THE AINTREE FESTIVAL is often seen as a ‘one race festival' given the magnitude of the Grand National and I must be as guilty as anyone of perpetrating that myth given my focus on the National but the other races are fantastic and never more so than this year.
Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls have an interesting battle on for who will be the champion trainer in the UK and both of them seem to be taking it very seriously indeed. I'm not sure that it's massively important but I suspect there is plenty of pride at stake on both sides, particularly if Mullins is seen to be winning the UK title almost as an afterthought given his embarrassment of riches (or Riccis if you'll pardon the pun).
The upside of this wee battle is that Mullins is sending over all of his big guns for the Aintree Festival so we will have the pleasure of seeing most of the big names from Cheltenham appearing again over the next three days.
Day 1 brings us some fantastic racing including the best of the Champion Hurdle field and 3 of the top horses from the Gold Cup locking horns again.
1.40 Merseyrail Manifesto Novices Chase
This is ultra-competitive and I could probably make a case for all 8 of them but I think the market has it just about right with Sizing John as favourite. I would give L'Ami Serge a good chance, particularly on this flatter track but I think Sizing John's performances this season behind Douvan have been excellent and he deserves a grade 1 victory.
- Recommendation: 1pt win – Sizing John at 11/4 with RaceBets
2.15 Bettered Anniversary 4-y-o Juvenile Hurdle
The simple question is whether Ivanovich Gorbatjov can replicate his form from Cheltenham. If he can he should beat these easily enough and even money will look like a gift. He isn't a straightforward horse though as we saw earlier this season when he flopped on his second run and I'm tempted to take him on with Diego Du Charmil who did us proud at the festival, winning after I had tipped him up at around 7/1 I believe.
He is moving out of handicap company and into the top grade in this race so some more improvement is likely to be required but given that his win at Cheltenham was his first run in the UK after moving to Paul Nicholls from France I would not be surprised to see him improve further. I expect him to get a place and hopefully something more.
- Recommendation: 1pt each way – Diego Du Charmil at 9/1 with RaceBets
2.50 Betfred Bowl Chase
This is a great follow up to the Gold Cup where we have the 2nd (Djakadam), 3rd (Don Poli) and the unlucky faller Cue Card all fighting it out again. Those are the main three in the race for me and I can't see the other 6 being involved in the finish but their presence gives the race a nice each way angle.
Cue Card had a heavy fall in the Gold Cup so I'm tempted to give him a miss this time just in case he is feeling the effects. Djakadam was excellent again in the Gold Cup but trying to live with Don Cossack that day will have taken much more out of him than it will have impacted on Don Poli who was never really in the race and just plodded along to take 3rd place.
I think he will improve vastly for a more prominent ride and I would like to see him upsides the leaders all the way round. At an each way price I think he is a no-brainer each way bet in the race to see if he can go two better than the Gold Cup with a more aggressive ride.
- Recommendation: 2pt each way – Don Poli at 11/2 with RaceBets
3.25 Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle
Thankfully this race has attracted the main protagonists from the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham as the horses finishing in the top 3 that day all line up again. Annie Power is the obvious one after she performed so well at Cheltenham.
My Tent or Yours looks like a very big price at 10/1 but there are only 2 places on offer (6 runners) for each way so he would need to beat Nicholls Canyon who is also in excellent form. Annie Power looks a safe bet as the winner but I won't be tipping anything. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
- Recommendation: No bet
4.05 Crabbies Foxhunters Chase
Some of the same faces from Cheltenham turn up again in what is a similar race to the Foxhunters Chase there with two differences: the race is slightly shorter and crucially is run over the Grand National fences. Those fences aren't everyone's cup of tea and it's important to have previous form.
On The Fringe won the same race last year and given that his well-being was confirmed at Cheltenham (although Nina Carberry left it very late indeed to get up and win the race) and the fact that he won this race last year I am not looking elsewhere for the winner.
- Recommendation: 4 pt win – On The Fringe at 13/8 with Racebets
4.40 Betfred Red Rum Handicap Chase
A competitive race although not as many entries as similar races at Cheltenham. That gives us the benefit of narrowing the field down more easily and one that has been in the notebook since November is Minella Present. He is still lightly raced and Neil Mulholland has clearly put the horse away for the springtime safe in the knowledge that there is plenty of improvement to come.
Bright New Dawn caught the eye at bigger price. He bounced back from a poor run at Cheltenham to win easily last time out in an easier race and if he can bring that improvement into today then he is an attractive each way price at 16/1.
- Recommendation: 1 pt each way – Minella Present at 5/1 with RaceBets
5.15 Goffs Nickel Coin Mares Standard Open National Hunt Chase
A ‘bumper' (national hunt flat race) that is exclusively for mares here and Augusta Kate will be popular in some part due to her owners (she is owned by a few celebs including Ant and Dec and Alan Shearer) but also her performances this season which have been good although she came up short in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
The one that attracts me though is Shattered Love who was very impressive first time out, albeit in a lower quality race but she could and should improve for that run and the 10/1 available on this one looks like great value to me.
- Recommendation: 1 pt each way – Shattered Love at 10/1 with RaceBets
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