We've got quality and quantity
And two interesting very bets in competitive handicaps
The first couple days of Aintree’s Grand National meeting don’t get the attention that Saturday’s headline act or the Cheltenham Festival, but the opening day is packed full of some excellent races that are well worth getting a look at.
Because the Grade 1 races feature some of the superstars and rising stars of jumps racing, it really comes down to who you fancy on the day. We’ve gone through the cards and pick out a couple of interesting runners who are worth keeping an eye on, but our attempts to Narrow The Field are focused on the two handicaps on the card.
Crabbie’s Fox Hunters’ Chase – 4.05pm – Bet Now
In a 23 runner hunters’ chase, it’s difficult to have supreme confidence in any horse, but Pacha Du Polder stands out as a cracking bet. No less than 12 runners make it into the centre of the grid, but a lot of those scrape in based on runs a long time ago and their current suitability for the trip and/or going are open to question.
On The Fringe took glory in the Cheltenham Festival’s equivalent of this race and is a worthy favourite. But that was a hard-fought victory and coming to Merseyside and backing up less than a month later is a big ask and the price on offer for doing so is far from big.
In contrast, Pacha finished two and three quarter lengths back in fifth at Cheltenham and did not have a hard race. Ridden by Victoria Pendleton on the day, he was held up off the pace and found plenty on the run-in even though he wasn’t exactly asked for a lot. Without wanting to make scurrilous accusations, the Olympian jockey seemed happy enough to have gotten around without taking a tumble. That was a hint he had a lot more in the tank and a more aggressive finish could seem take the win here.
Red Rum Handicap Chase – 4.40pm – Bet Now
Like the previous race, the Red Rum Handicap features lots of runners in the centre of the grid, but several who tick the boxes in a less than convincing manner. Bright New Dawn, Solar Impulse, Fayette County, Pearls Legend, Katachenko and Viconte Du Noyer do not belong to that group and thoroughly deserve to be considered leading contenders for this race.
But it’s Dandridge who is worth a look here. He finished second at Cheltenham despite making a couple of mistakes early on. Maybe those mistakes didn’t cost him victory, but if he gets his jumping right this time around, he’s got a real chance here. Smaller fields seem to suit him and some of his best performances have come when there is less hussle and bustle. With 13 runners, this race just about fits into that category and the addition of Davy Russell on board is another plus in a competitive contest.
Manifesto Novices Chase – 1.40 Aintree – Bet Now
It’s a very classy race and four of the eight runners land tick the boxes we’re looking to think, with a couple of the other runners only narrowly missing out. Garde La Victoire was going along well when he fell at Cheltenham, Sizing John has been close enough to Douvan on a number of occasions to suggest he’s classy and L’Ami Serge won’t be hindered by the rainfall.
Arzal didn’t make it to Cheltenham and has to be respected, but at the odds, Bouvreuil is the one to watch. He wasn’t mixing it in the same calibre of company as those who contested the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Festival, but he’s gone up 18 pounds for his narrow defeat in the Novice’s Handicap and that lofty rating puts him right in the mix for this. If the rain continues to come in the north-west, that also shouldn’t be a problem and he’s a good each-way punt, especially if all eight runners stand their ground to make sure we’re getting three places.
Juvenile Hurdle – 2.15pm – Bet Now
This is another tough call with basically all the runners having all the right stats in all the right places. Ivanovich Gorbatov won the Cheltenham race and faces many of those vanquished opponents again here but his odds in a competitive race are skinny enough at . Apple’s Jade is the choice especially with her mares’ allowance. She should appreciate the softening ground slightly more than AidJoe O’Brien’s charge.
Betfred Bowl Chase – 2.50pm – Bet Now
This looks to be a three runner race and it’s hard to make a convincing case against anyone of that trinity. I backed Cue Card at Cheltenham but I don’t buy the ‘he would have won if he stayed on his feet’ argument. He had never tackled the three miles two furlong distance before and the one time he tried three miles and one furlong, he was well beaten by Don Cossack. It’s fine margins, but that extra furlong seems to make him vulnerable. Don Poli is the choice here on account of Djakadam’s greater exertions at Cheltenham.
Aintree Hurdle – 3.25pm – Bet Now
Annie Power is absolutely rock solid here. She gets the rather ‘neither here nor there’ distance, she’ll handle whatever ground she faces and gets the mares allowance. Second place look set to be contested between My Tent Or Yours, Nichols Canyon and The New One and that’s fair enough, but the market has under-rated Court Minstrel. It’s sounds mental, but he’s only has a few pounds to find on his rivals and looks to have been aimed at this after beating the useful Rock The Kasbah (who went off favourite for the Coral Cup at the Festival) at Chepstow in October. He had a pipe-opener at Lingfield back in January and it’s possible that connections are expecting a big run. Which is nice, because clearly no-one else is.
Verdict: ( E/W Betting W/O the favourite)