5.15 – 4m2½f Randox Health Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1) (7yo+)
VERDICT: This is going to be the most testing national since 2001 when Red Marauder beat Smarty by a distance; That day 40 runners faced the starter but only four completed the course, including two that had been remounted, a practice which is now not allowed. It ought to be a special test of stamina with the ground at a premium and it looks tailor made for Baie Des Isles. She is very young for a race of this type but that she has run fine races in the Irish and Welsh Nationals in her 12 chase starts and the form of her warmup at Punchestown has been boosted out of sight with the first two heavily involved in the finish of the Irish National. Katie Walsh rides these fences beautifully, she will sluice through the surface, and she is a normally sound jumper with a crucially low racing weight to boot. Another female jockey could be in line to take a huge hand with Bryony Frost looking the perfect partner to join forces with Milansbar. The last time the two ere united they made a well contested renewal of the Classic Chase an absolute procession and two fine runs over long distances ought to have him just right for this test assuming he can lay up with the early posse.
More faith is needed for The Dutchman, who stopped like a light in the Peter Marsh but who had been rapidly progressive beforehand, especially when beating Captain Redbeard by 13 lengths in the Tommy Whittle on some of the foulest winter ground Haydock had to offer, and everything about him suggests he ought to be suited by this test. He is worth forgiving that full effort given the raw staying power he has.
Pleasant Company might not have appeared to get home but he’s better handicapped than many who return from last year and if he can put in a clean round there might be more left at the finish this time from Willie Mullins’ charge.
Blaklion ought to go very well once again although after not quite getting home last year this much more testing ground is a negative against him and the ground isn’t terrific news for Gold Cup third Anibale Fly, although both him and Total Recall need to be seriously considered. Of the favourites, it’s Tiger Roll who makes the most appeal after his fine Cheltenham win with his stamina confirmed for the job although Seeyouatmidnight will go well to boot. One mention for Raz De Maree, the hardest horse to leave
Advice: 1.5 pts each/way Baie Des Iles (18/1 Coral, 16/1 general), 1 pt each/way Milansbar (33/1 Coral, Ladbrokes, Hills), 1 pt each/way The Dutchman (22/1 Paddy Power, Betfair), 1 pt each/way Pleasant Company (33/1 general)
Alpha Des Obeaux: Useful horse who took the Clonmel Oil Chase and doesn’t mind revelling in soft ground, but hasn’t repeated that effort since although he’s run fairly in top level races, including Irish Gold Cup; It is a worry that his worst effort this season came in the Many Clouds Chase on the Mildmay Course and others appeal as being in better form for all that he has ability.
Anibale Fly: Always useful as a novice chaser and has really found his stride when upped in trip this year, making a procession of what’s arguably Ireland’s best handicap chase in the Paddy Power when winning by no less than nine lengths off mark of 148 (rated 159 here; still well in); Upped in class to Irish Gold Cup and had not finished by any means when falling heavily two out and proved himself with fine third in Gold Cup, travelling well into the race and putting in very sold finishing effort for third; Normally a sound jumper and can take a front rank position with ease but never been further than the Gold Cup trip and would have preferred better ground; Still respected.
Baie Des Isles: Young horse – only seven – but plenty of experience in heavy ground staying handicap chases, including a fifth in 2017 Welsh National, race which has worked out well (winner since won Gold Cup, two other National winners come from it) and then showed impressive stamina and surefootedness to take Punchestown Grand National Trial; First two runs this season over hurdles/inadequate trip and didn’t shape badly in Punchestown National trial when the first two were then involved in finish of Irish national, also a gruelling race; If getting into rhythm, can go very well.
Blaklion: Travelled beautifully and jumped with fine panache when fourth in this last year, having been backed into favouritism, and looked the winner for much of the race too; Possibly sent on too early and then faded into fourth, although it must be a possibility he didn’t quite see it out as well as the first three; Romped home in the Becher Chase when beating The Last Samuri by nine lengths but worry that he’s given nothing away to handicapper despite 9lbs rise being fair and possible that it wasn’t wisest decision to enter him in Haydock Grand National trial when he was legless in second; Wind operation since will help and much in his favour but not sure he wants it this soft over this distance; Respected.
Bless The Wings: Plenty of form in long distance, soft ground handicap chases, having come within half a length of winning the 2012 Irish National and then been beaten only by Our Duke in last year’s edition; Took the December cross country but that his only finish in his last four starts, the big worry for him here, and he could find it difficult to come from the rear too. The ground has turned against him late and whilst he has talent, others might be better suited to this.
Buywise: Finally got that valuable win which he deserved so much when taking the Veterans’ Final at Sandown, seeing out a stiff three miles with purpose having moved through most of the field in one swoop four out; That was a fine win and a better jumper nowadays although a worry that he will lose his spot and get well behind which is hard.
Captain Redbeard: Was going quite well in the Grand Sefton when hampered badly at the 14th, where his winning chances ended; He then went and made amends in the Tommy Whittle and did so in fine style, pouring on the pressure after the last to win by nine lengths from a next time out winner; His jumping went to pot when he was well beaten in the Peter Marsh Chase, however, and whilst hurdle win afterwards a nice warm-up a better round needed whilst doubts about just how far he does stay.
Carlingford Lough: Dual winner of the Irish Gold Cup in 2015 and 2016 and also took the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2016; Nothing wrong with his 2017 although he only made the track twice, finishing a solid fourth in the Irish Gold Cup; Hasn’t done a thing since but has dropped to 152 and does have a Grade 1 win on heavy ground, but not the best jumper and possible he’ll be out of his ground.
Chase The Spud: Disappointing in the Welsh National although he followed an extremely strong pace in some of the winter’s heaviest ground and it’s possible that the Eider came too soon for him; Previously he’d ground out the Midlands National and then taken and then a valuable handicap chase at Haydock, on soft and heavy ground respectively; The form of those races has worked out well and if he can get into a rhythm then few would be stouter stayers.
Children’s List: Doesn’t lack for talent but not particularly experienced over fences, with just the four runs so far; Form of his one chase win, a gutsy success over Edwulf, now looks a lot better but he didn’t seem to take to the Punchestown Grand National trial last time when a poor round of jumping exposed his inexperience, and this looks a year too early at least.
Delusionofgrandeur: Front running type for Sue Smith who nearly led the field all the way in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby; Chased the pace in the Edinburgh National but faded then (4m1f, soft) and then a respectable third in the final of the Challenger Series at Haydock; Goes on soft but heavy an unknown.
Double Ross: A real old hand now at the age of 12 and years of experience in big handicap chases, and many of them have been on this course, including a fifth in the Topham (2014) and Grand Sefton (2015); Was actually going well before his saddle slipped going around Canal Turn the second time round, ending his race; Been in and out since that but retains a good amount of his ability based on fourth in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham and can go well for a long way here.
Final Nudge: Enjoys a marathon trip and ran much better than most when third in the Welsh National to Raz De Maree, and he is well handicapped on that form, being 13 lengths better off for a 15 length defeat; Not so great since when fifth at Sandown but might well have finished close rin the Kim Muir had he not lost a shoe; However as a dour grinder he will keep going when many have stopped and perfect racing weight for him here; Catches the eye.
Gas Line Boy: A real stalwart of long distance chasing and put together a succession of career best efforts ass he’s gotten older, fourth in the 2017 Veterans Final at Sandown and then the Grand National Trial before a great effort when fifth in this race last year; Has been in great form since and beat the Topham winner in the Sefton (over these fences in December) and nothing not to like but faded after the last and over this more testing surface stamina a worry; Otherwise nothing not to like.
Houblon Des Obeaux: Plenty off back class and can still put up a real show in long distance handicap chases, finishing third in the Welsh and fourth in the Midlands National of last year; Perhaps this ground will suit more than the decent surface on which he was seventeenth in this last year, having been out the back from the third last; Tendency to drop himself out at the back of the last.
I Just Know: Not all that exposed as a chaser and certainly not a staying handicapper, as he showed when dominating eight other runners to win the Yorkshire National at Catterick (3m6f, soft ground). Got a hammering from handicapper for that but was well worth the win and has had a perfect permeation with a nice break before a warmup over hurdles; Sue Smith won this with Aurora’s Encoure in 2013 and not to be underestimated.
Lord Windermere: The 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who hasn’t repeated his run that day since, and as such is winless since then; Best run in the past two years probably his effort in this last year but he was a well beaten seventh and has dropped just 3lbs, whilst he fell in the Becher Chase when last seen; Others make much more appeal.
Maggio: Found huge career best from out of nowhere for a spectacular 12 length win in the 3 mile handicap chaser on this card two years ago on the Midday course, but has never really come to close to repeating that and tough to make a form or handicapping argument for him on that basis.
Milansbar: Wasn’t going well when unseating in the Wlesh National but has been a different horse since then and his dismantling of a competitive field in the Classic Chase (Warwick, 3m5f, strong yardstick Cogry second) one of the best trials seen for this during the whole season; Liked to be to the forefront of affairs which is good in this.
Pendra: Subject of much attention in the betting for two of the last three Cheltenham Festivals and performed creditably in both, first of all fifth in the Ultima (2015) and second in the Kim Muir (2017); Reappeared in the same race this year but didn’t cut much ice; Now had his first run after a wind operation and tongue tied first time but record of tenth in 2014 Irish National and 13th in this in 2016 suggests much more needed to make it third time lucky.
Perfect Candidate: Talented and robust stayer who impressed when taking Veterans’ Chase at Exeter last January, but then came here last year and was never quite in touch before belting the 26th and being pulled up straight away; Perhaps this was just a bit quick for him on the ground and proved he’s still got it when he beat Vicente at Cheltenham in November and maybe this ground will suit him more although headgear needs to make him take interest if he’s to show his best.
Pleasant Company: Winner of the Pat Taafe and Bobbyjo Chases last season and few had travelled between the until he belted Valentines the second-time round, and from then on whilst he went well, he faded behind several of these into ninth; Hasn’t cut much ice this season but tough to expect too much on his first start in the Paddy Power and the Thyestes came in a sticky surface where not many mudlarks took to the racing that day; Races off same mark which leaves him well handicapped compared to many who take another shot here and ground shouldn’t be an issue for him; Not impossible he can improve his position with a clean round so don’t give up on him yet.
Raz De Maree: Veteran 13 year old who hasn’t always been the cleanest of jumpers but he’s amongst the stoutest of stayers and it was a strong looking renewal of the Welsh National which he won on nearly unraceable ground (race had to be rescheduled) and did so with a terrific late charge; Not his fault that he fell here last year (ducked left to avoid fallen horse and unseated rider at Bechers first time round) and only Native River beat him in the Welsh National the season before last; With clear round, must be a major player.
Regal Encore: Blows very hot and cold but when he’s hot he’s hot, as he showed when he was third only to Whisper and Total Recall in the Ladbroke Trophy and then strong at the end when taking the Keltbray Siwnley Chase at Ascot; Eighth last year when he got out of his ground but went through a load of beaten horses late; Not sure that this ground suits much more but can’t be ruled out if on a going day.
Road To Riches: Just isn’t the same horse as the graded staying chaser in the 2015/16 season, when injury contravened and he’s never looked the same horse since; In any case, ground and trip huge question marks and not one on the shortlist.
Saint Are: Aintree specialist who comes alive around here, winner of the Sefton Novice Hurdle as a novice and a fantastic chaser around here, third in the 2015 Becher before being beaten only by Many Clouds in the National of that year itself; That took place on good ground and a sound surface is key to his chances, as shown when he was pulled up next year when the ground was soft, only to bounce back with a fine third last year; Wouldn’t read into his two efforts this season but ground ruined his chances.
Seeyouatmidnight: Was a classy novice chaser who didn’t mind getting his toe stuck in and ended that season with a fantastic third in the Scottish National; Only the four runs since and feeling that this has been the target, with just the one warm-up run a satisfactory outing at Newbury in which he did nothing spectacular; Sound jumper, real fighter and will not be far away.
Shantou Flyer: Real murdlark who has strung together a potent run of runner up efforts, the latest of them coming when he was just unable to overhaul Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima at Cheltenham; Worry for him is that he didn’t get into the thick of things last year, pulling up after the 24th having gotten behind; Maybe this ground is going to be more suitable for him but others appeal more.
Tenor Nivernais: Widily impressive when a 30 length winner of the Keltbray Swinley Chase but then was beaten afterwards at Kelso and he then never got into a rhythm when he was 17th and hasn’t shown much more since; Perhaps this ground suits more but didn’t take to the race and much more is needed.
The Dutchman: Been on quite the journey this season, first running into the subsequent Grade 1 winner Sam Spinner in the Fixed Brush Hurdle and not backing that up when below par at Cheltenham, but when reverting to fences, he just went to the front and ran his opposition into the ground to dominate the Peter Marsh with the very solid Captain Redbeard 13 lengths behind; Was pulled up in the Grand National Trial but stopped quickly that day and had been travelling sweetly through the first circuit; Blood found in his nostrils that day so run and be written off and now of real interest.
The Last Samuri: Exemplary form over this fences, second in 2016 Grand National, then a close second in the Becher in December of that year; Those efforts took their toll on his handicap mark and he was 16th last year under top weight; Second, beaten by nine lengths, in this year’s Becher Chase and a fine third in the Cross Country at Cheltenham Festival 2018, but there’s a feeling his best chance has gone at the weights.
Thunder And Roses: 2015 Irish National winner although he’s not won since; That said, he was fourth in the 2017 renewal and still has ability judged on the way he was going in the Leinster National when he fell four out; Disconcerting that he fell again in the Irish National when he fell at the seventh but if he gets into a rhythm then he’s capable.
Tiger Roll: Long and rich record of success at the Cheltenham Festival, with three wins in 2014, 2017 and this year; The latter two, a dominant winner of the 4 Mile Novices’ Chase, and then a gutsy success over the Cross Country Course this season (3m6f, soft) show stamina ought not to be an issue; The main worry is how a smaller horse than most will take to these fences but the Cross Country is hardly the worst preparation and if he even half takes to this he’s got to have one of the main chances.
Total Recall: Has just had a magic season for Willie Mullins since moving from Sandra Hughes, romping home in the Munster National on his first start for the yard and then stepping up to down the RSA Chase second Whisper in the Ladbroke Trophy by a head with Regal Encore eight lengths behind; Impossible for connections to resist easy pot over hurdles at Leopardstown but wasn’t out of things when he fell in the Gold Cup for all that distance Native River and Might Bite put between themselves and the field suggests he would have been booked for third; One of the class angles into the race and lots to like, but this distance on such ground has to have a question mark for his chances; Major player.
Ucello Conti: Not a frequent winner but one of the most talented handicap chasers around and a sound jumper of these fences, sixth in 2016, fourth in the Becher Chase of that year, then in the act of putting another solid round together before he stumbled at Becher’s so badly Daryl Jacob couldn’t stay on; Second to Anibale Fly in Paddy Power is a fine effort, but worry that he had nothing extra down the finish in 2016 on soft, when beaten 37 lengths.
Valseur Lido: Was a quality top staying chaser in 2016, winning the JN Wine Champion Chase by 11 lengths and then finishing a very creditable fourth in the Lexus that Christmas; Had to take year off and whilst reappearance in Lexus this season suggested he retained all his ability, has gone wrong way since and doesn’t appear to be in love with heavy ground compared to better surfaces.
Vieux Lion Rouge: Another who’s familiar with these fences and is a very reliable handicap chaser, having showed a great attitude to win the 2017 Becher Chase and then follow up in the Betfred National Trial; Swung his way around here last year and came with his challenge around the home turn, but was getting outstayed before the last fence and eventually faded to be sixth, beaten 27 lengths; The year before on a soft surface he had weekender more and finished seventh, beaten 48 lengths, and whilst he handles this ground it appears he doesn’t handle this trp.
Virgilio: Bumped into some smart rivals as a novice and when he’s good he’s very good, as shown when a comprehensive win here in May; Not backed that up in two starts since so no surprise he’d had wind surgery; Worry that he’s never gone this far and he’d probably want the ground better too, so others preferred.
Walk In The Mill: Impossible to miss connections, with Sam Whaley-Cohen having an exemplary record around these fences and Robert Walford being a shrewd operator here; Has put up solid efforts twice when upped to 3 miles at Ascot, the best of them when third to Gold Present in a valuable handicap chase there; Didn’t take to heavy ground as well as The Dutchman in the Peter Marsh and that is a serious worry.
Warriors Tale: A nose away from taking two good handicaps this season already, and the form of his second to Gold Present at Newbury has worked out an absolute treat; Nothing wrong at all with his close second to Wakanda in the SkyBet Chase either with many solid horses in behind and this sound jumping type can take to Aintree, but this would be his first time on heavy and there’s a worry about that and his stamina too.
Tips for the other Aintree races:
1.45 Aintree – 1 pt each/way Dream Berry (15/2 Paddy Power, Betfair) NON-RUNNER
1.45 Aintree – 1 pt each/way Connetable (12/1 general0)
2.25 Aintree – 2 pts win On The Blind Side (15/8 general)
3.40 Aintree – 1 pt each/way Rocklander (8/1 general)
3.40 Aintree – 1 pt each/way Wakanda (14/1 general)