The 2017 Randox Health Grand National Festival Handicappers Blog

11 Apr 17

There was plenty of excitement at this years Randox Health Grand National Festival and the BHA Handicapping team cover the top-class action here, with Phil Smith’s Head of Handicapping blog to follow.

Champion at two trips

The headline event of the opening day of the Aintree meeting was the Grade 1 Betway Aintree Hurdle run over 2m4f writes Chris Nash.

It featured the first two from the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham three weeks earlier and they filled the same positions on Thursday.  Buveur D’Air had beaten My Tent Or Yours by four and a half lengths at Cheltenham and extended that to five lengths at Aintree. In my view this victory over the extra half mile was even more authoritative than his Cheltenham one.

Buveur D’ Air clears the last flight before going on to win The Gr. 1 Betway Aintree Hurdle Race.

My colleague, Dave Dickinson, had them running to 167 and 162 at Cheltenham and it seems reasonable to use that starting point for their Aintree performances.  It is hard to argue against leaving My Tent Or Yours at his pre-race figure of 162 which has Buveur D’Air running to a bare figure of 167+. I thought he did this cosily and he was eased down a touch at the line; so his post-race mark will be 169.  Further substance to this form is given by The New One who finished a length and a half behind My Tent Or Yours in third running to 160.  He had finished fifth in the Champion Hurdle last time out and improved on his 156 there over this longer trip.  Buveur D’Air has now recorded the best hurdling figure of the season over both 2m and 2m4f.  Some horse.

Finian’s Oscar winning The Gr.1 Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle

The Saturday card at Aintree included the Grade 1 Betway Mersey Novice Hurdle also run over 2m4f.  Finian’s Oscar went into the race as the highest rated runner on 149. He started favourite and took the prize by three lengths from Captain Forez with the admirably consistent Messire Des Obeaux a further three and a quarter lengths back in third.

We had the third running to 146 on his previous three starts including last time out when he was third in the Neptune at Cheltenham; so the “easy” way to rate this race would have been to have him replicating that figure and working from there. However, the second and fourth arrived with pre-race marks of 131 and 130 respectively. Whilst it is perfectly reasonable to assume both have run career bests, I was conscious not to get carried away with this form.

I settled on a figure of 150 for Finian’s Oscar which has Captain Forez running to 147.  He retains his novice status for next season and you would have to imagine he will take high rank in similar races next time round.  His post-race mark of 147 places him just ahead of Messire Des Obeaux.  Him I have running to 144 on Saturday but he will retain his pre-race mark of 146 as his official rating. Benatar in fourth also ran to a career-best figure of 142.

The winner retained his unbeaten record and connections believe there is still further improvement in him – he is an exciting prospect for next season when a novice chase campaign is on the cards.

 King for a day

Yanworth, writes Martin Grenwood, had already proved he was somewhat of a stayer in his novice season so it was no surprise that he found the three mile trip on decent ground on a sharp track no problem at Aintree on Saturday. Winner of eight of his ten starts, Yanworth had proved his versatility by winning over the minimum trip earlier in the season but came up short in the Champion Hurdle. His future probably lies over the longer trips.

The Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle (Grade 1)

This did not look a vintage renewal of the Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle and the result backed up that feeling. Indeed Yanworth, who idled a little in front, did not need to match his pre-race rating of 163 to beat the Irish pair of Supasundae and Snow Falcon with Taquin du Seuil back in fourth. Snow Falcon (159) is a consistent performer in Graded events in Ireland. The other two have recorded personal bests over hurdles having both contested the Coral Cup at the Festival. Supasundae is now rated 160 and has progressed well of late while Taquin du Seuil has almost matched his best chase form and is now 157. Yanworth is still rated a few pounds inferior to the first two in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham – Nichols Canyon (169) and Lil Rockrfeller (168).

The previous day we had what seemed an up-to-standard staying novice hurdle which went the way of The Worlds End. In the equivalent race at Cheltenham he had been in contention when coming down at the second last and made amends here. I do not quite have him matching the 149 suggested at the Festival. He was in front for long enough here and might also have idled after the last.

The next three home all hit new heights particularly Debece who had won a handicap from only 121 last time. The major disappointment was West Approach. He drifted badly in the market and never really jumped or travelled. His form earlier in the season, especially in the Cleeve Hurdle, made him look the best staying novice this season but his last two efforts have been lamentable.  Perhaps he needs softer ground or maybe there is something badly amiss.

Fox Norton makes amends

The Grade 1 JLT Melling Chase is likely to prove pivotal when deciding the Champion 2m4f Chaser of 2016/17 says Mark Olley.

Fox Norton on his way to winning The JLT Melling Chase

We still have three weeks of the season remaining and the significant Punchestown fixture to come; but as things currently stand I have a new horse heading the ratings.

Fox Norton was arguably an unlucky loser of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham. He clearly relished the step up to 2m4f in the JLT Melling and was a very decisive winner. I thought the winning six lengths margin was value for 8lb and his new figure is 170 (up 4lb).

From an historical perspective Fox Norton sits behind Don Cossack (175 in 2015) and Sprinter Sacre who achieved an almighty 188 in 2013 but there is no shame in that. Connections seem sure he will stay further still and I would be very surprised if we have already seen the best of this 7yo.

Sub Lieutenant was campaigned mainly at 3m last season. He has raced exclusively around 2m4f this time and with a Grade 2 win at Down Royal and second places in the Ryanair and Melling that decision has been well rewarded. Sandra Hughes’ gelding got within one and a half lengths of the aggressively ridden Un de Sceaux at Cheltenham; but, when ridden more aggressively himself at Aintree, found Fox Norton six lengths too good.

Josses Hill and Uxizandre both also ran in the Ryanair at Cheltenham and both were beaten considerably further at Aintree.

Upsets aplenty

With just three weeks between the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals there were form turn arounds aplenty at the latter, few more striking than in the Grade One Crabbie’s Top Novice Hurdle, writes David Dickinson.

Cheltenham’s Sky Bet Supreme had seen an excellent display by the promising River Wylde, previously a winner on the sharper Kempton and Ludlow two mile courses.  But last week he failed to jump with his usual fluency although he had made a serious error at the final flight at Cheltenham last month.

Pingshou and Robbie Power after winning The Crabbie’s Top Novices’ Hurdle

His failure to reproduce that running contrasts markedly with that of Cheltenham also-ran Pingshou. He continued a stellar week for the Potts/Tizzard/Power triumvirate.  He bounced back from his Prestbury flop and appeared to relish the better ground even though this grand looking individual looks the sort who might want softer ground and a more galloping track. The only clue to Pingshou’s sudden rise to Grade One winning status came in his previous appearance on Good ground at Cheltenham in November.  That was his only previous victory – gained at the expense of William Henry who went on to be rated higher once stepped up in trip.

Defi Du Seuil wins The Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle 

With Moon Racer again disappointing, Mount Mews and The Unit seem to give a good guide to the level of the form. Pingshou is now rated 150 but this does not suggest that he is likely to be a match for last year’s winner Buveur d’Air. Given Pinshou’s physique surely a crack at chasing beckons next season.

Defi du Seuil could easily have found the Grade One Doom Bar Anniversary Hurdle a race too far in a long season but he handled it with aplomb. He never looked likely to fail, making it seven wins out of seven.  He did not quite need to run to the level that he produced in the JCB Triumph so his rating remains unchanged on 155.