145 Aintree – This 20-runner 2m4f handicap hurdle is a real puzzle so a chnace is taken that in-form trainer Tom Lacey can hit the target with his progressive mare JESTER JET (20/1 each-way with Paddy Power), a runner-up in listed company last time out at Warwick. The eight-year-old stays well and handles the ground, so with four places up for grabs he looks to have a decent chance. Spiritofthegames ran another good race at Cheltenham last month and is respected along with Lough Derg Spirit and Storm Home, all of whom have strong claims.
Go With The Flos in Top Novices’ Hurdle
220 Aintree – There are a stack of horses with claims in this Grade 1 Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle, but it’s reasonable to see impressive Kempton winner Global Citizen heading the market. He was impressive in beating Scarlet Dragon in the Grade 2 Dovecote Hurdle, but there is a nagging concern that he may not be as effective at this level on much softer ground.
Colin Tizzard’s VISION DES FLOS (8/1 with Ladbrokes) won a listed race at Exeter in February on heavy ground before running very well for a long way behind Samcro at the Cheltenham Festival. This drop back in distance will suit and he looks a value bet. Style De Garde, and last year’s Aintree bumper winner Lalor are others who could go well.
250 Aintree – TERREFORT (7/2 with Sun Bets) has proved himself a very useful performer and his second in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham last month is the best piece of form in this race (see video below). There’s always a fear that such a championship event may have taken a toll, but he seems a very robust individual and the step up in trip may well being about more improvement.
Black Corton has been a revelation this season winning eight times, including when beating Elegant Escape in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He wasn’t disgraced when fifth in the RSA Chase last time, but Elegant Escape may again finish ahead of him, while the classy mares Mia’s Storm and Ms Parfois also have place claims, at least.
Min Can Edge Out Balko in Aintree Cracker
325 Aintree – Not many runners here but this year’s renewal of the Grade 1 JLT Melling Chase could prove the race of the week. There is only a pound on official ratings between MIN (13/8 with Bet365), trained by the great Willie Mullins (pictured top), andHenry de Bromhead’s Balko Des Flos, and after much deliberation marginal preference is for the former. Min ran a fine race against the high-class Altior in the Champion Chase last month but was simply beaten by an exceptional rival (see video below). He should see out this trip and may have too much kick over the last two fences for Balko Des Flos, although that’s by nomenas certain.
Henry de Bromhead’s gelding was very impressive in beating the smart Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase last month and he will test his main market rival to the limit. Politologue is a good horse but may be found wanting against the big two, while Cloudy Dream seems unlikely top bridge the 12-length gap that separated he and Balko De Flos at Cheltenham.
Vibrato Looks The Value in Topham Chase
405 Aintree – At big odds, VIBRATO VALTAT (40/1 each-way with Coral) is recommended on his first attempt over the big fences in the Topham Handicap Chase. Emma Lavelle’s grey has been a very useful horse in his time but hasn’t won since landing the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup for Paul Nicholls at Exeter in November 2015. He has run a number of good races in defeat since then however, and runs here off a 17lb lower mark than when a close third to the great Sprinter Sacre at Kempton a few season ago (see video below). He handles soft ground, and if he takes to the challenge he might have the class to pull off a shock win.
There are a host of alternatives, but my shortlist is made up of last year’s winner Ultragold, Top Gamble and Ballyalton who both ran well at Cheltenham last time, the consistent Theatre Territory.
440 Aintree – OK Corral, Santini and Tower Bridge were 2nd, 3rd, and 5th respectively in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. It was a brutally tough race and may have left its mark. The unbeaten On The Blind Side holds strong claims having missed Cheltenham and comes here fresher than most. He should go very close if he handles this testing ground but the presence of Mick Easterby’s Sandown Grade 3 winner SAM’S GUNNER (20/1 each-way with Bet365) is very eyecatching.
He is officially 14lb inferior to the top BHA rated pair Santini and Chef Des Obeaux, and a shrewdy like Easterby wouldn’t normally be seen risking a handicap mark from which he can do business. This horse revelled in deep ground over 2m4f at Sandown and looks as though he may do even better over the extra half mile here. At 20/1 each-way with Bet365 he looks a very interesting bet.
515 Aintree – As ever in this Grade 2 bumper there are a host of unexposed horses so nothing would really surprise. That said, I was very taken with the winning debut of Oliver Sherwood’s SEVERANO (9/1 with William Hill) at Kempton in February where the 110,000 euro purchase travelled like a proper horse throughout the race. Once asked for his effort, the gelded son of Shantou quickened up well and he looks decent value to produce another big performance.
On collateral form lines there isn’t a lot between the selection and Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher, also a winner of his only start at Kempton. Paul Nicholls’ Danny Kirwan has been touted for this race for some time since his Kempton win and he promsies to be a good horse, while the likes of Pym, Dali Mail and Arthur Mac are others worthy of a second glance.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.