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Friday 14 April 2023

Grand National 2023 - The runners

The most famous horserace in the World, the Grand National, is run next Saturday 15th April at Aintree.  This spectacular race is like no other, a unique course, unique fences, and the longest race in the calendar.

What do we know going into this year's race? With 5 winners in the last 10 years at odds of 25/1 or longer, you cannot discount the chance of any particular horse. Last years winner Noble Yeats won with 10st 10lb off OR147, and this year he is set to carry 11st 11lb off OR166.  Personally, I don't think he's a 19lb better horse (OR166 less OR147), but he has improved and will stay every yard. If he's near the front with 2 fences to go then he's going to be thereabouts.
The horse he beat into 2nd, Any Second Now, carries 11st 12lb (4lb more than last year, when rated OR159), and he has been aimed at this race all season, he won't be far away at the finish, and at 16/1 he looks fair eachway value - however, I can't see either of this pair winning.
Before I go any further, the place terms will be generous on this race, with every major bookie going 6-places 5th odds-a-place, and Skybet going 7-places. We could see a couple more bookies going 7-places on the morning of the race, so be sure to check. 
The 9yo Galvin is set 11st 11lb, and is a horse with abundant stamina. If you compare his performance when 4th in the 2022 Gold Cup with Noble Yeats' performance in this years Gold Cup they are about the same, yet Galvin is 20/1.
Fury Road has won at 3-mile, but he looks a better horse over shorter trips and I can see him not finishing. A point to remember is that most of those who do not finish are pulled-up; any lack of stamina will be found out over this 4-mile, 2-furlong trip. 
There is no lack of stamina in The Big Dog, but he's not the best jumper of a fence; I feel he will be caught out at some point. I think the same of Capodanno, who was a promising novice chaser but he's only run once in the past 12 months; he's not for me.
Last year, Delta Work was 3rd with 11st 9lb and he has 5lb less to carry this year. However, despite leading to the 2nd last fence he had no more to give and he does not look to have a winning chance. 
The 11yo Sam Brown is a classy horse at his best, and soft ground and this trip will not phase him, but he can get left behind. If he stays in-touch  until the 2nd circuit he could be able to figure in the finish, so the 80/1 offered by Bet365 looks interesting (66/1 elsewhere).
Lifetime Ambition is another who looks likely to struggle to stay beyond 3-mile; the ground looks very soft on parts of the course which will find out the doubtful stayers. 
Carefully Selected was a top novice chaser, then was off the track for 3 years till reappearing on 27Dec. That was just a pipe-opener, as he won the renowned Thyestes Chase (h'cap) on 26Jan.  A poor run LTO, as he probably "bounced", he has top claimer Michael O'Sullivan and could do well.
Last year, Coko Beach was in the front-rank for a long way till his stamina gave out, and with soft ground I fear the same fate again this year, even if he's held-up early on. The same applies to Longhouse Poet who also failed to stay last year on better ground. 
We could see a decent performance from Gaillard Du Mesnil, if he's recovered from him recent Cheltenham win; but I fear this trip will find him out.  
Darasso does not look capable of staying the trip.  However, Le Milos should have no problem, and he looks to have had a perfect preparation this season, which saw him win the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury.  I will be honest: he's looked my idea of the winner of this race for some time.  Odds of 16/1 are available. 
Escaria Ten didn't stay the trip in last years National, so I have to strike through him. Whereas The Big Breakway should have no problem with this trip having run 2nd in the Welsh National in December, carrying the massive weight of 11st 13lb. He could go very well in this race, and I'm surprised that he's available at 40/1.
I cannot see Cape Gentleman staying the trip and finishing this race. I cannot say the same about the French-trained Roi Mage. He has run a massive 38 times as a chaser (mainly in France), so he's unlikely to find improvement on what we've seen, but he's certain to stay the trip - however, he may do it in his own time.  The same can probably be said for Diol Ker who has been well beaten in 3 races beyond 3m1f.
The National always has some odd runners in it, and the 7yo A Wave Of The Sea is such a horse: he's run in 21 chase races and never won beyond 2m4f, despite attempting 3-miles 7 (yes seven) times.
Trainer Donald McCain always has a runner (his dad Ginger McCain trained 3-time winner Red Rum), and this year his entry is Minella Trump: he has won on sift ground over 2m4f but he may find this trip too much for him.
Vanillier, who won the Albert Bartlett hurdle over 3-mile as a novice hurdler, should be able to stay this trip, but his overall chase form looks too weak for this race. 
Velvet Elvis has always failed at trips beyond 3-mile when asked, and he's unlikely to figure.
Trainer de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore combine on Ain't That A Shame (best odds 8/1) and it's no surprise to see this horse head the betting. A lightly race 9yo, he looks sure to stay the trip, but he can lack pace in the final stages. Should be placed, but I can't see him winning. 
Recent Cheltenham Festival winner Corach Rambler should relish this race and ground, and if he's close to the front with 2 fences to jump he will be tough to beat. My worry is that he likes to run at the back of the field early-on, and he risks being hampered. 
Enjoy D'Allen never went beyond the 1st fence last year, and that's not a good omen, especially as he's shown nothing in the past year to suggest he could go well in this race.
Before last year, there had not been a winning 7yo since 1940, so it's unlikely that there will be 2 in-a-row. Mr Incredible has abundant stamina, but he could not win a tough handicap chase at Cheltenham last month, so maybe next year for this one. 
Mister Coffey just plods along at his own pace, and I expect that's what he will to in this race.
Venetia Williams produced Mon Mome to win this race at 100/1, and her Cloudy Glen could go well if not losing touch as he seems to have lost his mid-race pace these days. 
Hill Sixteen has run well over this course before, but not in the National. He's been prepared for this race, but the way he ran a couple of weeks ago suggests the horse will not be in the mood. 
Gabbys Cross is unlikely to stay the trip as he's not won beyond 2m6f. 
A late jockey booking is Jack Foley (only 3 rides in the past 2 weeks) on Recite A Prayer. Why connections could not find a rider earlier I don't know as this horse has stamina to burn, and he's trained by Mullins. A 3rd in the Cork National, 2nd in the Kerry National, and winner of the Killarney National, I'm surprised regular rider Danny Mullins is on Capodanno. The worry is that he does not go well off a long break, and he last ran on 27Dec when well beaten. 
Eva's Oskar has run some fine races this season, stays well and handles soft ground. Carrying 12st LTO in the 4-mile-plus "Eider" Chase found him out, and with just 10st 2lb in this, he has to be on the shortlist at odds of 80/1 with Skybet.
Trainer Sam Thomas has had a great season, and his Our Power has contributed to that success. But I feel he may be a tad outclassed in this race, and the soft ground may well find him out. 
Dunboyne is another plodder who struggles to get his head in front when it matters, he's not for me.
Trainer Peter Bower loves Aintree, but his Francky Du Berlais is here only to give his owners a day out as he's unlikely to stay this marathon trip.
Fortescue lost his rider 4-out last year in this race when beaten, and pulled-up in the Welsh National on soft ground: I can't see him doing any better this year.
Back On The Lash is too slow to figure in this race, and Born By The Sea is another very doubtful stayer.  
My Shortlist is:-
Noble Yeats @ 12/1
Sam Brown  @ 66/1
Le Milos @ 16/1
The Big Breakway @ 40/1
Corach Rambler @ 10/1
Eva's Oskar @ 80/1
Personally, I think this is a very open race, and we could see 8 or 10 runners at the 2nd-last fence holding a potential winning chance (and that is exactly what happened). If we do, then it's anyone's race. Regards Noble Yeats and Corach Rambler, I think they are too short in the betting in such an open & competitive race to recommend as a wager; by all means have a punt on them if you want to, but "win-only", as they both hold "win-or-bust" chances.  
My "nap" is LE MILOS and I'm having £5 eachway on him @ 16/1.
I'm having £2 eachway on the other 3: Sam Brown @ 66/1; The Big Breakaway @ 40/1; and Eva's Oskar @ 80/1. That's £22 staked.
Post-race analysis: spot-on with Corach Rambler, on my shortlist and he won well. I did say he was a "win-only" wager.  I also said Noble Yeats was a "win-only" wager, and he ran 4th. Le Milos looked like being placed at the final fence, but faded on the run-in. The Big Breakaway and Sam Brown were fallers on the 1st-circuit which was disappointing. Eva's Oskar was going well, but he jumped into the back of Delta Work (who had made a bad error and was losing his jockey) and his jockey was knocked off - very unlucky considering we know the horse stays very well, but that's the Grand National, nothing is guaranteed.

Sunday 2 April 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - the Review (part 3)

With the novice hurdle and chase championships looked at, let's move onto the graded races; and first-up is the Champion Hurdle over and extended 2-miles.  What more can be said about Constitution Hill? He is an absolute monster of a horse, and just 6yo; right now anything is possible. Just how good was the performance? Well, in my opinion it was  much better than that by the ill-fated 5yo winner Espoir D'Allen in 2019, and 10lb better than any other winner until you get to Hurricane Fly in 2013; so it was immense. What next for the horse?  He can run-up a sequence of wins in the Champion Hurdle, and it's easy to see him winning this race another couple of times - but what would that prove? Consider trainer Nicky Henderson; he's 72yo and he's been given the horse of a lifetime - he will want to win a Gold Cup with him.  I expect Henderson (with the agreement of the horse's owner) to campaign Constitution Hill in a way that could establish him as one of the very best there has been. Expect CH to go chasing next season, with a Gold Cup attempt in 2025 as an 8yo.  Therefore, it's no surprise to see him heading the Arkle betting at 7/4; and I cannot see him going for the "Turners" over 2m4f.  There is an outside chance he may go for an audacious attempt at the QM Champion Chase; but that's unlikely in my opinion. The runner-up in the Champion Hurdle, State Man, possibly isn't as good as his OR166 official rating, and I much prefer the "Ballymore" winner Impaire Et Passe for the 2024 Champion Hurdle, and it is no surprise that the odds of 6/1 have now gone, and the best available is now 4/1.  That said, I would not ignore State Man as I expect him to remain hurdling in 2023-24 and if events don't go as expected, current odds of 7/1 could look interesting next March.

Yet again, the QM Champion Chase was virtually gifted to Energumene when his main rivals failed to show their best form. This was a better performance that last season, but not by much, and this race looks primed for a new "champion" chaser to emerge, especially as Energumene will be a 10yo next year. That is likely to be El Fabiolo who won the Arkle in tremendous style, and I cannot see any other horse emerging other than Constitution Hill, and (as I wrote above) I don't think that's likely.

Thursday, and the 3rd day brings us the Ryanair Chase and of all the Grade 1 chase races, this is always he most open as the trip of 2m4f & 127yds is an odd one. This year, the hot-fav Shishkin never looked like he was enjoying the experience, jumped badly, and just sheer class pulled him into 2nd on the run-in. For me, Shishkin needs to prove himself again at top-level as he's only won 1 of his last 4 races and he's nowhere near hi official rating of OR173. Quite how the punters allowed Envoi Allen to go off at 13/2 and record his 3rd Grade 1 Cheltenham Festival win, I will never know.  I did think his class would ensure a good run, but I placed a straight-forecast (advised on the blog) of Shishkin 1st, Envoi Allen 2nd - the right horses, but the wrong way around!  The Exacta paid £17.70 and the CSF paid £13.47 - there was value to be had. Envoi Allen has now won 5 of his 7 chase races at about this trip, and he was the 4/9 Fav to with the "Turners" in 2021 when falling at the 4th fence. Yes, he's won a G1 over 3-miles, but (to be fair) this is his trip, and I think he had more in the tank winning this race, but didn't need it. There is 10/1 available for the 2024 Ryanair (Paddy Power), and that looks fair. In 3rd we had Hitman who I reckon ran a career-best, but this was the 14th chase run for the 7yo and he's never going to win a Grade 1 chase.  The handicappers French Dynamite and Ga Law were firmly put in their place and shown to be not good enough, but they are consistent and give depth to the overall rating of the race. 

Next on the card was the Stayers' Hurdle over 3-miles, and what a turn-up for the book when the 11yo and multiple Festival winner Sire Du Berlais stayed best of all on the run-in to take this Grade 1 race.  Let's be honest, we all thought going into the race that it was wide open, and that this season's form for 3-mile hurdle races was all over the place. As such, I put my faith in Flooring Porter (who was going for a hat-trick of victory's in the race) and Klassical Dream (a G1 winner and trained by Mullins), and never gave a 2nd-thought to Sire Du Berlais, which was an error as he had form in the book. He was 2nd in this race in 2021 (to Flooring Porter), and he had twice won the Pertemps (Final) h'cap hurdle over C&D; and he had beaten Flooring Porter over 3-mile at Aintree in April-2022.  Unfortunately, he hadn't won since that day in 5 subsequent races and it looked like he was going downhill with age - how wrong we were! This wasn't a top-class event, and the 10yo Dashel Drasher coming 2nd underlined that, as he's never really been a 160+ horse, but he is game, and he went into this on OR153 and ran to that level (in my opinion). In 3rd was the fav Teahupoo who had everything in his favour, yet still couldn't win; he was staying-on but the winner stayed-on better. The 8yo Flooring Porter ran exactly the race we expected, trying to make-all, but lack of fitness did for him in the end. Even so, it was his best run this season, and I expect if he goes onto Aintree he will be a fitter horse there and could take all the beating. Home By The Lee ran to the level he did in this race last season, and he's just not good enough at at Grade 1.  I keep saying that horses do not suddenly find pounds of improvement, but pundits, journo's, and tipsters seem to think they do. The rest of the field were outclassed, which considering this was as bad a Stayers' Hurdle as when Lisnagar Oscar won in 2020 is not a good omen. I can see Flooring Porter coming back again next season as a 9yo and having a decent chance, but Teahupoo needs soft ground and that's not guaranteed. What I find amazing is that odds of 25/1 are available on Flooring Porter for the 2024 Stayers' Hurdle, and if he runs well (likely) at Aintree, then he's right back in the picture for next season.  Remember, both Inglis Drever and Big Bucks won as 9yo's recording their 3rd and 4th wins in the race, and while Flooring Porter isn't as good as that pair, I don't think he needs to be considering the level of opposition. 

I've already reviewed the Gold Cup result in depth on 24th March, so let's consider a Fantasy Festival Yankee for 2024. Had I reviewed the Festival a bit quicker, I would have immediately pencilled in Impaire Et Passe for the Champion Hurdle, but the early 6/1 has gone and the best now available is 4/1 which isn't good value, but still interesting. I'm much more confident in El Fabiolo in the QM Champion Chase, as I think he's a better horse than Energumene, and thoughts of Constitution Hill going for this race as a novice chaser are fanciful. Best odds available are 7/2 (Coral) on El Fabiolo in the QMCC and he's in the Yankee. As I've written above, for the Ryanair Chase the odds of 10/1 available on this years' winner Envoi Allen look very decent, and he goes into my Yankee.  Finally, I'm taking those huge odds available on Flooring Porter for the Stayers' Hurdle. 

FANTASY YANKEE: (placed with BetVictor) Sunday 2nd April 2023
Champion Hurdle: IMPAIRE ET PASSE @ 4/1
Ryanair Chase: ENVOI ALLEN @ 10/1
Stayers' Hurdle: FLOORING PORTER @ 25/1
Two winners guarantees a profit.