AFTER a sensational Cheltenham for us, we invited Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) back to give us his views on the Aintree Festival, continuing on Friday.
Aintree 13.45 | Channel 4
The second day of the Grand National meeting kicks off with a 23 runner, two-and-a-half mile handicap hurdle and it looks wide open.
A lot of these ran in handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival and I'm going to take a chance on one who comes here fresher than those horses.
Ibis Du Rhue (12/1 Ladbrokes) is a half brother to Saphir Du Rhue and he won the Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, gaining his first win since joining Paul Nichols.
He'd ran a couple of solid races prior to winning at Cheltenham and I think he still has more to come but I'm not convinced he'll enjoy the softer ground here.
Starcitech (9/1 Bet365) is another horse who ran well at Cheltenham and I think he will enjoy Friday’s conditions too. He fell when in contention in the juvenile Hurdle here last season and he remains unexposed.
However, Starcitech strikes me as a horse who will always find one too good, so I'm looking elsewhere for my bet.
Virgilio (12/1 Bet365) won two starts over this course and distance before being pulled up when stepped in class at Cheltenham in January. He had breathing problems that day and if they have put that right then he comes here with a big chance.
However, he is much higher in the weights now and although he is still unexposed, I can't back him.
My selection is the Gordon Elliott-trained Tycoon Prince (17/2 Betway). A winner in four of his seven races, he has fallen just short at graded level in Ireland but that was behind some talented rivals.
He gets in to this race off a good mark, is fresh and will enjoy the ground. I see a lot of positives about Tycoon Prince and I will be backing him each-way.
Aintree 14.15 | Channel 4
A Grade 1 two-mile novice hurdle and another quality field lining up.
OK, the first and second from the Supreme Novices Hurdle aren't here but it's still a good renewal. Limini takes another step up in class but does she deserve to be 6/4 (Paddy Power) favourite?
Beveur D'Air (14/1 Bet365) was third at Cheltenham and I think this course and ground will suit him better.
Still very unexposed over hurdles, he is probably the horse to beat in this race but he had a hard race last time out and I have a feeling he will find one or two too good here again.
Agrapart (10/1 Ladbrokes) won over course and distance earlier in the season and despite being easily brushed aside by Shaneshill in the Torworth Hurdle, he was an emphatic winner of the Betfair Hurdle on his last start.
He comes here fresher than most having missed Cheltenham and is a live threat. However, this will take more wining off level weights than his handicap did and I think he will fall just short again.
Blue Et Rouge (14/1 Bet365) fell in the Albert Bartlet at Cheltenham but it was too early to tell where he was going to come.
He's being dropped a mile in distance here and despite having winning form over this trip, it strikes me that Willie Mullins isn't sure where his future lies. I like him as a horse but I feel this trip may be too short for him especially against some pacey rivals.
Limini won the inaugural Mares Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham and was a very impressive winner that day. She has a huge reputation and when you listen to Willie Mullins speak about her, you get the feeling she may be special.
This represents another step up in class for her however, it's not a huge step and I think she will win this race.
She receives 6lb from her rivals and I expect her to follow up Annie Power in another victory for the girls.
Aintree 14.50 | Channel 4
The Betfred Novices Mildmay Chase over three miles and two furlongs is not the strongest novice chase for a Group 1 and lacks a little bit of strength and depth.
Blaklion (11/4 William Hill) won the RSA Chase at Cheltenham however, I'm not sure he's a top class prospect and to me this is a below par renewal.
He looks a real slugger and the extra distance and softer ground may see him improve further but I don't see him as a potential superstar. I'm still not convinced about his jumping and I don't want to back him here, even though he has to be respected in a weak looking race.
Native River (8/1 William Hill) was second in the four-miler at Cheltenham and has 18 lengths to find with Blaklion on their Wetherby meeting. He will again need every yard of this trip and though he is a decent stayer, I'm not sure he will have the class to win here.
I'm backing Un Temps Pour Tout (2/1 Ladbrokes) and he comes in to this race as the highest rated staying novices chaser in training.
He was disappointing earlier in the season and it took him a few starts to get to grips with chasing, and has a defeat to Native River to his name from earlier in the year.
However, I don't think that was his true running and he was a convincing winner of a good handicap at the Cheltenham Festival last time out. He was the best of these over hurdles and has the scope to improve further over fences; I make him a confident selection.
Aintree 15.25 | Channel 4
The Melling Chase is my favourite race of the meeting and has been won by some top horses down the years.
This year's renewal sees the mighty Vatour line up at odds-on and after his Cheltenham performance, it will take a brave man to oppose him. This looks at his mercy so what is the betting angle here?
Vatour (1/4 Ladbrokes) was typically brilliant at Cheltenham and this looks a weaker race than the Ryanair Chase he won. Providing he turns up fit, he wins this as he likes and I look forward to watching him as he is arguably the best horse in training.
Would I put anyone off backing him? No. However, I'm going to see what else is available at a bigger price.
I love Al Ferof (8/1 Paddy Power) and he has been a real star down the years. However, he is 11-years-old now and is a better horse fresh and could be venerable.
He has been put in his place twice by Vatour this season already and I expect him to struggle. Though he is the second best horse in the race, I can't back him and so I'm opposing him here.
Vibrato Valtat (25/1 BetVictor) has been disappointing this season but I expect him to improve for being stepped up in trip. He fell in the Ryanair while still in contention and though it's hard to say where he would have finished he was running a promising race.
However, I'm not convinced he is a Group 1 horse and I don't fully trust him either. He could run well but he's not a betting proposition, for me.
I'm going to back God's Own (20/1 Bet365) each-way as I think he is the most likely to follow Vatour home.
He has been taken along slowly this season with a defeat to Vibrato Valtat in the Haldon Gold Cup followed by a defeat to Joses Hill at Kempton soon after.
However, he went to Cheltenham and put up a career best effort coming fourth behind Sprinter Sacre and he seems like he will appreciate the extra distance here.
Though I don't expect him to win it, I think he could have the measure of his rivals and at 20/1 looks a good each-way bet.
Aintree 13.45 – Tycoon Prince (17/2 each-way Betway)
Aintree 14.15 – Limini (6/4 Paddy Power)
Aintree 14.50 – Un Temps Pour Tout (2/1 Ladbrokes)
Aintree 15.25 – God's Own (20/1 each-way Bet365)
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