1:30 Boylesports Many Clouds Chase (Grade 2) 3m 210y
It may be hard for some to forgive Ahoy Senor a clunking return in the Charlie Hall. I’m more forgiving of Lucinda Russell’s star, who can jump superbly when on song, but still tends to be let down by that feature of his game, particularly when the fences sneak up on him.
It would be a travesty to refer to Wetherby as a sharp track, but changes to the course in recent years have made it less galloping than used to be the case, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that the gelding’s best runs have come at Aintree, where he’s able to get into a rhythm that suits him.
His two runs here have resulted in two impressive Grade 1 wins, and he will be capable of winning at this level if jumping as well as he did when beating L’Homme Presse and Bravemansgame pointless over course and distance in April.
2:05 Boylesports Becher Handicap Chase (Premier Handicap) 3m 1f 188y
A huge field for the Becher is a sight for sore eyes, and there’s little doubt that a win for the popular Snow Leopardess would be the perfect result for television, but while I was with her 12 months ago, I must sweep sentiment aside, and her last two efforts have suggested she may have had enough.
I was with Gesskille here in the Grand Sefton, and am loath to desert him, but I imagine that connections will hold him up to get the trip, and such tactics are hard to pull off in a big field over track and trip.
I’d want to be with something which will jump and can race handily, and while last year’s runner-up Hill Sixteen is tempting, preference is for Dr Kananga who is a bold-jumping front runner with exactly the skill-set required for this unique course.
Ben Clarke’s former hunter was most progressive last season when his best effort came when slamming two next-time winners by 12 lengths and 11 lengths in the Virgin Bet Handicap Chase at Sandown in February.
He jumped to his left at Sandown and did so when runner-up at Exeter on his final outing, giving the impression that he will do even better going this way round.
Dr Kananga made a very pleasing return over hurdles at Bangor last month, finding only the promising Maximilian too strong, and he looks capable of doing better still given his lack of mileage under rules.
2:40 Boylesports Daily Money Back 2nd Handicap Chase 2m 3f 200y
The first thing that struck me when looking at this contest is that the handicapper has raised Riders Onthe Storm by only 2lb for his win over Hitman and Ga Law in the Old Roan Chase over course and distance in October, and that looks like a ridiculously lenient assessment of a race which is working out very well.
Hitman was talked of as a King George horse when easily winning a graduation chase at Haydock on his next start, while Ga Law went on to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month.
It’s hard to imagine how much better those horses could have made the Aintree form look, so to raise Richard Hobson’s talented chaser by less than the average Newton Abbot seller winner gets seems almost perverse.
The one issue with backing Riders Onthe Storm is that he’s not always held his form, but Hobson was bullish that he had his string in much better health than last season, and results seem to prove that, with Saint Xavier landing a quiet gamble at Haydock on Wednesday to add to the list of creditable runs from the yard’s inmates.
Hobson has sensibly given his star six weeks off since the Old Roan success, and he should be fresh enough to double his seasonal tally.
3:15 - Boylesports Extra Places Daily Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f
I have a feeling of déjà vu with Walking On Air tipped up in a similar contest last week at Newbury only to be taken out on the day. He had looked one to follow when winning on his hurdles bow there in January over two miles.
On that occasion, he scored by 13 lengths and a length from a pair of next-time winners who are now rated 122 and 114 respectively, making Walking On Air’s opening mark of 127 look lenient by comparison.
He couldn’t cope with Grade 1 company after a break at Aintree, but that was a huge ask after an interrupted preparation on just his second hurdles start and shouldn’t count against him. His lack of experience remains a slight concern, but this is a realistic assignment, and he has been handed a good opportunity (again).
1:45 Close Brothers Henry VIII Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 119y
Jonbon shouldn’t be beaten here if he’s to maintain his lofty reputation, but I’m hoping Boothill will progress again from his impressive Ascot handicap win, just to see the favourite stretched to some degree, as we’d all like to see take place in a Grade 1 contest.
2:20 Betfair Daily Rewards Handicap Hurdle 1m 7f 216y
The most intriguing angle in here is that Martator makes his debut for Venetia Williams after a break having had wind surgery.
Williams has a particularly good recent record with such horses, albeit most of her winners coming off a layoff or breathing operation have been handicap chasers, most recently Laskalin at Ludlow on Wednesday.
Last season’s Grade 3 winners Cloudy Glen and Commodore also followed a similar path to success, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t work just as well for hurdlers.
2:55 Betfair Tingle Creek Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 119y
The bone condition blamed for Shishkin’s shock flop in the Champion Chase seems to be behind him based on the positive noises coming out of Seven Barrows, and he really should be too good for his rivals in the Tingle Creek if that’s the case, for all he hardly represents ideal betting material.
I’ll be happy to see him back to his best without any investment (other than a Tote Ten To Follow perm, of course).
3:30 Cavani Menswear London National Handicap Chase 3m 4f 166y
Nothing looks massively appealing in the London National, with favourite Revel Hill solid but short enough in the betting.
I thought Deise Aba would run well, as he tends to at Sandown, and better ground might help last year’s third Éclair de Guye last home better from a reduced and potentially lenient handicap mark.
He came to the last 12 months ago looking sure to win but propped and was headed after landing.
He has finished weakly before but should go well here given his record fresh. You may want to close your eyes in the closing stages if you back him, however.
Dr Kananga 2:05 Aintree - 1pt e/w @ 12/1 generally
Riders Onthe Storm 2:40 Aintree - 2pts win @ 11/4
Walking On Air 3:15 Aintree - 2pts win @ 100/30 generally