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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Aintree Day 1

To watch the BBC’s News at Ten this evening, you would be forgiven for assuming that a real and formal threat from nuclear-weapon wielding North Korea towards the United States of America was something to be concerned about as we head into the downhill half of our weeks.

 You might be wondering if you fit snugly into one of the seven new classes defined by sociologists at the beeb: “Oooh am I an emerging servicer or an established technical elitist?”

It's easy when you lie on the survey
Whatever. Here comes the sport. Oh, some non-English sides are competing for the major honours in European club football.  Whoopee.  Does it not seem strange to you that, with three days of premium National Hunt Racing ahead of us, all the major news channels are focusing on the banal and benign?

Sprinter Sacre is stepping up in trip; Flemenstar is back and out to prove the Casey camp aren’t all as mad as a box of frogs; Overturn has a disappointing Cheltenham from which to bounce back; Silviniaco Conti, nose still wet from that nasty festival fall, needs to dust himself down and rekindle the fiery confidence that has seen him so impressively answer the questions posed by large, bristly fences up and down the country; and Palphabet favourite Soll, having made mincemeat of the Sandown railway fences a few weeks ago, has this evening made the cut in the greatest steeplechase the world has ever known – the John Smith’s Grand National.

I’m sure if Kim Jong Un knew all of these varied threads were being woven into the great colourful tapestry of jumps racing as he spoke (undoubtedly in a rather menacing fashion, on the subject of world domination), he would pause for a moment, pick up the phone to Dennis Rodman and meet in the most mutually convenient of locations tomorrow afternoon: Aintree.

Isn't it easy to picture this very scene in a luxury trackside box at a Merseyside racecourse?

I, for one, would look forward to meeting him there, going for a curry and preparing for Ladies’ Day, followed by a night out in Liverpool, Grand National Saturday, and then another night out in Liverpool.  It's the home of The Beatles, KJU, all you need is love.. and a couple of decent-priced winners.

Now, as Tom Segal says in tomorrow's column (yes, I've bought an ipad with the RP app, very elitist I know): "Aintree always provides a tricky conundrum for punters". Namely: stick or twist. You either stay faithful to the Cheltenham pocket-liners like Sprinter Sacre, Flaxen Flare, The New One, Alderwood and Solwhit or you look for that kind croupier of the turf and hope he's going to deal you a better hand in the north west than he did down in the south west.  Celestial Halo, Overturn, Dodging Bullets, Conti, Countrywide Flame, Captain Conan, all capable of reversing form or improving on a totally different track. Of course there are those nags who we never even saw grace the festival floor to consider too. There's so much to think about I honestly do wonder why the general public care so much about some 17-year-old kid selling an app that seems to provide little more than the info you get when you click "news" on well-known search engine site  

The RP iPad app - wow, just wow.  Infinitely better than that 17 year old kid's one..
Here’s a few picks for Aintree’s Thursday card to hopefully line our collective pockets ahead of the weekend’s action:

2.00 – Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle

Not too sure why Far West isn’t lining up for this £56-grand, 2-mile opener for four year olds.  Nicholls is sending stable companion Irish Saint, thinks the track will suit and the bookies go 3/1, marginally larger odds than Henderson’s Rolling Star, who had the better of the Saint at Cheltenham in January.  It’s stick or twist time guys.  At 31/1, carrying £40 of my festival funds, Flaxen Flare was one of my Cleeve Hill heroes, having been tipped by Segal earlier that day before winning the Fred Winter in notable fashion.  Currently 5.9 on Betfair, I don’t want to be twisting on trainer Gordon Elliott any time soon.  He’s 6 from 19 in the past fortnight and his whole team are flying. 

Flaxon Flare was a real Festival Fillip

2.30 – Betfred Bowl Chase

Another Grade 1 with a stellar line-up of staying chasers to behold.  Silviniaco Conti is a shade of odds-on at 5/6 to triumph around Aintree, where he romped home by 13 lengths last year, and it would be foolish not to have him in your accumulator or lucky 15 for the day.  First Lieutenant steps back up in trip after being beaten in the Ryanair Chase over 2m 5f and is the preferred alternative under multiple festival-winning jockey Bryan Cooper.

3.05 – Aintree Hurdle.. another Grade 1

Zarkandar is given blinkers for this race, which is over a distance 25% longer than the Champion Hurdle in which we last saw him.  He was beaten by Countrywide Flame that day and that is reflected in their prices being 5/1 and 4/1 respectively.  Willie Mullins’s grey Thousand Stars appeals at 9/1 as he is a two-time runner up in this race (in both instances losing out to 11/2 shot Oscar Whisky) but I think I’ll side with Countrywide Flame and pick Raya Star as my big-priced each way outside at around 28/1.

3.40 – Fox Hunters’ Chase

Here we go, a juicy handicap with amateur riders to break the monotony of the day’s impeccable line-up of grade 1 superstars.  I always look for “The Dentist” in races like these – Mr Sam Waley-Cohen, who likes Aintree having been runner-up in the 2011 Grand National, and who saddles up on Cottage Oak at around 6/1.   Not a huge price, but has place claims so will put him in an each-way acca of some kind.


In the 4.15 – Red Rum Handicap Chase, the 4.50 Grade 1 Novices’ Chase and the 5.25 Handicap Hurdle card-closer, I am going Rebel Rebellion for Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls; Captain Conan who should go better than when fifth at Cheltenham on good-to-soft last month; and Ericht to complete the first-day double for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty.  Will probably perm these up with that Waley-Cohen mount in the Fox Hunters’... in fact, I have!



With other decent looking cards at Taunton (where Hunt Ball and Aaim to Prosper catch the eye), and Thurles (with Toner D’Oudairies stepping out for red-hot Gordon Elliott under the jockeyship of shunned-by-the-BHA champion Irish jockey Davy Russell) it really is time to prise ones finger off the warheads and hit the nuclear betting button.   Boom!