Grand National Day 2019: Look to the Clouds among the many stars

Four years ago there were Many Clouds in the Aintree winners’ enclosure. Now its time for a spot of Vintage.

Sue Smith’s grey has consistently run up to standard in staying handicaps for three seasons now. He has been fourth in the Welsh National, third in a Scottish and handles all types of going. His yard won the 2013 edition of this race with Aurora’s Encore and he is my pick to get the better of the 39 others in the line-up.

Though the fences have relinquished their previous demand, winning the Grand National is no mean feat. It will be a pleasure, yet again, to revel in the spectacle, but not before more drama unfolds in the five races prior.

Gaskells Handicap:

Sire Du Berlais landed an enormous gamble in the Pertemps when Barry Geraghty drove him to the front late in the day. He always looked likely to get there, but an 8lb rise looks harsh and he’s very opposable at the prices. Aux Ptits Soins ran no race in the Cleeve Hurdle, but was impressive in a handicap prior to that while the mare, Mia’s Storm, skipped Cheltenham and chases a hat-trick. Burrows Park was successful at Kelso over further and will hope for a test of stamina while Coole Cody was very well beaten in the Pertemps. Slightly closer behind was THECLOCKISTICKING, who represents the value bet for Stuart Edmunds. He was sixth to Sire Du Berlais, beaten nine lengths, but gets a 9lb pull at the weights dropped 1lb in the handicap. Nadaitak as a wide-margin winner on his penultimate start but showed nothing at Cheltenham while Keeper Hill often pops up when you least expect him to. Tommy Rapper has been consistent this season, but of most appeal at a price is Red Indian back over hurdles.

1. Theclockisticking
2. Aux Ptits Soins
3. Burrows Park

Mersey Novices:

Brewinupastorm is due a big victory having chased Champ and City Island home in two Grade Ones as well as having fallen at the last at Cheltenham in January. However, he faces a few fearsome opponents, in particular ANGELS BREATH who is stepped up in trip. He never featured in the Supreme, but did make some headway towards the end and with pace at less of a premium here, he could showcase his talent. One For Rosie is on an upward curve and tanked a huge weight close in a Grade Three novices’ handicap last time out. Kateson finished ahead of Brewinupastorm in the Challow, but was very disappointing latest. Chosen Mate has won three times in Ireland and challengers from across the sea have been hugely dangerous this week while the progressive Reserve Tank isn’t entirely discounted. Quite an open contest.

1. Angels Breath
2. Chosen Mate
3. Brewinupastorm

Maghull:

Slight preference is for US AND THEM, who ran on, despite being outpaced, in the Arkle. This is sharper, so may be uncomfortable viewing as far as Joseph O’Brien’s charge is concerned, but with four front-runners in the field, it should set up for a horse to come from the back. Clondaw Castle was the only horse matching Duc Des Genievres until the home stretch in the Arkle, but faded badly up the run in while Knocknanuss didn’t appreciate the ground that day although this isn’t much better. Ornua fell in the Arkle so will have to bounce back as will Lalor, though that looks highly likely as he has won at this meeting the last two years. Destrier is on the up, unlike Caid Du Lin, who is exposed.

1. Us And Them
2. Lalor
3. Ornua

Stayers:

It takes a leap of faith to support Apples Jade after she bombed at Cheltenham. It may just be that she hates Prestbury Park and was taken out of her comfort zone early in that contest. Even so, there’s a chance that more complications abound with her and she can be taken on. SAM SPINNER bounced right back to his best when second to Paisley Park in the Stayers and a repeat performance would make him a worthy rival to the favourite and tough to beat for the rest. His jumping was much better that day and looks more reliable than earlier this season. The Worlds End reverts from chasing, where he’s been disappointing of late while all of Agrapart, Clyne and Unowhatimeanharry have seen better days. If The Cap Fits is likely a danger getting his first chance at this trip and he should be well suited by it. Kilbricken Storm, Nautical Nitwit and West Approach were all well beaten in the Stayers so Roksana looks a greater danger as, though she was fortunate to win the Mares hurdle, that 2m4f trip was on the sharp side for her and this trip looks preferable. Lord Napier and William Henry step up from handicaps though both look up against it.

1. Sam Spinner
2. If The Cap Fits
3. Roksana

Betway Handicap:

A staying handicap before the ultimate staying handicap. Debece and Amaulino come in chasing hat-tricks having found form at the right time while Kildisart was a good fourth in the JLT, with both Mengli Khan and Lostintranslation having franked that form since. Touch Kick made mistakes in the Kim Muir, but travelled strongly so could be dangerous if jumping better. Springtown Lake was one of a number routed by A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers, but stayed on to the line. The extra half mile should suit. Polydora and Theatre Territory find it difficult to win, but in a race where nobody can be discounted, OLDGRANGEWOOD may have a chance of returning to form. He hasn’t got close for a while, but he was ninth in the Ultima at Cheltenham and has been dropped 3lb as a result. He’s now 9lb lower than when fourth last year and has not gone off the boil just yet.

1. Oldgrangewood
2. Kildisart
3. Theatre Territory

Grand National:

No one would begrudge the hugely popular Tiger Roll making history by becoming the first horse since Red Rum to win this race twice. If anything, he’s a much better horse than when victorious 12 months ago having hacked up in the Boyne Hurdle and X Country Chase at the Festival. A 9lb rise isn’t too harsh for a National winner, but he has struggled carrying weight in the past in big handicaps. Rathvinden’s trainer Willie Mullins has had three incredibly facile winners this week already and his charge’s victory in the Bobbyjo Chase was a perfect trial. However, he’s a sketchy enough jumper to have faith in here. Anibale Fly is the class act and though giving 4lb and more all round, he has an admirable record in big races. The two Trevor Hemmings greys, VINTAGE CLOUDS (nap) and Lake View Lad, filled second and third in the Ultima with preference for the former in this. He’s been fourth in a Welsh National and third in the Scottish equivalent with a recent wind operation looking to have revivified him. He’s 5lb well in, stays all day and is likely to be on the front end. If he gets into a rhythm, he’ll be a formidable opponent to pass under such a light weight and can defy the poor record of greys in this race. Joe Farrell won the aforementioned Scottish National, but would ideally like a sounder surface and ran just two weeks ago while Rock The Kasbah, if jumping at his best, should make a bold bid for Richard Johnson. Others of serious note are Pleasant Company, runner-up having jumped superbly last year and laid out for this with a 2lb reverse with Tiger Roll, Ramses De Teillee, another grey and another with stamina in abundance, Ultragold, a two-time course winner and One For Arthur, who could prove the forgotten horse in the race having taken the spoils two years ago.

1. Vintage Clouds
2. Pleasant Company
3. Ramses De Teillee
4. Anibale Fly

My Guide to the 2019 Grand National

As any racing blogger worth their salt should be doing at this time of the year, I’ve pored over stats, replays and quotes to come up with a detailed guide to every runner in the 2019 Grand National. All 40 are previewed below, their chances evaluated and given a mark out of 5. The system is as follows.

5 – Yes. Just yes.

4 – Maybe. Just maybe.

3 – OK. Just OK.

2 – About. Just about.

1 – No. Just no.

Here we go then. And feel free to ignore me, this has almost certainly been a useless exercise.

1. Anibale Fly: Carries top-weight as he’s the class horse in the field by some way. Third and second in the previous two runnings of the Gold Cup and fourth in this last year. In all three of those races, he’s stayed on at the finish. Under this burden it’s possible that he’ll lack a little tactical pace at a crucial time for all that he’s very talented. He has only 1lb more than a year ago and the softened conditions could prove in his favour, but may just find one or two too good again. 4/5

2. Valtor: French import who hacked up on his first start in this country for Nicky Henderson. Was found out at a higher level next time at Cheltenham and though that race may have gone against him from an early stage, it takes a huge leap of faith to suggest he’s capable off this mark in such a deep field. Trainer’s only hope in the race and his winless run looks set to go on for at least a year longer. 1/5

3. Tiger Roll: For all his performances this season have been staggering in their versatility and ease, something tells me this remains a big ask. Has the best chance of any Grand National winner since Hedgehunter (and probably since Red Rum) of winning this twice as he’s only up 9lb on ratings and carries just 6lb more weight. Nevertheless, I still feel he could be a liability due to his height and this looks too competitive a Nash otherwise to back a 4/1 shot. For all this, he is the likeliest winner but there’s enough evidence against him. 4/5

4. Outlander: Unlike most racehorses, Outlander, a triple Grade One hero in his pomp, has soured with age. Looks to have fallen out of love with the game and its been 18 months since he returned victorious anywhere. If for some reason he takes to Aintree, his weight could prove generous on just his second handicap start, but its far more probable that he’ll sulk once again. One of Gigginstown’s least likely winners. 1/5

5. Don Poli: An anagram of “I Plod On” and that is all he really does nowadays. Very good at his peak, as evidenced by his third to fellow Don Cossack in the 2016 Gold Cup and the one guarantee is he’ll stay (would ideally want 8 miles instead of 4). Injuries, however, have curtailed his carer since. Was beaten a long way by Jury Duty last time out in receipt of 10lb. Now concedes weight to that rival. You do the maths. 2/5

6. Go Conquer: Has become a winner of good-quality handicaps in the last two seasons, including Doncaster’s SkyBet Chase in January. He’s only up 6lb for that, but this is his career-high mark by some distance and he’s never tackled a trip beyond three miles. Has jumped very well on all three starts since joining Nigel Twiston-Davies and may yet find more for stepping up in trip, however, he should lack the class to be able to shoulder his weight allowance. 2/5

7. Mala Beach: Has never races in England before so this will be somewhat of a baptism of fire for the 11-year-old. Ran a solid trial behind Jury Duty at Down Royal a few weeks ago but he is 7lb higher than his most recent winning handicap mark. Likely not as good as he once was and would struggle to make Gordon Elliott’s top ten let alone this race’s. 1/5

8. Minella Rocco: Would have been top-weight last season which shows you the strength of this horse in his prime (second in the 2017 Gold Cup). However, he’s gone right off the boil this season and though he’s only nine, he would appear to be on a steep decline. Won the four-miler, beating Native River, at Cheltenham in 2016 so does stay and a spark isn’t out of the question, but he’s also a haphazard jumper. Not the McManus no.1 2/5

9. Lake View Lad: Nick Alexander’s first runner in the race. Trainer’s having their first runner rarely stand a chance, nor do greys win this often (one in 57 years prior to this year’s renewal). However, having run on into third off top-weight in the Ultima at Cheltenham there’s no guarantee that Lake View Lad won’t continue to impress. Nevertheless, the trip is an unknown and the handicapper will have done his best to prove a step ahead of him. This field, naturally, is much deeper than the Prestbury Park handicap though he certainly looks set to give a good account. 3/5

10. Pleasant Company: Last year’s runner-up, although he arrives this year 3lb worse off with the handicapper than he should be. He has been laid off for this though, arriving in virtually identical form to last year, and the recent rain is a plus. 2lb better off with Tiger Roll 12 months on, though that rival has taken his game to a different level, whereas Paul Townend’s ride is now aged 11. Jumped beautifully last year though and if he can get into that sort of rhythm again, other factors may pale into insignificance. 4/5

11. Ballyoptic: This time last year, he was fourth to Presenting Percy in the RSA and hasn’t lacked or ability at times over fences. Beat Elegant Escape at the beginning of last season and was a nose second to Joe Farrell in last season’s Scottish National. Will relish the trip, but has been hugely disappointing in the last twelve months and fell on his only journey to the Grand National course in December’s Becher Chase. That’s a huge worry. 2/5

12. Dounikos: Had done absolutely nothing for over a year before winning the Punchestown Grand National Trial in February when doing all his best work at the end. Had failed to complete on four of his six starts prior to that, including falling on his penultimate start, and now races off his highest mark (3lb than when pulling up in the 2018 Irish National). Opposable enough. 2/5

13. Rathvinden: Has a spookily identical profile to Tiger Roll of last season. Winner of the previous season’s National Hunt Chase, small in stature and carrying no.13. Won decisively on his sole start in 2018/19 from a good yardstick, but his jumping has left quite a bit to be desired in the past. He is the Mullins no.1 as Ruby Walsh takes the mount and he’s been laid out to challenge though he’s never run in a handicap. With holes to be picked in his best form and the aforementioned jumping issues, he can be avoided. 2/5

14. One For Arthur: The forgotten horse in many respects as he also chases a Red Rum-like double. Is only 6lb higher than his victory two years back, but he hasn’t completed a race since. Injury put paid to last season though two unseats in as many starts this season is a massive worry confidence-wise. He’d have to be at the top of his game to feature and while I think his jumping should stand the test again, he could be overwhelmed for fitness. Has endured the test before though and you can never rule out a previous winner. 3/5

15. Rock The Kasbah: Richard Johnson has never won the Grand National and may not get too many better chances for the rest of his career than with Rock The Kasbah. Won a three-and-a-half miler at Cheltenham in November and was second in last year’s Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown over a similar trip. Won’t have massively appreciated the recent rain and despite those runs, its not certain he wants any further let alone 4 miles and the rest. Weighted to the hilt too. 2/5

16. Warriors Tale: The second of three Trevor Hemmings runners, but the least likely by some way. Pulled up in this last year after walking from Valentine’s and has never raced beyond three miles otherwise. Did win the Grand Sefton over these fences in December so traversing the course should prove less dangerous for him than many other, but impossible to fancy trip wise. Would need to show something he hasn’t before. 1/5

17. Regal Encore: Horrible to follow as he blows extremes of hot and cold. Was eighth two years ago when picking off a few late on and was an eleventh-hour absence 12 months later. 2lb higher than in 2017 and though he ran creditably in his prep race, this looks his toughest assignment for some time. Would not be the most surprising winner in the field, but I’d back him to pull up quicker than each-way. 2/5

18. Magic Of Light: The only mare in the field and was a decent seventh at Cheltenham latest. However, she’s prone to a blunder and unseated on her penultimate start. Was greatly improved beforehand and is imposing so though she’s never raced beyond 3m1f, she’s not an unlikely stayer. That said, she’s not done enough to suggest she can get near winning, but could finish mid-division. 2/5

19. A Toi Phil: Hasn’t run in a three-mile chase since 2017 and never suggested at the time that distance chasing was his game. Did run creditably in the Pertemps Final over hurdles last month, but faded a little on the run-in. Two-and-a-half milers used to have a decent record in this race though as they can be switched off and make ground late. Lively enough at his price given ground conditions will suit and his best form could see him run well for a long way. 3/5

20. Jury Duty: Jay Trump won the American National before winning this in the sixties and Jury Duty looks to do likewise. Had a couple of those above him in the weights behind him when conceding 10lb to them so the numbers read well. That was over a significant enough trip though there’d be some concern that he took a tired fall when beaten by Rathvinden in the 2017 National Hunt Chase. As such, you couldn’t say with confidence that he’s going to last. 2/5

21. Noble Endeavor: Had 20 months off before re-appearing in the Becher Chase. Got round, which is a positive, in ninth, which isn’t. Beaten into mid-division by Beware the Bear at Cheltenham though that run could put him right for this. Was sixth in the Irish National before his lay-off and has won a big-field handicap in the past off 7lb lower. Could outrun his odds and creep into contention. 3/5

22. Monbeg Notorious: Grade Two winning novice and won the Thyestes at Gowran Park in 2018. No wins this season and failed distinctly to repeat his Thyestes triumph in January. Faded well out of contention behind Dounikos in the Punchestown National Trial so everything points against him staying. 1/5

23. Ramses De Teillee: The record of seven-year-olds in the race gets a nice run out every time the National comes around: no winners since 1940. This horse relishes a marathon (second in the Welsh National and Haydock National trial this season) and the more rain the better. Has never fallen, but his style is economical which can be risky at Aintree. 5lb well-in and stable are riding the crest of a wave. Close. 4/5

24. Tea For Two: Grade One winner at his peak, but those days are a distant memory now. Unseated in the X-Country and is tending towards incompletions rather than victories. Lizzie Kelly has a great rapport with this horse, but even at his best, his jumping made the heart flutter. I’ve got more chance. 1/5

25. Just A Par: Takes the place of the injured Mall Dini in the line-up, but is actually the bottom-weight in this. Bet365 Gold Cup was his hunting ground in 2015 and 2016 where he finished first and second (beaten a short-head). He’s only had one win in four years though and was a never nearer 14th in this two years ago. Seventh in the Becher after a long lay-off back in December on his first start for James Moffatt and could fill a similar position here. That is probably the best connections can hope for. 2/5

26. Step Back: Bradstock and de Boinville represented the little man when taking the 2015 Gold Cup with Coneygree. Rapidly improved at the end of last season with a wide-margin novice victory at Fakenham before taking Sandown’s Bet365 Gold Cup in devastating style. 12lb higher as a result and a touch disappointing this term. Looks set to appreciate every yard, but his mark demands more than he’s shown. 3/5

27. Ultragold: I’m hopeful that course form plays a part because I think this horse could run a massive race. Pulled up in the X-Country at Cheltenham, but that race is notoriously difficult to run well in first time out. Has taken the last two runnings of the Topham and while that’s over much shorter, he was third in the Becher Chase in December off 1lb higher when running on at the end. He clearly loves it round here and if patiently ridden, he could make his presence felt. 4/5

28. Blow By Blow: Looked promising at the beginning of the season, but form since of Pulled Up-Last-Pulled Up isn’t particularly encouraging. Has looked like a selling plater in those and should be twice the price. And he’s already 100/1. 1/5

29. Up For Review: Made a costly error when cruising at Cheltenham last time out. The fact he can throw in a jump like that would be a concern as would the fact he went out like a light afterwards. However, there’s no telling how much that mistake took out of him and his previous form would make him intriguing and not without a hope of staying. Worth a second look for those searching for some value. 3/5

30. Singlefarmpayment: Won’t win because that’s not what he does. Has lost narrowly on so many occasions although he didn’t most recently. That’s because he lost convincingly so at least he’s bucking some trends. Usually more consistent than that so his form is a big concern and won’t be desperately in love with the ground. Lots to prove, but he’s quirky so could stick a middle finger up to a number of people. 2/5

31. Vieux Lion Rouge: Has never shaped like he can stay this, but he’s only ten so the Pipe team can continue to pretend otherwise for a couple more years yet. In fairness, he was a fast finishing runner-up to Walk In The Mill in the Becher this season though the wheels have flown off since with two incompletions in rear. Could jump this course with his eyes closed and backers may believe for a while if he can get near the pace. That doesn’t seem likely though and if he does, he won’t stay there. 2/5

32. Valseur Lido: Hugely admirable horse who was top class at his best. Hasn’t shown any form for quite some time though, but there is a glimmer here. Ran off 12lb higher in this race last year when still in contention across the Melling Road and may have done too much too soon. Jumped like a buck and ground conditions this season could lend him a better chance of lasting home. Could equally be pulled up before halfway, but a similar performance makes this 100/1 the best each-way bet of the outsiders. 3/5

33. Vintage Clouds: There’s been Many Clouds victorious in the National before. Now its time for some Vintage. Burst back from a wind op in fine style when second at Cheltenham last time. He sprinted up the hill on soft ground that day and could be a better horse than prior to his operation. He was good enough the too, as evidenced by his third place in last season’s Scottish National. Receives a pull in the weights with both horses that finished ahead of him that day and 10-4 is a very generous weight for this thorough stayer to carry. If he gets on the front end and into a rhythm, he may take some pulling back. 5/5

34. General Principle: it seems foolish to rule out an Irish National winner in this. However, he won a truly bizarre running of that race last season and has since looked shaky in terms of staying. Consistent prior to pulling up at Cheltenham and only 5lb higher than his Irish National triumph, but this looks beyond him. 2/5

35. Livelovelaugh: Like Children’s List last year, Mullins and Ricci send us a left-field National contender and another with no realistic chance. Well beaten in the Kim Muir when fading late on and that was his only start beyond three miles. Has some decent handicap form over shorter, but nothing to suggest a big run here is in the offing. 1/5

36. Walk In The Mill: Has been campaigned for this since winning the Becher Chase with Robert Walford keeping him over hurdles. Up 7lb for that success, but he took to the course thoroughly impressively. May not have a whole lot left up his sleeve, however, for all he can be ridden to stay given his supposed aptitude for the track. Becher winners haven’t the best record in this either. Each way play, but unlikely winner. 2/5

37. Folsom Blue: If Don Poli wants 8 miles, this horse wants 12. If he’s still going after the third last, be sure he’ll run on past a couple. Was fourth in last season’s attritional Irish National and eighth and sixth in the Welsh and Midlands National this season. He’s consistent in marathons and will be finishing much faster than anything else. He’ll probably be a fence behind by that point though. 2/5

38. Captain Redbeard: Beat Definitly Red in a match race, which is very creditable, but didn’t back that up next time out. Unseated early in this last season and has been well beaten in two editions of the Grand Sefton as well. Could stay as he’s not fully exposed beyond 3m2f (which he has run well over), but others will take to the test better than him. 2/5

39. Bless The Wings: Call me mad, but don’t completely rule the veteran out. He’s now 14 and has been well behind Tiger Roll on his last two starts. Nevertheless, he’s off the same mark as when third last year and this race suits him better than any other has this season. Years obviously against him and may have lost any ability he clung onto a year ago, but if any remains, no horse relishes tests like this more. 3/5

40. Joe Farrell: Scottish National hero last term and gets in at the foot of the weights. Encouraging second at Newbury two weeks ago when staying on at the finish and that suggests this mark is manageable for Rebecca Curtis’ charge. However, this will be his third race in a month and he’s better on ground sounder than soft. He is a stayer, but fitness-wise he may have a bit more on his plate than other well-fancied types. If fully fit, he is a danger. 3/5

Aintree Day 2: Nicholls on Topofthegame with star novice

Kemboy stole the show on day one at Aintree. He looked the real deal in disdainfully pulling clear of Clan Des Obeaux and is already one of my main horses to follow next season. Another of those has to be Paul Nicholls’ Topofthegame, who returns in the Mildmay Novices Chase. Lostintranslation opposes, but Nicholls appears to have a superstar on his hands. Selections for day two, including Topofthegame, below.

Merseyrail Handicap:

Brio Conti is in excellent form having taken a handicap at Ascot en route to fourth in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham. He’s near the top of the weights today though as he’s been raised another 2lb. Mohaayed returns at the top of the handicap and was a creditable seventh in in the County Hurdle off this mark. Tedham got off the mark at Wincanton in January and gave the impression more was to come while Admiral Barratry is slightly overlooked in the market as he was only beaten six lengths on his most recent start in a fiercely competitive novice handicap. Esprit Du Large is two from four and won by ten lengths last time out so garners a great deal of respect, but KNIGHT IN DUBAI was leading into the straight in the Coral Cup before fading late on. Once beaten, Harry Skelton took it relatively easy aboard his brother’s charge and the drop in trip of a furlong alongside Aintree’s easier-going track should enable him to last much longer here. Three Musketeers isn’t a prolific winner but will have appreciated the rain as will Joke Dancer though he was disappointing latest. Wait For Me travelled very strongly until late in the day in the Pertemps and can make the frame.

1. Knight In Dubai
2. Tedham
3. Wait For Me

Top Novices:

The Supreme form of Klassical Dream gets a run out with the third, ITCHY FEET, fifth, Felix Desjy and sixth, Aramon all running here. The last named is fancied to improve most with the Aintree course likely to play to his strengths, but the rain should ultimately see the selection, who has been supremely consistent for Olly Murphy, maintain the form as he ran a big race at Cheltenham. Felix Desjy has improved with every one of his last three starts so can’t be completely discounted while Precious Cargo is unexposed for Nicky Henderson and was a ready winner at Sandown last month. Southfield Stone defeated Angels breath in February though was receiving weight and that horse didn’t do the form many favours in the Supreme, but Rouge Vif stormed clear at Kelso and is value compared to a number of others.

1. Itchy Feet
2. Aramon
3. Rouge Vif

Mildmay:

Lostintranslation shaped like a horse ready to go further when runner-up in the JLT. He’ll handle the conditions, but there’s no tougher opponent he could be facing than TOPOFTHEGAME as he bids to prove his stamina. Paul Nicholls’ giant gelding won the RSA a shade cosily under a canny Harry Cobden ride and the sky is the limit for this monster of a horse. The race for third may be of more interest with Chris’s Dream boasting the best form after a Navan Grade Two triumph. Mr Whipped has shown potential over both hurdles and fences while Crucial Role may prove slightly superior to Top Ville Ben and Drovers Lane.

1. Topofthegame
2. Lostinitranslation
3. Chris’s Dream

Melling:

Waiting Patiently will have his ground and though the candle burned less brightly when trounced by Cyrname at Ascot, he still had POLITOLOGUE (nap) in behind. That said, Paul Nicholls’ grey ran a screamer when second to Altior in the Champion Chase and repelled the challenge of Min to win this last year. He’s versatile enough ground wise and the suggestion is that Waiting Patiently may not be in love with going left-handed. Min was a shadow of himself at Cheltenham and prefers the minimum distance. Of the others, there is a chance that Woodland Opera can outrun his huge odds as he racked up a fair winning streak in the Autumn. He’ll be better for his comeback run and will appreciate every drop of rain. All of Top Notch, Hells Kitchen and Gods Own have a bit to prove at this level in terms of form and age.

1. Politologue
2. Waiting Patiently
3. Min

Topham:

The form of BALLYHILL this season has been rock solid. He won on the mildmay course earlier in the season before a pair of thirds at Cheltenham. The two winners of those races (Aso and Siruh Du Lac) franked the form significantly at the festival and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse arrives on a 2lb lower mark. If he takes to the fences, he has a lot going for him. Janika beat the selection in the second Cheltenham handicap, but was raised another 6lb for filling the runner-up spot in the Byrne Group Plate and this looks like too tough an ask. Born Survivor was also involved in those mid-season hadndicaps and was a winner on his penultimate start while Polidam was not disgraced in open company latest and will enjoy the heavens having opened. Both Activial and Flying Angel ran well in the Ultima with slight preference for the latter who continues to shape as though a win is in sight. Forest Des Aigles was fifth in the Grand Sefton earlier in the season and that experience will stand him in good stead while all of Cadmium, Indian Temple and San Benedeto are worth a second look.

1. Ballyhill
2. Flying Angel
3. Polidam

Sefton:

As with the Albert Bartlett at the Festival, this looks wide open. Champ didn’t shape like three miles is exactly what he wants although his second in the Ballymore rates the best form in this. Dallas Des Pictons was second in the Martin Pipe and has been improving with every start and Emitom is unbeaten though faces by far his toughest test to date in this. Lisnagar Oscar is a proven stayer though was soundly enough beaten at Cheltenham and with this division throwing up a few surprises, preference is for the unexposed WALK AWAY. He won with room to spare on his debut and though he features in the “could be anything” category, Henry de Bromhead and Robbie Power represent a fearsome combination. Go Another One has been in the top two on his last six starts and saved his best until last as far as his form thus far is concerned. Downtonw Getaway is likely better than his short-head margin of victory latest while Ardlethen represents the in-form Skeltons.

1. Walk Away
2. Go Another One
3. Champ

Bumper:

Another bumper and thus, another devilishly difficult race to call. Mcfabulous looked useful on his most recent start, as did Master Debonair although the latter was well beaten in the Champion Bumper. Santa Rossa reverts from taking on her own sex, whom she beat in a Grade Two at Leopardstown in February. Ebony Jewel won easily on his only bumper start for Nick Alexander as did Hazm for Alan Johns, but preference at a big price is for ADJOURNED. A chance is taken on the four-year-old, having his first run for Kim Bailey, as he won at Southwell in good style on his only previous start. In an impossible contest, he could prove very nice value against the field.

1. Adjourned
2. Mcfabulous
3. Ebony Jewel

Aintree Day 1: A Supasundae on a Thursday?

The National is what Aintree’s festival is all about, but the best card of the week looks to be reserved for day one, with Buveur D’Air, Clan Des Obeaux and Pentland Hills all in attendance. However, something tells me that all three may be vulnerable and one name in particular stands out as a rival to the first names. Selections for every race below.

 

Manifesto:

Warren Greatrex made it clear much earlier in the season that La Bague Au Roi would skip Cheltenham in favour of other targets. She’s a dual Group One winner over fences already and will be difficult to pass if in front. However, over this track and trip she may be vulnerable to another with some tactical pace. Glen Forsa unseated early when fancied for the Arkle but already looked uncomfortable as part of a pack. He will be unable to dominate here while Kalashnikov looks just a little below top-class. The value lies in the three outsiders and MENGLI KHAN is a slightly speculative choice for the opener. He was matching Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation until the final fence in the JLT. That is solid form in what looked a high-quality contest and with Aintree’s impetus more on speed, he could run very well. Bags Groove has been prolific this season and is surely much better than when well beaten by the favourite in the Kauto Star while Spiritofthegames was third in a red-hot handicap at the Festival and its possible he has less on his plate here.

1. Mengli Khan
2. La Bague Au Roi
3. Spiritofthegames

4YO:

BAND OF OUTLAWS was wildly impressive in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham. He had to negotiate a tricky path up the home straight, but after jumping the last, his turn of foot was that of a smart of horse. He carried a big weight that day and he would likely have gone very close in the Triumph. That race was won by Pentland Hills who travelled kindly, but the form put up merely against the runner-up is not superb for all that he won well. Fakir D’Oudairies may be the toughest opponent for his stablemate after he was unlucky in running on two occasions when fourth in the Supreme. That was an admirable effort though and he can improve as well. Christopher Wood looks to be the only other contender with a chance though this is a huge step up on what he’s faced in his short career to date.

1. Band Of Outlaws
2. Fakir D’oudairies
3. Pentland Hills

Bowl:

Before the Gold Cup, Clan Des Obeaux would have looked a warm order for this contest after his victory in the King George. However, he and Bristol De Mai were involved in a scrappy, stamina-sapping contest that day with both fading up the hill. This is a backup option for the both of them as it is for Willie Mullins’ KEMBOY. However, the latter horse unseated at the first in the Cheltenham blue riband and arrives fresher than the aforementioned pair. He disposed of Road To Respect in the Savills Chase over Christmas and given he was higher in the Mullins pecking order than eventual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo, he’s clearly a horse with ability. Road To Respect will appreciate coming back in trip though Elegant Escape will need rain to stand a realistic chance.

1. Kemboy
2. Bristol De Mai
3. Clan Des Obeaux

Aintree Hurdle:

Though this is a stellar field, only Ch’tibello can boast winning form from Cheltenham last month. His victory in the County Hurdle saw an improvement on previous form this season, but he’s always struggled in pattern company. Buveur D’Air is left with an increasing amount to prove having fallen when chasing a hat-trick in the Champion Hurdle last month. He’s also won this race before too though it’s plausible that 2m 4f stretches him a tad. Faugheen emptied up the Cheltenham hill in the Stayers so this trip may prove ideal unlike for stablemate Melon, who saves his best for Cheltenham and for whom two miles is optimum. Verdana Blue, likewise, is all about speed and so it might be worth chancing SUPASUNDAE. Second on all three starts before weakening in the Stayers Hurdle, he was perhaps flattered to finish second in that contest in 2018 when it turned into a sprint. This is much more his trip and he was a good second in the race last year. He is the only nailed down two-and-a-half miler in the field and should be competitive.

1. Supasundae
2. Buvuer D’Air
3. Faugheen

Foxhunters:

Ucello Conti has some course form, though having fallen in the last to Grand Nationals you couldn’t be fully confident of him getting round. Burning Ambition was favourite for the 2018 Cheltenham Foxhunters but proved disappointing. Road To Rome is likely to go close having led for a long way in the 2019 renewal last month and so stepping back in trip should suit. Top Wood beat him at Cheltenham that day but this looks on the sharp side while none of Dineur, Balnaslow or Bears Affair look as capable as they have in previous seasons in this race. Road To Riches and Champagne West were the best of these under rules and the former shaped as if ability remains last time out, but KRUZHLININ has become a regular winner between the sticks. He’s completed in a Grand National and is generally a sound jumper. Sir Jack Yeats was running a big race in this last year and returned to the winners’ enclosure most recently while Starkie and Asockastar are the best of the big outsiders.

1. Kruzhlinin
2. Road To Rome
3. Top Wood

Red Rum:

EAMON AN CNOIC (nap) was just outstayed in a very strong running of the Byrne Group Plate at Cheltenham. He was beaten just 3 ½ lengths into fourth and the return to a sharper two miles should suit David Pipe’s strong traveller. Lady Buttons is even better over fences than she is over hurdles, but will face a tough test at the weights as will Group One winning novice Diego Du Charmil, who has failed to kick on this season. Moon Over Germany remains off a potentially appealing mark as does Brelan D’As, third in the Grand Annual. Movie Legend and Cracking Find could be separated by just ¾ length last time out and both have been ultra-consistent this season while Forest Bihan is 2lb better off with Brelan D’As from their previous contest and is more than capable of carrying a sizeable weight in this. The novice Azzurri and last year’s second Theinval add further spice to the race.

1. Eamon An Cnoic
2. Forest Bihan
3. Cracking Find

Mares Bumper:

You have as much idea as me on this one although THE GLANCING QUEEN ran well enough when fifth in the Champion Bumper which entitles her to go well in this weaker contest. There’s no shortage of potentials though and Minella Melody won authoritatively on debut and is held in very high regard. Miss Heritage won very easily last time out as well while Misty Whisky chases a hat-trick, as does Timetochill. Whitehotchillifilli was beaten by the latter that day but had shown better prior to that. Eyren and Who What When are unbeaten so are respected too, as, to be honest, are most of the field in what could prove a guessing game.

1. The Glancing Queen
2. Who What When
3. Minella Melody

Cheltenham Festival Day 4: Clan the man for Gold Cup

This year may prove to be one of those very rare occasions when the Gold Cup is overshadowed by other races from throughout the week. Paisley Park’s emotional victory in the Stayers is one race that would easily stand out in previous festivals, Espoir D’Allen’s unthinkable triumph in the Champion Hurdle is another. Yet, Bryony Frost and Frodon’s bloodless, determined and historic win in the Ryanair should be plastered all over back pages and front pages across the land. If the BHA aren’t using images of the pair to sell the sport worldwide for the weeks, months and years to come, then they’re missing out on the best opportunity for racing to earn praise and positive press for many years. Anyway, onto the final day and though the very best may be behind us, there’s still some unbelievable racing to come:

Triumph:

SIR EREC (nap) has taken to hurdlers far better than most of his age. A stone bruise in the build-up should not detract punters from his chances as he bolted clear in a Leopardstown Grade One last month. He was also a top-class flat horse to boot, running Stradivarius close into third on soft ground and if he’s fit, he may well be bomb-proof. Tiger Tap Tap was only just beaten by the selection on debut, but was much more comfortably in arrears last time out and so Gardens Of Babylon, who was runner-up in the aforementioned Grade One, is preferred. The British challenge is headed by Quel Destin, who just keeps winning although hasn’t been as visually impressive on a couple of his starts and will have some task keeping the favourite at bay. More interesting is the French import Pic D’Orhy who will be having his first run for Paul Nicholls. His form from his homeland is very good, but he is well and truly thrown in at the deep end here. Coeur Sublime is expected to do much better than when running in an open Grade Three latest while Pentland Hills was impressive on debut at Plumpton.

1. Sir Erec
2. Gardens Of Babylon
3. Quel Destin
County:

As with many of the handicaps this year, the favourite of the race has been the subject of distinct Irish interest ante-post. That horse is last year’s third Whiskey Sour who contested some top novice races with credit last season. He was kept fit on the flat, but with limited success and is 3lb higher than last year. He’s comfortably opposable at the odds. Ch’tibello ran subsequent graded winner Midnight Shadow close over 2m 4f last time out and the sharp pace will suit but I’m going to side with a touch of class and my old favourite WE HAVE A DREAM. He earned a confidence boosting win in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso and had been running admirably enough at the highest level prior to that. A strongly run race and big field may be the making of him as he’s a stylish hurdler with gears and stamina and currently seems a massive price. Sternrubin ran a good race back over hurdles o his last start while Monsieur Lecoq runs just 6 days after being runner-up in the Imperial Cup at Sandown so is effectively 3lb well in. Mr Adjudicator was a fine second in the Triumph Hurdle last season and would stand a chance on that form while Crooks Peak chases a four-timer, though an unlikely one. Mohaayed won this last year but has gone up a stone since so Pinghsou might eb the liveliest outsider as he’s a course and distance winner weighted kindly if returning to any sort of form.

1. We Have A Dream
2. Ch’tibello
3. Mr Adjudicator

Albert Bartlett:
This is one of the most open contests of the week. Birchdale was perhaps fortuitous to win on Trials Day and didn’t shape like an extra test of stamina would suit him. Lisnagar Oscar was a runaway winner in the Prestige at Haydock and so must enter equations while Nadaitak accounted for two higher-rated types in some fashion. Commander Of Fleet couldn’t go the pace of two miles a couple of starts back but got his head in front of RHINESTONE over six furlongs further when knuckling down in a Grade One at the Dublin festival. However, the runner-up may just reverse placings as he was conceding 2lb to the winner and stayed on strongly, only going down by half-a-length. An extra two furlongs may suit and he’s a bit of value. Allaho looked to have a bit in hand when victorious four weeks ago as did Dickie Diver though he must revers placings with Lisnagar Oscar from their shared debut. Dinons lost his unbeaten record easily when last seen, but he’s now been freshened up and could feasibly return to form while Cap York won on his first handicap start so may be a silent improver.
1. Rhinestone
2. Allaho
3. Dickie Diver

Gold Cup:

The three primary candidates for the big one all represent a different type of fancied horse. Presenting Percy, though impressive as a novice last season, is all about reputation, but he has only contested (and won) a hurdle race this season from which the form is now looking decidedly questionable. He needs to step up hugely from that performance and show that the ability is there to win a race of this quality. Native River arrives as defending champion and though his two starts this season have been encouraging, it cannot be certain that he’s in quite the same vein of form; it also takes a lot to win this race twice. The other protagonist is CLAN DES OBEAUX. Some have knocked his form at Cheltenham over the years (he’s yet to win at the track), but he’s never had a nightmare there and has run up to his form on at least three of his starts at Prestbury Park. He’s a completely different beast now anyway having cruised to victory in the King George and Aon Chase. The ground should suit him and if he can sit off the pace and gradually make his way into contention, he’ll be right there with two to jump. Bellshill will relish the stamina test this poses but is yet to show that he’s up to this level while Kemboy has been passed over by Ruby Walsh despite flying away with the Savills Chase at Christmas. Might Bite may still be the most talented of these and though Nicky Henderson has been trying to impress his wellbeing, nobody could have him on form. Thistlecrack looked back to somewhat near his best when runner-up to Clan Des Obeaux in the King George while connections of Elegant Escape will pray for as much rain as could fall by tomorrow afternoon. Of those at prices, Al Boum Photo was impressive on New Year’s Day but has a lot to make up with Presenting Percy based on last season, Aniable Fly is sure to be staying on and may have been ideally prepped for this with runs over shorter and Bristol De Mai is officially the highest rated. He’s been saved for a big day here so you never know but he has it all to prove. If it becomes attritional, Yala Enki may pick up a few pieces.

1. Clan Des Obeaux
2. Native River
3. Anibale Fly
4. Thistlecrack

Foxhunter:

Pacha Du Polder seeks a third straight win in this contest. It wouldn’t look completely beyond him, but his re-appearance was far short of what’s required and this looks a strong field. The youthful Stand Up And Fight has shaped with a lot of promise on all three starts in point-to-points and Enda Bolger has won this race three times while Ucello Conti and Shantou Flyer were the best of these under rules and each can brag two wins in this sphere to date. Hazel hill has a remarkable strike rate (14/15) but nothing like this race has come onto his radar before. Road To Rome is unbeaten since joining Joe O’Shea and has looked far better than he was under rules, but the fancy is CAID DU BERLAIS. He was fifth in this last year (beaten just over 3 lengths) before bolting up at Punchestown and won his prep in a time of his own two weeks ago. He should perform better this time around and his experience of the race should see him go better. Haymount was placed in the National Hunt Chase and may go well back here while Southfiled Theatre was another who was useful on his day.

1. Caid Du Berlais
2. Ucello Conti
3. Road To Rome

Grand Annual:

Magic Saint confirmed his burgeoning promise with an easy victory on his latest start lining him up perfectly for a tilt at this. He might struggle in a field of this size and so the vote goes to stablemate and defending champion LE PREZIEN. He is now only 1lb higher than when victorious 12 months ago and JP McManus is having a marvellous festival. Whatswrongwithyou has a similar profile to the favourite insofar as they’re both fancied as ahead of their marks. Not Another Muddle is a novice going places based on his victory over this trip last time out while old bot Gino Trail continues to run with enormous credit and may have one last big day in him. Champagne At Tara had an excellent start to the season and, with a 5lb claimer aboard, is back to a mark from which he could challenge while Bun Doran is admirably consistent and that will stand him in good stead here.

1. Le Prezien
2. Not Another Muddle
3. Magic Saint

Martin Pipe:

Dallas Des Pictons will have to shoulder an 8lb rise if he’s to succeed in making it three wins on the bounce and while he’s shown promise, he’s yet another handicap favourite who offers little to no value in the market. Stablemate Defi Bleu was nowhere near his best on his latest outing but is a novice who will see out the trip while Pym promised much at the start of the season so is well-treated if the potential remains. Coolanly won a Grade Two here at the start of the season, but that was almost certainly a poor renewal though the mare IF YOU SAY RUN beat Mares Hurdle winner Roksana last season and has the benefit of Bryony Frost onboard. Her performances this season have been solid if unspectacular, but she won here in November and cannot be ruled out. Daybreak Boy is another ron the up while Big Time Dancer, Le Musee and Not That Fuisse should ensure an exciting end to the festival.

1. If You Say Run
2. Defi Bleu
3. Daybreak Boy

Cheltenham Festival Day 3: A day for the veterans?

Altior and Tiger Roll proved themselves the only constants in the opening two days at Cheltenham with a host of favourites turned over so far. Tomorrow sees old warriors Un De Sceaux and Faugheen do battle aged 11 in the Ryanair Chase and Stayers Hurdle respectively with the similarly experienced Measureofmydreams favourite for the Kim Muir at the tail-end of the card. Could the three of them make it a veterans’ day at Cheltenham? They might, but I think one each might be just too good for them:

JLT:

This has been billed as a two-horse race for some time between the market principles DEFI DU SEUIL and Lostintranslation. I had originally intended to oppose the both of them, but no rival has emerged worthy of that selection. The former, therefore, is of slight preference as a cunning ride from Barry Geraghty saw him overturn previous Cheltenham form between the two. The fact Lostintranslation got the better of him at Prestbury Park should be no worry though as the tactic will be to leave him later than that day and he should confirm placings from Sandown. Real Steel is Ireland’s big hope, but his best form has been on a sounder surface and his wins to date have been against markedly weaker opponents. Kildisart is improving, but the form of his handicap victory here last time has taken a bit of a hit and his jumping wasn’t good enough that day either. Vinndication will have to go some to defeat the big two having been beat reasonably easily by the two favourites latest. The biggest scare could come from the mare Pravalaguna who has been a ready winner the last twice and will deal with the ground in receipt of 7lb. Voix Du Reve’s form is the best of the rest, but he doesn’t act as well on soft.

1. Defi Du Seuil
2. Lostintranslation
3. Pravalaguna

Pertemps:

First Assignment has won on both his visits to Cheltenham and has remained solid on his last two starts. However, his record is better on quicker ground and there are a few who have targeted this who may be better rated. Sire Du Berlais is one of those and in finishing sixth in a qualifier for this in Ireland, he is only 1lb higher than fourth in the Martin Pipe last season and this has been a long-term aim. The race has been less of a long-term target for the selection CHAMPERS ON ICE. However, his first run in 14 months saw him finish an encouraging fourth in a qualifier when not given a hard time. He should deal with the surface and his best form saw him finish third at the festival three years ago in the Albert Bartlett – his mark of 135 is very tempting. Samburu Shujaa is a novice going places based on his previous two victories and sneaks in at the weights while A Toi Phil is the class horse in the race and well treated at his best. Abolitionist is warming up for the Grand National and his hurdle mark is lower than that over fences while the mare Culture De Sivola, novice Cuneo and Venetia Williams’ Eminent Poet are others who could go well.

1. Champers On Ice
2. Sire Du Berlais
3. Abolitionist

Ryanair:

This could end up being the race of the festival with the last two winners, four more course and distance winners and last season’s imperious Arkle winner. Monalee is none of the aforementioned and yet comes in as one of the biggest fancies after an easy victory from Anibale Fly last time out. A strong pace over this trip should suit as it would Road To Respect, winner of the 2017 Plate here, who stays three miles and is re-directed from the Gold Cup. Footpad is the Arkle winner, but the form from his novice season is weak and he’s been beaten on both starts this season. He has stamina to prove, as to an extent does the 11-year-old Un De Sceaux who won this two years ago when bowling from the front. He may sit off potential pacemaker FRODON on this occasion and that may enable Bryony Frost to have her biggest day. He proved his stamina when winning the Cotswold Chase last time and a course and distance win off a mark of 164 is also top form. He may be difficult to pass if getting going. Balko Des Flos deposed him last year but has been woeful since while The Storyteller won on this day twelve months ago though he ma be slightly below top-class. Aso may go well at a price.

1. Frodon
2. Un De Sceaux
3. Road To Respect

Stayers:

It would bring the house down if Faugheen were to come back for one more day in the sun. He was electric when winning the Punchestown Stayers at the end of last season. However, he has to return from a crashing fall behind Apple’s Jade last time out and that will be tough on his ageing legs. A worthy favourite is PAISLEY PARK who stormed away with the Cleeve Hurdle on Trials Day and has improved with every run. Even if Faugheen turns up in peak form Emma Lavelle’s stable star will take some stopping. The Cleeve may have cut up a bit during the race, but the time was strong and a stern staying test will be right up his street. Supasundae was second last year, but the ground has gone against him in terms of lasting home while Black Op could well improve for his first run back over hurdles last time. Top Notch has been diverted from the Ryanair for this so Nicky Henderson must rate his chances while Kilbricken Storm’s Albert Bartlett win was top form so he could go close back at the scene of that triumph. West Approach and Petit Mouchoir are the each-way options at big prices with the former having been runner-up to the selection the last twice and the latter being upped in trip.

1. Paisley Park
2. Faugheen
3. West Approach

Plate:

Siruh Du Lac and Janika were one and two in a course and distance handicap at the January meeting. They are up 7 and 6lb respectively for their performances that day which will make the form difficult to confirm and both are short enough in the market. Spiritofthegames was third at the track last time out, but the form may be a bit ropey while Eamon An Cnoic was impressive after wind surgery last time out. Azzerti fell here two starts back but has wins either side and promises a fair bit off his current mark and Doitforthevillage has had excuses for his last two defeats and should be suited by conditions in this race. Of slightly better value, however, is BOUVREUIL. He has had wind surgery since his last run and though he lost his way slightly under Paul Nicholls he won his first start for Ben Haslam before finding a second successive start at two miles too hot. Most notably, he is 3lb lower than when third to Road To Respect two years ago and does not seem to have lost any of his ability. Nicky Henderson has cleaned up the big handicaps on the first two days and River Wylde is Nico de Boinville’s mount and Romain De Senam cannot be without a chance on soft ground for the in-form Nicholls stable. Valseur Lido and Modus aren’t without chances towards the top of the weights.

1. Bouvreuil
2. Doitforthevillage
3. Eamon An Cnoic

Mares Novices:

EPATANTE (nap) has looked the real deal so far over hurdles. She looks a classy individual and stepping up to the big time should hold few worries for her – she’s also in receipt of weight from some of the market principals. Posh Trish and Sinoria may have slightly more substance in their form, but have had to work harder and both have a 5lb penalty. My Sister Sarah represents the Mullins-Walsh combo that do so brilliantly with mares, but stablemate Sancta Simona was second in a Grade One and may be a better value option as far as each-way is concerned. Elusive Belle looked useful two starts back and Sam Waley-Cohen is as professional an amateur as you’ll find onboard. However, she was found wanting last time while, perhaps the most fascinating contender is another Mullins inmate Concertista who will be making her debut. Tintangle is another who can outrun her odds.

1. Epatante
2. Sancta Simona
3. Posh Trish

Kim Muir:

Jamie Codd galvanised Le Breuil to win the National Hunt chase in spite of the odds and much better fancied is the lightly-raced veteran Measureofmydreams. He is 6lb lower than his previous handicap mark, but was an encouraging third on his reappearance and should go well again back over further having been third in the 2016 National Hunt chase. He’s one who requires a leap of faith due to his age though even if Gordon Elliott has started to find some winners. No Comment has threatened better than he’s achieved so far though the no.1 for JP McManus is Any Second Now who is still yet to win over fences when repeatedly going close. This stamina test might finally bring out that little bit extra that’s necessary. The Young Master returned to form at the beginning of the season though would need a sounder surface while TOUCH KICK is taken to go well as he’s only up 4lb for a recent victory and he’s run very well in three handicaps that have worked out superbly since. Squouateur has quirks but occasionally produces some talented performances as does Out Sam while Pearl Royal and Arkwrisht add spice to a dastardly betting heat.

1. Touch Kick
2. Measureofmydreams
3. Any Second Now

Cheltenham Festival Day 2: A Tiger Rollover?

A 10/1 winner and a 14/1 each-way was decent reward during an altogether tricky first day for punters. An extraordinary Champion Hurdle result left most shaking their heads. Today is the turn of two of the shortest-priced favourites of the festival in Altior and Tiger Roll. However, after yesterday’s finishes, could it be worth taking these supremos on? I’m backing one, but there’s value in siding against the other:

 

Ballymore:

A hype horse won this last year in Samcro and another takes favouritism this year in Champ. The fact that he’s named after AP McCoy is sign enough for many to have confidence that he’ll go well. However, both seven-year-olds and Challow Hurdle winners have a barren record in this race and he hasn’t been the most straightforward so far. Less complex, and with as much scope for improvement, is BATTLEOVERDOYEN. Gordon Elliot hasn’t had the start he wanted at the festival but his charge, a Grade One winner at Naas in January, looks potentially high-class and the stiffer test shouldn’t be a worry – he’s won on the softer side of good and over 3 miles in the point-to-point sphere. Brewin’upastorm was fourth to Champ in the Challow but may well have had Birchdale covered but for falling at the last at Cheltenham on his most recent start. Olly Murphy had the second and third in the Supreme today so his novice string is peaking at the right time. Others worth a second look are Sams Profile, second to Battleoverdoyen at Naas and likely to relish the challenge, Easy Game as the Mullins-Walsh first string and City Island, who’s racing to date has been done at a lower level, but who could have a lot of quality.

1. Battleoverdoyen
2. Sams Profile
3. Champ

RSA:

Santini’s build-up to this year’s RSA Novices Chase has been strikingly similar to that of Altior before triumph in the Queen Mother last year. One of his hooves has been of more interest this week than many horses at the festival, but though he’s been talked of as a future staying superstar, his form to date does not represent that. He’d have to overturn form with Topofthegame, second in the Kauto Star to La Bague Au Roi, but he’s yet to win over fences despite coming close twice. That day, The Worlds End ran a stinker and the ground has gone against him though he was impressive at Cheltenham prior to that. However, hopefully no sooner will Elliot have one winner than another as DELTA WORK looks a warm order. He’s not flashy, but has been uber-professional in his three starts over fences to date, dealing with antepost Arkle favourite Le Richebourg over an inadequate two-and-a-half miles before winning a three-mile Grade One last time out. He has course form having won last year’s Pertemps Final, a race won by Presenting Percy before victory in this race a year later, and the ground poses no concerns either. Drovers Lane has each-way potential having won under a penalty at the track though Rebecca Curtis has had a tough season. Mortal would have been closer to Delta Work but for a final fence blunder two starts back and should improve once again for a step back up in trip.

1. Delta Work
2. Topofthegame
3. Drovers Lane

Coral Cup:

The ground and trip could see the necessary improvement come from Uradel. Fifth over the minimum trip in January, he wasn’t given the hardest of times by Ruby Walsh when it was apparent he wasn’t quite getting on terms but he’s been far too short for this for some time given he’s yet to have a big day over hurdles. Stablemate SCARPETA rates a big danger if he can get his jumping together. Cheekpieces have been fitted for this purpose and he was a staying on fourth in last year’s Ballymore over course and distance. He had a tough assignment giving weight to a good horse in Bachasson most recently, yet still finished a close enough third. Cracking Smart was a very good novice and there’s a chance he’ll peak at the right time for this and Killultagh Vic, who was one of the favourites for the Gold Cup last season, may be beautifully weighted if delivering his best. Erick Le Rouge is on a stunning run and Chester Williams will claim a useful 7lb. Tully East has a good festival record and though Apple’s Shakira hasn’t produced her best for over a year, she’s down the bottom of the weights. Joke Dancer is right at the foot and, sneaking in at the bottom, may be a danger while the last two to stand out are Lil Rockerfeller, gutsy enough to have a say and Dancing On My Own, who is yet to win but may improve massively for this increase in journey.

1. Scarpeta
2. Uradel
3. Erick Le Rouge

Queen Mother:

There’s no need to look anywhere other than ALTIOR. Chasing Big Buck’s’ record of 18 wins on the bounce, he has defeated everyone he could have done on any ground. He looked to be under a bit of pressure from Min in this last year, but on that occasion and in the Supreme in 2016, he shot away from that rival up the hill and his ability to apply himself in the finish will be the difference if he hasn’t put it to bed already. Min should be second again and may otherwise be considered a great two-miler but for his great rival’s presence. As such, the race for the final place could be the most intriguing with Politologue inconvenienced by the track and Sceau Royal by the ground. Hells Kitchen has been improving in handicaps but the eleven-year-old Gods Own could be the one at a big price for each-way backers as he always saves his best this time of year.

1. Altior
2. Min
3. Gods Own

X Country:

The JP McManus pair of Auvergnat and Josies Orders have shot back to form over cross-country fences this season and both could prove more of a threat this season to Tiger Roll. Everyone’s favourite little horse hacked up in the Boyne Hurdle once more displaying his extraordinary versatility and wellbeing last time. However, his price relative to his chance has gone and value can be found in the French raider URGENT DE GREGAINE. Second in this last year, his form overall at the track reads 132. The fact he hasn’t had a prep run at the track this season should not put anyone off given that form and he seems to relish a stamina test which he didn’t get last time out in France. If appearing in any vein of form, he should be in the money once again. Ultragold is an intriguing entry for Colin Tizzard as he preps for the Grand National while Fact of The Matter won a handicap over track and trip earlier this season so is obviously adaptable. One of Amazing Comedy and Vyta Du Roc could outrun their large odds.

1. Urgent De Gregaine
2. Tiger Roll
3. Auvergnat

Boodles/Fred Winter:

It should not put off backers that BAND OF OUTLAWS (nap) sidesteps the Triumph in favour of this contest. He was a ready winner on his latest start from Maze Runner and the stable runs hot favourite Sir Erec in the aforementioned contest so it’s an understandable switch. Lethal Steps has come in for some support of late, but will have to break his duck here. Fine Brunello was well behind Fakir D’oudairies but that horse shaped with some promise in the Supreme and it could pay dividends that that run was at Cheltenham. Prabeni is chasing a three-timer and may have slipped under the radar for Charlie Mann. Star Max looks to give Rachael Blackmore her first winner at the Cheltenham Festival while Ciel De Neige is fascinating as the choice of Ruby Walsh as he runs for the first time outside of France. If Torpillo can re-find the form which saw him hack up at Sandown atop similar ground conditions, then he could have a chance of defying top-weight. The best of the outsiders may be Naturelle and Cracker Factory.

1. Band Of Outlaws
2. Ciel De Neige
3. Prabeni

Bumper:

Some hail this as the ultimate guesser’s race but with only 14 in attendance this season, there may be some leverage in working things out. Envoi Allen was being hailed as a rival to bumper hotpot Malone Road towards the start of this season. He hasn’t been as impressive as connections may have liked but he beat Joseph O’Brien’s Meticulous soundly enough most recently. Blue Sari is only a four-year-old and gets a weight allowance as a result. However, Paul Nicholls’ stable has been on fire recently and though without a winner today, ASK FOR GLORY might be the one. He hacked up on his one start on these shores having been bought for £280,000 after his point-to-point triumph. The form of that victory has taken a few hits, but he could barely have won more comfortably and in an open race, he looks likelier to improve than most others. Flic Au Voyou may prove a decent second string having won his two starts to date while Abracadabras is another of note.

1. Ask For Glory
2. Envoi Allen
3. Meticulous