We’ve had to wait a tiny bit longer between the two biggest jumping meetings on the calendar this year – with around four weeks separating the fixtures.
That’s great news for trainers, as this gives them a bit more time to ready their Aintree armies, but for punters it’s been a pretty long wait to see the star jumping names back on the track.
As mentioned though, the big plus is that with the Cheltenham Festival being four weeks back from Aintree that should mean we’ll see a lot of horses that ran at Prestbury Park also strutting their stuff on Merseyside.
Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait!
In fact, I took a look back at last year’s Aintree Meeting and if we put a line though the last race on each of the three days – as these were NH Flat contests and a conditional jockeys’ race – we had 18 races (6 a day) to look at.
From those 18 races – how many do you think were won by horses that ran at the Cheltenham Festival that same season?
Wow – so based on last year, 14 of the main 18 Aintree races were won by horses that contested a Cheltenham Festival race – that’s a 78% strike-rate – and something to have up your sleeve over the three-day meeting.
Of those 14 races that were won by a horse that we’d seen at Prestbury Park, there were three that did the double – Buveur D’Air, Might Bite and Defi Du Seuil – which means that 11 winners at Aintree 12 months ago had raced down the field in various Cheltenham races! That’s certainly something to look out for again this year.
In terms of the favourites at Aintree, last year we saw only five winning jollies reward punters from the 21 races – which at first glance actually isn’t too shabby (24% strike-rate). However, with three of those five market leaders returning at heavy odds-on then if you’d backed all the favourites at the 2017 Aintree Meeting (21 races) you’d have actually shown a -9.34pt loss!
So, what can we expect this year when it comes to the so-called Aintree ‘Festival Bankers’?
Yes, it’s not like Cheltenham with all the races priced up but we’ve still got a fair idea where some of the big names are running at Aintree. So – like we did last month at Cheltenham – let’s take a look at a selection of the ‘big-gun’ horses that are sure to be well supported over the three days and decide if they are going to be ‘bankers, or blowouts’.
DAY ONE, Thursday 12th April 2018
Aintree Bowl Chase
Fingers crossed we get a chance to see the Gold Cup runner-up – Might Bite – back in action at Aintree and really, unless that last race has left it’s mark, he should be getting back to winning ways. Yes, those against him will look to that titanic battle with Native River, in ground plenty soft enough for him, as a reason to take him on. And, of course, none of us will really know if that theory will prove to be correct, or not, until after the race – however, for me, I’m prepared to take that risk.
Let’s not forget this will only be his fourth run this season, while he was one of just three horses that won at the Cheltenham Festival and then go onto win at this meeting 12 months ago. Therefore, we know he can recover in time, plus with longer between the two meetings this year he’s even had an extra week to get over his Gold Cup excursions. Okay, this race has also been a bit of a graveyard for favourites in recent years with just 3 of the last 15 going in, including Cue Card, who was beaten as the 2/1 jolly last year – but Might Bite won’t know his odds!
Surprisingly, it’s also a race trainer Nicky Henderson is yet to win so others may cling to this as a negative – with the Paul Nicholls and David Pipe yards holding the best recent records with 5 wins between them in the last 10 runnings. Any more rain also wouldn’t be ideal for Might Bite but on this flatter track and over this shorter trip I’d not be too concerned on that score. Aintree is also a decent track for front runners which will suit the Henderson horse and that’s backed up in this race with 14 of the last 33 winners making all (or virtually all).
The opposition looks thin on the ground too. Waiting Patiently is a doubt for the whole meeting now so he’s overlooked, while even though Bristol De Mai will be fresher than most after missing Cheltenham, let’s not forget he was still 26 lengths behind Might Bite in the King George, plus only managed fifth in this race 12 months ago. Yes, he’s had wind surgery since we last saw him running third to Definitly Red – who could also line-up here – but Might Bite holds them both this season and is taken to do so again.
That leaves Ryanair Chase winner – Balko Des Flos – as the biggest possible danger to Might Bite if making the trip over from Ireland. The form of his 4 ½ length win over Un De Sceaux has been franked since with the runner-up getting back to winning ways this month at Fairyhouse, plus he was a close second over 3m in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown so we know he stays. At just 7 years-old there’s a good chance we’ve not seen the best of this Henry De Bromhead-trained runner yet and if he’s able to keep tabs on Might Bite in the early stages then he could easily make the King George winner pull out all the stops here. He’s an exciting chaser but, as mentioned, we’ll still have to see if he makes the trip over and taking on Might Bite will be his stiffest task yet. All-in-all I’m sticking with the Gold Cup runner-up to reward his loyal fans by getting back in the winners’ enclosure here.
Buveur D’Air, who took this race 12 months ago, will unfortunately miss this year’s renewal but whereas this is bad news for his fans it’s paved the way for Supasundae to be a big fancy for the race.
The Jessie Harrington camp won this in 2015 with Jezki so know what’s needed and with many feeling Supasundae doesn’t quite stay the 3 miles we saw him run over last time , then this drop back to 2m4f looks ideal.
It’s probably also not the strongest renewal of the race with a couple of useful, but aging campaigners in My Tent Or Yours and The New One, looking his main threats. L’ Ami Serge is another that punters might latch onto but Supasundae had him well back in the Stayers’ Hurdle last time and he’s a horse that is often placed but sometimes hard to win with – he’s run 21 times over hurdles and finished in the first three 17 times (81%).
My Tent Or Yours has a similar consistent make-up over hurdles with 20 runs and has been placed a staggering 19 times! He beat The New One in the International Hurdle earlier this season so is showing no signs of age catching up with him just yet and is sure to be in the mix again. He was also runner-up in the race 12 months ago (beaten 5 lengths) and with Geraghty taking over in the saddle then he’s certainly a decent alternative to Supasundae – but probably to hit the frame, rather than win. After all he’s rewarded place backers a massive 95% of the time during his 20 career runs over hurdles.
With little else in the race to get jiggy about then it’s hard to see beyond Sundsundae here. Don’t forget, he also ran well at this meeting last year when second to Yanworth in the Stayers’ Hurdle and has shown his versatility over 2m this season when landing the Irish Champion Hurdle – this 2m4f trip looks ideal though and he’s taken to follow-up the yard’s 2015 win in this contest.
Another competitive renewal of the Foxhunters’ in store but can last year’s runner-up – Balnalow – go one place better this time?
We last saw him running 7th in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ – only beaten just over 7 lengths – and this much shorter trip (2m5f) looks a big plus. We also know he handles the fences and was only beaten 1 ¾ lengths in this 12 months ago. However, he’s now also another year older at 11, plus with just one win from his last 9 races then these are not the best win-to-runs ratio for me. With ALL of the last 15 winners aged 9 or older then, yes, he ticks this particular trend, but that also means a lot of the others do too.
Grand Vision was a place ahead of him at Cheltenham, while others like Mendip Express and On The Fringe have good form in this race in the past too – we’d have these running for us. It’s a race I don’t really get too involved in. But with a big field, plus these tricky fences to negotiate, then despite finishing second in the race last year there looks to be little value in siding with Balnaslow, who – as pointed out – has just one neck victory to his name from his last 9 races.
DAY TWO, Friday 13th April 2018
Top Novices’ Hurdle
Global Citizen bypassed the Cheltenham Festival after dotting-up in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton back in February and that could be a shrewd move from the Ben Pauling camp. This 6 year-old won by an easy 9 lengths that day and he looked to have more in the locker too. He’s won off a 3 month break already this season too so the 48 day absence is no concern at all, while he’s also won on a variety of ground ranging from good through to soft. He’ll have some strong opposition with the likes of Claimantakinforgan, who was fifth in the Supreme, in the race but he’s already rated 2lbs higher than that Henderson runner.
It is worth pointing out that last year’s winner of this race – Pingshou -finished 10th in the Supreme before taking this so Claimantakinforgan has this trend on his side. Slate House fell in the Supreme so is also another to note based on that stat. The horse Global Citizen beat last time out – Scarlet Dragon – also has 9 lengths to find based on that running and the Pauling horse has tasted Aintree in the past too when fifth here back in October. In summary, the Colin Tizzard yard, that took this race 12 months ago, looks to have some decent alternatives to Global Citizen with potentially Storm Home, Vision Des Flos and Slate House entered but the way Global Citizen has improved in his last two races makes him a very interesting runner and one that I think can continue his upward curve and land his three-timer.
DAY THREE, Saturday 14th April 2018
Maghull Novices’ Chase
No Footpad here as the Arkle winner didn’t quite seem right to Willie Mullins in the week and will not be making the trip over. We do, however, get a chance to see the Arkle second and third slog it out – Brain Power and Petit Mouchoir – and based on those finishing positions then Brain Power should be taking this – right?
Both decent hurdles but based on Footpad demolition job on them last time at Cheltenham then it remains to be seen if they are going to cut it at the very top over fences. That said, we’ve a weak-looking renewal of this race and it should give one of these a chance to shine. It’s no secret that Nicky Henderson thinks Brain Power is a lot better than he’s shown to date but let’s not forget his jumping has come under scrutiny this season after falling and unseating twice in his last three starts. He stayed on ok to take second last time but was no threat to the winner (beaten 15 lengths), while it was probably more of a case of running on through Petit Mouchoir – who clearly went off too fast and had nothing left. On this flatter track, that is more suited to front runners, then Henry De Bromhead’s 7 year-old should be able to have it more his own way up front and hopefully not get into a cat and mouse battle like he did last time with Saint Calvados.
Yes, if running – the Paul Nicholls-trained Cyrname likes to race up with the pace too so there is a chance it could happen again but hopefully on this flatter track Petit Mouchoir will have the class to see of that rival that is rated 7lbs inferior to him. He’s the highest-rated chaser in the field on 157 – 2lbs clear of Brain Power – and let’s not forget before Cheltenham he ran well to be only 5 lengths behind Footpad at Leopardstown. This will be only his third run back after 3 months off so that last race would have brought him on again and he’s also run well at this meeting in the past when a neck second to Buveur D’Air in 2016 over hurdles. Of the two, I’d rather stick with the Irish raider to get the fractions right up front and have enough left to see off Brain Power.
Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle 3m
Sam Spinner ran well for much of the way in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last time and eventually finished fifth – beaten around 6 lengths. With this year’s renewal of this race not the best then he’s been all the rage since that run last month – but is that justified? I’m not so sure. Yes, he was a good winner of the Long Walk Hurdle in December but it was L’Ami Serge he beat into second that day – a fair yardstick at this level, but a horse that is often placed rather than winning. I also wasn’t convinced about his jumping at Cheltenham last time and actually thought he did well to plug on for fifth. Yes, we can expect another bold attempt from the front and with the opposition a bit thin on the ground there is every chance he could win this by default. If the ground came up really soft, or even heavy, then I certainly wouldn’t be taking him on but I’m not sure if it will. He also looked to have a hard race at Cheltenham last time while Wholestone, who was third in that race, and The World’s End, who was 7th, look decent options against him, plus are two or three times his price.
The last-named was a good winner at this meeting 12 months ago as a novice and with just 11 career runs should have more to offer. The flatter track will suit him better than Cheltenham did last time and he’s actually the only proven course and distance winner in the field. Wholestone was also a length or so in front of Sam Spinner last time and despite having never raced here at Aintree the long straight is expected to suit him and he was doing all his best work at the finish last time to run on past Sam Spinner for third – surely, based on that running there should not by much between them in the betting, yet there is. Did you know, 10 of the last 14 winners of this race finished 4th of better in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – another plus for Wholestone’s chance, who is the only runner in this year’s race to fit that stat.
Ok, you might be thinking at around 12/1 in the betting this is not really ‘banker’ material. However, Blaklion, who was fourth in the Grand National last year, has been popular in the ante-post markets for some time now.
Yes, he’s a bigger price now than he was a few months ago but when the ‘once-a-year’ punters remember his name from last year there is every chance he’ll be supported back in again.
This 9 year-old was beaten just 8 ¾ lengths 12 months ago and some feel that if jockey Noel Fehily had tried to hang onto him for a bit longer – before taking it up four out – then the outcome might have been different – we’ll never know!
He landed the Becher Chase over these fences back in December in effortless fashion when slamming The Last Samuri by 9 lengths and after that was well supported again for this. However, he’s since flopped in the Grand National Trial at Haydock – beaten 54 lengths by Yala Enki – and that to me is not the best preparation for a Grand National favourite.
Okay, he’s had a wind-op since and connections have also given him 2 months off to get over that, but did you know that we’ve seen just one winner, or placed horse, from the previous year’s race to go onto win the following year in the last 33 renewals?……………………..and 76 have tried!
Yes, he’s clearly got bundles of experience over these fences but he’s also rated a massive 9lbs higher than 12 months ago and has to carry 8lbs more.
Therefore – I’m sorry – but if this 9 year-old could win last year’s National with 11-1 on his back then it’s going to take one hell of a job to go three places better with a further 8lbs to lump round.
Many Clouds won the race with 11-9 in 2015, but prior to that since 1978 a massive 120 horses have tried to win with more than 11-5 and only Many Clouds (2015) and Neptune Collonges (2012) have succeeded.
So, I know I’m not exactly sticking my neck out here, as we’ll have 39 other runners on our side, plus 30 tricky Aintree fences for Blaklion to contend with again, but I’d rather be looking elsewhere for the winner of this year’s National.
At least we’ve ruled one out!