The 2018 Aintree Grand National Festival is upon us once again and after a few very quiet weeks on the top class racing front, we’ll be treated to three in a row from Thursday to Saturday. It is almost fitting that it is absolutely lashing it down outside as I write and it has been for the past 72 hours. When will it end!? There’s no knowing how much of the wet stuff Liverpool will get in the coming days, but it is almost fitting after the season we’ve had that the ground is set to be a good bit softer than we’d usually see at Aintree. Regardless of the weather though, an exciting three-day bonanza of top National Hunt gets going in no nonsense fashion on Thursday afternoon, by way of four Grade 1 races in a row.
Terrefort’s Stamina to come to the fore in Manifesto
The Grand National meeting kicks off at 1.45pm on Thursday for the £100,000 Manifesto Novices’ Chase, the first of four Grade 1 races in a row to kick off Day 1. Arkle 2nd and 3rd Brain Power and Petit Mouchoir head the market for this contest, which is just shy of 2m4f in distance. Both endured a hard race there, and preference is for the Nicky Henderson trained TERREFORT, who was a gallant runner-up behind Shattered Love in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. This 5yo grey is an impressive jumper and has produced a high level of form in three UK starts over fences to date.
The key to victory here is often class and speed, but plenty of juice in the ground will make Terrefort a hard horse to beat in terms of absolute stamina and given his profile, he could still have more improvement under the bonnet. If there is an elephant in room, it could well be Dan Skelton’s Rene’s Girl, an improving mare who gets 7lb from the boys and rates a real dark horse having been kept fresh for this meeting.
Fresh Dream preferred to Shakira in Juvenile Showpiece
That girl Apple’s Shakira finds herself trading as the favourite for the 2.20pm Doom Bar Anniversary 4yo Juvenile Hurdle, on the back of letting down favourite backers in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham a month ago. She ran up to form there in 4th, but looks vulnerable on the back of it at a different track to the one she’s been running at all season. 11 of 13 winners of this Grade 1 since 2005 were placed at Cheltenham beforehand, so Triumph Hurdle and Fred Winter form is key, but WE HAVE A DREAM is preferred this year, having been forced to side-step very deep ground at Cheltenham after a late hold-up.
Unbeaten in his last four starts, We Have A Dream was very much a Cheltenham contender, but with wins at Warwick, Doncaster, Chepstow and Musselburgh to his name this season, a flat and galloping track like Aintree is almost certain to suit just as well if not better for this tidy French juvenile. Nicky Henderson hasn’t won this race since Binocular landed the spoils in 2008, but the master at Seven Barrows has a very strong hand ten years on.
Might Bite or Might Just Blow Em Away!
Rare if ever will you see a more admirable effort in defeat in a Cheltenham Gold Cup than Might Bite’s run in the race last month. He travelled and jumped for fun, cruised through the race and but for terribly heavy ground blunting his stamina reserves during the climb to the line, ran the race of his life. Spring ground would’ve surely seen a different outcome, but the mud loving Native River just kept finding in front, and Might Bite didn’t have the energy to keep up.
The Grade 1 Aintree Bowl is a £190,000 contest over 3m1f, a furlong and a bit less than the Gold Cup distance, which is perfect for MIGHT BITE to gain some healthy compensation. He is reported to be in rude health at home following that hard race and overall, this massively talented 9yo has repaired much of his reputation as a bit of a monkey over the past year, by producing far more professional performances since his antics in the RSA.
The Aintree Bowl is made for Might Bite, and he will be very difficult to beat. Ryanair winner Balko Des Flos could be a worthy adversary if taking his chance, while King George runner-up Double Shuffle also has to be respected. Betfair Chase winner and Haydock appreciator Bristol De Mai is also a likely runner, but he surely needs it to keep raining from now until 2.50pm on Thursday to have any chance of giving Might Bite a race of it around here.
Clyne & Diakali Outsiders to mention in Aintree Hurdle
The defection of Buveur D’Air and the promise of wet weather and soft ground gives the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle the look of one that could produce a surprise winner, or at least have 1 or 2 big priced horses pitching in for the places as it unfolds at the business end. Supasundae is a class act but his jumping is much better on genuinely good ground, while The New One flopped badly in the Stayers’ Hurdle and isn’t getting any younger. My Tent Or Yours would prefer a sounder surface over this 2m4f trip, so all of a sudden the top of the market looks open to penetration.
Just two to note at big prices, in case one or both is declared to take their chance. The Evan Williams trained CLYNE is around 33/1 at the time of writing and arrives here on the back of a career best win off top weight at Uttoxeter on March 17th. An RPR of 152 and a Topspeed rating of 121 that day suggests this 8yo is improving at the right time and with conditions and trip likely to fully suit, he could make his presence felt for each way backers. Clyne is confident and in-form and you can’t never discount a horse bringing those two attributes to the table; in any race.
The other horse to note is DIAKALI, whose price for this ranges from 25/1-50/1 depending on who you speak to. Gary Moore recently acquired this former Mullins trained horse and the 9yo certainly boasts some of the better form on offer amongst the outsiders here. He may well go for a handicap hurdle instead, but equally connections generally aren’t afraid to have a pop at the big guns and with the Champion Hurdler out of the picture, Diakali could take his chance after a year off. When last seen, he won by 20 lengths at Cork, producing very good figures in the process.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.
Also published on Medium.