Fresh from a triumphant Aintree Festival, Nick Hardman is back with a comprehensive look at Saturday’s big cards at Ayr (including the Scottish National) and Newbury on the flat. Take it away, Nick:
First up a big thank you to all who commented on the Aintree blog and it was truly fantastic to know a few of you cashed in, especially on the Saturday. Back to reality and last weekend may well turn out to be an impossible act to follow! As I have said all along I do not see myself as a tipster, but I love writing about all things racing and I am happy to continue to share with you my selections and fancies for the big races and festivals. This Saturday sees the Scottish Grand National, the Scottish Champion Hurdle and also a cracking flat meeting at Newbury. I am not one for getting heavily involved at the beginning of the flat season so I apologise now for a cautious approach to the Newbury meeting. As you know though, I will more than make up for that with multiple selections in the Scottish Grand National! Plenty to get stuck into so here goes….
Channel 4’s coverage kicks off with the Group 3 John Porter Stakes at 1.50pm run over 1m 4f. Noble Mission ran third in this last year and has every chance again, whilst Mutashaded looks a Group horse in waiting. However, he is coming back from an injury which is enough to put me off. Khione is interesting and is another whose season was cut short last year. He goes well fresh though and 8/1 is a good price. The one I have backed to small stakes is Sir Michael Stoute’s Astonishing @9/2, receiving a handy 3lb sex allowance. Cases can be made for most of these but I do like the look of Stoute’s filly and 9/2 is a decent price.
Over to Ayr and the next race is the Novice Chase over 2 ½ miles. This looks like a match between Valdez and Eduard and given the form of Alan King’s runners I am happy to back Valdez @11/10. The form of his 5th in the Arkle Chase is much the best on offer. I’ve backed him with William Hill for the second place insurance. I can’t see him outside the first two, unless of course he falls or unseats (you heard it here first if he does!).
The fillies take centre stage next in the Group 3 Fred Darling at 2.20pmo back at Newbury. Experience usually counts in these races with form at Listed or Group level. Eight of the last ten winners had an adjusted RPR of at least 114. Using that angle leaves two here, and not surprisingly they top the betting. At the prices I have backed Joyeuse @6/1 and Al Thakira @7/2 win only. I have kept stakes quite conservative as dangers abound, with Coral Mist and J Wonder to name but two. The latter could be the each-way bet of the race @12/1 with Bet365 paying ¼ odds, 3 places.
The Scottish Champion Hurdle should go the way of My Tent Or Yours and I have taken 5/4 with William Hill knowing I get a refund if he finishes second. I don’t have a strong opinion on an each-way alternative as I think My Tent Or Yours only has to reproduce his current form to take this, despite giving lumps of weight all round. If he fails to do so then Cockney Sparrow or Court Minstrel could be the ones to capitalize. The former gets a 17lb pull at the weights for a 3 length beating at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth back in December, but ran below expectations in the Mare’s Hurdle at Cheltenham when fifth. The latter did us all a favour winning at Aintree last week at a fantastic 16/1. He shoulders a 5lb penalty for that win but he did win the Scottish Champion Hurdle last year off a rating of 141. He’s rated 152 here but gets 14lb from My Tent Or Yours. As long as he avoids the “bounce” factor he should go well again. However, it will be a win only bet for me on My Tent Or Yours @5/4.
The Greenham Stakes is definitely a race to watch with a host of horses high in the pecking order for this year’s Classics with Kingman, Berkshire, Astaire and Night Of Thunder the main contenders. I really do not know who will win this race and the prices of the main protagonists means it’s one for me to sit out (we will have a bet at Thirsk instead, so keep reading!). I will not be betting but at the prices I would say Astaire and Berkshire offer a touch of value. However, Astaire has only raced at 6f and Berkshire may turn out to be better over further and that’s enough to make me give this one the serve.
In the Listed Handicap Chase over 2 miles at Ayr, I have to stick with Alan King and Manyriverstocross @3/1. He was back on track last time out and his defeat of Claret Cloak in his first run this season is decent form, with that opponent running 3rd in the Grand Annual (should have won) and 3rd at Aintree last week. I think he needs a bit of improvement to take this but that is a distinct possibility and he should go close.
The Spring Cup looks typically competitive, but I love these big field handicaps so let’s see if we can crack this one. This race sees a lot of horses that ran in the Lincoln or the Spring Mile at Doncaster. Four year olds have won 7 of the last 10. From that age group I am going to give another chance to One Word More who I backed for the Lincoln only to see him fail to enter the stalls (well at least I got my money back) and I’ve taken the 16/1 each-way (5 places). Another 4 year old I’ve backed is Brownsea Brink @10/1 each-way (5 places) for the formidable Hannon/ Moore combination. He ran a cracker on debut this season and the form was franked when winner Purcell went in again. Charles Camoin could be a dark horse @22/1. He goes well fresh, winning first time out in 2012 and 2013. The last time he ran at a mile was in 2011 when he split Tullius (now rated 109 and runner up in this year’s Lincoln) and Levitate (now rated 106 and winner of the Lincoln in 2013). It may just be that those two have gone on and improved way beyond Charles Camoin, but out of curiosity I have taken the 22/1 each-way 5 places to very small stakes (enough to have a beer and a Chinese if he rips up the formbook and wins).
And so to the main event, the Scottish Grand National. It has an extremely lop-sided look to it with most of the horses racing from out of the handicap thanks to the inclusion of Tidal Bay who has to lug top weight of 11st 12lb. This grand servant would be a hugely popular winner but at 14/1 he’s not for me, especially as only 1 of the last 9 winners has carried more than 11st to victory. In fact 7 of the last 9 winners carried no more than 10st 4lbs. One I backed earlier in the week is Mister Marker @40/1 each-way (5 places). He was third in this last year and the further the better for him. I am hoping he will plod into some place money. I doubt he is good enough to win but the marathon trip suits and with a clean round of jumping he can make the frame. Lucinda Russell has a strong hand with Green Flag the current race favourite. He ran fourth in the Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham festival behind Holywell and Ma Filleule who both franked the form in no uncertain terms at Aintree last week. Lie Forrit is another of her runners but he is much better over hurdles and it would be some feat to take this on his return to the bigger obstacles. Her final runner is Nuts N Bolts who won over 3m 5f on his seasonal debut but has done little since in a light campaign. However he has track figures of 1311P. That one blip was when pulled up in this race last year when 10/1 co-favourite. It’s risky but I have had a little each-way @33/1 (5 places). Jonjo O’Neill runs Merry King who has every chance on previous form but was totally lack lustre in the Haydock Grand National trial when last seen. Alpha Victor ran a cracker in the Midlands National but that looked a hard race and this may come too quickly. Roberto Goldback is an interesting runner for Nicky Henderson. He ran a good race to finish 3rd in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham and fell at the last in the 2013 Grand National when well beaten. I am surprised though to see that Barry Geraghty chooses Hadrian’s Approach. If his stamina holds out he could run well and @20/1 I’ve been tempted in for a nibble. Those three each-way plays look like giving us a run for our money but in terms of a genuine outright winner we probably need to look closer to the head of the betting. Trustan Times could be thrown in on his hurdling form but he has raced just once over the larger obstacles in the last 2 years. That alone is enough to put me off. Sam Winner is improving and clearly wants longer but the extra mile is a big step into the unknown. The same can be said for Green Flag but I prefer this one of the two and without much difference in the prices I think the 10/1 is a decent bet on the favourite. That Cheltenham Handicap Chase in which he was a staying-on fourth could be one of the hottest end of season races. With the form franked as mentioned earlier, I make Green Flag my final fancy in this year’s Scottish National.
Over at Thirsk at 4.00pm I have had a small bet on Breton Rock who is 4 from 6 when racing over 6 or 7 furlongs. He should go close and may well be one to follow this year.
Newbury 1.50pm Astonishing @9/2
Ayr 2.05pm Valdez @11/10 (William Hill)
Newbury 2.20pm Al Thakira @7/2 and Joyeuse @6/1
Ayr 2.40pm My Tent Or Yours @5/4 (William Hill)
Newbury 2.55pm No Bet
Ayr 3.15pm Manyriverstocross @3/1 (William Hill)
Newbury 3.30pm Brownsea Brink @10/1, One Word More @16/1 & Charles Camoin @22/1 (all each-way, 5 places)
Ayr 3.50pm Green Flag @10/1 & Nuts N Bolts @33/1, Roberto Goldback @20/1 and Mister Marker @40/1 (each-way, 5 places)
Thirsk 4.00pm Breton Rock @4/1