Matt Tombs / Saturday 6th April 2013 / 10:45
1pt e/w Always Waining in the Grand National (4.15) @ 33/1
1pt Baily Green to win the Maghull @ 11/4 (2.15)
1pt Smad Place to win the Liverpool Hurdle (2.50) @ 6/1
The Grand National is racing’s shop window and given the publicity received by a small minority of non-racing people who have the knives out for racing in general, and the National in particular - lets hope this year’s renewal passes without any injuries, so the sport can get back on the front foot and promote the race to the 600 million viewers who presumably do think it’s a great event.
Having put up Chicago Grey at 40/1 (now 14/1) when the weights came out, there’s an obvious temptation not to look at the race again. I still like his chances as he’s 9lb lower than last year on 141 and he’s obviously come out and won a Grade 2 over 2½m since the weights were announced, (that form was boosted when runner-up Folidubh won the Grade 2 Normans Grove at Fairyhouse earlier in the week.)
He’d only been a fair jumper over park fences but he looked to take really well to the unique obstacles last year before being brought down. With the decision to level the drops that were steeper round the inside of the track, a much higher proportion of horses go the shortest way now meaning luck in running is more of an issue. Chicago Grey was unlucky last year when brought down at the 5th but there’s nobody with more nerve than Paul Carberry and if he does get a clear run over the first few fences, he’s got every chance.
Given how fast they go over the smaller obstacles you need to be able to hold a position (which as a recent Grade 2 winner over 2½m he ought to be able to) and to stay well, (which as a winner of the 4 miler he clearly does.) Paul Carberry and Chicago Grey look the perfect combination and Gordon Elliott’s yard is in top form.
There are two other horses who looked really well handicapped. The first is On His Own (12/1) who gets in off the same mark (148) as last year when he was going really well when falling at Becher’s 2nd time. The anoraks would know but I can’t recall such an inexperienced horse actually winning the National – he’ll be having just his 8th start over fences. Willie Mullins has talked of him as being good enough to run in the Gold Cup and he continues to push back the training boundaries. He also has the huge advantage of Ruby Walsh on board. You therefore couldn’t say he can’t win but I can’t back a horse with that sort of profile.
The other well handicapped horse is Imperial Commander (16/1) who was rated 185 after winning the Gold Cup 3 years ago. He’s in here off 158 so, even as a 12 year old, that looks a lenient mark. He ran a fine race on his comeback to be just edged out by Cape Tribulation (who gave 6lb) in the Argento. With the last 4 winners carrying more than 11 stone, it’s much easier to see a top weight winning now and few since Red Rum have had as good a chance as Imperial Commander does.
For a horse who has won 3 Tophams, I thought Always Waining would be a lot shorter than 33/1. The ability to jump round is such a substantial proportion of a horse’s price here - and there’s no horse in the field more likely to negotiate the 30 obstacles safely. He was running in 4 mile races 5 years ago as a young horse so whilst you can’t be sure he’ll stay there’s every reason to be optimistic that he will. The fact that he’s been winning the Topham over an extended 2m5f seems to have convinced a lot of people that he won’t get the trip.
He’s 12 now and is 5lb higher on 143 than his last Topham win, but he comes alive over these fences on decent ground in the spring. I think he should be about half his current price and given his jumping he’s a great chance of being in the shake up so is worth an each way saver.
2m chases are the most specialist division so it’s no surprise that in the last 10 runnings of the Maghull, 9 winners ran in the Arkle and the longest price SP was 4/1. Arkle form is represented as 2nd Baily Green, (beaten 2¼l) and 4th Overturn, (beaten 30l) lock horns again.
On that form Baily Green (3/1) is entitled to start pretty short here, but the consensus is that he was flattered at Cheltenham. He started out as a summer jumper and the drier ground should really help him. Whilst he had a break from racecourse action between Christmas and the Arkle, he’s been on the go for 18 months and there is always the risk that this may be a race too far, but he’s been a really tough customer.
Overturn (9/4) was a strong second favourite in the Arkle but the soft ground was against him and he’s always been better on flat tracks like this. He was still well in contention when blundering 3 out but he was quickly in trouble and allowed to come home in his own time, connections blaming the ground. He ought to do much better here with conditions to suit but he’s a 9 year old with a lot of miles on the clock and he’s unlikely to be still improving. The market has anticipated this track and ground working the oracle and he looks too short to turn round the form with Baily Green – he has 27l to find.
Whilst Alderwood (9/4) was helped in the Grand Annual by the runner up taking up the running much too soon, the pair were well clear and he was a good winner off 140, (3rd Oiseau De Nuit boosted the form when winning the Red Rum on Thursday.) He needs to step up again to win this but he held his form really well through the spring last season. However, you’d expect a handicap winner off 140 to be a much bigger price than leading players from the Arkle.
This is one of those races where it doesn’t pay to be too clever and Baily Green was miles ahead of Overturn in the Arkle, and both should be suited by the different test here. Yet he’s a bigger price not only than Overturn but also Alderwood who was winning a handicap at the Festival. He’s the clear value pick and the best bet of the week.
The World Hurdle was an unsatisfactory affair as I can’t ever remember them going so slowly in the first mile of that race, and speed horses dominated the finish. It was interesting to read comments suggesting it was a strongly run race (presumably because of the pace Bog Warrior injected in the middle part of the race) – it don’t look like it to me.
It was a great training performance by Charles Byrnes to bring Solwhit (9/4) back from a long lay off to win a championship event, but I’m not convinced he’ll follow up here if they go a good gallop. If they do go steadily again then he would have a great chance as 5 of his other 6 Grade 1 wins were at 2 miles and the remaining one was here over 2m4f, so the track holds no fears either.
Celestial Halo (6/1) nearly provided a dream result for the connections of injured champion Big Buck’s. He’s been a terrific servant but I doubt he will stay in a strong run race, and I think he prefers more cut in the ground these days. He’s one I’m keen to oppose.
The wild card here is Grands Crus (6/1) who was 2nd in this race to Big Buck’s two years ago. He’s had all sorts of problems since winning the Feltham last season but his King George 3rd suggests he retains plenty of his ability. He’s obviously a risky proposition given he’s bombed in 3 of his last 4 runs and his odds probably reflect his chance.
The 2 I like are the Alan King pair Smad Place (6/1) and Medinas. Smad Place has been 3rd in the last two World Hurdles and wouldn’t have been suited by the slow pace this time around as he’s a real stayer. Granted a true run race on good ground, he can turn round the form with Solwhit and Celestial Halo. He was in the process of running a good race against Big Buck’s in this last year and the track shouldn’t be a problem.
Medinas (14/1) won the Coral Cup off the highest handicap mark in the history of the event (148). That performance looks to have been underestimated as he went up only 6lb despite being decisively on top close home, staying on strongly. He shaped there as if 3m was well worth a try and this little horse keeps on improving.
It’s hard to split the Alan King pair but I’m going to stick with proven stamina of Smad Place who was the choice of Wayne Hutchinson. He’s tough, game and likes good ground.