What are the best bets at Aintree and Sandown on Saturday?
Our resident tipster has run the rule over the seven races shown live on Channel 4 this afternoon.
1.40: Betfred Becher Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (National Course), 3m1f188yds
Horses for courses is a good maxim at Aintree and especially over the National fences, so last year’s big race runner-up Saint Are has to be of interest on the back of a satisfactory prep run at Cheltenham. And it would be foolish to rule out the 2014 hero Pineau De Re, whose trainer Dr Richard Newland is making some positive noises about the 12-year-old becoming the first Grand National winner since Bindaree in 2004 to win another race.
I wouldn’t put anyone off backing either but I’m convinced there is better to come from THUNDER AND ROSES and he could well be a National horse this season. It all depends how he takes to the fences and backing him on his first look is a risk, I know. However, the seven-year-old is a good jumper in the main and stamina is very much his strong suit, as he showed when winning the Irish National in April. According to his trainer Sandra Hughes he likes the ground “heavy and dead” and he’s likely to get that here, while the booking of Bryan Cooper (form figures of 2221 on him) is another positive. Take Betfair’s 10/1.
Of the rest, I’ve a hunch that HIGHLAND LODGE could outrun his 25/1 price tag, despite being 7lb wrong at the weights. Fourth in the 2013 Hennessy off a much higher mark than today’s, he became disappointing and is having his first start for Jimmy Moffat this afternoon. The change of scenery could do him the world of good and his new trainer seemed very happy with the way he was working in a recent Stable Tour. He’s got to be worth a small each-way interest at the bet365 odds.
1.55: Racing Post Henry VIII Novices’ Chase (Grade 1), 1m7f119yds
Four of the six runners bring recent winning form to the table including BRISTOL DE MAI and the four-year-old looks the one to be on in receipt of the age allowance. A smart juvenile hurdler last season, he has taken to fences well this term and, having chased home subsequent Cheltenham winner Garde La Victoire on his debut at Uttoxeter, he proceeded to hack up at Warwick last time, earning the form comments “made all, jumped well, clear approaching two out, easily.” This is tougher of course but he looks a smart two-mile chaser in the making and the softer the better for him. He’s a worthy favourite at Hills’ 7/4.
2.15 Aintree: Betfred Lotto ‘100k Cash Giveaway’ Chase (Listed), 3m210yds
Many Clouds is bidding to become the first Grand National winner since Bindaree to win another race – unless Pineau De Re beats him to it! – and he will be a lot sharper for his reappearance run in the Charlie Hall. However he faces a stiff task trying to give 5lb to last season’s RSA Chase winner Don Poli, who looks set to become one of the leading contenders for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Even so, he’s unlikely to be fully fit on his first run since the Punchestown Festival in April and I’ve a feeling that SOUTHFIELD THEATRE, who finished second to him at Cheltenham, can turn the tables. The seven-year-old sustained a nasty leg injury in that race so did well to finish as close as he did and he was badly in need of the run when finishing third to Coneygree on his reappearance. Providing the ground doesn’t deteriorate from the current “good to soft” (no rain forecast), he will run a big race and is real value at the 13/2 (Paddy Power) on offer, albeit to small stakes.
2.25 Sandown: Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle (Listed), 1m7f216yds
Nicky Henderson has won this Listed race three times in the last five years so his Nesterenko is a good starting point. The six-year-old was fancied in a classier contest at Ascot last time only to unseat at the fourth and the form of his second to Baron Alco previously looks strong with that horse winning again since.
However, I’m drawn to the Paul Nicholls-trained VICENZO MIO near the bottom of the weights. The five-year-old missed last season due to injury and clearly needed the run when fifth here on his reappearance. His trainer said he was on a “workable mark” for handicaps in a Stable Tour and he is claiming 7lb off him by putting up the stable’s hugely promising conditional Harry Cobden, of whom he said he was going to use selectively this term. The partnership are value at Ladbrokes’ 6/1.
I’m going to keep a one eye on the market as a move for French import Wells De Lune would be significant. A winner on his debut at Pau, he’s having his first run for Charlie Longsdon who must think he’s well treated on a mark of 125 to pitch him in at this level. It’s just strange there was no mention of him in a recent Stable Tour – perhaps he doesn’t want to foil a gamble?
3.00 Sandown: Betfair Tingle Creek Chase (Grade 1), 1m7f119yds
I’ve previewed this race in full elsewhere and fully expect VIBRATO VALTAT to justify favouritism, especially now Simonsig is a non-runner.
3.20 Aintree: Betfred Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, 2m5f19yds
It’s not often a horse who has been pulled up on his last two starts goes off near enough favourite for his next assignment, especially a race of this nature. However, BENNYS MIST has faced very stiff tasks at Ascot and Cheltenham so far this term and this race will have been very much the plan, given he finished third 12 months ago off the same mark. The nine-year-old loves the mud and should be in his element here, so he’s a worthy market leader and will be carrying my money at Ladbrokes’ 7/1.
The main danger looks to be Double Ross. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has had a lot of success over the years in races over the National fences and the nine-year-old took to them well enough when finishing fifth in the 2014 Topham. He struggled a bit last season but has looked back to his best in two runs this term, into when finishing fourth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time. Whether he can give the selection 15lb, I just don’t know.
3.35 Sandown: Betfair London National (Handicap Chase), 3m4f
I really wanted to put up Mountainous here as he’s back on a good mark – 5lb lower than when winning the Welsh National in 2013 – and his stable is in excellent form, but I’m not sure the ground is going to be testing enough – he’s done the majority of his winning on heavy and they were calling it “good to soft” on Friday. A repeat bid in the Welsh National on December 27 beckons and, given the ground is usually bottomless there, that could be the best time to back him.
Carole’s Destrier goes on any ground it seems and Neil Mulholland’s charge will strip a lot fitter for his reappearance fifth in Wincanton’s Badger Beer Trophy. He’s seen as a long-term Grand National prospect, so this will be a good test of his credentials, and hooks sure to go well this afternoon. I just worry that the 11st 12lb on his back will tell one home and he’s reluctantly swerved for BALLYHEIGUE LADY (14/1 Paddy Power), who is in receipt of 15lb. He won two of his four stars over fences last season and signed off with a staying-on third over 3m here in May. He looked like an out-and-out stayer that day and not for the first time he jumped like an absolute buck. We’re taking a chance on his fitness but I rate his trainer Chris Gordon highly and it’s possible he has had this race in mind for the gelding for some time.