Tag Archives: Grand National

Tuesday Selections: 19th April 2022

After a disappointing run for Chief Little Hawk at Wolverhampton on Monday it’s back to the green grass on Tuesday with a confident selection in the Epsom opener.

Before we look what’s on the menu there let’s take step back and see what happened on Easter Monday in the Irish Grand National. Willie Mullins was sending out exciting Novice Gaillard Du Mesnil, who went off the 11/2 favourite on the late evening as Fairyhouse was basking in sunshine.

The 6-year-old gelding travelled well for most of the race in the hands of Paul Townend, although he was a bit tight for room two fences from home. This didn’t have any impact on the result, though. Because the winner travelled equally well, only to find more than anyone else in the closing stages.

Lord Lariat, a 7-year-old gelding won the Irish Grand National as a 40/1 shot, outrunning those odds in some style. Remarkably he’s done it for the same trainer and jockey as twelve months ago when Freewheelin Dylan claimed an amazing 150-1 triumph for local trainer Dermot McLoughlin and 7lb claiming jockey Paddy O’Hanlon.

For one of the smaller yards this is a near unbelievable achievement. Especially as neither Lord Lariat nor Freewheelin Dylan were supported by the public in the betting at all.

All questions whether Lord Lariat would stay the 3m 5f trip where comprehensively mastered and clearly horse was well managed through the season by McLoughlin. He won like a good thing.

………..

1.50 Epsom: Class 3 Handicap, 5f

This will be fast and furious as races over the minimum distance down the Epsom straight tend to be. Progressive Electric Love is of interest, so is Recon Mission of a reduced mark. Thegreatestshowman appears a touch overpriced back on turf.

But the one I am really keen on is Mokaatil. No surprise, he was on a recent eye-catcher list for his season opening run at Doncaster. That day I felt he looked full of enthusiasm late in the race despite the trip being not quite his optimum.

He ran with credit at Lingfield in a hot Handicap since then but wasn’t fancied and neither was I interested in him that day. It’s a different story over five furlongs at Epsom.

Mokaatil is down another couple of pounds in his rating, drops back into class 3 and down to the minimum trip. He is the reigning Epsom Dash winner from exactly the same 82 handicap mark, followed up at Musselburgh to win of 86 and run to 85 and 80 topspeed ratings in those races.

In combination with the well-being confirmed in the referenced recent races he’s an obvious shout the marked doesn’t miss. Yet, having a highly capable apprentice on board claiming additional 7lb – and looking good value for the weight allowance – Mokaatil is a big chance and still underestimated in the betting.

10pts win – Mokaatil @ 7/2

……….

Chief Little Hawk was a big disappointment today. He missed the break and the race was basically gone from there. He made bit of late progress without ever challenging.

I’ll keep the faith for another day. Ideally on turf. There is a race in him to win, for all the reasons mentioned in the preview.

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.

Preview: Irish Grand National 2019

Katie Walsh and Thunder And Roses, winner of the Irish Grand National

The money is pouring in for Willie Mullins to crack another milestone as Burrows Saint, the choice of Ruby Walsh as well, is now a 6/1 favourite to land the Irish Grand National, and give his trainer a first success in the big race.

A recent winner of a Grade 3 Novice Chase, which was a career best for the 6-year-old, Burrows Saint is turned out under a penalty today, which leaves him still well handicapped potentially, after connections decided to miss a seemingly excellent Grade 1 opportunity yesterday, and instead run here.

As much as I like the look of Burrows Saint, 6/1 is not a price to back him. He ain’t no Tiger Roll!

The two I fancy are further down the pecking order according to the betting. No surprise, I am sweet on the mate Shattered Love again. I fancied her for the Gold Cup – wasn’t to be, though she ran with plenty of credit that day, in my mind.

True, she may prefer it softer, but her record on fast ground isn’t too shabby either. Shattered Love strikes as one who’ll enjoy the test of stamina. Let’s not forget she’s a classy individual, good enough to win at the Cheltenham Festival and one of very few in this contest who ran to a time speed rating of 130+ in their careers.

The other one I quite like is 9-year-old Auvergnat. He gets the excellent assistance of 5lb claiming Miss O’Connor, which is probably needed due to his career highest handicap mark, thanks to his excellent victory in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

He was below par in the Cross-County Chase at Cheltenham subsequently, though that may be a form to discount. However, Auvergnat clearly acts well on decent ground, is likely to stay the trip and had a quieter 2019 than many others in this field – so should be rather fresh with plenty left in the tank.

Selections:
5pts win – Shattered Love @ 20/1 MB
5pts win – Auvergnat @ 27/1 MB

Safety First: Grand National still a Great Race!

Every year at this exact time the same debate: no – I don’t mean the one the hypocrites from PETA try to stir up; I mean the fiery debate around the challenge – or perceived lack of it – the Grand National does provide for horses and jockeys these days.

There seems to be an ever increasing, certainly rather vocal minority of racing fans, that do feel the Grand National has been reduced to a “glorified hurdle”, a race that’s not “what it used to be” and not all that tough to win anyway – in summary: the “welfare brigade” has 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 a reason to conclude the Grand National has lost its appeal as a spectacle.

Guess what? 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.

Let’s get the most important point straight – from my perspective anyway: 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. 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 good news! The race has become safer. But has it taken away from the spectacle? Absolutely not! Not in my view.

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 you, 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 is 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

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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

Betting Preview: 2018 Irish Grand National

Katie Walsh and Thunder And Roses, winner of the Irish Grand National

Irish Grand National day – a dire day weather wise, if I have a look out of the window. Heavy ground at Fairyhouse – this will be some tough slug! You got to enjoy this type of deep ground and staying is the name of the game.

So, is it smart to be sweet on two horses that do have to prove they can last the National distance? Remains to be seen. Nonetheless, I do fancy Bellshill quite a bit. He would have been interesting for Aintree as well, however, Willie Mullins decided, despite an 8lb penalty for his last win, it’s going to be home sweet home.

Bellshill won the Grade 3 Bobbyjo Chase in February, bypassing Cheltenham for a crack at the Irish National subsequently. Up for debate how much this form is worth. Still, he looked like the trip is certainly no issue and further to that he enhanced his fine record on deep ground.

Off 158 effectively today, I feel this mark could still treat Bellshill lightly. He’s a class act – let’s not forget he finished a good third in the RSA behind Might Bite twelve months ago!

From the bigger prices I also quite like the look of top weight Outlander. Off 11st 10lb it’ll be an almighty uphill task, no doubt, and you have to get back quite a bit in history to find a winner off top weight.

The fact that Outlander was pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup isn’t ideal. On the other hand his runner-up performance in the Irish Gold Cup sets quite a high standard and says he is still worth every pound of his rating.

It is also fair to say Outlander is a different horse at home soil. He’s also enjoying deep ground, though, his stamina, albeit winning form over three miles, will be tested to the limit today.

I quite like the fact that an excellent 7lb claimer is booked, who will take off valuable pounds. Rob James is one of the leading riders on the Irish Point-to-Point scene, so that looks a significant jockey booking.

Selections:
7pts win – Bellshill @ 11/1 VC
3pts win – Outlander @ 40/1 VC