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Friday 5 April 2019

2019 Grand National - Final briefing

I've been watching the Grand National since 1965 when Jay Trump won, although my memory of that race is hazy (I was only 5yo), and so my earliest good memory of the race is 1967 when Foinavon won and there was the mass pile-up at the 23rd fence.
This year's Grand National looks more competitive than last year, and it will not be so easy for the 7/2 fav TIGER ROLL who attempts to become the first two-time winner of the race since Red Rum in 1974 (and Red Rum then went on to win the race for a historic 3rd time in 1977).  What further complicates the race is the recent rain, with the ground now soft and rain-soddened throughout.  We could have a race in which fewer than 10 of the original 40 starters will complete the race and, of those that complete, only 2 or 3 will be actually involved in the finish of the race. 
Unfortunately, the horse that I had decided was the most likely race winner, MALL DINI, was declared a non-runner on Thursday due to a leg injury. As such, I delayed the publication of this blog by 24 hours to Friday evening to a) make sure that my selection is a confirmed runner, and b) to see what effect the rain has,and is having, on the ground for the Grand National course.

ANIBALE FLY - was 4th in the race last year, and is possibly a slightly better horse now he's a year older at 9yo, but he's carrying 2lb more; however, the ground is on his side this year (was heavy last year) and he won't be far away, but I cannot see him winning.
VALTOR - bought from France to run in this race, and showed his ability when winning on his UK chase debut at Ascot, but he's been raised 12lb by the handicapper for that and with it have gone his chances.
TIGER ROLL - has won both his recent races, and looks better than ever, but he carries 6lb more than when winning this last year and he only just got home to win by a "head" that day. He should be at his peak, and will be thereabouts but he's more like an 8/1 chance in my book.
OUTLANDER - now 11yo and not the horse he was, but he's never run well outside of Ireland and his best form is behind him - also, he's for sale.
DON POLI - at once high-class 10yo who's better days are behind him, and he's also for sale. However, he could run better than his odds.
GO CONQUER - a chase winner at 3-mile, that looks to be his limit and most of his racing has been on right-handed tracks; but he will love the likely "good" ground, and will be in the front rank.
MALA BEACH -   has only race once in the UK when 2nd at Ascot over 2m5f in Dec-15. He was then off injured for nearly 2 years but won the 3-mile "Troytown" Chase in Nov-17. This has been his target, but he is a bit slow and will want soft ground.
MINELLA ROCCO - after pulling-up LTO he is on a recovery mission, and I don't think his heart is in this game anymore.
LAKE VIEW LAD - this 9yo grey will be one of the leading fancies for the race, but his best form has been on soft ground and he may not be able to get involved on the 2nd-circuit, but he is a safe jumper and stays 3-mile.
PLEASANT COMPANY - another who would prefer soft ground, which he got last year when just failing to win. However, in 2017 when he ran in this race, the ground was good-to-soft and it was too quick for him and he finished 9th. The recent rain will have helped his chances.
BALLYOPTIC - ran a career-best when 2nd in the Scottish National in April-2018 on "good" ground, and so I can forgive him his run on soft ground in the Welsh National in December, but his run LTO at Haydock when he pulled-up was disappointing. He could run a big race, or he may not enjoy it, and with 11st 1lb he's not off to a good start.

I believe those carrying more than 11-stone will struggle to win this years Grand National on this soft ground, and those horses named above all carry more than 11-stone.
DOUNIKOS -  last seen winning over 3m4f at Punchestown on 10th February, so we know he will stay this sort of trip, and the ground will suit, he has (in my opinion) an outstanding chance, so I've already taken 100/1 on Betfair last week. Was just short of being one of the top novice chasers of last season. Has been brought slowly to hand and comes here with one helluva chance.
RATHVINDEN - After he won the 4-mile NH Chase at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, I said this horses would be aimed at this years Grand National, and here he is the 12/1, 2nd fav. When he won at Fairyhouse in February he looked top-class and he will take all the beating.
ONE FOR ARTHUR - since winning this race in 2017, he's not completed another race, and whether he still has the ability to be competitive is unknown. 
ROCK THE KASBAH - Champion jockey Richard Johnson has never won this race, but this horse should give him a great run - if he's in the mood! He has two-ways of running and will either go well, or throw-in the towel, but after a long break (an he last raced in December) he usually goes well. Could be thereabouts.  
WARRIORS TALE - didn't last the trip last year, and the ground was against him too. And now the ground will be against him (best on no softer than good-to-soft).
REGAL ENCORE - Was beaten a long way in the 2017 race, and there's no reason why he would do better this time.
MAGIC OF LIGHT - this mare does not look capable of winning off this mark of OR151.
A TOI PHIL -most racing experience is over 2m4f, and it's a leap of faith to expect him to stay this marathon trip.
JURY DUTY - was aimed at a 2m5f hurdle race in the Autumn in the USA worth £200,000 which he won; he then won his next chase over 3m2f on 16th March. What worries me about him is that he didn't stay 4-mile in the NH Chase won by Rathvinden, and he was well beaten in Kerry National. 
NOBLE ENDEAVOUR - Disappointed on latest run at Cheltenham and looks well below his best after nearly 2 years off the track.
MONBEG NOTORIOUS - Well beaten in all his recent races and you have to go back 12 months to find a decent effort .
RAMSES DE TEILLEE - The youngest horse in the field at 7yo, with need a superlative effort to win, but could be thereabouts, as he enjoys the mud and stays very well.
TEA FOR TWO - far too highly tried after coming 3rd (to Thistlecrack) in 2016 "King George", last seen pulling-up at Taunton in January when it looked like he'd gone at the game.
STEP BACK - Was on my initial shortlist, but his run LTO at Warwick suggests he likes to dominate from the front and doesn't like it when challenged. He's unlikely to get his own way in front in this and the soft ground could well find him out.
ULTRAGOLD - May divert to the Topham Chase over 2m5f which he won last year, has run four-times over the National fences and not finished worse than 3rd (with 2 wins), but if he goes for the "National" his stamina will be stretched. 
BLOW BY BLOW - In 4 chase races over 3-miles he's only beaten 3 horses, so it is difficult to see him being involved in this race for very long.
UP FOR REVIEW - Looked like being involved in the finish of the "Ultima" handicap chase at Cheltenham until his stamina ran out with 2 fences to jump, so difficult to see him being involved in the finish of this race.
SINGLEFARMPAYMENT - This horse has been called some names having finished 2nd no-less than 9 times - and on 4 occasions the margin of defeat has been only a few inches; but he jumps well, stays well, and has the ability to pick up the leaders from off the pace.  He will (hopefully) be avoiding early trouble at the rear and will take closer order as the field passes the stands before heading out on the 2nd circuit; could run a huge race as his most recent run at Cheltenham will have set him up for this.
VIEUX LION ROUGE - Didn't stay the trip when 6th (beaten 27-lengths) in 2017, and was well beaten again last year. Handles the course though (was 2nd in the Becher Chase in December and the best he can hope for is a distant 5th or 6th.
VALSEUR LIDO - Somehow won a Grade 1 chase over 3-mile in Nov16, but hasn't looked a 3-mile chaser since, most recently was easily beaten by Rathvinden in February.
VINTAGE CLOUDS -7th in the April-2017 Scottish National; 4th in the Jan-2018 Welsh National; and 3rd in the April-2018 Scottish National which all proves he stays well. Likely to be near the front-rank throughout.
GENERAL PRINCIPLE - won Irish National over 3m5f last April, but easily swept aside by stablemate Dounikos in February and has since disappointed at Cheltenham, needs soft ground.
LIVELOVELAUGH - hasn't looked like a 3-mile chaser, and best form shown on soft/heavy ground.
WALK IN THE MILL - Won the 3m2f Becher Chase over the National fences last December, but that was the 21st chase race for the (then) 8yo and he'd not looked a 3-mile chaser before then. Needs soft ground.
FOLSOM BLUE - if he runs he will just be making up the numbers. 
CAPTAIN REDBEARD - Fell last year (at the 7th fence) and as his jumping isn't great, he's unlikely to complete.
JOE FARRELL - the 10yo came late to chasing having his first chase race in October 2017. Just 6 months later he won the Scottish National over 4-miles. Is probably still improving and could be an interesting runner. 
JUST A PAR - wasn't good enough when at his peak, and now at 12yo and having his 3rd attempt at the race is unlikely to be involved for long. 

With the ground being "soft" those likely to be involved in the finish are;
The marathon trip and the speed at which this race is run - a unique feature of the Grand National - puts a greater emphasis on stamina, and although there have been winners of the race carrying more than 11st, there have not been many. Since Neptune Collonges (with 11st 6lb) won in 2012, there have been 52 runners in the race carrying 11st or more (2018 = 10; 2017 = 11; 2016 = 7; 2015 = 7; 2014 = 6; 2013 = 11), but only 5 have finished in the 1st-4  and only 19 in total completed the course. 
As such, if TIGER ROLL wins with 11st 5lb  on the soft ground, it is going to be one hell-of-an effort.
The weight angle also rules out BALLYOPTIC, but at 40/1 (Skybet 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5) he's worth an small eachway interest, but I'm inclined to pass him over.
I'm already on DOUNIKOS at 100/1 so I'm very happy that he's taking part.  He is just an 8yo so he could have plenty of improvement in him as he was very highly thought of as a novice chaser and his LTO win suggests he's back to his best. As such, at 40/1 (BetVictor and William Hill 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) he's worth an small eachway interest.
JOE FARRELL makes too many jumping errors for my liking and at 20/1 he does not represent value in my book.
And the same can be said for VINTAGE CLOUDS at just 14/1, as too often he's lacked the pace to win the race.
Both SINGLEFARMPAYMENT and RATHVINDEN will be held-up towards the rear early-on and you have to hope a) they don't get brought-down by a faller, and b) they don't get too far behind and are pulled-up. If they are taking closer order entering the 2nd-circuit then they could go close, and so they both interesting propositions, with SINGLEFARMPAYMENT at 66/1 (William Hill, 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6). 
As for RATHVINDEN, he looks a very interesting horse over this marathon trip as he has abundant stamina and looks to me to be one of the most likely winners of the race.
This has been one of the trickiest races I've analysed for a long time, and in a race like the Grand National I can usually narrow my shortlist down to one horse; but this year it has been very difficult. However, every year I select one horse as the "most likely to win" and this year it's RATHVINDEN - having Ruby Walsh in the saddle and winning form over 4-mile on heavy ground suggests he will not be far away at the finih. 

My advised wagers (based on a £30 total stake)
RATHVINDEN, £5 win & £5 eachway @ 10/1 (BetVictor and William Hill 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) 
DOUNIKOS, £5 eachway @ 40/1 (BetVictor and William Hill 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) 
SINGLEFARMPAYMENT, £2 eachway @ 50/1 (William Hill 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) 

Aintree Grand National Meeting - Day 2

The rain at Aintree was an unwelcome guest yesterday, and it's immediate effect was a change in my plans for the Grand National. IT wsa combined with the news that there were 2 withdrawals from Saturdays race: first came PAIROFBROWNEYES and then in mid-afternoon came the news that MALL DINI was also a non-runner.  This was a particularly bitter blow for me, as I thought the horse looked exceptionally well-in on the formbook even though he is yet to win a chase race. I was going to make MALL DINI my main Grand National selection, and now I'm having to reconsider my strategy to take into account the rain-softened ground.

Yesterday, the racing was good, but not exceptional. In the Manifesto Novices' Chase over 2m4f, the fav La Bague Au Roi was below her best and KALASHNIKOV didn't have to find much win and, on a line through 3rd-placed Mengli Khan, neither Defi Du Seuil or Lostintranslation have anything to fear from this bunch. 

In the Juvenile hurdle, how PENTLAND HILLS was allowed to go off at 11/4 is anyone's guess.  What value! In my blog yesterday, I rated the horse a 7/4 chance and never expected the odds to lengthen so much, but maybe the rain-soaked ground put the majority of punters off him. I'm hoping readers of the blog noted the drift in the odds and saw the opportunity - that's why I write the narrative and not just give names of horses.

KEMBOY ran away with the Betway Bowl Chase over 3m1f and my initial reaction was it was a good performance. However, the proximity of Balko Des Flo in 3rd (splitting Clan Des Obeaux and Bristol De Mai) suggests this winning performance was well below the Gold Cup winning performance of stablemate Al Boum Photo last month.

Finally, Buveur D'Air ran right up to his form shown this season but couldn't beat SUPASUNDAE.  I've rated Buveur D'Air at 156-157 for each of his races this season, and he ran to 156 on my rating in this. The Champion Hurdle winner ESPIOR D'ALLEN looks so far ahead of the hurdling division that the 5/1 currently on offer for next years Champion Hurdle should be taken - I'm surprised bookies haven't priced him at 2/1.

On to today's racing at Aintree, and the result of the Novices' Hurdle at 2:20pm is likely to be affected by the soft ground. ITCHY FEET came 3rd (beaten 5-lengths) at Cheltenham on similar rain-softened ground, and given his previous run before that was in November, there must by some improvement in him today for race-fitness.  Odds of 4/1 look fair in this 7-runner race. 

In the Mildmay Novices' Chase over 3m1f at 2:50pm we have a very interesting clash between Topofthegame and Lostintranslation. Both are exceptional novice chasers, and it is tricky splitting the pair. One who could upset the party is Top Ville Ben who fell early-on in the RSA Chase won by Topofthegame LTO, but who has won since then, and at 18/1 he is worth a speculative "place-only" wager on finishing 2nd should one of the leading pair not be on their "A" game today.

The feature race today is the JLT Chase over 2m4f and we have a select band of 6 runners, including last year's winner Politologue and runner-up Min.  We also have a rare appearance from Waiting Patiently - but they will all have to step-up their game to match the performance of TOP NOTCH when he won at this trip in January at Kempton beating good yardstick Black Corton. Odds of 10/1 are generally available and I think he has a terrific chance on this soft ground - remember he was beaten less than 6-lengths over 3-mile by Paisley Park in December on similar ground. 

That's it for me, and I will see how the ground looks today before posting my Grand National blog at about 5pm tonight.

Just the one wager: 
Aintree 3:25pm, TOP NOTCH, £5 win & £5 eachway @ 10/1 (quarter-odds a place 1st or 2nd)

Thursday 4 April 2019

Aintree Grand National meeting - Day 1

For me, the Aintree Grand National meeting is just as exciting as the Cheltenham Festival.  I've been watching horseracing since I was a toddler, and my earliest memory is watching Freddie - the 7/2 fav for the 1965 Grand National - beaten under a length in a close finish by Jay Trump. Watching the old black & white film of the race on YouTube, you are reminded of just how huge Bechers Brook used to be.
We've come a long way since then, and the National fences have been completely re-designed and remodelled, and the length of the race has been reduced, but - somehow - the magic pull of the race still captures the imagination of the public and, for 15 minutes, nothing else matters.
I have already written my appraisal of the big race on Saturday, and I was going to wait until Friday evening before posting it, but I think I'm going to post my Grand National preview this evening as I'm expecting some significant betting market moves in the final 24 hours before the race at 5:15pm on Saturday and I do not want readers to miss out on what could be some considerable value in the market.  My expectation is that the support for the fav Tiger Roll will subside and he will lengthen in the market from his current 4/1 odds, and that there will be major moves for several other entries. Over the past week, the more I've looked at the Grand National form, the more competitive a race I think it will be - it looks like being a cracker.  

On to today's racing from Aintree, and in the opening race at 1:45pm the Manifesto Novices' Chase over 2m4f, the mare La Bague Au Roi looks a worthy fav, and odds of 7/4 (with Paddy Power) look fair value. Long time readers of this blog know that I do not recommend wagers on horses that are under 9/4, that's not my angle, so while I expect the mare to run well and win I can't recommend having a wager on her. But she may not have things all her own way, and I reckon that BAGS GROOVE could push her all the way.  He ran a stinker at Kempton on Boxing Day when La Bague Au Roi beat him over 3-miles, but he's since won again over this trip at Kempton, and at his best he's not far off the level of the fav.  Before Cheltenham, I thought Glen Forsa needed to find 15lb to win the Arkle, and I think he will have his limitations exposed in this race today, and while Kalashnikov should run better going left-handed here, he also needs to find about 10lb of improvement to win this.  On known form, both Mengli Khan and Spiritofthegames look outclassed.  For me, BAGS GROOVE at 8/1 looks a fair eachway wager (quarter-odds a place 1st or 2nd).

At 2:20pm the Juvenile Hurdle over 2-mile & 1-furlong looks to be in the hands of Triumph Hurdle winner PENTLAND HILLS, and I'm surprised that odds of 9/4 are available, as he looks the best 4yo hurdler in this race.  Is he value? For that you have to reckon he should be considerably shorter in the betting than 9/4, and I don't as to be value I would have to rate Pentland Hills a 5/4 chance and I don't, he's probably a 7/4 chance. 
The Betway Bowl at at 2:50pm over 3-mile & 1-furlong has a select band of top class chasers. I'm discounting Balko De Flos and Elegant Escape as they just aren't good enough at this level. The grey Bristol De Mai never seems to run well after Cheltenham and was easily beaten in this race in 2017 and 2018. Maybe he's a better horse now, but I'm not so sure.  Road To Respect is one of the most consistent chasers in training, and this trip and track could be right up his street. He has to find over 7-lengths to beat Kemboy based on their meeting at Leopardstown over 3-mile on 28th December, but that race was run at a slow tempo, and the resultant quicker pace over the final half-mile perhaps suited Kemboy better than Road To Respect. As for Clan Des Obeaux, I think he had a hard race at Cheltenham and he was also beaten in this race last year (finished behind Bristol De Mai).  All things considered, I think ROAD TO RESPECT is the way to go in this, and odds of 5/1 look decent considering he has no questions to answer, while each of the other rivals does.

BUVEUR D'AIR won the Aintree hurdle over 2-mile & 4-furlongs in 2017 with perhaps the best performance of his career, and I cannot see him losing this race today. Nothing else comes close to him on ratings or likely performance, and he could well go off at odds-on.

I'm giving the Foxhunters Chase over the National fences, and the Red Rum handicap chase over 2-miles a miss, as well tas the closing bumper.

My best bet of the day is ROAD TO RESPECT @ 5/1 (available generally) in the 2:50pm Betway Bowl.