Matt Tombs / Thursday 4th April 2013 / 10:30
1pt Raya Star e/w in Aintree Hurdle (3.05) @ 33/1
1pt Kid Cassidy to win Red Rum Chase (4.15) @ 7/1
1pt Warne to win the Fox Hunters' (3.40) @ 13/2
A key to betting at the Grand National meeting is working out whether Cheltenham Festival form will work out. With so many horses going fresh from a light campaign to Cheltenham these days, fewer have been over the top at Aintree.
However, the ground at Cheltenham was softer than usual this season. My hunch is that plenty of short priced horses, that won or went close at Cheltenham, will get turned over this week, (especially those who ran on genuinely testing ground on the Friday.) How the ground rides here will impact that assessment and with selective watering occurring my guess is that it will start on the dead side of good and dry out through the 3 days - a fair bit quicker than at Cheltenham.
The Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle (2m4f) looks a really good race, featuring the first two home for the last two years, Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars, Champion Hurdle 3rd and 4th Countrywide Flame and Zarkander plus Grandouet (going well when falling in the Champion), Neptune winner The New One and Raya Star.
Oscar Whisky (13/2) looked to have a hard race in the Cleeve and I wonder if that had left its mark as he ran no sort of race in the World Hurdle. He bounced back from an ordinary run in that to win this last year, but he ran much worse at Cheltenham this time. The fact that Barry Geraghty has deserted him for Grandouet is a big concern.
With more positive tactics Thousand Stars (10/1) might have won either of the last two renewals of this but he’s been a bit out of sorts this season. He was apparently short of fitness at Tipperary in early October and didn’t like the bottomless ground at Navan last time, but ran reasonably against Hurricane Fly on his other two runs. He’s been trained for this and it’s dangerous to underestimate a Willie Mullins horse in those circumstances, but he’s 9 now and perhaps isn’t the force he was.
This is very much a test of speed at the trip and the obvious two to go for are Zarkandar (11/2) and Countrywide Flame (9/2). Both ran sound races in the Champion and I’d expect Countrywide Flame to confirm the form as both should be equally suited by this step up in trip. Zarkandar has the blinkers he wore on the flat back on and they may sharpen him up.
I backed Grandouet (4/1) in the Champion Hurdle but he had an interrupted preparation and was pretty keen, before falling 4 out when still going well. I was surprised to see him aimed at this rather than Punchestown as he does look a real 2 miler, (how he settles over this longer trip will be important). I’ll obviously kick myself if he wins but I’m reluctantly opposing him at the prices.
Danoli won this as a novice but The New One (3/1) looks very short on form. I think he was beating a bunch of 3 milers in the Neptune and he has an awful lot to prove in this company. It would be great to see him win as it’d be the birth of another star but I’d be looking to lay him at current odds.
The one to back at the prices is Raya Star (33/1). He was 4l ahead of Countrywide Flame when chasing home the ill-fated Darlan in the Christmas Hurdle. He was first off the bridle there but kept finding, suggesting a step up in trip might suit. He did bomb in the Kingwell, but he blundered 3 out and wasn’t given time to regain his equilibrium on holding ground he didn’t like. If you can forgive him that he should be a single figure price based on his Christmas Hurdle form and a sharp 2m4f on good ground looks ideal. He looks cracking each way value with several layers paying ¼ of the odds.
The other open Grade 1 is the Bowl, (3m1f chase). This revolves around Silviniaco Conti (Evens), who started 4/1 for the Gold Cup and was travelling really well when falling 3 out. This year’s Gold Cup was the toughest slog in modern times and may well have left its mark on some of those who fought out the finish. He’d previously won the Charlie Hall, Betfair and Denman chases and whilst it’s not hard to pick holes in that form, he was a pretty convincing winner of each. If this were being run in the autumn, he’d be great value at even money.
However, this race has been a graveyard for Gold Cup horses in recent years, with Denman (5/4 and Evens,) Kauto Star (4/7) and Imperial Commander (11/8) all getting turned over. The big question is, how much did the Gold Cup take out of Silviniaco Conti?
The Giant Bolster (10/1) and Cape Tribulation (12/1) also ran in the Gold Cup finishing 16l 4th and 22l 5th respectively. The Giant Bolster ran much the better race, only weakening in the straight - but conversely that meant he had a really hard race and, as something of a Cheltenham specialist, I’m keen to oppose him here. Given the Gold Cup turned into such a stamina test it should have suited Cape Tribulation so he was a bit disappointing. Perhaps he wasn’t over a tough race in the Argento, and whilst he’s effective on better ground, this sharper test may not suit him.
Gigginstown run First Lieutenant (7/2) and Quito De La Roque. First Lieutenant ran a decent race to be 9l 2nd to Cue Card in the Ryanair. I was a bit disappointed he was beaten so far, but perhaps Cue Card is a real star. He seems to take his racing well and likes good ground, but he doesn’t win very often and I’m struggling to keep making excuses for him.
Quito De La Roque (10/1) would have been a huge price for this until his Kinloch Bare win at Thurles over an inadequate 2m4f, beating Roi Du Mee 6½l. Roi Du Mee had won his previous 4 and has beaten Prince De Beauchene and Pandorama in 2 races since. Roi Du Mee had conditions to suit at Thurles and so it looks a smart performance from Quito De La Roque. He’s probably the best value in the race but given it’s so dependent on the unknown factor of Silviniaco Conti’s ability to produce his best, I’m leaving the race alone.
What to do when a horse you’ve been backing keeps getting beaten, but has excuses, is an eternal conundrum for punters. I’ve backed Kid Cassidy (7/1 for the Red Rum) in the last 2 Grand Annuals, where last year he wasn’t streetwise enough as a novice and this year got a poor ride. He still finished a good 2nd to Alderwood and has been bumped up from 143 to 150 in consequence. I think he might be a Grade 1 horse, in which case he’s still well in.
As you’d expect there are a host of interesting horses in this, with Toubab (11/1) and Pires (8/1) looking obvious dangers. However, Toubab has been passed over by Ruby Walsh for Rebel Rebellion, who doesn’t look obviously well handicapped. Pires had been progressive over fences in Ireland and this test of speed should suit as he barely gets 2m. A wilder one to consider if the going is genuinely good is West With The Wind (33/1). He was shockingly out of form last summer and autumn and has been given a good break. He’s now 15lb lower than his highest mark and he loves a quick surface.
However, Kid Cassidy is the class act here. It’s a long time since a horse won this off 150 but I think he’s in a different league to most of those who’ve tried. This sharp track should suit ideally and assuming he’s ridden with more restraint with Tony McCoy taking over, he can recoup losses here.
The Foxhunters is an unusual race in that, not only is it run over the unique National fences, its run over an extended 2m5f. Hunter chases are run over a wider variety of distances these days but 3m+ is still the typical trip and this race tends to be full of stayers.
The one that jumps out is former listed hurdle winner Warne (13/2) who didn’t get home over 3m on testing ground behind Salsify and Tammy’s Hill in the big hunter at Leopardstown in February. Back over this trip at Fairyhouse he comprehensively turned round the form with Tammy’s Hill. The Irish hunter chasers are really strong at the moment and I think he’s been underestimated. Had top amateur Jamie Codd not been injured then he’d have been an even stronger fancy, but Mikey Fogarty has ridden plenty of winners an Ireland and should make an able deputy, having won on him last time.
On official ratings there’s little between Bold Addition (11/2), Cottage Oak (7/1), Gwanako (11/2), Rebel Du Maquis (10/1) and Warne, but I suspect the Irish form is stronger and he rates a good bet. An amateur rider’s race over the National fences might look a lottery but only Silver Adonis has won at a double figure price this century and class tends to come to the fore.