Weatherby's Aintree and Grand National previews
Paul Jones of Weatherbys previews Saturday's televised Aintree races including the world-famous Grand National
Peddlers Cross no longer has a penalty to bear after the changes to conditions in the Mersey Hurdle this year which simplifies his task even more and this is no way as near as competitive as the 'Neptune' he won at Cheltenham so he is going to prove exceptionally hard to beat here.
He ran out a very good winner of what looked an up to scratch running of that 2m5f Cheltenham affair and remains unbeaten in point-to-points, bumpers and over hurdles so it seems pointless attempting to oppose him.
That said, four Cheltenham Festival winners were beaten on the opening day of the meeting. What would slightly concern me about Najaf is that his trainer said straight after he finished second in a very hard Albert Bartlett Hurdle was that he was now finished for the season and when he says that and runs them again their record isn't the best as first instincts are usually the best.
He also raced an extra 3f than Peddlers Cross on more testing ground at Cheltenham and his main rival is also not penalised for winning at Cheltenham as they changed the race conditions this year. It is hard to make a case out for anything else on trends or form.
The Maghull Novices' Chase has been won a horse that contested the Arkle Trophy for the last 15 years in which the 'Arkle' was contested but that stat is under serious pressure this year as Osana looks like being their only serious hope.
The Arkle third may not even start favourite as Henderson looks like to run the Grand Annual runner-up French Opera but he had a hard race off a big weight on soft ground on that occasion and Henderson horses primed for Cheltenham are usually worth taking on at Aintree so I can see a turn up but I am not sure where from as there isn't much strength in depth in the race.
In a head to head I would prefer Osana to French Opera but do not dismiss last season's Scottish Champion Hurdle winner Noble Alan as he looked very good in the spring and autumn on a decent surface.
Tataniano bids to extend Paul Nicholls' superb record in this race but he is maybe not the novice they were hoping he was going to be at the start of the season. Bergo is not out of this either as he loves good ground and a flat track.
Lack of strength in depth is also notable in the Aintree Hurdle but it does feature the Champion Hurdle second, third or fourth as there is not a lot else in there.
Zaynar will probably start favourite to reverse with Khyber Kim over this longer trip and doubtless try to run the finish out of the Champion Hurdle runner-up but Henderson's atrocious record in the race would make me think twice about him.
Celestial Halo has just looked like a horse going sour to me and flopped in this race last year so, although he wouldn't be a stats horse as he has not won over 2m4f like virtually all winners of this race, I find myself coming back to Khyber Kim as the most likely winner even though he may be best fresh.
Souffleur has such a good record on this course as does his trainer who has a decent record with horses returning quickly so he is interesting having run second to Big Buck's here on Thursday.
Providing all eight stand their ground, he has an excellent each-way chance. The Irish have historically fared well in this race but Muirhead and Won In The Dark have stamina to prove.
The 3m John Smith's Handicap Chase features a lot of ageing journeyman handicappers so the novices are interesting chiefly Seven Is My Number and Carlitos. The former ran a decent fifth in the Jewson at the Festival and this drying ground must give him a good chance of staying the trip. Novices have run well recently in the race so he fits that category as well as running at the Festival which has been another plus.
Carlitos could be an exceptionally well handicapped novice racing off just 130 as he has long threatened to be a very good horse until injuries held him back but he looked very useful winning last time and is a huge player here.
Au Courant is older than ideal but that is tempered by the fact that he has only had ten starts in his life so is far from going over the hill and his trainer recently won this race with a ten-year-old and he now has his good ground. He looks to have been laid out for this as was Oedipe for the same yard two years ago.
As open a Grand National as there has been in recent seasons and the drying ground is tipping things in favour of the classier horses over the out-and-out stamina-laden contenders. Arbor Supreme is one that will enjoy the ground by McCoy ditched him feeling he may not get round and prefers Don't Push It who won on this day last year in the three-mile handicap. He is not the safest conveyance either.
Ruby Walsh prefers Big Fella Thanks to Tricky Trickster and it is not hard to see why as he was sixth last year when only a novice but he looks a short enough price.
Of those that ran in last season's race, State Of Play looks the most interesting now back down to the same handicap mark off which he won the Hennessy Gold Cup a few years back and last year's fourth has been dropped 5lbs from last year. Mon Mome ran away with it 12 months ago and ran third in the Gold Cup confirming his improvement but maybe he was flattered to finish so close that day as ran on through beaten horses.
Comply Or Die has won and finished second for the last two years so is interesting each-way and last year's ninth Snowy Morning is starting to look attractively handicapped now.
Of the Aintree virgins, Niche Market makes plenty of appeal having won last season's Irish National which has been an excellent guide as has the Hennessy Gold Cup in which he finished third to Denman and What A Friend which looks great form now.
A bold jumper that likes to race up in the van like so many winners of this race, Niche Market looks the best call to these eyes. Backstage and Ballyholland are the dangerous Irish lurkers for which the ground is coming in their favour as it is for Maljimar who travels strongly in his races but it may be going against the likes of Welsh National winner Dream Alliance and Cloudy Lane.
Irish Raptor loves it round here and won last season's Topham but has stamina to questions to answer whilst The Package would be the youngest winner for 70 years if he can win at the age of seven.
As everyone else gives a 1-2-3-4 here we go; Niche Market, State Of Play, Comply Or Die and Maljimar.