With plenty of variety on show tomorrow with the National Hunt season beginning in earnest with two quality meetings from Aintree and Chepstow and the flat coming towards its end with the Group One Racing Post Trophy the feature from Doncaster plus some Group action from Newbury. This blog will concentrate on both Aintree and Chepstow with thoughts on the Channel 4 action below. I shall be in attendance at Aintree both days this weekend and am looking forward to being back there. As always, OnTheOtherHoof have their usual weekly preview with the whole panel back together tonight.
Earlier this week, myself, Luke, Calum and special guest George Gorman did our 2014-15 National Hunt preview with all of our horses to follow for the upcoming campaign.
2:00 BETFRED TV HANDICAP HURDLE (CLASS 2) (4yo+ 0-150) 2m1f
An interesting handicap hurdle starts the card with some useful novices and juveniles from last season making their return to action. Garde La Victoire won the maiden hurdle on this card twelve months ago and showed a good level of form throughout the season including when second to Ballyalton in December at Cheltenham. He disappointed in the Tolworth behind Royal Boy before struggling in the Supreme when fourteenth behind Vautour. The season ended for him with a confidence boosting win at Taunton when stepping up in trip and a similar success at Cheltenham. He looks interesting off his handicap mark but the improvement came over two and a half miles last season so he can be opposed.
The other novice from last season WADSWICK COURT appeals here. He won two of his three starts over hurdles including at Huntingdon where he was keen early on before beating a fair field. His last start at Ascot he threw away after the fall at the last flight of Wilde Blue Yonder who looked an assured winner. He picked up those pieces however idled badly allowing Mountain King to get up. The better ground is a huge positive plus the yard of Charlie Longsdon is in excellent form.
The first two home in last season’s Fred Winter Hawk High and Katgary reoppose here. The runner up was one of the unluckier in running when hampered by the fall of Clarcam at the second last and the winner got first run on him. He then went off a short price over course and distance in the conditional jockeys handicap hurdle on Grand National day and travelled well before not picking up when sixth to Court Minstrel. He could be ahead of the handicapper but he may want further on a flat track.
Hawk High won the juvenile hurdle at this meeting twelve months ago before going on to better things which culminated in his big price win in the Fred Winter which he duly deserved after an excellent ride from Brian Hughes. He ran well enough in the Grade One juvenile over course and distance where a mistake two out ended any chance he had behind Guitar Pete. Better ground will help his chances here and being back in handicap company, he should be going close if ready. Broughton is the other juvenile from last season who was fancied to go well in the Triumph after winning nicely at Musselburgh beating Clarcam but was disappointing at both spring festivals. He is a watching brief tomorrow.
The 2012 Swinton Hurdle winner Red Merlin came back after two years off the track and ran a huge race at Uttoxeter off top weight in June when second giving the winner plenty of weight. He looks vulnerable here against potential improvers. Cool Mcavity hasn’t gone on since his Punchestown win whilst Handazan and Eagle Rock don’t look good enough here.
Selection – Wadswick Court
3:00 BETFRED MONET´S GARDEN OLD ROAN CHASE (A Limited Handicap) (Grade 2) (CLASS 1) (4yo+) 2m4f
The race that features the name of three times winner Monet’s Garden, one of the finest jumpers of a fence we have seen in recent years who even beat the mighty Kauto Star in this race in 2007. On paper, this year’s renewal looks fairly strong with the top weight Module having a BHA rating of 164. He brings a fairly solid look to the race with Graded form including a win in the Game Spirit (I refuse to use the actual name given on the day) at Newbury and a staying on third in the Queen Mother Champion Chase behind Sire De Grugy. His final start he was badly hampered by the fall of Hidden Cyclone and was pulled up sharply by Barry Geraghty. The return to this distance is a positive but he does have plenty of weight.
UXIZANDRE progressed a lot last season for Alan King under forceful tactics when putting up two excellent efforts at both Cheltenham and Aintree. The effort in the JLT surprised some however allowed to stride on unlike at Warwick the previous time; he put the field to the sword under a superb front running ride from Robert Thornton and was only denied late on by the forceful AP McCoy on Taquin Du Seuil. McCoy returned for Aintree where again he was given another fantastic ride with his jumping winning him the race against Oscar Whiskey. If allowed to use those tactics, he will be the one to beat tomorrow as he looks the horse to have the most potential going forward this season.
Rajdhani Express only had three starts last season with him meeting with a setback after his first run. His best run of the year was his third to Dynaste in the Ryanair but disappointed over course and distance in the Melling Chase behind Boston Bob. Potentially on a sharper track he wants three miles so can be overlooked. Rolling Aces put up a career best in the same race when second and with conditions to suit, he could run a big race although the yard’s horses have looked to need the run.
Conquisto, VIVA COLONIA, Mr Moonshine, Wishfull Thinking and Edgardo Sol represent last year’s form. Conquisto looks to be the one with the obvious chance however this does look a stronger race than twelve months ago. Viva Colonia’s best recent form is at this distance including when third last year and when second to Mr Moonshine at Musselburgh. He was travelling well enough in the Topham when he unseated Danny Cook at the fence before Becher’s and he looks overpriced with a run on the flat to blow away the cobwebs.
Mr Moonshine will probably find this a tad on the sharp side with other targets at this course awaiting him later in the campaign. Wishfull Thinking will probably need this run but looked for some of last year to have returned back to his old form when second here in December to Unioniste and winning off top weight at Cheltenham in January beating Double Ross. Edgardo Sol has changed stables to Emma Lavelle but still looks handicapped to the hilt.
Bold Sir Brian hasn’t been seen for a while but this looks to be a confidence booster with the horrific fall on 2013 Trials Day still fresh in the mind. Lucky William fell too early last time out to know how he would have fared against Sizing Europe and Kie’s jumping can leave a lot to be desired.
Selections – Uxizandre/Viva Colonia (E/W)
3:40 BETFRED MOBILE VETERANS´ HANDICAP CHASE (CLASS 2) (10yo+ 0-150) 3m1f
A small but select field go to post for the Veterans Chase which in recent years has been a fantastic initiative. If anyone asks me for a race that the Cheltenham Festival needs, it would be this. All five have claims here starting with Burton Port who looked for the majority of last season that he had lost his way but a good run at Newbury in a similar race showed the old fire was there. He then unseated at the second in the Grand National before travelling like the winner of the majority of the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown when outstayed by Hadrian’s Approach. He definitely goes in with a favourite’s chance.
Hey Big Spender was a huge eyecatcher in this race twelve months ago when travelling like the winner before blowing up. He followed that run with a win in the Rehearsal Chase and I fully expect tomorrow to be similar to last year’s run. The yard hasn’t fully hit their stride yet but the horses are running well without winning.
Lie Forrit will definitely appreciate this small field over fences after finding the Scottish National too much for him but should come on for the run. McMurrough ran well in a Veterans Chase back in Feburary at Doncaster behind Tranquil Sea but tends to need the run which leaves PIGEON ISLAND who comes into this fifteen pounds lower than when second to Jamsie Hall a year ago. He has been running well without winning and with Jamie Bargary taking ten off, he looks unbelievably well handicapped on the pick of his form.
Selection – Pigeon Island
4:50 TOTESPORT.MOBI NOVICES´ CHASE (CLASS 3) (4yo+) 2m4f
A fascinating novice chase with several nice novice hurdlers from last year making the transition to chasing. TIMESREMEMBERED looked a chaser through and through last season. He actually won on this day last year when dotting up in the Persian War beating Potters Cross by nine lengths before finishing placed behind Creepy at Cheltenham and Captain Cutter in the Challow at Newbury. He then went for the River Don at Doncaster and disappointed behind Urban Hymn when sixth on bad ground. The Coral Cup was decided as his Cheltenham target and he ran with great credit when sixth to Whisper only beaten five and a half lengths. He was the highest rated hurdler of these and has won a Point to Point so if he jumps round, he should be winning.
Horizontal Speed looks the main rival having won four of his starts over hurdles including a novice handicap over the fixed brush hurdles on his last start at Haydock. He should give the favourite most to think about. Sergeant Mattie’s jumping on debut at times was excellent however as the race progressed, he became sloppy and only just scraped home at Uttoxeter.
He will need to jump a lot better tomorrow if featuring plus gives weight away as does Wakanda who won a novice handicap chase on debut at Hexham but looks up against it here. Golden Hoof is another to have chasing experience having jumped well at Kempton before potentially being over the top at Uttoxeter. Volcanic makes his UK chase debut after having experience in France and won easily at 1/9 last time at Cartmel over further. This does look a much stiffer task.
Selection – Timesremembered
2:25 TOTEPOOL SUPPORTING THE SPORT YOU LOVE NOVICES´ CHASE (CLASS 4) (4yo+) 3m
This looks one of the races of the day with the majority of the field holding solid claims. This could be one of those early season novice chases to follow as the season progresses. SAUSALITO SUNRISE has looked a thorough stayer over hurdles including when winning a handicap in desperate ground before Christmas at Haydock over three miles. He ran a respectable enough race in the Albert Bartlett when sixth to Very Wood before ending his season with two wins, the latter at Perth being impressive when disposing of Oscar Rock in taking style. Whenever trainer Phillip Hobbs has been asked about his stable stars, he has always mentions this horse without being prompted which indicates the regard he is held in.
Mosspark looked progressive throughout last season. He began his career when second to Grade One winner Annacotty in a Point to Point back in November 2012. He won three on the bounce over hurdles including the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon beating Spirit Of Shankly before finding the Albert Bartlett a culture shock to him. Like the favourite, he looks an exciting proposition to chasing and will win his fair share of races over the winter.
Sego Success was a horse who caught the eye at Haydock in the paddock looking as though he would make into a nice staying chaser in time. He didn’t handle the ground and can be forgiven that effort as it was barely raceable. Although he fell at Exeter, he was unlucky to as he was short of room at the second last and was staying on nicely at the time. He may not trouble the main pair in the market but looks a nice chasing recruit.
The same can be said about Minella On Line who looks to want at least three miles on a galloping track. He found the same distance around Kempton too sharp before winning at Chepstow over hurdles in March. Awaywiththegreys returns chasing after an unsuccessful attempt last time but has kept his form over hurdles whilst Leo Luna won’t like the ground and is on the small side which is a worry.
Selection – Sausalito Sunrise
3:35 TOTEPOOL PERSIAN WAR NOVICES´ HURDLE (Grade 2) (CLASS 1) (4yo+) 2m4f
All about SON DU BERLAIS here. One that made it into my second ten to follow list, he came over to England during the summer after a hugely impressive win at Auteuil in March before toying with a 125 rated horse in Val D’arc at Newton Abbot. Whilst Val D’arc hasn’t done much to deserve that rating, Son Du Berlais looked a class above and this galloping track will suit him far better than a tight track like Newton Abbot. A note of caution for anyone wishing to back him for any novice hurdle event at Cheltenham. This is his final start as a novice and his next start will be in open company.
The main challengers are headed by recent Cheltenham winner Vicente who had to battle to beat Present View. The main worry here is whether this race comes too quickly. One of the blog horses to follow Blaklion was withdrawn at the start on that occasion and whatever was troubling Jamie Moore seems to have been sorted. He is fitted with a first time hood here which seems an interesting move but tomorrow he is best watched. The one that will chase Son Du Berlais home is course and distance winner Relentless Dreamer who did it nicely plus gave the Uttoxeter bumper form with Relic Rock and Fletchers Flyer a boost.
Selections – Son Du Berlais / Son Du Berlais/Relentless Dreamer (F/C)
4:10 TOTEPOOLLIVEINFO.COM SILVER TROPHY HANDICAP HURDLE (Grade 3) (CLASS 1) (4yo+) 2m4f
The market seems to suggest that Regal Encore is a good thing tomorrow off his mark of 131 but so far over hurdles he hasn’t impressed including when getting turned over when 1/9f at Hexham and also on his two handicap starts when beaten in the Imperial Cup at Sandown and when eighth at Punchestown. The stable was reported to have a virus last season but even allowing for that, his jumping wasn’t the best at times and even if he is well handicapped he has to jump a lot better. With him in the race, if you don’t fancy him then you will get a much better price about other leading fancies.
Dr Richard Newland has listed one of my handicappers to follow BOONDOOMA as a horse to watch out for this season and it wasn’t hard to see why last time out over course and distance where he was hugely impressive beating Peckhamecho. He was raised twelve pounds for that but looks a horse on the upgrade and with his rider’s valuable five pound claim; he could still be well ahead of the handicapper.
Shelford won the first division of the novice hurdle two weeks ago beating Emerging Talent and connections wisely come here to exploit his handicap mark rather than go into Graded company. He has an obvious chance and should chase home Boondooma. Vieux Lion Rouge will love the ground but is one that would either bolt up by fifteen lengths or run a shocker and isn’t trusted after his previous experience in handicap company when running poorly when well fancied for the Martin Pipe at the Festival.
Aubusson will also enjoy underfoot conditions having won on New Year’s Day and Lizzie Kelly’s claim is a definite plus. Shammick Boy won this race twelve months ago off a five pound higher mark but this looks a stronger contest, L’Unique is a spring horse so will come on plenty for this and Closing Ceremony would appreciate further.
Selection – Boondooma
4:45 TOTEEXACTA PICK THE 1,2 HANDICAP CHASE (CLASS 2) (4yo+) 2m
Alan King has had an excellent start with his association with Tom Bellamy and even though he has top weight, VALDEZ looks the solid pick here. He boasts the best form in the race having finished a close fifth in the Arkle behind Western Warhorse and also goes well when fresh. He should have too much class for his opposition here.
Majala finally won again over fences last time out at Perth over two and a half miles so the drop back in trip is a big worry here. Grey Gold has been a fantastic servant to the Richard Lee stable and loves this ground. He is probably the main danger to Valdez. Umberto D’Olivate faces the toughest test of his career and will need to step up on previous form whilst Eastlake has Raymond O’Brien booked instead of the champ. He will probably need the run with other targets on the horizon as the year progresses.
Selection – Valdez