There’s just one meeting featured on this Saturday’s TV racing schedule. However, it happens to be the biggest single day of racing of the season, as the ITV crew heads to Aintree for the latest edition of the always spectacular Grand National. In terms of betting turnover and putting racing in the national spotlight, there is simply no meeting quite like it.
The jumping and staying marathon of course serves as the headline act, but there are a total of seven contests on offer from the Merseyside track – five of which make up the TV menu for armchair racing fans. The big finale of the Grand National may be the most famous race of the day, but it is not the classiest, with that honour being shared by the Grade 1 double act of the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle and Liverpool Hurdle. Here we pick out our best bets in each of the five contests on offer in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
2:25 Village Hotels Handicap Hurdle
Class 1, 3m½f
The Pertemps Network Final at the Cheltenham Festival looks to be the key form race for the opening handicap of the day, with three of the first five in the betting heading here on the back of a run in that event. Leading the way is the winner of that race, Good Time Johnny, from the yard of Tony Martin. Well on top at the line that day, a five-pound rise may not be enough to stop him. On the downside, it did take him a long time to hit his full stride that day, and this slightly sharper track may not play to his strengths.
We fancy the one to be on might well be the sixth-placed finisher from the Pertemps, An Tailliur. Five pounds better off with Good Time Johnny for a defeat of four and a half lengths, he is weighted to get much closer here, particularly as his overall profile suggests he may still be improving. In addition, he endured something of a luckless passage in the straight at Cheltenham, and if avoiding such traffic problems here, he looks solid value to hit the frame. Of those at bigger prices, Gordon Elliott’s Au Fleuron looks interesting stepping up in trip in the first-time blinkers.
3:00 Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle
Grade 1, 2m4f
The Paul Nicholls runner Hermes Allen heads the betting in this Grade 1 affair, and probably deservedly so as the top-rated runner in the field. However, he ran a shocker in the Ballymore last time out and looks short enough for one heading into the race on a retrieval mission. Supreme Novices’ Hurdle sixth, Dark Raven, makes the shortlist but needs to show he stays this trip, whilst Mares Novice Hurdle winner, You Wear It Well, could prove dangerous in receipt of seven pounds from the boys, but was put in her place by Hermes Allen earlier in the season.
With question marks against a few of those towards the head of the market, we prefer an each-way play on Fergal O’Brien’s rapidly improving, Crambo. This one’s first attempt in a Grade 1 didn’t go to plan when pulled up behind Hermes Allen, but the fact he was immediately sent for a wind op suggests all was not well on the day. A perfect two from two since his return, we loved the battling attitude he showed when mastering subsequent winner Inneston last time out. This demands a big career best, but runners rated in the 130s have been placed in this on a number of occasions in recent times, and we wouldn’t be too surprised should he take another step forward.
3:35 JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle
Grade 1, 3m½f
The top-class staying hurdlers take to the track in the second of the day’s Grade 1 events, with the market currently headed by the Nicky Henderson-trained mare, Marie’s Rock. Undoubtedly talented, she is right in the mix on ratings once her seven-pound allowance is factored in, but looks a little risky considering this will be her first attempt at the trip, and she also ran well below expectations at the Cheltenham Festival last time out.
Champ also goes for Henderson, and may prove dangerous having been kept fresh for the race but was hammered in this twelve months ago. Overall, the best bet may be to stick with the Stayers’ Hurdle form from this season. Sire Du Berlais caused a big shock when landing that Cheltenham event, and also scored in this race last year. He may well go and win again but rarely runs two races alike these days, and we just prefer an each-way punt on the tough as old boots, Dashel Drasher. A repeat of his effort when runner-up to Sire Du Berlais in March should see him hit the frame once again, and he also seems to like it around here. His two efforts at Aintree to date have yielded a win over hurdles and a second to Noble Yeats over fences, with Ahoy Senor amongst those in behind.
4:15 William Hill Handicap Chase
Class 1, 3m1f
An extremely tricky looking three-mile chase precedes the main event, with a number of these heading straight here from the Cheltenham Festival. Included amongst that number is Dan Skelton’s Midnight River, who was well fancied in the Magners Plate, only to disappoint. Punters seem keen to forgive him that, as he has been well supported into favouritism here. The first-time tongue tie may help, but he isn’t conclusively proven at this trip and needs to leave that latest effort well behind.
Of the 15 set to go to post, only five have previously won over this distance, and it is one of that quintet who gets the vote. Charlie Longsdon’s Castle Robin disappointed last time out at Doncaster, but the ground was too quick for him that day, and he didn’t help his chances when clattering the very first fence. Before that display, he had stayed on powerfully close home to land a Class 2 event at Sandown and is only two pounds higher here. At 16/1 he looks a decent each-way shout, particularly with several firms offering additional places on the race.
5:15 Randox Grand National Handicap Chase
Class 1, 4m2½f
And so to the big one, which as ever looks a fiendishly tricky puzzle to solve. We have a few familiar names towards the head of the market, with last year’s first, second and third. Noble Yeats, Any Second Now, and Delta Work all fancied to go well once more. Corach Rambler meanwhile is seemingly thrown in on the handicap – racing off a mark 10 pounds below his revised official rating. It’s hard to knock any of that quartet, with stout stayer Any Second Now the most tempting each-way proposition at around 16/1.
Others for the shortlist include Gaillard Du Mesnil, who looked all about stamina when landing the National Hunt Chase last time out, and Our Power, whose trainer, Sam Thomas, insists will stay all day. However, we will continue to scroll a little further down the list for our each-way selection, and the one to catch our eye is Velvet Elvis from the yard of Thomas Gibney.
This prize went to an unheralded runner from one of the smaller Irish yards twelve months ago, and at 33/1 we are prepared to take a punt that we may be in for more of the same this time around. Velvet Elvis ran a mighty race to finish sixth in the Irish National as a six-year-old last season and has the look of one who has been laid out for a shot at this ever since. Only really coming back to life in his two most recent starts, he ran well to go down by seven lengths to Any Second Now over an inadequate 2m4f last time out at Navan and finds himself fully 17 pounds better off with that rival here.