2015 Aintree Festival Day One Preview, Trends, Tips
Day One of Aintree’s three day April Festival features arguably the best day’s racing of the meeting. Kicking things off with no less than four Grade 1 events is something I don’t believe any other fixture can boast, and each is an intriguing – and potentially tempting – wagering puzzle.
The joy starts at 1.40 with the…
1.40 Manifesto Novices’ Chase (Grade 1, 2m4f)
A new race with just six prior runnings, the Manifesto has already accumulated a strong roll of honour. The sextet so far includes Wishfull Thinking, Menorah and Uxizandre; and this year half a dozen aspirants bid to join the winning alumni.
All of the six winners had previously run at the Cheltenham Festival, and the top four in the betting here were last seen hurtling over Cleeve Hill too. Josses Hill, third in the Arkle, is favoured here: this formerly horrible leaper looked a reformed character at Cheltenham and ran a solid race behind Un De Sceaux in that two mile speed test.
Given the possibility of his jumping regressing, and the fact he’s been beaten on both starts at around this trip, he’s readily opposable at 11/8 or so, even though he’s the most likely winner.
The value may not lie with second favourite, Vibrato Valtat, either. Paul Nicholls’ lad has had a long season – seven races since mid-October – and he might be over-cooked for the season. If he’s not, he needs to improve on a solitary run at the trip where he was beaten by the decent but not Grade 1, Fergall. That was a hurdle race, but still, at 2/1, I’m still looking for something with a better chance than its price implies.
I think the horse which matches that profile is Three Kingdoms. I wrote in my Cheltenham Festival preview that I thought he was an Aintree horse, and this setup looks ideal. Beaten half a length by Vibrato Valtat over two miles of similarly flat Kempton, he was staying on all the way to the line that day. His other wins were at Leicester, Newcastle and Doncaster, lending credence to the theory that a flat track suits him best.
One run over the trip resulted in a win, albeit in a novice hurdle; and I’m attracted to his chance in relation to a price of 9/1. McCoy’s presence in the saddle should ensure he goes off shorter, and there’s little doubt the perennial champ will be giving his all.
Clarcam is the only other credible player in this (I think!), but I’d not be convinced he has the necessary stamina to see out twenty furlongs on his first attempt at that range.
Manifesto Novices’ Chase Selection:
1pt win Three Kingdoms 9/1 Skybet, Bet Victor
Money Back as a free bet if FAV wins this race (Skybet)
*Max stake £25
2.15 Anniversary 4yo Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)
A good race, which numbers a Champion Hurdler in its list of winners. Katchit took the prize for Alan King in 2007, following up his Triumph Hurdle win; and the trainer has won this four times since that year.
A good place to start then is his unconsidered 33/1 outsider, Winner Massagot. With little worthwhile form in his first two starts on soft ground, he took a huge stride forward on quicker turf last time when well backed. In so doing he beat two decent though unspectacular yardsticks, and he beat them pointless.
Clearly progressing apace, King would have had other cards to play so it may be noteworthy that he chose this fellow. Worth a small each way speculative.
Based on existing levels of form, even money favourite Hargam will be tough to beat. His third in the Triumph is the best form on show and his rating, three clear of Bristol De Mai, and fully ten clear of the rest, he’d have to significantly under-perform not to beat those with levels of form close to plateauing. Ground and trip are fine, and he’s still relatively fresh.
Bristol De Mai won the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow, but that was on heavy ground, and the evidence suggests he’s suited best by plenty of juice in the turf, something he won’t get here.
Much more suited to the ground condition is Devilment. He was high class on the flat, and this speed test could suit him. But I can’t envisage him beating the favourite, and he’s not enough of a price to back each way.
The rest don’t look good enough, and I’m going to chance a small each way on Winner Massagot and a forecast with the favourite to beat him.
Anniversary 4yo Hurdle Selection:
0.25 pt e/w Winner Massagot 33/1 (1/4 1-2-3 bet365)
0.5 pt exacta Hargam to beat Winner Massagot
2.50 Betfred Bowl (Grade 1, 3m1f)
A cracking race almost every year, there again looks to be a strong field lining up. I have two views on this race. The first is that Holywell should not be favourite and Silviniaco Conti should.
The world and his wife suspected that Silvi wouldn’t stay in the Gold Cup, and he didn’t. Prior to that he was the outstanding chaser this season (along with Many Clouds perhaps). After the Gold Cup, he’d been usurped by the brilliant Coneygree. With no preposterously talented novice to bamboozle him – and all others – here, Mr Conti can revert to type in an assignment he knows well.
Last year, he won the race; the year before he was a very close third; and the year before that he won the novices’ equivalent over the same course and distance. 11/4 in a place just looks too big.
Holywell has had an interrupted campaign, which includes unshipping his rider here in December. Unquestionably a talented animal, he ran a cracker to be fourth in the Gold Cup. That race seemed to place a higher premium on stamina than this will, where class and speed will be other key ingredients in the winner’s make up.
Holywell’s ability to juggle those requirements is best considered in the context of his one from four track record, three of which were over course and distance. If Silviniaco Conti is not gone for the season, something that is possible for many runners at Aintree who were revved up for the Cheltenham Festival, then he ought to come out on top from this pair, and probably win.
I’m yet to be convinced that Ma Filleule either stays this far or is a genuine Grade 1 animal. She has plenty of placed form in Grade 1’s, but always seems to find at least one too good. And she has only a single win at three miles, that coming in a relatively lowly Class 2 handicap chase. Not for me at 7/2.
Menorah dodged Cheltenham for Aintree, his trainer Philip Hobbs feeling that he’s a better horse around this flat track. Given I’d backed him ante-post for the Festival, I was disappointed with that decision, but Hobbs may be vindicated in his decision with a big run from his stable stalwart. A previous winner of the Manifesto Novices’ Chase that opens this card, Menorah has run in the last two renewals of this race, finishing second and then fifth. His form this year doesn’t imply he can better those efforts, though his freshness could be a key asset. He wouldn’t be a surprising winner, but then nor is he one I’d want to wager.
It’s a pity there are only seven runners, because one more would have made Ballynagour very interesting as an each way proposition. A pi horse – his form seems to be either P or 1 generally – he clearly has issues. But fresh is the time to catch him, making the 131 day break a positive, and he might just improve for the step up in trip on a sound surface.
With just seven going to post, as well as that propensity to alternate between winning and pulling up, a small win bet could yield a decent return without causing much damage if it’s to be another P.
Smad Place probably wants it softer, and Vukovar has a lot to prove on this step up in trip.
Betfred Bowl Selection:
1pt win Silviniaco Conti 11/4 Coral
0.5 pt win Ballynagour 25/1 bet365, Ladbrokes
3.25 Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)
A cracking intermediate distance Grade 1 hurdle usually, it could be argued that this year’s Aintree Hurdle is a tad sub-par. Despite that, it is competitive and that means we have a chance of landing a decent bet.
Arctic Fire is favoured, marginally, on the basis of his staying on second in the Champion Hurdle. That’s the best piece of form from this season in all likelihood, and I was taken by the manner of his finishing effort there. Against that, he’s run five times this term without getting his head in front, albeit that he’s faced either Hurricane Fly or Faugheen on each of the last four occasions.
That he’s improved in each of his last four runs is not in question. Whether he improved twelve pounds in that Champion Hurdle silver is. Even if he did, it only gives him three pounds in hand over Jezki, himself with something to prove after a lacklustre season.
Their head to head record bears this out, with an early season win for last year’s Champion Hurdler followed by two defeats to the Fire. (Click image to view full screen).
It won’t be a huge shock regardless of the order in which that pair finish, which makes it worthwhile looking elsewhere for a possible bet. Rock On Ruby is the fastest ten year old in training (the Fly being eleven now), and his two and a half mile form is extremely solid. Indeed, he was just a head behind Champion Hurdle second favourite in this race last year, and has won his last two races, both at around this trip.
Distance and ground are spot on then, and Ruby comes here a fresh horse having sidestepped Cheltenham. But his front-running style might just set the race up for one of the Irish stalkers, always assuming Blue Heron doesn’t lead.
Either way, I’d love to see Ruby win, but it’s not a race in which I think there’s any value or in which I feel I have any sort of edge or handle on the form. One to watch.
As a side note, I shall be exclusively quaffing Doom Bar on course, in honour of their generous sponsorship of this race. Ahem.
Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle selection:
4.05 Crabbie’s Foxhunters’ Chase (Class 2, 2m 5 1/2 f)
It may have already been more difficult than it first appeared, but now it appears difficult! Thirty amateur riders steering thirty hunter chasers over the Grand National fences. What could possibly go wrong?!
It’s a race in which young hunters have not gloried, and those aged nine to eleven have claimed 15 of the last 18. That’s 83% of the winners from 61% of the runners, and it’s a knock to the chances of the likes of Pacha Du Polder and Current Event as well as Big Fella Thanks and former 100/1 winner (and 25/1 second the following year), Tartan Snow.
In fact, although a tad reckless, it does reduce the score and ten field to sixteen at a stroke. A reckless stroke that may well have eliminated the winner from consideration, granted, but nobody’s seriously considering going ‘all in’ on this anyway… are they?!
16 of the last 18 Aintree Foxhunters’ winners finished either in the first three, or fell/unseated last time out. That gets shot of another two, both 50/1+ chances. Less than half to go!
15 of the last 18 winners were priced at 8/1 or shorter. The remaining trio were 33/1 or bigger, including 100/1 Tartan Snow and 50/1 Silver Adonis in the last five years.
Warne and On The Fringe have outstanding credentials for this. Despite the huge field which assembles every year, Warne and Tartan Snow rounded out the exacta between them in each of the last two years, the former prevailing last term.
The top rider over the National fences is Sam Waley-Cohen and the galloping dentist has every chance of a second successive triumph in the race with conditions precisely as they were last year.
On The Fringe comes here on the back of a resounding win in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ Chase. While that is a far sterner test than this, I had my reservations about OTF’s stamina for the March test. The fact that he was able to stretch out that far should not be viewed as a negative in the context of this speedier test. He, and jockey Nina Carberry, will need some luck in running, however, with their middle to late running style not ideally suited to this event: there will be cab-hailers, washers-up, and tumbling acrobats left, right and sideways as they go into the last mile.
Pacha Du Polder and Big Fella Thanks have both taken early support. Pacha was an easy winner of a race which is working out well. The 4th, 5th, and 6th are the only three to run under rules since, with the first pair winning and the 6th horse making the frame. Will Biddick is a decent rider in this sphere and PDP generally races prominently, which is advantageous.
BFT is 13, and his recent good form has been recorded on soft and heavy turf. Reverting to quicker lawns and against better horses, I find it hard to envisage the venerable veteran being sufficiently fleet. Losing ticket aside, it would be great if he was though.
Last Time d’Albain is plausible without being exciting, comments which apply equally to Twirling Magnet: Jonjo’s charge has beaten the same horse the last twice.
If there is to be another shock winner, perhaps it might be Siro Demur. This unconsidered chap has a really good piece of form from Kempton this time last year, where he beat Shoreacres, Benedictus and Milgen Bay – all good hunters – over this sort of trip and on this sort of ground on a similar sort of track.
Since then, he’s run twice under rules, finishing fourth to Teaforthree (would have been close to favourite for this) on ground softer than ideal; and then a close second over an inadequate two miles last time. He’s notched the quickest speed figure in the field and, in a race sure to be run at a good lick, he might entertain us at a monster price.
And, naturally, it would be fantastic to see another big run from the 15 year old, Tartan Snow, winner aged 13 in 2013 and second last year aged 14.
[I won’t be drinking Crabbie’s during this race, as I don’t like the stuff. And I’ll probably still have some Doom Bar in my glass…]
Crabbie’s Foxhunters’ Chase Selections:
1 pt win Warne 4/1 general
0.25 pt e/w Siro Demur 50/1 general (choose a bookie paying 1/4 first FOUR at least)
4.40 Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m)
A lickety-split handicap chase, and a high class one too. With seventeen slated to face the tapes, the victor will take some spotting. Perhaps a couple of trends can help…
– Eleven of the last 18 winners finished in the top five last time out, and five of the other seven failed to complete.
– Only one of the 41 horses aged ten or above prevailed, which is 5.5% of the winners from 17% of the runners.
– All bar two of those 18 winners were rated 129-143
– Those absent for more than four months have failed to make the frame, albeit from only twelve to line up.
A strict interpretation of those four lines would leave a quartet of orthodox trends picks: Ned Buntline, Darwins Fox, Dresden and Definite Dream. But I’m happier leaving those very close to the ratings band in. They are Arnaud, Royal Regatta, Karinga Dancer, and Pearls Legend.
Ned Buntline was the subject of an almighty punt in the last race of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, the Grand Annual. On going softer than ideal he held on for a place there, and with less give in the green this time he might go close. 8/1 is fairly appealing with AP McCoy pushing and shoving.
Darwins Fox is quite interesting. Busy through the summer, including when in the first three in a trio of Graded races, he was then put away through the worst of the winter months. A prep run at Dundalk in February will have sharpened him up here, and he’s got the moves to go close, though he might ideally prefer slightly further.
Harry Fry has endured a quieter couple of months – it had to be that way at some point, didn’t it? – but with three winners from his last seven runners, his Karinga Dancer commands respect. A winner of his only Aintree start, in a two mile handicap hurdle, he was last seen when third in a Grade 2 on soft ground. All of his wins have come with the word ‘good’ in the going description, so better can be expected here. He has plenty of weight, but perhaps not enough to stop a bold bid at around the 16/1 mark.
As a novice, Royal Regatta‘s form cycle is probably still waxing. If that logical premise is correct, then he must have a chance on a suitable strip like this. Wins at the likes of Haydock, Newbury, and Doncaster, as well as here mark him down as something of a flat track bully: obviously a positive trait on this flat track. At around 8/1, I’m uninspired by the value proposition even though Philip Hobbs’ inmate has a solid form chance.
One who is more inspiring is Dresden, a novice who was travelling pretty well when coming down four out in the Grand Annual. He’s put together an eye-catching sequence of performances, and good ground on a flat track looks bang on. He’s a general 14/1 and that’s worth a play, win and place.
Of the rest on my shortlist, the ground looks too quick for Definite Dream; Arnaud has been beaten on all fourteen attempts at Graded company; and things might just happen a bit too fast for Pearls Legend.
Red Rum Handicap Chase Selections:
0.5 pt e/w Karinga Dancer 16/1 general
0.5 pt e/w Dresden 14/1 general
5.15 Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 3m 1/2f)
A fascinating and high class card comes to a tricky finale with this staying handicap hurdle contested by 22 staying hurdlers. Clearly a race where many have chances, powder might be better kept dry. Still, let’s have a sneaky peak and see what we can discern…
Two-thirds (12/18) of the winners since 1997 finished in the first four last time out. That was from 41% of the runners.
None of the 28 runners aged ten or above have won, though four have placed.
Only three horses have carried more than 11-03 to victory since 1997. 17% winners from 24% runners.
Only three of the 83 horses rated 140+ have won since 1997. That is also 17% winners from 24% runners.
15/18 winners since 1997 had between four and seven seasonal runs. 83% winners from 55% runners.
That lot has every chance of eliminating the winner, so proceed with extreme caution. However, for penny wagers, it reduces the sauce to a jus of Katgary, Master Malt and The Tourard Man.
Katgary bounced back to form last time in a Class 3 handicap hurdle at Newbury. That was over three furlongs shorter, and the extra distance of this race would need to bring about a fair bit of improvement off his current mark. Odds of 12/1 don’t sufficiently accommodate the needed progression for me, and I’m still looking for my penny wager.
Master Malt has been highly progressive, and run some very fast races whilst winning half of his last eight races, including the last two. Good ground, three miles and a flat track are common factors in his wins and, though a ten pound rise seems harsh enough, there’s no guarantee he’ll be anchored by it such is his forward momentum.
But one of the most consistent horses all season has been The Tourard Man. Alan King’s nine year old has been on the podium in all nine of his career starts, including six at this trip and six on this sort of ground. He was a staying on third to Call The Cops at Cheltenham last time, and re-opposes with that one on three pounds better terms. I’d personally like to see him ridden a bit more handily than he is normally and, if that happens, I can see him making the frame – at least – again. He must be too big at 14/1.
Grade 3 3m Handicap Hurdle Selections:
In terms of betting, I’ll be mucking about in the extreme here, with a couple of very small speculatives.
0.25 pt e/w Master Malt 16/1 general
0.25 pt e/w The Tourard Man 14/1 Skybet, Bet Victor, PP
Good luck with your Day One wagers. And feel free to leave a comment below with your fancies, success stories or agonizing hard luck tales!
p.s. It’s not something I’d say often, but I honestly believe this is the best 2015 Grand National trends piece anywhere. It also features a full form preview and some tips, natch!