Aintree - Day 1

Nick Hardman is back and has cast his eye over the first day of the Liverpool meeting:

Hot on the heels of Cheltenham and the opening day of the flat season comes one of my favourite meetings of the year – the Aintree Grand National meeting.  This is always a cracking three days of racing and features a host of Graded races and top quality horses, many of whom raced at the Cheltenham festival and I will be sharing with you my picks for each and every race.  Many will lose, some might win and who knows, maybe I can land the big one on Saturday afternoon!  As always please feel free to leave any comments.  Before I get started there is a common belief that horses that ran at the Cheltenham festival have a poor record at the Aintree meeting.  This is actually not true and it is worth bearing that in mind when having a bet over the next three days.  Matt Bisogno over at GeeGeez has written an article looking at this and it is well worth a read.

The meeting kicks off with Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle race at 2.00pm which has been won in the past by some smart types; Zarkander, Binocular and Walkon to name but three!  Cheltenham festival horses do well in this with 8 of the last 9 winners having at least placed at the festival.  7 of the last 10 favourites have also won, the notable exception being Orsippus @40/1 in 2010.

I am reluctant to back Broughton after a disappointing effort at the festival, but what is interesting here is that Denis O’Regan has hopped off John Ferguson’s horse in favour of stable mate Commissioned and none other than AP McCoy has been booked to ride Broughton.  Not sure what to read into that but I prefer Commissioned of the two.  Clarcam is interesting as he was leading the Fred Winter before falling two flights from home but he mainly finds one or two too good.  If the fall hasn’t knocked his confidence he could run well at a price.  The winner of that race, Hawk High lines up here as well and 14/1 is tempting, although this is a much stiffer assignment.  The Triumph Hurdle competitors are represented by Guitar Pete (3rd), Calipto (4th) and the aforementioned Broughton.  Calipto heads the market despite finishing behind Guitar Pete, but the jockey lost his irons two out that day and would have finished a lot closer without that mishap.  Of those that missed the festival, Activial and Commissioned have both been targeted at this race and Fox Norton looks an exciting prospect.  It’s a tough one and I certainly won’t be wading in but I have backed Activial @11/2 and Hawk High @14/1.

The second race is the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl Chase over 3m 1f.  Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti need no introduction but I am going to go with First Lieutenant @3/1 to regain his crown.  This is tough as all three of the main protagonists have course and distance form, but at the prices I think there is just a squeak of value in First Lieutenant.  10/3 was available with Coral but I’ve taken the 3/1 with William Hill and their second place refund insurance.

The Aintree Hurdle betting is dominated by The New One who is a best priced 4/9.  With only 7 runners there is not much point in an each-way play with only the first 2 places paying out.  Even the William Hill money back offer for second place makes no appeal, so I will sit this one out.  If a gun was put to my head I would say that Irish Saint could outrun his price @33/1 but this looks like a no-bet race for me.

Next up is the Foxhunters Chase run over the National course.  We had Tartan Snow winning this last year @100/1 and Silver Adonis winning @50/1 in 2010, but apart from these two the last 9 winners have all been in single figures (8/1 or less to be precise).  With that in mind there is no harm in taking one from the top of the market and one at a bigger price down the pecking order.  At the head of the market I have backed Warne @9/2 who ran well in this last year and won a decent race last time out.  Last year’s runner up Cool Friend @20/1 is also worth backing as he took well to these fences last time and is due a big run after a couple of mediocre efforts and I’ve had a couple each-way on him.  If Island Life could reproduce his form of 2012 he would go close in this.  So what are his chances of doing so based on current form?  About 100/1 - which is exactly what his price is.  Just as a fun bet I have to have £1 each-way.  He probably won’t even get around but you never know.

The first handicap of the meeting is the Red Rum Handicap Chase run over 2 miles and this is one of those no-brainers for me.  Yes it’s a bet with the heart again and an each-way punt on Oiseau De Nuit @16/1 - one of my all-time favourites.  Yes I know he is now a 12 year old and I know he is lugging top weight but I would be unable to forgive myself if he defied those odds without the burden of at least carrying a little bit of my cash.  However, he does have form figures of 321 in this race in the last 3 years and defied a weight of 11st 8lb to win last year.  Having said that, it makes sense to back a couple of runners in a race like this.  Novices have a great record in this race and the one that appeals most is market leader Claret Cloak @4/1.  He probably should have won the Grand Annual and has a chance to make amends here.  Anay Turge @20/1 is interesting back over fences and he has two second place finishes from two visits to Aintree.  I’m happy to back him each-way @20/1.  A return to form and he could be a live danger.

Only 5 go to post in the Grade 1 Novice Chase but that does not mean finding the winner will be any easier.  The obvious starting point is Western Warhorse the winner of the Arkle at the Cheltenham festival, but 15/8 looks a bit skinny.  Dodging Bullets and Oscar Whiskey represent two high profile stables but Oscar Whiskey has not jumped that well since being sent over the larger obstacles and Dodging Bullets makes more appeal of the two.  Uxizandre’s 2nd in the JLT Novice’s Chase was over ½ a mile further but if he gets an uncontested lead here he could take some pegging back.  He jumped really well that day and if he can force a good early pace it might just give rise to some sketchy jumping in behind.  Uxizandre @5/1 will do for me, although any one the five could win on the day.

The closing race of Day 1 is the 3 mile Handicap Hurdle.  One at a price that could run well is Josies Orders @16/1, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by AP McCoy.  He finished 22nd out of the 23 finishers in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham at a not unfancied 14/1.  That day he was hampered at the 1st flight, losing ground before getting in touch 3 out and then fading.  Prior to that run he had form figures of 71311 for the season including a course and distance victory in December and I have had a small each-way bet.  Only two favourites have won in the last 12 years and only three winners have returned at single figure odds.  It’s the kind of race where I usually take a couple against the field so I have also backed Jetson @10/1.  He ran a cracker in the Pertemps to finish 5th and ran 2nd in this race last year.  Interestingly, that day he was ridden by AP McCoy but on Thursday McCoy rides Josies Orders and PD Kennedy takes the ride on Jetson (he also rode him in the Pertemps).  The latter’s 5lb claim takes Jetson to an official mark of 140, the same mark as when second in this last year.  They are my 2 against the field.

It’s a tough opening day (and I have been fairly cautious with my stakes) but hopefully I can get a run for my money and some sort of return from what should be a great day’s entertainment.  As always, best of luck if you are having a bet.

Aintree Day 1 selections:

2.00pm Activial @9/2 & Hawk High @14/1 (each-way, 3 places)

2.30pm First Lieutenant @3/1

3.05pm No Bet (token suggestion - Irish Saint to outrun his price of @33/1)

3.40pm Warne @9/2, Cool Friend @20/1 & Island Life @100/1 (both each-way, 4 places)

4.15pm Claret Cloak @4/1, Oiseau De Nuit @16/1 and Anay Turge @20/1 (both each-way, 4 places)

4.50pm Uxizandre @5/1

5.25pm Josies Orders @16/1 & Jetson @10/1 (both each-way, 5 places)


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