AFTER a sensational Cheltenham for us, we invited Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) back to give us his views on the Aintree Festival, starting on Thursday.
13.40 Aintree | Channel 4
The Merseyrail Manifesto Novices’ Chase over just short of two-and-a-half miles opens the Grand National meeting and it's a high class opening race.
We don't have any Cheltenham winners lining up, however the Arkle and JLT form is well represented.
Sizing John (3/1 Ladbrokes) starts favourite here and arrives after a solid effort behind Douvan at Cheltenham. He's arguably the second best two-mile novice around after Douvan but he's untested over further and could be venerable over this trip.
Sizing John may well stay the extra distance but he's taking on horses who are proven over the trip and despite being a big fan, I'm taking him on here.
L'Ami Serge (7/2 Ladbrokes) returned to form at Cheltenham when third behind Black Hercules in the JLT and looks like a big contender. The softer ground and the flatter track should suit him and he's high on the shortlist for this.
However, he seems to fall short at the top level and the percentage call is to oppose him.
Garde La Victore (4/1 BetVictor) was my selection in the JLT at Cheltenham and was in contention when falling four out. I still think he was unlucky as Outlander fell in front of him and I think he will get the Grade 1 he deserves here.
Garde La Victore looks like he needs further than two-miles now and is the one to beat, for me, here. Unbeaten in completed starts over fences, I expect that record to continue.
14.15 Aintree | Channel 4
Aintree's Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle has attracted the first three home from the Triumph Hurdle and it looks likely they will dominate here.
The tracks not quite as stiff here and the ground is slightly softer so will there be a different result on Thursday?
Footpad (11/2 BetVictor) was third in the Triumph and will hope rain arrives as he beat Ivanovich Gorbatov (5/4 BetBright) on soft ground in February. However, I'm not sure that the favourite ran his race that day and unless it turns heavy, I think he is running for a place again.
Apple Jade (9/2 Betfred) came second in the Triumph and she is still an unexposed sort. A winner of a Leopardstown Grade 2 on her debut for Willie Mullins, she ran a huge race at Cheltenham.
The softer ground here should suit and there is improvement in her. However, I think Ivanovich Gorbatov was value for slightly more than the winning margin there and she may struggle to reverse that form.
Ivanovich Gorbatov has only had three starts over hurdles and despite a setback on heavy ground, he looks like the top juvenile around.
Though he wouldn't want the ground to turn heavy, he is a classy flat horse and the emphasis on speed here should suit him over stuotlier bread horses. He is by no means bomb proof, he looks the most likely winner.
14.50 Aintree | Channel 4
The Betfred Bowl and what a race we have here.
The second and third from the Gold Cup along with Cue Card, who fell for the first time in his career when in with a real chance. It's hard to imagine one of these three not winning but the Gold Cup is a gruelling race and this comes soon after it.
Don Poli (11/2 Bet365) is a course and distance winner and this race looks to suit him better than Cheltenham. Softer ground and a galloping track should see him in a better light but he has a lot to find with Djakadam (5/2 Ladbrokes) and Cue Card (5/4 Coral) on form.
My worry though is Don Poli flopped after Cheltenham last season and I'm not sure he will be quite good enough to win this.
Cue Card has been arguably the best staying chaser around and was going to go close in the Gold Cup. Whether he would have won, I'm not sure, but he is the horse to beat here.
However, it's been a very long season for him and he took a very heavy fall at Cheltenham. I'd love to see him win but I feel at the prices, Djakadam is worth siding with in this.
Djakadam has been runner up in the last two Gold Cups but finishing second to Coneygree and Don Cossack is not bad form.
Arguably Cue Card would have beaten him at Cheltenham but there was a long way to go and Djakadam has stamina in abundance. He's had a race less and has probably got slightly more improvement in him and I'm backing the younger horse to win here.
15.25 Aintree | Channel 4
The Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle is a small field but the first four home from the Champion Hurdle line-up and it is a very interesting race.
Annie Power (1/2 Bet365) made me look stupid at Cheltenham and over a more suitable distance, is the most likely winner here but at odds-on she's not to everyone's taste. So where's the value?
My Tent Or Yours (11/1 Paddy Power) was second in the Champion Hurdle and trainer Nicky Henderson performed a miracle to get him back to his best after a two-year absence.
He is a very high-class hurdler however, he doesn't scream out ‘stayer’ to me and I'm always worried backing a horse on their second start after a long absence. I'm reluctantly against him.
Annie Power is the Champion Hurdle winner and will enjoy the extra distance here. She is a wonderful mare and comes here a fresh horse.
I'm not sure Annie Power’s rivals can reverse the form and I wouldn't put anyone off backing her. I'm sure she will be a popular selection in multiples but I'm taking a chance on her market rival.
Nichols Canyon (5/1 Ladbrokes) is another horse who will relish today's trip and I'm confident he will come no worse than second. If allowed an easy lead in, I think he could be hard to pass but that's not guaranteed in this field.
He was a really impressive winner over course and distance last year and I'm backing him each-way on the basis I get my stake back if he comes second and if Annie Power runs below par, he's the most likely winner.
13.40 Aintree – Garde La Victore (4/1 BetVictor)
14.15 Aintree – Ivanovich Gorbatov (5/4 BetBright)
14.50 Aintree – Djakadam (5/2 Ladbrokes)
15.25 Aintree – Nichols Canyon (5/1 each-way Ladbrokes)
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