary Moore horse in Eragon De Chanay. Nicholls has won this race three times in the last 15 years and this French-bred mare acts on the ground. She looks sure to be involved but my only concern is the slightly longer trip in this better race. She looked to be all over the winner here back in December but got tired very quickly over 2m1f, albeit in heavy ground. The slightly better surface will help but if we did get more of the wet stuff then I’d question her ability to get home.
14.50 – BETWAY BOWL CHASE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) 3m1f ITV
Tea For Two caused a mini-shock in this race 12 months ago and it’s certainly not out of the question that he can’t again. Yes, he was 7th and beaten 40 lengths in the Gold Cup last time but he’s a horse that seems to love Aintree and, don’t forget, was only 3 lengths behind Might Bite in the King George on Boxing Day.
Over the years this race has been a bit of a graveyard for Gold Cup winners – in the last decade of the 13 horses that came here after running in the Gold Cup, only Silviniaco Conti, managed to follow-up here (2014). With some big names like Kauto Star and Denman (twice) going down a short odds, so a case can certainly be made for the Gold Cup winners having had a tough race at Cheltenham and not really having enough time to get over those exertions in time for this – will it be the same for Might Bite?
Double Shuffle was second in the King George and having missed Cheltenham will head here fresh and raring to go. He was pulled-up in the National as a 7 year-old 12 months ago so has experience of the meeting and based on his big King George effort then he’s another of the longer-priced runners that can’t be totally ruled out. He has , however, been second in 4 of his last 5 races and with just one win in his last 11 then he doesn’t get his head in front enough for me.
Other big names in the race are Definitly Red, who was a well-beaten 6th in the Gold Cup, and Bristol De Mai, who returns from a wind operation. The last-named flopped in the King George and was third behind Definitly Red in the Cotswold Chase back in January so certainly has a fair bit to prove. He’s also got a tag as being a Haydock specialist and it’s worth pointing out he was trounced 25 lengths in this race 12 months ago by Two For Two – he’s a horse I like but until I see more consistency from him on the track, and away from Haydcok – he’s not for me.
Sub Lieutenant was well back in fourth in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham last month and is another horse that simple doesn’t win enough – he’s now 8 races without success and based on the official ratings also has 14lbs to find with Might Bite. Clan Des Obeaux could be the one to outrun his odds. He was a close second to Whisper at Kempton back in November and wasn’t disgraced in the Caspian Caviar Chase at Cheltenham in December. We’ve not seen him since but has gone well fresh in the past and now upped in trip there could be more to come from this young 6 year-old.
However, I think you know where I’m going with this one – it’s hard to see beyond MIGHT BITE, despite Gold Cup runners having a poor record in the race. Yes, his tall reputation was tarnished a bit when losing out in a titanic battle in the Gold Cup last time but the first two pulled well clear of the rest, plus in ground not ideal it was still a massive effort. Native River is one of those horses that simply doesn’t stop – especially in soft ground, so it was always going to be hard for Might Bite to get past him. The flatter track here and better ground are plusses, while with this meeting coming a bit later this year then he’s had an extra week to get over that race than 12 months ago.
He won at both meetings last year so has shown he’s capable of taking his racing well when he needs to. He jumped really well the last day and travelled into the race superbly – he simply just got out-stayed by a tough campaigner in ground that was always going to stretch him. Conditions here will hopefully be a bit more to his liking and I fully expect him to lead this lot a merry dance from the front again and make amends for that Gold Cup disappointment.
15.25 – BETWAY AINTREE HURDLE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) 2m4f ITV
Last year’s winner Buveur D’Air misses the race this year – which is a shame – but we are still in for a decent renewal. The New One landed this race in 2014, and will be a popular winner again, but at 10 years-old he’s not getting any younger and might just have to settle for a place. On a plus, he’ll find this drop back to 2m4f in his favour after not seeing out the 3m Stayers’ Hurdle trip last time at Cheltenham and we all know he loves it here at Aintree. Despite being without last year’s winner, trainer Nicky Henderson will still have a strong hand with L’Ami Serge and My Tent Or Yours in the race and it would be a shock if one (if not both) are not in the frame. L’Ami Serge was 8th in the Stayers Hurdle last time but from 21 races over hurdles has finished in the top three 17 times (81%).
MY TENT OR YOURS has an even better place record over hurdles as this 11 year-old has finished in the top three a massive 19 times in his 20 races. He missed the Champion Hurdle last time due to the soft ground, so we’ll have to see how conditions are ahead of this but if they are desperate then Henderson is sure to pull him anyway. He was also runner-up in this race 12 months ago – 5 lengths behind the winner – and showed back in December that age hasn’t caught up with him just yet when beating The New One in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham, albeit getting 6lbs from the Twiston-Davies horse. Barry Geraghty has switched to ride him and really as long as we’ve 8+ runners in the race then he looks cracking value to hit the frame and a decent alternative to the horse they’ve all got to beat –SUPASUNDAE.
The Jessie Harrington yard took this race in 2015 with Jezki so know what’s required and after running a blinder to be second in the Stayers’ Hurdle last time heads here in tip-top order. The drop back to 2m4f looks ideal for this versatile horse, who, remember, also won the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February. He’s a big player and looks sure to be involved but some punters might look to take him as with just one win from his last five he can sometimes find a few too good.
I’d certainly not put anyone off him though as off a mark of 164, and in what looks only an average renewal, he sets the standard and really should be taking this. However, with a 95% strike-rate of finishing in the first three from 20 starts then last year’s runner-up My Tent Of Yours is a decent alternative for hitting the frame again if you want a different angle into this race.
16.05 – THE RANDOX HEALTH FOX HUNTERS´ CHASE (CLASS 2) (6yo+) 2m5f ITV1
Our first taster of the Grand National-style fences here for the Foxhunters’ Chase. Several familiar names from the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ on show but we’ve actually seen 10 of the last 15 winners of this race NOT running in the Prestbury Park version last time.
Grand Vision, Balnslow and On The Fringe were 6th, 7th and 9th in the Cheltenham contest, while Wonderful Charm was pulled-up in the race. That last-named Paul Nicholls runner was also well beaten in the Grand National last year too (19th), plus pulled up in the 2016 National. Therefore, for me, his record over these fences isn’t great and despite jockey Sam Waley-Cohen having a decent strike-rate in the race I’m prepared to overlook him.
With ALL of the last 15 winners aged 9 or older then this is a decent trend to have on your side, while other key stats to note are that 11 of the last 15 finished in the top three last time and 9 of the last 13 had experienced these fences in the past. On The Fringe is the 2015 and 2016 winner of the race and even though he’s 13 years-old now can’t be ruled out as the only course and distance winner in the line-up – Nina Carberry rides.
Grand Vision was only beaten 6 ¼ lengths in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ but he’s never raced over these fences so that would be a small concern – this grey is sure to be involved but with his ability to handle the fences taken on trust he’s not much value in the betting.
Mendip Express was 5th in the race 12 months ago, and only beaten 5 lengths, so can go well but it’s interesting his jockey that day – David Maxwell – decides to ride UNIONISTE. From the Paul Nicholls yard so they will be looking for a famous Cheltenham-Aintree Foxhunters’ double this season after winning last months with Pacha Du Polder. Yes, he was 10th at Cheltenham last time but the much shorter trip here is a big plus as he seemed to get tired last time. He’s got experience of the fences when 10th in the 2016 Grand National and he’s since warmed up for this with an easy win at Wincanton at the end of March.
The danger can come from last year’s runner-up BALNASLOW, who looks sure to play a bit part. He was only beaten 7 ¼ lengths at Cheltenham last time but with just two runs this season should be spot-on for this now. He stays further than this trip and with proven form over these fences then these are big pluses. Okay, his value is poor but as long as he can stay out of trouble looks then of the fancied runners looks the one with the best credentials for me.
Of the rest, jockey Micky Bowen won the race last year and will be looking to follow-up – this time with Wells De Lune, while Sir Jack Yeats has gone into many a notebook after some good wins this season. However, both are just 7 years-old and I can’t help keep coming back to the key trend that’s seen ALL of the last 15 winners of this race aged 9 or older.
16.40 – BETWAY RED RUM HANDICAP CHASE GRADE 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) 2m ITV
Last year in this race the first three home had all raced at the Cheltenham Festival the month before. 14 of the last 15 winners were aged 9 or younger, while 13 of the last 15 carried 11-1 or less in weight – in fact, 16 of the last 18 winners (89%) carried 11-2 or less – meaning if this is to be repeated Gino Trial, with 11-12 to carry would have this trend to overcome.
We can still expect a bold showing from the consistent Gino Trial from the front though but I just feel with 11-12 that weight might find him out in conditions. King’s Socks travelled very well in the Brown Advisory last time at Cheltenham but just seemed to run out of steam in the closing stages. He still did well to finish 5th in the race but over this shorter trip catches the eye for the Pipes and is certainly one for the shortlist.
The consistent Tommy Silver will catch the eye of punters for the Paul Nicholls yard as from four runs over fences he’s yet to finish out of the first three. He was turned over at long odds-on last time though and at just 6 years-old I’d be worried about his lack of experience in a race like this.
However, another horse that ran well in this race 12 months ago was THEINVAL, who was just a length second. This Nicky Henderson-trained 8 year-old has a cracking record at this meeting 1-9-2 over the years and actually gets in here 3lbs lower that last year. He also ran a cracker to be a close fourth in the Grand Annual last time out and with another week between the two festivals this season then he’d have a bit more prep time than 12 months ago. Yes, he’s only won one of his last 11 races but is a horse that is never far away in these big festival chase handicaps but, more importantly, is back down to his last winning rating of 141 and hopefully that can do the trick.
Of the rest, the Colin Tizzard yard often do very well at this meeting so their SIZING PLATINUM might be worth a small interest too. This 10 year-old was 12th in the Grand Annual last time but was badly hampered at the first fence that day so actually did well to finish where he did. He’s 3lbs lower this time and certainly won’t mind the ground. That last run was also his first for 139 days so can be expected to have come on bundles for it and of the bigger-priced runners looks interesting.