Day Two of the Aintree Festival has me inclined to retrieve a mission that has awkwardly gone wrong through a result of poor weather projections. Today I am looking forward to some more quality racing and I am ready to go through the card and help pinpoint the value and likely winners. The Topham Chase is a personal favourite and I cannot wait to see some speed duels commence over the National course.
Here is the run down of races and possible betting angles:
2.00 - Tangle Teaser Top Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2)
On the face of it this event looks like a showdown between two of the better novice hurdlers in the division Darlan and Prospect Wells. The former has Ladbrokes only offering 11/10 which means they certainly do not want to lay any bets and seemed assured that he will win the race. Other bookmakers do not see this race quite as clear cut and his odds lengthen to 2/1 in a few places. History suggests with a 1 Favourite in 10 runnings winning, that this is an event more open than originally seems to be the case and a quick review of past renewals shows us that the most recent FIVE winners all did not have a run at Cheltenham. Well, if I am to be fully correct, General Miller did but he unseated his jockey at the first fence before cantering round for a while (not really a race was it?).
If we are to look at the race from any value point of view then the race selection would need to be Right Step, who was a fairly useful performer in handicap company on the flat and is a horse sure to appreciate drying ground on a speed circuit. Having only raced once over obstacles he could be open to any amount of improvement and possibly having not raced at Cheltenham he will appear now in a more perfect race condition than his two main rivals who head the market. Any doubters can happily stick Darlan in an exacta with the selection for a fair profit.
2.30 - John Smith's Mildmay Novices' Chase (Grade 2)
Albeit that there are only FIVE runners featured in this Grade 2, this event is still somewhat perplexing. This race though is a lengthier one than even the RSA Chase at Cheltenham so the prerequisite for finding the winner is surely with an emphasis firmly in the direction of stamina.
My thinking is that Solix and Champions Court may possibly only be able to fight it out for third place in this with the Paul Nicholl's runners taking each other on at the line for first place. Join Together has bundles of stamina and that may help bridge the possible class gap with Silvinaco Conti and make this a very, very close run thing. Has Ruby made the wrong choice? Likelihood is that Silvinaco Conti may edge out his stablemate and that exacta could pay quite well.
3.05 - John Smith's Melling Chase (Grade 1)
I have an instinct that Finian's Rainbow is quite possibly the incorrect favourite for this race as it was only good fortune (no final fence) and the less stamina testing 2m 1f of Cheltenham that helped to victory on that day. I would never disrespect his performance, but his previous outing at Ascot showed his stamina was suspect and this step up in distance therefore I do not feel plays to his strengths.
His trainer Nicky Henderson disagrees my view and feels this step up in trip, around Aintree, is just what the horse needs. Interesting.
The expectation that the winner must have won a Grade 1 previously is worthy of considerable note and would enable us to remove Poquelin from the race winning equation. The only realistic viable alternative to the race favourite is the ageing Albertas Run who finished runner up in this event 12 months ago. He now has age against him but he went to Cheltenham a totally fresh horse and so very nearly pulled off his FOURTH festival victory which illustrates he is still at the top of his game.
In theory, over this intermediate trip I am inclined to believe that Albertas Run (despite this not being a race at Cheltenham) still has the measure of a horse such as Finian's Rainbow. Only just though!
3.40 - John Smith's Topham Chase Handicap (Grade 3)
I love this race, possibly more than the great Grand National itself. Involved is the same craziness of a National but with the extra emphasis of jumping with speed and guile, a brilliant sight to behold both viewers on television and spectators at the track.
Immediate focus will potentially be on whether Always Waining can break the hoodoo of runners aged 11 plus. Last years winner will be bidding to become the first horse to win from the last 91 aged 11+ to have attempted victory and he is not without his chance. However despite a love for the track his handicap mark and age are both questions that require analysis and the overall consensus is that he will be fighting it out for a minor placing this time around.
Frankie Figg is another who loves the venue and if Paul Nicholl's has improved his jumping he has strong claims. His tendency to race too enthusiastically combined with the frustrations of his clumsy style negate what winning chance he might have.
Two horses strike me as very fair value in this contest despite neither having had Grand National course experience previously. Topweight Tartak is one possible runner who could improve enough on his most recent run to have a say in the finish. His owners more recently removed Tom George from his training duties and gave the responsibility to Tim Vaughan in order to spark life in the ex Grade 2 winner. This seemed to have a positive effect and now his new trainer has had more time to work on his new addition I can see further improvement likely.
Should he win it would go against all the previous ratings statistics and trends regarding weights but trends are there to be broken and as an each way option he could make his class tell.
The other contender at another interesting price is Amigayle and I have to declare I am quietly keen on her chance. She is a great jumper who loves to see a stride into her fences and I have no doubt that a lack of experience over the course will harm her chances. She may be running against the boys but she did so in great effect last season when only getting beaten by a very well handicapped Holmwood Legend in the Byrne Plate at Cheltenham.
My money was on her at a very big price that day, and I was fairly gutted she could not repel her rival at the finish, but I hoped one day she could win a big prize for her connections. This race appears to have been her long term aim and she avoided Cheltenham where she would have had a decent chance, in order to run in this race off a very fair mark of 129. With 10st 2lb on her back she has more than a fighting chance against some fairly exposed and some inexperienced sorts of winning in good style.
Tartak and Amigayle are head and shoulders above their opponents in my eyes and I hope my approach to the race is rewarded with a fair return. Exacta anyone?
I am only likely to get involved in one of the remaining three races and that interest will solely rest on DARE ME who contests the 4.50 Listed Handicap Hurdle run over 2m 4f. I witnessed an ability in this horse when watching his run over 2m 1f in January at Cheltenham where he showed a lack of speed and an inability to jump cleanly. Upped in trip I expected him to shine last time out in the Coral Cup but with last minute replacement jockey Sam Twiston Davies not giving the horse a fantastic ride his effort was clearly under par.
Regular jockey Richard Johnson is back in the saddle this afternoon and over the same trip on a flat track we could see an invigorated effort from a horse that still has potential to be better than he currently is. Having disappointed at Cheltenham his handicap mark has become very attractive at 133 and I expect far better than what was witnessed last time out, at another decent price.