Steve Hughes looks forward to the middle day of the Aintree Grand National meeting
Yesterday was mainly about seeing the great names of our sport like Annie Power and Cue Card in all their glory, but from a punting perspective Friday looks to have a more interesting look about it. My main selection is from a classy novice hurdle, but there are two big field handicaps to have a go at including a huge field over the National fences. Headline selection Apple’s Jade got us a winner on the opening day (advised 4/1)
Aintree 1.40: Virgilio & Champagne At Tara
Two horses that avoided Cheltenham and from opposite ends of the handicap are fancied for the opener.
Because of a lack of racing over the year you don’t get too many Aintree specialists on the Mildmay course, but Virgilio is heading that way after two impressive wins from two starts. This keen goer looks high class and followed up a fast ground win here in May with one of equal ease under much softer conditions on his return to the track in December, beating Un Ace 8l. Therefore he should not be inconvenienced by conditions here and it looks like a flat track is important to him as he ran no sort of race in terrible going at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Kept fresh for this he ought to be able to settle better in this big field.
He definitely has his quirks but as he is an each-way price Champagne at Tara needs to be included in calculations too. His only win over hurdles came in a humble maiden at Catterick in December but he was far from disgraced when 8th in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and enjoyed a step up to 2m4f at Uttoxeter last time. Travelling smoothly throughout he hit the front at the last only to idle and allow Murrayana to get past him late on. I think he has the class to lie up with the pace in this higher quality race and it will be up to champion elect Richard Johnson to deliver him as late as possible.
Aintree 2.15: Buveur D’Air
Ground conditions are apparently important to Buveur D’Air so considering the drying going he ran with great credit to be third in the Supreme to stablemate Altior at Cheltenham. The soft ground at Aintree will be perfect for him, as should this flat track.
He tends to be ridden with restraint to help him to settle and that meant he got in a poor position coming down the hill at Cheltenham. Whilst he would never have had the pace to challenge Altior anyway I think he should have finished second with a better timed challenge. However with a longer finishing straight here that patience can pay more dividends.
He was very impressive in winning novice hurdles at Newbury and Huntingdon with cut in the ground this winter and whilst Limini comes here with a huge reputation enhanced by her easy mares win at Cheltenham, she has met nothing of Buveur d’Air’s quality as yet.
Aintree 4.05: Bennys Mist, Dromnea & Fairy Rath
Given the huge field and the usual amount of luck required in a contest around the National fences I think picking three is sensible here.
Clear first choice is Bennys Mist who has an impressive record around these fences – and especially at this distance. Second in this race in 2014 (he was knocked over last year) he produced a career best effort when taking the Grand Sefton under today’s pilot Aidan Coleman at the December meeting over this trip on similar going. The reapplication of a hood appeared to revitalise him that day and encouragingly he has maintained his form with placed efforts at Ascot and Newbury since in conventional chases. He is a superior horse though around Aintree and 11-1 should not stop him unduly.
Dromnea is building a consistent record in big field chases and has been dropped 4lbs since finishing third in the Classic Chase at Warwick last time (did not stay 3m5f). Thid to Blood Cotil at the Punchestown Festival last spring, he was also a fair 7th in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown. A sound jumper he should operate on this his first visit to Aintree.
The brilliant jumper Fairy Rath had a great spin when sceond to Rajdhani Express in this race last season and after a patchy season this term gets into this race from a 1lb lower mark, despite winning just two starts ago at Sandown. The ground was too fast for him in his last race at Kempton but won’t be a problem here. He has the minimum 10 stone to carry and providing he can get a good position early he will take some passing.
1pt win – Virgilio – 1.40 Aintree – 12/1 general
1pt each-way – Champagne at Tara – 1.40 Aintree – 16/1 Skybet, Stan James
2pts win – Buveur D’Air – 2.15 Aintree – 5/2 general
1pt each-way – Bennys Mist – 4.05 Aintree – 14/1 general
0.5pts win – Dromnea – 4.05 Aintree – 20/1 general
0.5pts win – Fairy Rath – 4.05 Aintree – 25/1 general