What are the best bets for the opening day of the Aintree Festival?
Thursday sees the start of what promises to be a fantastic three-day Aintree Festival and I’ve run the rule over all seven races this afternoon.
1.40: One Magnificent City Manifesto Novices’ Chase, 2m4f
Just six runners and the betting suggests it’s between JOSSES HILL (6/4 bet365) and Vibrato Valtat, who finished third and fourth respectively behind Un De Sceaux in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham. The former didn’t jump particularly well that day and hasn’t looked a natural in any of his chase starts, but he could improve for the sounder surface and longer trip. Vibrato Valtat perhaps paid the price for going in pursuit of the easy winner a long way out and I suspect Sam Twiston-Davies will play him much later in this. Both Clarcam (8th) and Three Kingdoms (9th) finished even further adrift and it’s hard to see them overturning the form, although the latter will find this track more to his liking. He’s arguably the value of the race at 9/1 (Sky Bet) but it’s the Henderson runner for me with the stable record in the race (three runners have finished 112) hard to ignore.
2.15: Betfred Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle, 2m1f
Henderson could be on the mark again with HARGAM (Evens bet365), who is hard to oppose on his close-up Triumph Hurdle third behind stablemates Peace And Co and Top Notch. The danger is that the race may have taken the edge of him and I guess we won’t find out until about 2.17pm this afternoon, but the Cheltenham race has proved a reliable guide since this race became a Grade 1 in 2005, with the highest-placed horses from the juvenile championship finishing 112121271. What makes him irresistible, though, is that he will get his favoured good ground and we could even see a career-best effort as a result. Karl Burke’s filly Intense Tango could prove the main threat and is the one for forecast backers.
2.50: Betfred Bowl Chase (Grade 1), 3m1f
HOLYWELL (2/1 William Hill) was a hugely impressive of a Grade 1 novice chase over this trip at last year’s meeting and, having run right up to his best when fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last time, he’s fancied to repeat the trick under Tony McCoy. You could argue the eight-year-old had a hard race at Cheltenham, but he’s a horse who always saves a bit for himself and he comes alive at this time of year and when fitted with headgear. The big danger, according to the betting, is last year’s winner Silviniaco Conti but he’s hard to fancy after his no-show in the Gold Cup and he may be feeling the effects of a long season – his trainer Paul Nicholls might disagree of course! I see the 2013 runner-up and this season’s Charlie Hall winner Menorah as a bigger danger, with his trainer’s decision to skip Cheltenham meaning he’ll be a fresh horse.
3.25: Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle, 2m4f
On paper this looks a good opportunity for Arctic Fire to get a deserved breakthrough at the highest level after a string of placed efforts in Grade 1s, including when finishing runner-up in last month’s Champion Hurdle. The way he was keeping on behind easy winner Faugheen suggests he’ll cope with the extra four furlongs here, although it was a slowly-run renewal (five seconds slower than 2014) and I prefer to go with the proven stamina of JEZKI (11/4 bet365), who won the Hatton’s Grace over this trip. The relatively sedate pace at Cheltenham would not have suited the 2014 champion hurdler, who was tapped for toe at the finish, and he looks a good bet at 11/4 to reverse the form. Rock On Ruby will ensure this is a good test and he’s not discounted lightly, although he’d be the oldest winner since Mister Morose in 2000.
4.05: Crabbie’s Fox Hunters’ Chase (National Course), 2m5f
On The Fringe got the prize for easiest Cheltenham Festival winner after hacking up in the Foxhunter, and he’ll be a popular choice to double up here. However, he’d be the first horse to land both races since Double Silk in 1993 and, with the suspicion that he enjoyed the run of the race at Cheltenham, I’d say he’s a favourite to take on. Look no further than last year’s 13-length winner WARNE (6/1 bet365), whose jockey Sam Waley-Cohen has an outstanding record over the National fences and, indeed, rode the last back-to-back winner Katarino in 2006. The latter horse won that year despite not having a prep, so it’s no concern that the selection has had just the one run since last May, when winning a four-runner point-to-point at Kirkistown last month. This race will have been the plan as soon as he crossed the line in last year’s renewal.
4.40: Betfred Red Rum Handicap Chase, 2m
A lot of these have been on the go all season and hold no secrets from the handicapper, with Grand Annual winner Next Sensation having to compete off an 8lb higher mark. He’s still likely to make a bold bid but I’d rather take a chance on BABY MIX (16/1 Sky Bet) being ready to rock and roll on his belated seasonal reappearance and after 15 months off. Warren Greatex’s charge looks well treated on a mark of 135, having been as high as 149 as a juvenile over hurdles and shown some smart chasing form when last seen out, most notably an 18-length thumping of Turn Over Sivola at Kempton. His accurate jumping is a huge asseet in a race always run at a frentic pace.
5.15: Injured Jockeys Fund Handicap Hurdle, 3m110y
Nicky Henderson ‘s Call The Cops could turn out to be much better than a handicapper after making it 4-8 over hurdles in last month’s Pertemps Network Final and 2-2 over this distance. A 7lb rise will make life tougher, though, and a chance is taken on REGAL ENCORE (14/1 William Hill) in the hope he can settle better than when finishing seventh in the same Cheltenham race. A winner at Exeter previously, he’s always threatened to bag a decent prize like this one and I suspect he’s a bit better than his current mark of 137.
Good luck with your Aintree bets!