Day One of the Aintree Festival

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A month of so has passed since Cheltenham and although the Festival is the meeting of the year bar none, we cannot just ignore Aintree can we? Three days instead of four, less Irish raiders (historically), less races (obviously), and a very different (flatter) track, but with the Grand National on Saturday afternoon there is so much to love as we try to predict a few winners or places along the way.

Once again I am not quite deluded or arrogant enough to think we will find all the winners (if only), but we can have a look at each and e very race and see if we can unearth a gem or two – whether you back them or not is entirely your choice!

Stats quoted cover the last 9 runnings unless stated otherwise and had to be written well in advance of the final fields.

1.45pm Manifesto Novices’ Chase

Stats: Captain Conan won this when sent off the 6/5f in 2013 – and we haven’t seen another winning favourite since. No trainer or jockey has won this twice in the last 9 runnings amazingly, but I do note all winners were priced in single figures, with six-year-olds the dominant age group having taken seven of those, and the last five in a row.

Thoughts: Well the stats sort of point to Gin On Lime as the only six-year-old left in the race but she hasn’t been seen since a fortunate win at Cheltenham in November (the favourite fell and she nearly did as well but somehow Rachel Blackmore stayed on board), but I note that she was expected to return at Cheltenham and that suggests she may have had some issues. Pic D’Orhy heads the early market but he ran on well to win at Kempton last time, and I just wonder if he may be better suited by a stiffer track. Erne River is taking a big step up in class looking to keep his unbeaten record over fences, but he was impressive at Wetherby when bolting clear when asked to win his race, and he may have even more to offer as he gains in experience.    

Erne River each way

2.20pm Juvenile Hurdle

Stats:  A 16/1 shot in 2015 and a 10/1 shot in 2013 but the rest have been at 13/2 or shorter. Three winning favourites (two at odds on), and trainer scores of Paul Nicholls two, Alan King two, and Nicky Henderson two, with the Irish winning two of the others. Once again, no jockey has doubled up in that time.

Thoughts: If you want proof positive how tricky this meeting is, Nicky Henderson, a top trainer with two winners of this race in recent years has the one runner (Impulsive One), and he is currently a 40/1 chance. Pied Piper was third in the Triumph Hurdle and a long way ahead of Knight Salute who reopposes here, and that may well be some of the best form on offer here. Brazil ruined a lot of bets (mine included ), when getting up to beat Gaelic Warrior in the Fred Winter despite a poor run and he is another for the shortlist, and as things stand I think he may just about be the better of the pairing. Petit Tonnerre missed Cheltenham and is another who could get involved in the finish though he does need to step up on what we have seen so far, while Fautinette was unbeaten in France and makes her debut for Venetia Williams, though she may well prefer a far softer surface.

Brazil

2.55pm Betway Bowl Chase

Stats: Five winning favourites from the last six runnings, nine-year-olds have come home first on four occasions and eight year-olds three times, making them the dominant age groups. Paul Nicholls has win three of the last seven, no other trainer has won more than one in the period covered.

Thoughts: I am not 100% certain exactly when I will stop following Clan Des Obeaux over a cliff, but not just yet I’m afraid. He is the joint highest rated here off a mark of 168 (along with Ryanair faller Conflated), but has dropped down to that mark form a career high of 173 after some so-so performances including last time out when he was a disappointing third in the Denman Chase at Newbury. Lest we forget, he was third to Might Bite here in this race in 2018, second to Kemboy in 2019, and a 26 length winner here last season, and if the first-time blinkers bring him back to life, the 7/2 on offer as I write is just too tempting to be ignored.  

Clan Des Obeaux  

3.30pm Aintree Hurdle

Stats: All nine winners were at a single figure price. Nicky Henderson has won this three times with Oscar Whisky, Buveur D’Air and L’Ami Surge, while Irish raiders have won four of the last six, with two of those trained by Jessica Harrington. Three winners have been six-year-olds, three aged seven, and two eight, so not a lot to learn there sadly.

Thoughts: Seven runners is a disappointing turnout for a prize of over £140,000 but it is what it is, and everything seems to point to a big run from Epatante.Trained by Nicky Henderson and aged eight (see stats) she has every chance for those reasons alone, but better still she was a gallant if well beaten second to the legendary Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle last month. She does try this trip for the first time which has to be a small concern, but ran on well up the Cheltenham Hill and this flatter track won’t test her stamina as much as elsewhere, and I suspect that if she wins, this may even be her last race before a well-earned retirement. Zanahiyr was only a length behind her at Cheltenham making him the obvious danger, yet the Elliott horses do not seem at their peak in recent weeks and I am happy enough to stick with the mare this afternoon.

Epatante

4.05pm Foxhunters Chase

Stats: Age could even be a benefit here with just the one nine-year-old successful (at 66/1 last season) – and the rest a mixture of 10 year-olds (two), 11 year-olds (two), 12 year-olds (three), and a 13 year-old in 2013.  Winners at odds of up to 100/1 and with the last four priced at 16/1, 20/1, 14/1, and 66/1, all things seem possible. Jockey James King has won this twice on Dineur (16/1) and Cousin Pascal (66/1), while trainer Enda Bolger won this twice with On The Fringe in 2015 and 2016.

Thoughts: Looking at the stats above and at 28/1 and 17/2 respectively the temptation is there to have  more than just a second look at the Enda Bolger trained Stand Up And Fight, and Cousin Pascal, the mount of jockey James King and the winner last year at odds of 66/1. Both could go well but Jett looks the one to be on, favourite or not. Expected to go well in the St James’s Place Hunter Chase at Cheltenham, regular pilot Sam Whaley-Cohen, son of owner/trainer Robert, picked up as suspension, and as he couldn’t ride, they gave the race a miss. Second to Shantou Flyer at Fontwell when last seen in February over three and a quarter miles, he has the speed for this trip and wont mind the quicker going either, and with connections looking to pick this up as “second prize”, we can be sure he will be tuned to the minute.  

Jett

4.40pm Red Rum Handicap Chase

Stats: Our first handicap of the day and a race where there are more stats (24 runnings worth)  to be analysed (hopefully). No winner over 40/1 (11 have tried), and only two from 67 who ran here who completed last time out but failed to finish in the first seven home have been successful. One from 54 over the age of nine, and only two winners rated over 143 from 74 attempts. Recent data tells us seven-year-olds have won three of the last five, and six of the last eight have carried less then eleven stone. 10/1 shots or shorter have won the last five, but none of them have been favourites.

Thoughts: The sort of race I just do not get on with so time to look through the stats – that’s what they are there for, after all. Tempted as I was to bore you to tears, suffice to say that if we use the overall stats we get down to a new shortlist of six horses, but if we add the recent filters (age, weight, price (using the early betting)) we come to one horse – so good luck to King D’argent. Trained by Dan Skelton and with Harry Skelton in the saddle, he was last seen coming home second to Bun Doran at Doncaster, beaten just a neck after trying to battle back once passed, and after a couple of untimely errors. 2lb better off with the winner now, if he can sort his jumping out he has an each way chance at the least this afternoon.

King D’argent

5.15pm Mares Bumper

Stats: Four and five-year-olds have won 14 of the 16 runnings of this race with the score 9-5 to the older generation, and five-year-olds have won the last three. All of the 16 winners came home in the first five last time out with no exceptions, and all had raced in the last 120 days. Just the one winning favourite from the last nine, and no trainer or jockey has doubled up in that time. Irish raiders have won two of the last three.

Thoughts: This is as tough as it gets to call, and you may was well use a lucky pin! I do quite like the form of Iliade Allen, second to Poetic Music at Cheltenham in January, and she ran well enough in the Festival bumper to suggest she can go well on her first start for Paul Nicholls. Kalelula is held in high regard and is temping at 16/1, but we all know Willie Mullins could have entered any of a dozen here – so why does he rely on Ashroe Diamond?  A winner at Wexford last May and second to The Gossiper at Galway in July, my suspicion is they think she is better on a quicker surface, in which case her half-length fourth last time out at Leopardstown was all the more noteworthy on ground that may not have been ideal, and after failing to find a run at a crucial stage. Currently priced at 6/1 she is certainly each way value, and that is the way I will be playing personally this afternoon.

Ashroe Diamond

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