Aintree Day 1 Preview
It only seems like yesterday we waved goodbye to another unbelievable Cheltenham Festival, but the Aintree Grand National meeting is nearly upon us. A three-day meeting full of high-class action kicks off with 4 Grade 1’s on the opening day and culminates with the Randox Grand National on Saturday. I’ve taken an in depth look at the Grade 1’s on the card along with selections in the remaining three races.
Hitman can land a knockout blow for Nicholls and Cobden
The first race of the meeting is the Grade 1 SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase over two and a half miles. Fusil Raffles, runner up in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, sets the standard on Official Ratings and heads the betting at 2/1. He should love the quicker conditions underfoot and can go well for Team Henderson. My worry would be what effect Cheltenham has had on him and whether it was the strongest Marsh we’ve seen. The form at this early stage looks hard to assess. Chatham Street Lad has come out and stormed home in a Grade 3 but Asterion Forlonge was a well beaten favourite in the Grade 1 at Fairyhouse over the weekend. At the prices, Fusil Raffles looks worth taking on. The step up in trip looks likely to suit Eldorado Allen but his form may be flattered by a terrific Harry Cobden ride at Cheltenham. Umbrigado looks progressive but will need to take another step forward, whilst both Protektorat and Phoenix Way must bounce back after their last starts. The Shunter has been some horse for connections this season but must improve again if he is to land Grade 1 honours. I do believe this is possible, but I would have a niggling doubt about his busy season so far having already raced 8 times, 3 of which have come in the past 43 days.
This leaves me with the Paul Nicholls trained Hitman 3/1 who comes here having skipped engagements at the Cheltenham Festival. His season began with an explosive demolition job at Ffos Las, beating the 127 rated Mack The Man by 30 lengths at an absolute canter. A runner up effort in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices Chase followed in-behind Allmankind. Considering this was just his second lifetime start for Paul Nicholls, I thought it was a huge effort over a trip short of him his optimum. Duly stepped up to the intermediate trip for the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase on his next start, Hitman took a strange fall at the 12th when appearing to be going easily. Given a confidence booster on his last start he cantered round at odds of 1/7 and Nicholls will have him primed for this. Despite a fall against his name, his jumping has been electric. I expect Aintree as a track to suit and the trip looks ideal. Everything points to a big run for a yard that have certainly targeted this year’s Grand National meeting. Fingers crossed; Hitman can land a knockout blow!
Nicholls ready to unleash the unbeaten Monmiral
The Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle is next up on the card and the same connections as Hitman look set to unleash a potential superstar in the form of Monmiral 4/5. Unbeaten in 4 lifetime starts, including 3 for Nicholls, Monmiral has looked an exciting prospect. To date his jumping has been slick and the way he has been winning his races is extremely professional. Having swerved Cheltenham, he comes here a fresh horse which may give him an edge over main market rival and Triumph Hurdle runner up Adagio. These two horses can also be compared on a form line through Gary Moore’s Nassalam. Monmiral beat Nassalam by seven and a half lengths whilst Adagio beat him by two and a half lengths in arguably more workmanlike fashion. Unsurprisingly, Monmiral has come in for plenty of antepost support and it may well be he has further improvement to come. My main concern is whether he is battle hardened. Adagio looks a seasoned pro already and assuming Cheltenham hasn’t taken its toll he may be a tough nut to crack, especially if getting in a ding-dong tussle up the Aintree straight. That being said, I expect Monmiral to have too much class and he can confirm himself as a seriously exciting prospect for seasons to come. Of those at bigger odds, I thought Dan Skelton’s John Locke shaped well on his first start for the yard. He is entitled to improve plenty for that run, and he will need to if he is to challenge both Adagio and Monmiral.
Fascinating Betway Bowl can go to the North
The Grade 1’s keep coming thick and fast on Day 1 and the third race on the card is the Betway Bowl over three miles. This doesn’t strike me as the strongest renewal but there are some real legends of the game in a field of 9. Legend is exactly the word that sums up dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll, who comes here after obliterating his rivals in the Cross County at Cheltenham. The Tiger clearly loves good ground, which he will get here, but he hasn’t won a race over conventional fences since 2016 and there may well be a case to suggest 3 miles is short of his optimum nowadays. 2018 Gold Winner Native River is another legend of the game who comes here on the back of a fourth in this years Gold Cup. He was off the bridle for most of the way and subsequently I would have concerns about this sharp three miles on good ground. He didn’t have an easy race in the Gold Cup either! The current favourite is dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux who I believe is worth taking on, having lost his last 8 starts on left handed tracks. Mister Fisher is a horse I’ve been keen to see at three miles for a while now but comes here after quite a brutal race in this year’s Ryanair. Allaho destroyed them and set a serious pace in doing so. Nico said he was at full tilt the entire way and as a result, I would worry about the quick turn-around despite being pulled up.
Having picked holes in a few at the top of the market, I thought Clondaw Castle may outrun his odds having won a very competitive three-mile handicap chase on his last start, shouldering a big weight. I was tempted to highlight him as the selection, but I couldn’t get away from Ruth Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently 4/1 who I believe has been a tad unlucky in recent times and is more than capably of landing a big one. Excluding his unseat in the 2018 King George, Waiting Patiently has never finished outside the first three in his career, highlighting his raw natural ability. Returning in the King George this season, he ran an absolute blinder to finish second and arguably was the one to take from the race. I believe connections wanted to strike whilst the iron was hot when dropping him back to 2 miles for the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. He looked outpaced throughout but to his credit ran on to be a gutsy third. A sharp three miles around Aintree is exactly what I think he wants these days and unlike a few of his rivals, he comes here a very fresh horse.
There’s a storm brewin in the final Grade 1 of the Day
The fourth and final Grade 1 of the day is the Betway Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles. Abacadabras heads the betting after taking a tumble in the Champion Hurdle. He looks sure to love the strong pace set by the likes of Not So Sleepy and Jason The Militant but I wouldn’t convinced about his stamina at this trip. Jason the Militant is another I have stamina doubts about, but he has seen his form considerable boosted by Petit Mouchouir in the County Hurdle. At the time of writing, Henry De Bromhead has had 1 winner in his last 34 and Rachel Blackmore has had 0 from 20. Those numbers would be a major concern. Dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air cannot be dismissed at 10/1 but I do believe he is a risky proposition. Brewin’upastorm 11/2 was the one I liked in here. Reverting to hurdles midway through the season has seen Olly Murphy’s star gelding in a much better light and he comes into this after a smooth success over the reopposing Mcfabulous. Mcfabulous does have a 6lb pull at the weights in his favour, but I believe Brewin’upastorm was good for far more than the winning margin suggests. I anticipate the ground, trip and nature of the race to really suit and I’ve no doubt Olly Murphy will have him primed for this. Of those at bigger odds I thought Buzz 20/1 could be a potentially interesting each way play, now stepping up half a mile in trip. His last two starts have seen him finish strongly over the minimum distance, carrying close to top weights in handicaps. He shapes as though this step up in trip is likely to suit and it is interesting to see connections come here rather than a tilt at one of the numerous handicaps. He can outrun his odds of 20/1.
The Codd Father could be worth chancing in the Foxhunters
The amateurs get their chance to shine next on the card in the Rose Paterson Randox Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase over 2 miles and 5 furlongs. Billaway heads the betting at 3/1 and could be hard to beat after a fine performance at Cheltenham. I believe it may be worth siding with a horse who has twice finished behind Billaway in the shape of Mighty Stowaway 18/1. He was a well beaten sixth in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham but the time before finished closer, just the 10 lengths back in third. Jamie Codd takes the ride here which is worth a few pounds in itself, but I do believe the step back in trip and better ground will really suit. Mighty Stowaway travelled wide but very well throughout the Foxhunters and can hopefully improve again to outrun his current odds of 18/1.
Moon Over Germany can defend his Crown
We may have missed Aintree last year but defending champion Moon Over Germany 14/1 will attempt to defend his crown. I think he has a very good chance and current odds of 14/1 look rather generous. Extremely talented claimer, Jordan Gainford, takes 7lbs off bringing him down to a mark just 5lbs higher than when he absolutely bolted up in this in 2019. His prep race for this looks strong too. Any Second Now ran out an impressive winner of the race but Castlegrace Paddy was just over 6 lengths ahead of Moon Over Germany in second, and he ran a huge race in defeat against Easy Game recently. Having had a couple of hurdle runs earlier in the season and just the one chase start for his prep, this has likely been the plan. It is safe to say, I am hopeful of a big run! Getaway Trump is the obvious danger for the Nicholls’ team, but he lacks experience in hot handicaps like these and hasn’t encountered the National fences.
Champion Bumper form on the line in fantastic Mares Bumper
The final race of day 1 is the Grade 2 Mares Bumper and this year’s renewal looks a hot one. A case can be made for many of these, but the clear standouts are market leaders, Eileendover 10/11 and Champion Bumper third Elle Est Belle. Dan Skelton’s mare ran a cracker at Cheltenham and should relish the big field and likely strong pace. She does have to concede 6lbs to Eileendover though who has looked a potential superstar. She absolutely destroyed Grangee on her last start who went on to win at The Dublin Racing Festival before finishing 5 lengths behind Elle Est Belle in the Champion Bumper. On that form line alone, you would have to favour Eileendover but the likely hood is Grangee underperformed when the pair met. The visuals were that strong that I will still side with Pam Sly’s mare and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her contest some valuable flat contests this summer!
By Sam Rideout
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