Grand National Day 2015: Preview, Trends, Tips
Aintree’s Grand National fixture draws to a spectacular conclusion with the feature race after which the meeting is named. The Grand National is the greatest race in the world, not just Britain or this meeting. It is without peer in terms of drama, quality and quantity; and whilst not quite a race that stops a nation, it isn’t far short.
As well as the Grand National, previewed here, there are six excellent supporting races, starting with the…
1.30 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)
Generally a race for fancied runners, 14 winners since 1997 have returned at 9/2 or shorter. The other quartet were all double figure prices.
Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls have won six of the last eleven renewals between them.
Since 1997, six winners (from 50 runners) won last time out; and five more (from 31 runners) finished second the last day.
Horses aged five or six have a markedly better record than other age groups, claiming 16 of the last 18 Mersey Novices’ Hurdles. They do represent a majority of runners, but still outperform their representation (89% winners, 80% places, to 72% runners).
Those to have won over further than the 2m4f of the Mersey have won a third of the renewals since 1997, from just 18% of the runners. It seems proven stamina is an asset.
12 winners from 73 runners came here direct from the Cheltenham Festival; and eleven of that dozen were sent off at 9/2 or shorter here, returning a small profit at SP to level stakes.
Willie Mullins is taking Aintree more seriously this year, and he runs Neptune Novices’ Hurdle third, Nichols Canyon, here. A very good horse on the flat for John Gosden, the Canyon hasn’t had all the luck since switching to timber-topping. He unseated when odds on for a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last Christmas, and was outpaced by Windsor Park and Parlour Games (re-opposes) at Cheltenham.
It is possible that stiff 2m5f tested his stamina too far, but this zippy two and a half miles demands abundant staying power, too. Parlour Games has had plenty of racing but recorded a career best last time, and may have one more fight in him before a break. There should be little between the pair again.
Seedling, a son of Cockney Rebel, steps up to two and a half miles for the first time after unshipping in the Supreme. He was a bit of a ‘wise guy’ pick that day and, having not left his race behind there, will be fresher than some for this. He’s talented, but there are questions to answer with regards to this top grade and the additional distance.
Days Of Heaven comes here on a four-timer after completing his hat-trick in the Grade 2 Dovecote Hurdle at Kempton in February. He was third at this course in October but looks to have improved a bundle since then. He’s not certain to get the trip but his upward trajectory makes him worth the punt.
Other unexposed sorts include Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers, two from two at around this trip on soft ground; and Port Melon, who finally got off the mark after some fair placed form in Graded events.
Mersey Novices’ Hurdle selection:
1pt win Days Of Heaven
2.05 Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase (Grade 1, 2m)
The ‘Aintree Arkle’, and one that was set to be graced by the winner of both the Irish Arkle and the Arkle itself, Un De Sceaux. Alas, he’s skipped the race, and just six line up in his absence.
God’s Own is the clear pick of them on a number of lines of form, not least his 40/1 second to Un De Sceaux in the Arkle (tipped here, *cough*). He’s a genuine Grade 1 two miler on top of the ground and, with the turf in his favour, he looks a leading player.
Of the rest, I like Court Minstrel. I also backed him in the Arkle at a big price, but he could fare no better than fifth. He was a winner of the conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle later on this card last year, and has improved since then for the switch to fences. Again, top of the ground is a prerequisite, and he’ll probably get the pace he needs to run at, with both Solar Impulse and Sizing Granite (as well as, occasionally, God’s Own) front-running sorts.
Two miles and a flat track is the right set up for Solar Impulse, too, but his propensity for finishing second is disconcerting even allowing for his trainer’s form.
The field is completed by a trio of improvers: Traffic Fluide, Sizing Granite and Art Mauresque. All are interesting for different reasons, and add to a fascinating renewal.
Maghull Novices’ Chase selection:
1pt win God’s Own
2.50 Liverpool Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m 1/2f)
Trends for this race need to be treated with more caution than most, due to the multiple presence on the roll of honour of a certain Big Buck’s. His four wins from 2009 to 2012 were a tremendous achievement, and clearly many profile pointers will be skewed as a consequence.
Still, there remain some elements to note, such as:
Even allowing for the Buck’s, every winner since 2009 was following up a win at the Cheltenham Festival.
Big Buck’s last won this as a nine year old, but four of the 16 ten- and eleven-year-olds landed blows for the veterans by winning the Liverpool Hurdle.
A decent Liverpool Hurdle this year, with lots of World Hurdle and Pertemps Final runners re-engaging, but maybe tricky to find the winner. Zarkandar holds a slight market advantage over Cole Harden as I type, but that looks flattering for a horse who is good at ‘not’ getting it done: since winning a Grade 1 in France, he looked a bit ‘doggy’ in the finish when beaten by the dogged Reve De Sivola; and then he fluffed his lines when coming with a challenge in the World Hurdle last time.
Against that, Cole Harden has been rejuvenated by a wind op, and was a convincing winner of that Cheltenham Stayers’ Hurdle. He’s uncomplicated is Cole Harden – he’ll most likely bid for glory from the front from the off – and anything capable of passing him will know they’ve been in a race. Saying that, both Cole Harden and Zarkandar had hard enough races at Cheltenham, even allowing for the four week break since.
The value alternative could be last year’s winner, Whisper. He’s obviously suited to conditions, and he was coming back off a fair layoff at Cheltenham, where he did well to be a ten length fifth. This will be only his third run since winning the race last year and 4/1 looks reasonable.
The rest don’t look good enough, to my eye at least.
Liverpool Hurdle selection:
1 pt e/w Whisper 4/1 general
3.25 Handicap Chase (Listed, 3m 1f)
One of the lesser races at the meeting as people start to gear up for the biggest of them all, the Grand National. And it’s one where winners have been relatively easy to find, with just two since 1997 returning greater than 12/1 (and even then at ‘only’ 20/1 and 22/1).
Those finishing outside the top seven last time represented 36% of the runners, but won just 17% of the races. Thus, top seven finishers last time out won 83% of the renewals (and took 83% of the places) from 64% of the runners.
Every winner bar Reveillez (2007) since 2002 has carried 11-02 or less.
Ten go to post, and Wonderful Charm – rated 150 – ensure the remaining nine carry no more than 11-02. He’s run in Grade 1 company the last twice, and Grade 2 the twice before that, but failed to score in any of those races. Indeed, his only victory this term was when winning a Newton Abbot intermediate chase against some talented but unfit rivals. He’s a good horse, but has plenty of weight
The main beneficiary, and comfortably the most compelling wager in a poor race for the money/grade, is Buywise. He’s a talented horse, even if he does take the odd fence by its roots. This trip might test his stamina, but he was staying on well when a three length fourth to Darna in the Festival Plate over a half mile shorter. Evan Williams’ lad has not finished improving yet and, with a clear round, he should win if he stays (he did win a heavy ground three mile chase as a novice, but that was at a much lower level).
Of the remainder, Duke Of Lucca was unlucky to miss the cut for the Grand National (#42), but he’ll be fit and well and this is clearly an easier assignment than that. Indeed, he won this very race last year off a nine pound lower mark. Since then he’s found life tougher, perhaps in part down to not being fully tuned up prior to Grand National day. His regime was geared to the longer race, and he’ll certainly not want for stamina, so it’s possible he could defy the rating rise and go close.
Most of the rest are badly out of form, but Your Busy, who could get a soft lead, is not. All seven of his wins have come on a sound surface and the last six have been at either 2m6f or three miles. He has just 10-03 on his back most of which is comprised of the talented David Casey’s agile frame.
Edgardo Sol loves it round here, but trainer Emma Lavelle has had just one horse make the frame from fifteen in the last month.
Handicap chase selection:
1pt win Buywise
0.5 pt e/w Your Busy
4.15 Crabbie’s Grand National (Grade 3, 4m 3 1/2f)
I’ve previewed the Grand National in great detail here. If you want to cut to the chase, my fancies are below. (Some of the prices may have changed since the post was written on Wednesday)
Grand National Tips:
1pt win Rocky Creek – 10/1 generally (PP 1/4 odds FIVE places)
5.10 Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 2, 2m 1/2f)
Just the seventh running of this race, and already there have been six winners priced 11/1 or above. That sextet includes 16/1, 28/1 and 66/1 winners, so caution is advised.
Without any trends to go on, we’ll have to rely on suitability to conditions: a flat track, good to soft ground, and two miles in a big field. I’m calling my old friend, Mr Instant Expert, to assist.
So what is that telling us? Well, firstly, note that it’s filtered by place, not win, so we get a better feel for a horse’s overall aptitude for the job at hand.
The grey areas indicate a horse has yet to race under those conditions; otherwise, green is good, amber is all right, red is not so good. Still with me?
A couple that stand out are course and distance winner, Mason Hindmarch, and highly progressive One For The Guv’nor. Let’s start with the latter, who may be favourite. Trained by Nicky Henderson, this chap has won four of his six races and finished second on the other two starts. He steps into handicap company for the first time off a mark of just 135, and that looks on the generous side of fair given how well his form is working out.
The Guv’nor will be able to rate in midfield off what should be a searing gallop, and it is easy to imagine his class dragging him to the front before his top rider, Nico de Boinville, sends him on. Indeed, having the Gold Cup-winning jockey on your side in a race for amateurs and conditionals is worth a few pounds at least!
Much more exposed, but perfectly proven against the parameters of today’s puzzle, is Mason Hindmarch. As well as that course and distance win, he has been in the first two in his last three starts, all at this trip and the last pair on good ground. It would be ample compensation for trainer Karen McLintock, whose Carlito Brigante had to miss the National after pulling out slightly lame on Friday.
There are bundles of others with chances but, frankly, in races like these I don’t consider it a good use of time to attempt articulate their cases. I’ll try the above pair for small stakes, and see how my luck is.
Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle selection:
0.5 pt e/w One For The Guv’nor
0.25 pt e/w Mason Hindmarch
5.40 Mares’ National Hunt Flat Race (Listed, 2m 1f)
Last year was the tenth running of this race, and that decade was book-ended by winners for Alan King. As well as his alpha and omega winners, King has also saddled five further placed horse from the sixteen he’s sent to post in this. Einstein’s intervention is not required to know his entries warrant close inspection.
Still on the matter of trainers, whilst yet to score between them, Messrs Mullins (W) and Reveley (K) have amassed place record of three from seven and two from five respectively.
Four of the ten winners were priced 20/1 or bigger, including – remarkably – King’s Avispa last year.
All ten winners finished in the top four last time, as did all bar four of the thirty placed horses. That’s 100% winners and 87% places from 74% of the runners.
It’s a bit of a guessing game, but siding with Alan King runners has kept the fire burning for a long time now, so why change the record? He saddles three – Angel Face, Katie Too, and Miss Crick – with jockey bookings intimating that Miss Crick is the favoured one.
Wayne Hutchinson takes the ride on this winner-of-one daughter of Midnight Legend. Her win was a facile one on soft ground, a good bit slower than she’ll encounter this time. Still, she could do no more than win readily, against the boys.
King has been reluctant to separate them, as you’d expect, though they did work together recently. Katie Too’s win was hard fought – she was just a nose clear of the second, five lengths back to the rest – but the form is working out really well. The second and sixth have both won since, and the fifth and seventh have placed, from just five horses to run (once each) since that day. She could be the one.
Angel Face’s form has not worked out so well. It was a soft ground event, and the nine runs by horses from that race have yielded just a single placed effort. The second has been beaten twice since, and the third and fourth have both also been beaten, all of those runs out of the frame.
Willie Mullins saddles Babylone Des Motte, and Ruby Walsh will ride this Sandown Listed winner. She’s likely to go off favourite, and her form is working out well already. She has the highest tentative official rating in the field, and if you’re having a meaningful bet elsewhere in the race, she might be worth a saver.
Gordon Elliott’s Whistle Dixie was favourite for that Sandown Listed race but stumbled and unseated her rider. She’ll be bidding to make amends here, and a Thursday double for her trainer means she’ll likely be in peak fitness.
Another trainer in form on the opening day was Paul Nicholls, and his Lifeboat Mona was third in the Sandown race. She was hampered by Whistle Dixie when that one was running loose and then just flattened out up the hill. Her previous two wins had been on flat tracks – Huntingdon and Warwick – and she might be able to reverse placings if the course constitution is a material factor in her last day defeat.
Peter Bowen has won this race, and placed with another mare, from four runners; and he has Hollies Pearl in his corner. She’s had four runs, winning the last two, and was impressive when skipping right away the last day on quicker ground than she’d previously raced on. She was beaten by Lifeboat Mona on debut, but looks to have improved a lot since then. She’s very interesting.
It’s an impossible guesser’s race, so token picks/bets only.
Mares’ National Hunt Flat Race selection:
0.5 pt win Katie Too
0.5 pt win Miss Crick
0.25 pt e/w Hollies Pearl