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DAY 1 of the Aintree Grand National Festival has really snuck up on me but I'm delighted it's here and we have an incredible card to get stuck into today.
The horses from the UK might have more of an opportunity to shine this week with less of an Irish raiding party coming over. There are some fascinating contests over the next three days but I actually think that if you exclude the Grand National itself then today's races look the most exciting on paper.
I have been joined this week on the Gambla Racing Podcast by the peerless Jim Delahunt to discuss the Grand National as well as all the racing across the three days. He has some cracking selections and there are a couple that we both agree on too. Have a listen here or download through your podcast provider to listen later:
My selections for Thursday are as follows:
I am surprised that UMBRIGADO can be backed at double figure prices. The Pipes clearly think a lot of him and he has been held back for this meeting rather than taking his chance at Cheltenham. This is a competitive race no doubt but he looks the best value to me. I should also mention The Shunter who I expect will run a big race but he will need to now that he is stepping up to Grade 1 company from handicaps. Thankfully Ladbrokes, Betfiar and Paddy Power are offering THREE places each way (it should be 2) which is a huge concession and allows us to back this one each way.
I thought that CLONDAW CASTLE was a huge price at 9-1 yesterday but that great value has now disappeared slightly. He is still backable at 13-2 which is the best price available as I write and I would go as low as 11-2 but no further. I think there are question marks over quite a few here. Does Clan Des Obeaux prefer a right-handed track and has he peaked? Will Native River run well after such a gruelling Gold Cup a few weeks ago and does he want the ground a bit softer? Does Waiting Patiently ever want to win a race again?? Does Tiger Roll want regulation fences over 3 miles? Does Mister Fisher want a 3 mile trip this soon after a tough run in the Ryanair?
Clondaw Castle also has one big question to answer – can he step up to grade 1 company? However everything else is in his favour – he has been given a rest rather than run at Cheltenham, he has his preferred ground, he has the speed to go at this pace over 3 miles and after his win at Kempton we now know that he stays 3 miles. I think he is a horse who has been campaigned at shorter trips for most of his career when he should have been running over 3 miles.
Given the question marks over the rest of the field I think ASO is a massive price at 50-1. He does have a bit to find with some of these but I can see him grabbing a place so he is worth a small each way interest.
I'm amazed that I am saying this but I think BUVEUR D'AIR could be cracking value here. He is a course and distance winner who has won two Champion Hurdles (albeit 3 and 4 years ago) and is undoubtedly a class act. If he recaptured some of his old ability he would win this with the cigars out. He clearly needed his return to action in January at Haydock where the ground was horrible and Nico didn't ask too many questions of him. He needs to improve massively for that but it was his first run for 400-odd days and I think you would be daft to think he won't come on at least a bit. This isn't a vintage renewal of the race and he looks a big price to me. Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment with Nicky's horses after Champ in the Gold Cup but I am willing to give both he and Buveur another chance today.
Although I am trying to avoid horses that ran at Cheltenham I am making an exception for ON THE SLOPES who ran really well for me in 4th at the Festival and I think will go well again today. His price isn't as big as it was that day but all the same arguments apply and if anything the sharper 2 miles on a flatter track should suit him better. He is a solid each way prospect with several firms paying 6 places each way.
I'll be back later this evening with my selections for Friday and keep your eyes peeled later today for my labour of love – a runner by runner guide to the Grand National!