Tag Archives: Aintree

Preview: Grand National 2023

Can Noble Yeats “do a Tiger Roll”? Here’s a look at the main contenders and my attempt at solving the puzzle that is the 175th annual running of the Grand National.

A full field of 40 horses go to post with weights ranging from 11-12 to 10-2. It’s still a puzzle to solve, though, perhaps less the lottery and unpredictable race it was in the past.

Less difficult fences to jump, less carnage, less surprises. Class horses with big weights can win. The race looks completely different to those editions of half a century ago.

Last night I watched the wonderful DVD “12 Greatest Ever Grand Nationals” – great trip down the memory lane, but the race was a different kind of a beast compared to what it is these days.

The modern version of the Grand National is about class. Horses can certainly win with 11 stone plus on their back. We’ve seen it a number of times in more recent times.

Stamina is key, as a race over the marathon distance of 4m 2¬Ĺf should be. Perhaps that makes it somewhat less a test of pure jumping ability. Personally I’m okay with this fact if it goes along with a safer race for horse and rider.

2023 Grand National Contenders

Favourite Corach Rambler is as short as 6/1 in the betting. There is certainly a form of recency bias included after his spectacular victory at the Cheltenham Festival.

Corach Rambler is a tricky sort, though. He needs to be ridden in a certain way and will require all the luck in the world to get a clear run from the back of the field.

It’ll require a lot of faith to back him at this rather skinny price. It sure is going to be the most spectacular victory should he pick his way through the field to win the Grand National.

Personally I find it hard to see how there could be any juice left in his price, though. There is no chance that I could make him a shorter price in my book. In fact, he’s too short, in my view.

Delta Work is the second choice in the market. He won the Cross-Country at the Festival for the second year running. He looked as good as ever when he beat well fancied stable mate Galvin last month.

He was third in the Grand National last year but also 22 lengths beaten. Perhaps a different ride could change his fortunes?

Possibly. Nonetheless, I find it hard to see how he could improve on that run twelve months later. He’s a well-exposed 10-year-old. One pound lower than last year won’t make a difference – a mark of 159 looks far from a giveaway.

Noble Yeats was a surprise winner last year. A surprise on the day more so for the general public than connections. They knew they had a tremendously well-handicapped horse on their hands. We know that by now as well.

He’s a classy individual and judged on his Gold Cup run – arguably the strongest performance by any horse in this years Grand National field – must be considered a prime contender once more, even off a much higher mark.

Tiger Roll proved you can win back-to-back and big weights aren’t a hindrance to winning the modern Grand National, either. Noble Yeats has to overcome a 19lb higher mark than twelve month ago, though.

That seems fair given the way he took his form to a new level this season, including that excellent 4th place finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But that extra weight is a game changer, I firmly believe.

Tiger Roll only had to content with an additional 9lbs when winning back-to-back. Noble Yeats, perhaps a better horse right now than Tiger Roll was when winning his second National, doesn’t appear to be necessarily unfairly handicapped. At the same time I fear this weight is too much even for the classy Noble Yeats.

If talking about Noble Yeats one has to mention last years runner-up Any Second. He was less than three lengths beaten and ran a huge race in defeat.

He’s arguably unlucky not to have won a Grand National by now, after a superb, and somewhat unlucky 3rd place two years ago.

He’s another year older. This is his third attempt and he’s 8lb higher than last year, 15lb higher than 2021. His preparation has been spot on and he should be right there when it matters, but anything better than finishing in the placings is hard to imagine.

Willie Mullins sends out a small army. His best shot – judged purely on odds – seems Gaillard Du Mesnil who won the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last month.

Perhaps he was a bit fortunate because he benefited in no uncertain terms from the fall of a threatening rival. That begs the question: would he be as short in the betting if he’d finished runner-up that day?

I think he’s a few points too short, and no value to back in this race. Although he should stay, and that may allow him to be right there when it matters most.

The other well fancied Willie Mullins runner is Mr Incredible. He seems to catch a bit of momentum in the betting. He’s a quite lightly raced 7-year-old with an abundance of improvement left over staying trips, I believe.

He ran on for third place in the Kim Muir last month and may have finished closer if not for making a huge mistake at the last fence that cost him vital momentum.

He was a good second in a hot Grade 3 Handicap Chase at Warwick prior as well. On both forms he looks at the very least fairly weighted on handicapping terms.

He strikes me as one who had a lovely preparation for the race with a mark that has been somewhat protected this season as he ran well without showing all his cards, possibly.

There is every chance he can improve. If he does indeed, he would be a well-handicapped horse. Obviously, with Mr Incredible, talent is only one side of the coin.

He’s a seriously tricky sort and will need quite a bit of luck, given he is likely to race in rear of the field. That’s the reason why there are still big prices available to back him, especially on the Exchanges. But if he gets a clear run I can see him go all the way.

Longhouse Poet was my fancy twelve months ago. He probably did too much too soon, chasing a pretty hot pace, before tiering badly for 6th place finish, 34 lengths behind the winner.

He’s a fair shot once again off a near similar mark, I reckon. Possibly ridden with a little bit more restraint this time, he should get home better. I still can’t quite shake the impression of how badly he faded last year, though.

Hennessy winner Le Milos looks intriguing off only 6lb higher than when he landed the big handicap at Newbury in November. He travelled strongly throughout the race, made lovely progress, before hitting the front in the home straight and fought gutsily to the line.

He had a lovely prep run in early March at Kelso in the meantime, most likely not fully tuned up and not given the best of rides. There were plenty of positives to take away from that reapperance, nonetheless.

Clearly the 8-year-old is still on the up and a stayer of great potential after only ten runs over fences, and three this season. In my view he looks like an ideal National horse.

He should have a prime chance. He’s a good jumper, can hold his position well and most likely has the stamina required for the National.

Galvin was always thought of as a National horse more so than one who wins Gold Cups. Therefore, he probably outran expectations somewhat when winning the Savills Chase and finished a fine 4th in a Cheltenham Gold Cup last year.

He’s not been the same horse this season. Apparently he had a back issue in preparation for the Cross-Country Chase; he still finished a strong runner-up behind stable mate Delta Work last month.

I fancied him there, but off a 166 rating, the same as Noble Yeats, I struggle to see how he can be handicapped to win. You would have to believe he’s as good a horse as Noble Yeats is at this moment in time.

Would Galvin have finished 4th in the Gold Cup this year? Most definitely not. He was 10/3 for the Savills Chase this season, when he finished second last, a long way beaten. He’s not the same horse this season as he was the season before.

Highly talented 7-yeaer-old Capodanno is an interesting runner. He’s got the class and is lightly raced. He was only seen once this season, since winning the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown a year ago. That’s far from ideal preparation and off-putting.

Sam Thomas saddles Our Power. A seriously progressive horse. Unbeaten this season in two runs. On a really fair mark. If he can extend to the National trip he’ll be a huge runner. But a son of Power – who I have seen myself at the Curragh win a National Stakes and Guineas – stretches my imagination to see how he could stay the distance.

2021 Albert Bartlett winner Vanillier could have the required stamina and class. He finished a promising runner-up in the Bobbyjo Chase in February. His jumping can be a bit hit and miss, but he could be dangerous off 147 if he finds a good rhythm.

If you ignore The Big Breakaway’s poor showing at Cheltenham last month, one could make a solid argument for him to have the capabilities to outrun his big price tag.

He’s a strong stayer, was an excellent second in the Welsh National this season and may find back to his best with blinkers fitted.

I wouldn’t rule out Coko Beach to run well, either. He’s in good nick after landing a Grand National Trial in February and ran well for a long time in the Grand National last year. Ultimately he did way too much in front and didn’t get home.

If he can race with a little more restraint this time, he’s not without a chance to finish in the placings.

The Big Dog is a strong stayer and not out of it, although I feel he’s too high in the mark to be considered a contender for victory.

Same could be said about Lifetime Ambition, who’s got to content with a 8lb higher mark than in the Troytown Chase back in November, where he finished a fine runner-up behind The Big Dog, following on from a solid 4th in the Sefton over the National fences.

Unexposed Ain’t That A Shame looks to have been protected all season. he was a tough runner-up in the Munster National behind The Big Dog back in October. Only seen twice since then, one has to trust his fitness and stamina.

From the bigger prices Recite A Prayer is one who may outrun his odds. Second in the Kerry National at the beginning of the season; a Killarney National winner last year. He stays well but hasn’t been seen since disappointing at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Eva’s Oskar has stamina in abundance, ultimately is not classy enough you would think, but is also one of the more realistic bigger prices to potentially hit the frame.

Summary:

The 2023 Grand National appears to be a wide open affair. Would Noble Yeats win again he’d be one of the all-time greats in my view. He looks all class and should run a huge race once again.

Yet, from a betting perspective I’ll can’t get passed the credentials Le Milos brings to the table.

He simply looks the ideal National horse to me. He’s had a lovely preparation. Showed strong form this season. Is still progressive and possibly better handicapped than he should.

He also remains underappreciated in the betting. He beat Corach Rambler comprehensively this season, yet is a multiple times the price of the favourite.

He receives 14lb from Noble Yeats. Possibly fair on a variety on ratings if purely judged on actual form. What may give him the edge, though: he’s a progressive stayer who continues to improve..

At the same time I can’t leave out Mr Incredible. He needs luck, and may be too far off the pace, ultimately. On the other hand he’s hugely talented and weighted to go seriously close – if things go well.

He’s a quirky sort, but if he gets a clear run he’ll look a huge price come the end of the race. This progressive and lightly raced individual impressed in the Kim Muir when last seen and has plenty of upside at this stage of his career.

6pts win – Le Milos @ 17/1
4pts win – Mr Incredible @ 23/1
(SM/MB)

Grand National Recap

The Grand National is still THE race. Whatever the talk of the race having become a “glorified Cross-Country Chase”, the National continues to dominate headlines and has people talking in positive terms about racing.

Perhaps it isn’t the race it used to be. Perhaps it’s not quite the same challenge for horse and rider as it used to be. Perhaps for some people it’s not the unique spectacle it once was. Doesn’t matter. Because it’s still the biggest race in the calendar.

Why? People talk about it. People who’d have no clue what the Cheltenham Gold Cup is. Mainstream media is talking about. Mostly in positive terms. This is racings shopping window. The race that proves the sports relevance to a wider public.

Nothing of that concerns pure racing fans. But it concerns the long-term health and future of the sport.

Therefore a Grand National that bridges the gap between safety and spectacle can continue to write great stories that capture the imagination of racing fans and people outside the bubble in equal terms – as opposed to stories about fatality numbers. This is crucial to any survival of the race and the sport of jump racing.

It’s surprises me again and again how many people inside the industry don’t grasp this correlation.

As for positive stories: the 2022 edition didn’t disappoint. All horses were reported to be back in their stables post-race. Zero fatalities is a win for the safety and for the sport. And a loss for the radical animal welfare brigade who had their social media campaigns ready to launch wit the click of a button.

The story of the race, though, is of course the fairytale victory of Nobel Yeats. The first 7-year-old to win the national since 1940. A rather inexperienced horse with only seven chase runs up until today. He went jumping a hurdle under rules only 13 months ago. This was a 50/1 shot, one who preview articles awarded a 1* star rating out of five possible – basically a no-hoper.

And there’s the rider. Sam Waley-Cohen. An amateur. A hugely successful one, mind. Who announced his retirement before the race. Cohen’s final ride and he finishes his career with a Grand National! Fairytale stuff. Stories only the National can write. Or at least the one race where those stories resonate outside of the racing world, too.

On a personal note: looking back at my shortlist of ten horses and comparing with the eventual first ten horses home I’ll give myself a pad on the back for not having been too widely off the mark:

1st: Noble Yeats
2nd: Any Second Now
3rd: Delta Work
4th: Santini
5th: Fiddlerontheroof
6th: Longhouse Poet
7th: Freewheelin’ Dylan
8th: Coko Beach
9th: Escaria Ten
10th: Romain De Senam

Truth being told, though, I wouldn’t have given the winner Noble Yeats neither and Santini – despite all his former class – nor Romain De Senam any chance whatsoever to win or even finish close to the placings.

My two selections Fiddlerontheroof finished 5th and Longhouse Poet 6th. These where fine, fine runs. Longhouse Poet appeared a bit more dangerous for most parts of the race. Ultimately both horses didn’t quite get home in the end.

No shame in that. I’ll got great runs for my money. And the horses have done themselves proud. If I’d have been an each-way player they would have paid handsomely for their placings. I am not, of course.

What matters to me, though, is I that feel correct in my assessment that prices around 20’s where underestimating their chances, hence they where value odds – and the fact both went off a good deal shorter confirmed the notion.

In conclusion I can only say I seriously enjoyed this years Grand National. Great field, great race, great performances from horses and jockeys, everyone’s home safe and we got a fairytale winner. What’s not to like?

Edit: It has just emerged that #21 Discorama has sadly been lost post-race. He was sensibly pulled when things went wrong during the race but couldn’t be saved. Devastating news.

2022 Grand National Preview

The 2022 edition of the Grand National a is a highly competitive renewal. Many top-class individuals line up for the biggest price of all in jumps racing. Few can be easily ruled out.

No doubt this is down to the changing nature of the race. Easier fences mean less devastating injuries. The faller rate is significantly down. As a result owners are prepared to run better horses in the National.

Consequently we have seen the average official rating has gone up over the years. Horses that made the cut in the past – even some previous winners – wouldn’t do so today.

Comparing the fences from a few decades ago to what they look like today there’s a fair question to be asked whether this is still the same race. It’s not. Personally I continue to maintain the changes have been for the better, regardless.

Whatever way you’re leaning in this debate, there’s no getting away from the fact how compelling this years renewal is. Class and form in the book are available in remarkable abundance and make the 2022 a vintage edition in my view.

As always, 40 runners will line up this afternoon. Ten horses have made it on to my shortlist:

Perhaps this doesn’t read like an overly original shortlist. Most if not all these horses where more or less prominently mentioned in the various well known Grand National previews on TV, podcasts and blogs.

What I thought was interesting, though, from a personal perspective, after nailing down the ten most compelling contenders, was the fact that unlike in previous years I didn’t end up with a single genuine longshot (bigger than 20/1) on my list.

This is – or so I sense, a direct correlation to the changing nature of the race that favours classier and speedier types, who can race handily, travel well and hold their position. They also tend to measure up well on speed ratings.

And with that in mind it’s no surprise to see that the majority of horses on my list have ran to topspeed ratings of 130 and higher this season, or at the very least in the not too distinct past.

The only exception to the rule is Snow Leopardess. For a simple reason: jumping. She loves to attack and jump the National fences like few others do, as she proved so impressively in last years Beacher Chase.

She loves the unique test these fences provide, she stays and has been in superb form this season. That combination is a highly compelling one and I can see why she is so prominent in the betting, not to mention her incredible fairytale story.

Nonetheless, because she lacks the (proven) class, like nine others of my shortlist do, particularly in the speed department, I can’t back her at comparably skinny odds.

Burrow Saint achieved a career best twelve months ago in the National. He was well fancied and travelled like a good thing. He also emptied really quickly in the closing stages.

This season hasn’t been a good season for him. Perhaps he was minded for today, I reckon. Racing of the same mark, a year older, I won’t expect any improvement, though. That says he remains a solid contender given he’s an Irish Grand National winner. I also think only a classy individual can travel through a Grand National like he did last year. He’ll have to ride without my money today, nonetheless.

I feel it’s difficult to gauge what Minella Times has done this season and what form he’s in. On the surface the form is as poor as it gets, not having completed any of his two races. But he’s the reigning champion. He is a great jumper, he’s done it 12 months ago pretty easily and one has to trust Henry De Bromhead to have him spot on.

It’s not only the negative of the poor form Minella Times has to contend with. But a 15lb hike in his handicap mark is probably too much a burden to overcome in my view.

The Gordon Elliott trained Escaria Ten has been well fancied for quite some time. One can see why. Only narrowly beaten by Any Second Now when last seen, he’s a progressive staying chaser with strong form in the book and a fair handicap mark.

I have reservations about the big field, though. His best performances came in much smaller fields than the 40-runner strong Grand National. That’s too big a risk for my money to invest.

Another of Gordon Elliott’s runners is Run Wild Fred. I like him a lot. 2nd in the 2021 Irish Grand National, he’s still improving and hasn’t been out of the money in four starts this year. That includes a runner-up in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over Christmas, and a most recent 2nd place at Cheltenham behind exciting Stattler.

He has a lot of the characteristics of a modern Grand National horse in my eyes. I have slight reservations about his handicap mark of 158 and whether he well and truly wants this marathon trip, though.

No issues with the trip for Any Second Now. Arguably a desperately unlucky 3rd place finisher twelve months ago, connections must have wondered what would have been with a clear run. Possibly a thrilling head to head finish with Minella Times?

There’s no question that he remains a prime contender. The form is fine, we know he goes well at Aintree, he stays and judged by last years strong performance one can argue the hike in his handicap mark is fully justified and may not stop him.

On the other hand Any Second Now is a year older, unlikely to improve and would need an absolute dream run to win where things have to go wrong for some of the other contenders. He’s short enough in the betting to hope for dreams to come true.

With recent Cheltenham Cross-Country winner Delta Work there’s a genuine Gold Cup horse in the field. If he’d be truly in love with the game again, I feel he could still be a competitive runner in a Gold Cup. He’s that talented.

Cheltenham proved that some appetite for racing has been regained. In my view he won with a lot more authority than the narrow winning margin suggests.

With that in mind I also feel a 160 rating isn’t unreasonable. It surely is a huge ask to win of 11-9, yet Delta Work has the class to do exactly that.

Whether he really wants the National trip is a key question, though. I have reservations. Paired with the fact that for more than two years he hasn’t ran anywhere near a topspeed rating of 130 – even with potential excuses – is enough to put me off at the given prices, regardless of all potential class.

An exciting up and coming staying Chaser is Eclair Surf who made it into this field with a 143 handicap mark – this is as sexy as it gets. He’s been brilliant in his last two staying chases, and particularly the fine runner-up performance in the Eider Handicap Chase behind subsequent super impressive Scottish Grand National winner Win My Wings gives him a prime chance.

He can race off the same mark as back then and you would hope, perhaps even expect, that there’s more improvement to come from this progressive staying chaser. He rates a key contender for me. But there are two horses left with even stronger claims.

I love the relatively unexposed look of Longhouse Poet, in particular. Especially the fact that he keeps improving nearly with every run. Also: in three runs over three miles and beyond he has been in the winners enclosure. He looks a proper stayer who, crucially, doesn’t lack tactical speed, though.

We saw that in the Thyestes Chase back in January when he travelled strongly and kept on really well to land that big Handicap. Therefore he has shown crucial skills required for the modern Grand National: travel, jump, don’t be too far off the pace, hold your position and do all of that in a big field.

We can blissfully ignore his prep run over Hurdles at Navan when last seen. Trainer Martin Brassil will have Longhouse Poet as ready as possible for today. He knows what it needs to win a National.

Of course it’s no easy task to defy a 11lb higher mark compared to his Gowran victory, but it’s fair to assume he can improve again, given the unexposed profile he has and the impressive nature of his Thyestes victory.

Longhouse Poet comes as close to a perfect modern Grand National horse – at this stage at least – as I could envision.

The other one who ticks most boxes is Fiddlerontheroof. He impressed me in two of three runs this season. I think we can forgive the most recent Ascot run – which was below expectations – for the fact it was more likely “just” a run to gain fitness as opposed to be fully tuned up.

The Listed Carlisle win on his seasonal reappearance, but even more so the subsequent runner-up performance in the Ladbrokes Trophy, rate highly on pure form terms. Arguably Fiddlerontheroof was perhaps a shade unlucky at Newbury having to negotiate a faller four fences from home.

Both forms look strong on the ratings front, having been awarded 141 and 142 topspeed respectively at Carlisle and then Newbury. That is consistency on a really high level and reads well alongside his handicap mark – especially if compared to the other more fancied runners in the National this year.

He remains open to further improvement over staying trips, too. Of course that always raises the question whether he truly wants this marathon trip, given he had enough speed to win over much shorter. But it’s exactly this speed in combination with the staying qualities he’s already shown I like.

Summary:

This edition of the Grand National is a uniquely exciting one. The list of potential winners is long – the depth of quality in this years field is impressive.

Yet, truth being told I was surprised post-analysis when I checked the betting yesterday afternoon – and put my money down – that both Longhouse Poet and Fiddlerontheroof were as big in the market as they were – and interestingly still are this morning on various exchanges.

I am surprised because – given this is the Grand National – I feel rather confident both horses will run massive races. Whether it’s good enough to win is another question and will depend more on in-running luck than their quality. Certainly if all goes well neither Longhouse Poet nor Fiddlerontheroof be will be far away.

Fingers crossed for a clear run – but most importantly fingers crossed that all horses and jockey come home safely. That’s truly the one thing I am hoping for the most.

Selections:
5pts win – Longhouse Poet @ 19/1
5pts win – Fiddlerontheroof @ 21/1

Video Game: Frankie Dettori Racing

The Grand National takes place this Saturday. On the eve of the National ITV will run the “Virtual Grand National”.

An obscure event it may be, yet in 2020 – when the VGN replaced the real race due to Covid – it was watched by about 5 million people.

Now in its seventh iteration, the VGN has grown in popularity over time. One of the reasons for the increased popularity are the increasingly realistic animations.

Earlier this week the Virtual Grand National Twitter account previewed some of the CGI powered animations and received praise for the realistic nature of their animations.

Alongside it where many comments of people asking to leverage these graphics for a horse racing video game.

Over the years there have been a number of racing games available. The Japanese G1 series comes to mind in particular. This tweet also reminded me of my favourite horse racing game – which, believe it or not, the kid inside me still plays from time to time – which seems to be relatively unknown, or certainly forgotten whenever there’s a discussion on video games in a horse racing context.

The game I’m talking about is the legendary Frankie Dettori Racing, or also widely known as Melbourne Cup Challenge on the other side of the globe. Back in the day – we’re talking 2006 – this game was available for PC and the PS2 and it portrayed the world of horse racing rather well. Mainly because it had official licenses for many of the worlds most popular racecourses.

Personally I don’t know anyone who played it. Although I for one wasted plenty of hours, days and also many nights on the addictive career mode which is the core piece of the game.

In the career mode you can play up to ten consecutive years. You would start with a small budget to buy your first horse. You then build from there to create an empire of luxuries stables with your own breeding operation and racing the offspring of your past stable stars in the major races of the internal flat racing calendar: the Epsom Derby, Arc De Triomphe or Dubai World Cup.

There is a pretty accurate racing calendar where you have to register your horse – pending their eligibility – and then it’s up to you steering them around the “realistically modelled” racetracks.

Realistic to the point of what was graphically possibly at that time. Although, even for 2006 the graphics weren’t exactly a strong point of the game. Yet, the racetracks looked like they do in rea-life, actually. The Curragh looks like the Curragh. Epsom like Epsom. And Nad Al Sheba like the actual Nad Al Sheba. Including the dirt surface. That was impressive for the time and I haven’t seen in any of the other racing games to date.

A neat little feature is that at the start of the game you could decide whether you want your career aligned to the European or Australian season. Based on this choice the game would include more racecourses and races of one or the other region.

As for the gameplay itself: it’s a steep learning curve at the beginning. Once you figure it out the racing becomes much easier. Still, on the highest difficulty level you have to get your tactics and moves spot on. The game feels rather realistic in that sense. Particularly around the tight, ever turning Australian tracks winning from the back of the field with a hold-up horse is challenging but makes for a thrilling and rewarding experience if successful.

I feel that is exactly what makes the game special. Yes, the graphics are rather poor, outdated and the gameplay is not overly sophisticated. But at the same time you can really get a feeling for how it feels like to be Jamie Spencer – sharing in the frustration or elation to ride like him: sit in last position, trailing a fast pace and either finding a gap to go through, producing a late turn of foot and get up on the line… or getting stuck in traffic, losing the race there and then.

When you get it right it feels like dancing on water!

With that in mind it’s fair to say Frankie Dettori Racing isn’t a pure arcade game. You have to get your tactics right and you have to know your horse, ride it how it wants to be ridden – some from the front, other middle of the pack, others from behind. Some have a turn of foot. Others purely grind it out. There are those that respond to the whip. Yet some won’t find anything off the bit.

External factors like the going, course layout, size of the field and draw all play a vital role too. And you need to adapt how to ride the race. Much like in the real world.

In the career mode you can influence some of the preferences horses have later in the game once you got your breeding operation up and running. It’s certainly the most rewarding part. Unfortunately, and that is a real bummer, you don’t have enough time to really reap the benefits of breeding long-term. Simply because the game stops after ten seasons. There is no way to prolong it. A real shame.

Of course this game isn’t a simulation either. But it strikes a great balance between realism and arcade. Something I personally always missed in the G1 series.

For anyone interested in giving the gem of a horse racing video game a try: I believe you’ll find it somewhere for free on the internet to download. Otherwise I’m sure on Ebay or similar you’ll find a cheap copy for PS2.

But be warned: it can be highly addictive. Day and night fly by as you attempt to win this elusive Hong Kong Cup. Or as you try to get the get the first offspring you bred yourself, but turned out not as good as hoped, nonetheless some blacktype.

Safety First: Grand National is still a Great Race

For a number of years at this exact time we have the same debate and hear the same, old, tired arguments: no, for once I don’t mean the one the hypocrites from PETA try to stir up; I’m talking about fiery debate around the challenge – or perceived lack of such – the Grand National as a race does provide for horses and jockeys since the modification of the fences.

There seems to be an ever increasing – certainly rather vocal – minority of racing people, who feel that the changes made throughout the last decade have reduced the Grand National to a race more akin to a “glorified hurdle” – a race that’s not “what it used to be”.

Just not tough enough: the “welfare brigade” changed the Grand National beyond recognition to a point where it doesn’t provide sufficient spectacle.

Let this sink in: the fact fallers have been greatly reduced in the last number of years – and with that casualties completely avoided up until this year – is cited as the main reason to conclude the Grand National has lost its appeal as a spectacle.

I beg to differ and viewers seem to have a different perspective as well: nearly 10 million tuned in to watch ITV’s coverage of the Grand National –¬† the peak audience was up by more than a million viewers compared to last year.

Sure, those numbers – as always with viewing figures – can’t be taken at face value, but they are a fair indication for the fact that the audience for the Grand National isn’t turned off by the perceived “lack of spectacle”. Much the opposite, it seems.

Racegoers didn’t mind either: a sell-out 50.000 crowd flooded through the gates on Saturday. They seem to enjoy the spectacle, even if the fences are much smaller than they used to be a decade ago.

Yes, the Grand National has changed. Fences have have been altered. They are easier to jump, more forgiving and the race has become much safer for horse and rider. Different horses are suited by this test now. The race is more about stamina and not as great a test of jumping skills as it was in the past.

Those in charge of the sport – often slated recently, and more often than not, rightly so – made drastic decisions after the infamous 2012 Grand National.

Those safety changes have resulted in the the desired outcome: only one fatality (Up For Review, 2019), plus 84% of fences have produced the same or lower rate of fallers/unseated/brought downs since then. Also only seven fallers/unseated/brought downs in yesterday’s Grand National was one of the smallest numbers ever.

This is fundamentally good news. The race has become safer. Did this added safety aspect take away from the spectacle? Absolutely not, in my view. In fact, it has helped to attract classier horses to run in the National.

Hence I’m still looking forward to the Grand National every single year. I still rate it as the pinnacle of jump racing. I still adore all those 40 horses and jockeys for their bravery and skills.

And I firmly believe the Grand National remains a fabulous test: a distance of 4 miles & 2 furlongs (6.907 km) & 30 fences of different heights to be negotiated Рno exactly a walk in the park.

Mind, even though the race is safer and slightly “less of a challenge”, it stills is a tough race to complete. Despite all safety measures of recent times, there was one casualty – and less than half the field finished the race on Saturday. So, it clearly isn’t without its challenges, still.

And that brings me to Tiger Roll. The fact he’s completed back-to-back victories in 2019 and not in 1979 doesn’t make it less a remarkable achievement. It IS a remarkable achievement!

I didn’t back the little horse. But as soon as was clear none of my selections wouldn’t get near winning, I was roaring the Tiger home. What a true champion he is. A safer National it might be, but the fact remains it is a tough race to win, let alone do it twice – even in this day and age. Tiger Roll: the king of National Hunt racing!

Saturday Selections: April, 6th 2019

Aintree parade ring

Preview for the Grand National: Read Here

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3.40 Aintree: Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle, 3m¬Ĺf

It’s unusual for me to get involved in a hot favourite. The times I do it? It usually backfires. So this should be the kiss of death for Apple’s Jade today.

Nonetheless, I simply can not let the 6/4 odds on offer go, for this supreme mare in a race that’s at her mercy, as long as she turns up back in form – in my book she’s a much bigger favourite and I would expected her touching odds-on.

She probably would be a long odds-on favourite if not for her ‘flop’ in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Recency bias is a funny thing: only a few weeks ago Apple’s Jade was deemed nearly unbeatable – that was the opinion of some smart racing experts.

Today, in a weaker contest, she’s deemed merely a 40% chance. Seriously? I’m puzzled. True: the seven-year-old was disappointing at Cheltenham. On the other hand she had fair excuses for an uncharacteristic performance, as we found out afterwards. Right from the start the mare didn’t travel and it was obvious she wasn’t right on the day.

You’d bet connections wouldn’t let the superstar mare run today if she wouldn’t have shown to be back on song at home. So, trusting she’s fine from a physical standpoint today, she’s the best horse in this race by a country mile.

Further to this: personally I had my doubts whether Cheltenham as a track could see Apple’s Jade to best effect. We still don’t know, but suspicion remains it may not. Hence a return to a flatter track, like Aintree, will be to her advantage. In fact she is a course winner already.

The step up in trip, on what looks fair ground today, is no issue. She’s won over 3 miles this season – in fact she is 2 from 2 over 3 miles – the additional distance will not bother her either, I believe.

So, if back to the form Apple’s Jade showed all season long, bar the most recent run, she is hard to oppose today and should convert this penalty kick.

Selection:
10pts win – Apple’s Jade @ 6/4 WH

………

3.50 Leopardstown: Group 3 Ballysax Stakes, 1m 2f

Another rare occurrence: a bet on an Irish race. Over the last 14 months I’ve had only five bets, despite calling this little island my home. Betting wise it’s a tough place for me, though. Can fortunes change today?

Obviously the Ballysax is a wide open race, with little recent form on offer and you have to go by juvenile form, without knowing how it truly translates to this new season with a winter in between.

That says I figure Sydney Opera House looksover priced here. He’s a small drift in the market, to a handy price, I feel. He’s the one who ran to the highest time speed rating and joint highest RPR last season. And that despite conditions not always favouring him.

The son of Australia is obviously supremely well bred, a half-brother to a Melbourne Cup winner and Irish Derby second. He showed a lot of promise in a handful of starts as a juvenile, including a close runner-up effort in the Criterium De Saint Cloud when last seen.

Sydney Opera House looks bound to improve as a 3-year-old, even more so when stepping up in trip. But I also have the feeling a softer surface will see him to much better effect.

So, if ready today, he should run a big race on the rain softned Leopardstown ground. And in doing so, he could put himself firmly into the Derby pciture.

Selection:
10pts win – Sydney Opera House @ 7/2 MB

Preview: Grand National 2019

Aintree Racecourse

Can Tiger Roll become the first multiple winner in 40 years since Red Rum? It’s the question on everyone’s lips and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s not wishing the little horse the very best of luck to achieve the status of a living legend.

For many Tiger Roll is already a legend. A multiple Cheltenham Festival winner, one who’s been around forever – or so it seems – the nine-year-old holding on to win the National twelve months ago; looks even better than ever this season!

He kicked proceedings off with a Grade 2 hurdle success on his way to the Festival where he then slaughtered his rivals in the Cross-Country Chase. A performance which in turn has catapulted him firmly to the front of the market in the 2019 Grand National, more so to one of the shortest priced National favourites of all time.

Given this is the Grand National with 40 runners, where luck or the lack of it, can play a huge role in getting a clear run round the course, Tiger Roll, currently priced at 4/1, is a laughable price.

Or not? The 9 pound hike in the weights does appear to be rather fair, particularly after his Cheltenham demolition job. He’s a good jumper, a classy horse with speed and guts, let’s not forget he’s a previous Triumph Hurdle winner also.

So, if you run this race four times, will Tiger Roll win it at least once?

Possibly. I still struggle to see value in the price, even though I’d absolutely love to see him winning. But I’ve got to look at bigger prices here – thankfully there’re three much bigger prices I’m incredibly excited about.

History tells its own story: a 7-year-old hasn’t won the National for quite a long time. Hence the task on hand for Ramses De Teillee looks a daunting one. Nonetheless, for his age he’s got plenty of experience already – ten runs over fences, including a runner-up performance in the Walsh National and fine 2nd place in the Haydock Grand National Trail when last seen.

Ramses De Teillee is officially 5lb well-in; so, on the weights front he looks a sexy contender. He does that also on both RPR- and TS ratings, given he has improved in each of his last two runs, suggesting the profile of a horse with more to come.

The ground won’t hold any fears, the trip should suit, only his jumping is a slight question mark – but he may get a little wiser with age and experience now.

Ever since romping home in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown at the end of last season the Grand National seemed the target for Step Back. The 9-year-old has relatively few miles on the clock, therefore is clearly another one who could improve quite a bit for this unique test.

He hasn’t done a lot in two starts this season, clearly being minded and connections believing his current handicap mark warrants protection. He certainly stays, acts in soft conditions and despite having only six starts over fences, has strong form in big handicaps as well.

Walk In The Mill is a rare National course winner in the field. He ran away with the Beacher Handicap Chase here last December, so undoubtedly possesses plenty of stamina, given the 3m 2f event was run in deep ground -which was also a career best effort.

A progressive handicapper over the last years, Walk In The Mill has been minded ever since the Beacher run; two fair hurdle efforts brought him along nicely for a big run.

Selections:
3.33pts win – Ramses De Teillee @ 30/1 MB
3.33pts win – Walk In The Mill @ 31/1 MB
3.33pts win – Step Back @ 31/1 MB

Grand National Day Selections

DSC_0557

5.15 Aintree: Grand National Chase

The yearly lottery of finding the winner in the Grand National is nearly upon us once more. Twelve months ago I day-dreamed for a few moments…. here it is, finally I break the duck as Blacklion travelles like from another planet….

It wasn’t to be, as we all know. Will it be today? Possibly. One more time I put my trust in the Twiston-Davies runner. Much closer to top weight today, 9lb higher in his rating in fact – it looks a tough ask on paper.

However, connections had this day in mind ever since he faded into 4th twelve months ago. That day, when he travelled like the winner, he also pulled himself to the front way too soon. He made too much too early and that cost him dearly in the end. That’s my assessment, at least.

Same can happen today. Though, Sam Twiston-Davies may have learned from that day. The additional weight, mainly received for his emphatic win in the Beacher Handicap Chase here in December, is probably fair overall.

Fact is, Blacklion enjoys this course, he has top form in tough going conditions, had a wind OP since his last run, and according to connections as perfect a preparation as you there ever was. Today is D-Day!

Nonetheless, as much confidence I have in Blacklion, this is the National after all, hence you can never have too much confidence in any runner. Luck plays its part. That says, course form is something noteworthy, and as such it would be foolish to rule out The Last Samuri.

He absolutely loves the National fences and was runner-up in the 2016 National. A good deal higher in the weights today, he hardly appears well handicapped.

Regardless, with ground to suit, first time tongue-time potentially a help, and a fine prep run in the Cross-Country at the Festival (as much as Cheltenham can ever be regarded a ‘prep’), The Lat Samuri should be thereabouts.

Slightly more speculative is my final selection: Final Nudge. From the bottom of the weights, he is an interesting runner. He clearly stays and loves the mud as proven in the Walsh National.

On paper he was slightly disappointing in anything he did afterwards, though, personally I think his Kim Muir performance was better than the bare form suggests. He needs a good round of jumping, which can be an issue for him. Still, he looks one of the more intriguing runners, and at 50’s I take a punt.

Selections:
6.5pts win – Blacklion @ 17/1 Matchbook
2pts win РThe Last Samuri @ 31/1 Matchbook
1.5pts win РFinal Nudge @ 49/1 Matchbook

………

9.00 Wolverhampton: Class 5 Handicap, 6f

Logi hasn’t been firing for his new yard in two starts, however, dropping below a rating off 70 for the first time in his career, with a fine 5lb claimer in the saddle, he looks ready for a big run.

The four year old was unlucky not to win three starts back over course and distance in a similar race, so has proven he is well home on this surface and this class in and around his current rating.

He finds himself in this race today on much better terms and only the wider than ideal draw is a slight concern.

Selection:
10pts win – Logi @ 7/1 Matchbook

Racing Weekend Review

A weekend of superlatives – nothing less you can call it. The main dish certainly delivered. Aintree the only place you wanted to be on Saturday quarter past five. But summer racing isn’t far away. Leopardstown staged Guineas trials and Naas saw the return of proper Group 1 stars. Here’s a review of the weekend’s action.

Grand National Delivered the Goods

Touted as one of the widest open National fields in a long time, the biggest horse race on the planet didn’t disappoint. It had it all: great build-up, excellent TV coverage on ITV’s National maiden gig, sunshine weather and a dramatic finish to the race. What more can you ask for?

It was 14/1 chance One For Arthur who eventually stayed on incredibly strongly after a voyage through the whole field in the hands of ultra cool Derek Fox. This big, powerful horse, ready made for the war of attrition the Grand National is. A triumph for Scotland they said, a triumph for Irish breeding it is.

One For Arthur was born and raised on the green island. In fact here it was where he also tasted first racing success. ¬†In an Irish point to point that was, where he – what a nice coincidence that is – beat yesterday’s fourth Blacklion.

There is also Derek Fox, the young rider, who now only 24 years of age instantly became a legend of our game. The Sligo man who kept his nerves throughout, who didn’t panic when he still had a lot of ground to make up two out. Did anyone ever check: he must have balls of steel surely?

Safety First, Spectacle Second

The Grand National the way we know it these days¬†may not hold the same fascination for traditionalists due to the modifications of the fences in recent years. It’s something heard often in the days leading up to the race. It would not be as special anymore. It’s not as much of a test as it used to be. It’s just another staying chase.

Well, to some extend that could well be true. But no one can deny the fact that The Grand National is as safe a race for horses as it ever was. And that can only be a good thing. In fact this was already the fifth year since the most drastic changes have been made and it’s no coincidence that it is also the fifth year running without a fatality. That is not by chance, that#s because of wise decisions made in the last number of years.

Becher's Brook

It’s great. I love it. I feel so much more passionate about the race knowing it’s so much safer. And honestly, is it really so much less of a spectacle? Not at all if you ask me. Those fences are still huge! I’ve been there, two years ago, stood in front of them – believe me when I say they are huge! They still warrant plenty of respect and they still provide a true test of jumping ability.

And that’s why it is still a unique race. One that captivates us racing fans but¬†also¬†many people who aren’t big time into the sport. And that is great. It’s great because we as fans can comfortably talk to our non-racing friends about the race, where they are equally as fascinated¬†by the spectacle – and be it only for this one day a year – but where¬†the talk afterwards is not about animal cruelty but about sport.

Big Performances all round 

A massive performance¬†it was by Cause Of Causes who finished runner-up. He didn’t get the smoothest of runs but last month’s Cross-Country Chase hero at the Cheltenham Festival battled his way through under yet another excellent ride by the “Coddfather”.

If there’s anything like moral winners than Blaklion must go down as one. He was heavily backed into 8/1 favouritism before the off and travelled through the race most powerfully! In fact I’d say he probably travelled to well!

Blaklion pulled his way too the front with quite a bit to go and suddenly lead the field by a couple of lengths with still a good mile to go or so. It was inevitable that he would not get home. In the end he finished fourth, around eight lengths beaten. The same margin he was beaten nearly four years ago in an Irish point to point by One For Arthur…. in the aftermath it all looks so obvious.

The Flat Gains Momentum

Guineas trials took place at Leopardstown on Saturday. Aiden O’Brien took first and second in both the Classic trials for the boys and the girls. Most noteworthy was Orderofthegarter’s success who followed up with another impressive performance on his Naas romp a fortnight ago. He seems to be Ballydoyle’s Nr.1 for the Irish 2000 Guineas ¬†– and after these two highly impressive performances he must have a prime chance.

The one to take out is runner-up Taj Mahal, though. First time tongue tied, he found the pace a bit too hot and didn’t get quite a clear run entering the home straight, but once manoeuvred into¬†open space he stayed on very nicely.

He’s has quite allot of experience already, yet only won¬†a Dundalk handicap of a mark of 86 so far, then finished the year on a positive note with a¬†decent fifth only three lengths beaten in the Group 1 Criterium De Saint-Cloud. He looks physically improved over the winter and the tongue tie seems to help. He might be able to win a nice race this year.

Naas on Sunday saw the highly anticipated return of Alice Springs and US Army Ranger. All looks good with the filly. She ran a nice race in second place behind late sweeping Diamond Fields.

The Ranger is a different cattle of fish and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of him. This race doesn’t help. He appears to be hugely talented but after his excellent runner-up effort in last years Derby things have not gone to plan. Is it attitude, did he turn sour because of being rushed to the Derby, or is he simply not as good as previously thought?

He travelled well enough today but was a bit short of room at a crucial point of the race. So you can make an excuse. He did find not as much as hoped once in the clear though. And while that could be down to lack of fitness the fact that he was more than three lenghts beaten by a Group 3 animal is slightly concerning.

Now that the National is behind us the flat finally kicks in. Monday sees the return of the traditional Windsor meeting while Redcar is on offer too. Regular flat racing is back – oh how I missed it!

That says the jumps make a return to our thoughts once or twice again: The Irish Grand National on Easter Monday is here to mention – I’ll be going if work doesn’t prevent it. And then Punchestown of course is not too far down the road either. Great times to be a racing!

…….

One interesting selection for Monday – 5.25 Redcar: The top weight Livella Fella makes plenty of appeal dropping back into class five on her turf reappearance. She didn’t ran badly on the All-Weather over the winter but is clearly much better on the green grass and I suspect she’ll enjoy the conditions here.

A fair pipe opener after a break at Newcastle last month means she should be ready to go over a trip she loves. She has form at Redcar too and judged on past form appears to be on a pretty fair mark.

Livella Fella @ 10/1 bet365

Preview: 2017 Grand National

Who’ll rule the world this year? We gonna find out soon! Last year’s fittingly named Grand National hero does not attempt to defend his crown, but runner-up The Last Samuri tries to go one better this time.

Kim Bailey’s charge has to defy top weight, though – a tough assignment and presumably one that makes it incredibly difficult¬†to win, I’m afraid. Nonetheless Last Samuri looks a very decent each-way shout at the very least.

You could argue there’s half a dozen in the field who’ll have a decent shout too. What quite clearly becomes evident is the number of younger, to some extend less exposed and certainly classier individuals having a go at the huge Aintree Grand National fences.

This is a trend we’ve seen develop over the last of years and one that has certainly not slowed down.

So, who’s going to win? Well, it’s hard enough to pick the winner so I’ll give you three that instead I do feel are overpriced and can outrun the odds – whether that is enough to get the head in front remains to be seen.

Nr. 10 – Blacklion @ 14/1: The eight year old will have to race off a four pound higher mark in the future, that meas he’s potentially well in here. In fact he’s got a near perfect profile for the National, one could say he is some sort of a sexy trend horse.

Fact is he’s got the form in the book, ran really well this season, has come close a number of times and has form that ties in with other very well fancied National contenders. He’ll stay and enjoys decent ground – also he’s never been a faller in his whole career.

Nr. 29 – Vicente @ 25/1: Potentially a smart horse who’s recently been purchased by the connections of previous National winner Many Clouds.

Fair to say things did not quite pan out as hoped this season after a fantastic 15/16 campaign that culminated in a Scottish Grand National success. You have to trust his trainer to have him right for the big day but if that’s the case then Vicente must have a big chance of his weight with conditions sure to suit.

Nr. 7 РWounded Warrior @ 80/1: had his issues lately and has to be trusted to find back to his best. But apparently schooled well and is in fine order.

Clearly a classy individual on his day with Grade 1 chasing form in the book. He stays all day long and won’t mind the fast ground either. A decent sixth place finish – albeit a long way beaten – in the Theystes Handicap shows there is still some life in him.

………

3.40 Betway Handicap Chase

I loved the run of Potters Legend at Cheltenham in the Kim Muir last month. This progressive first season Novice Chaser won a couple of races earlier this season and then finished with plenty of credit in better grades the next four times.

His Festival run clearly the most eye-catching one. He made a serious mistake three from home and nearly came down, but rallied incredibly strongly to get on terms with the leaders half a furlong out, to eventually fade into 4th place.

The ground and flatter track may suit him well here and if he can hold his form after a long season – and that is in my mind the most pressing question – he’s got to be a serious contender.

Selection:
10pts win – Potters Legend @ 12/1 Betfair SB

…….

4.20 Liverpool Hurdle 

Yanworth comes here with a big reputation. Plenty speaks in his favour if he does what he promises: staying the trip. Question: after a long season and a below par run at Cheltenham, does he still have enough left in the locker? And if he has, is he good enough against some seasoned stayers?

In my book he is a fair price. You can argue that Coral Cup winner Supasundae is probably better value. Equally progressive but stays the trip and acts on the ground.

However this should be the pay day for a previous World Hurdle hero: Cole Harden. He was not favoured by the watering and slower than expected ground at Cheltenham last month, still ran a huge race in fourth.

Blinkers on, good ground here a given and a not overly hard season on the clock; Cole Harden looks primed to run a big race from the front and will take allot of beating.

Selection:
10pts win – Cole Harden @ 11/2 PP