FER­GU­SON

Our top tipster runs his eye over the card at Ain­tree

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

GRAND NA­TIONAL

Shut­the­front­door is likely to be Tony McCoy’s last ride in the Grand Na­tional and last sea­son’s Ir­ish Grand Na­tional win­ner has to be on the short­list. Im­pres­sive on his sole start this term, the eight-year-old looks tight enough around the 10-1 mark, how­ever, and he is likely to be over-bet on the day, due to the ‘AP’ fac­tor. That aside, the horse looks the ideal type for the race and he won on the Mild­may course on his chas­ing de­but at the start of last sea­son.

Chel­tenham win­ner The Druids Nephew is cer­tainly po­ten­tially well treated and has the class to win a Grand Na­tional, though the slight con­cern with him be­ing he does tend to hit the odd fence. If Barry Ger­aghty is booked again, that will be a huge pos­i­tive, as he gets on well with Neil Mulholland’s eight-year-old.

Last year’s third Balt­hazar King is just 3lb higher but ar­rives here much fresher, with con­nec­tions opt­ing to sac­ri­fice an­other crack at the Cross Coun­try race in or­der to get their 11-year-old to Ain­tree in the best pos­si­ble or­der. Philip Hobbs’ run­ner looks sure to run an­other big race, granted luck in run­ning.

Rocky Creek is the other to­wards the head of the mar­ket, thanks to his im­pres­sive suc­cess in the Bet­bright Chase in Fe­bru­ary, a race in which for­mer Scot­tish Na­tional win­ner Godsmejudge fin­ished fifth for Alan King.

Rocky Creek fin­ished fifth last year and will be back for an­other crack, while the lat­ter looks nicely weighted.You can read more about the Grand Na­tional else­where in this month’s edi­tion of Rac­ing Ahead and I will have fi­nalised my own views on the race by the time the meet­ing comes around – be sure to check out my daily col­umn on­line at www.be­tres­cue.com for my se­lec­tions on each day of the meet­ing.

THURS­DAY AN­NIVER­SARY 4YO HUR­DLE

Nicky Hen­der­son is fan­cied to get the Grand Na­tional meet­ing off to the best pos­si­ble start in the Grade 1 An­niver­sary 4-Y-O Hur­dle, a race he won in 2008 with sub­se­quent Cham­pion Hur­dler, Binoc­u­lar.

The Lam­bourn-based trainer sad­dled the first three home in the Tri­umph Hur­dle at Chel­tenham and could rely on ei­ther win­ner Peace And Co or third home Hargam is the cur­tain-raiser to the three­day fix­ture.

Peace And Co has plenty of pace and the smooth trav­eller should have lit­tle trou­ble cop­ing with the sharper track de­spite his size, though there is prob­a­bly a chance he will now be put away with next sea­son in mind.

I think it more likely that Hargam will be the sta­ble’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, given he showed his lik­ing for a speed track when win­ning im­pres­sively at Mus­sel­burgh on his penul­ti­mate start. Cru­cially, the grey proved on that oc­ca­sion that he han­dles de­cent ground and, in fact, con­nec­tions have been adamant since he made his de­but at Chel­tenham in Novem­ber that he will im­prove sig­nif­i­cantly once rac­ing on a quicker sur­face.

Tri­umph fourth and sixth, Dev­il­ment and Bel­tor, should also be suited by this speed test and should also be con­sid­ered. The for­mer will ap­pre­ci­ate the prob­a­ble ground, while Bel­tor looked par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive when win­ning the Ado­nis at Kempton.

Both could close the gap, but I would be sur­prised if Hen­der­son wasn’t suc­cess­ful with his cho­sen run­ner, un­less of course lead­ing French ju­ve­nile Bonito Du Ber­lais was con­sid­ered for the race, which would, ad­mit­tedly, seem highly un­likely. The Trem­polino geld­ing re­turned to ac­tion re­cently when once again saun­ter­ing home at Au­teuil and the Prix Alain Du Breil is sure to be his main ob­jec­tive in early June. I felt I had to give him a men­tion, how­ever, in the slim chance that he is given an en­try.

BET­FRED BOWL

The Bet­fred Bowl is the sec­ond race on the card and, un­less we have a re­ally wet Easter, it would seem un­likely that Mark Brad­stock would risk his frag­ile Gold Cup win­ner Coney­gree, so it seems likely that Holy­well will rep­re­sent the Gold Cup form.

A win­ner at both Chel­tenham and Ain--

tree last year, he clearly thrives dur­ing the spring and will ap­pre­ci­ate the sounder sur­face. He ran a solid race when fourth at Chel­tenham and, if he re­turns in the same form that saw him beat Don Cos­sack by 10 lengths in the Mild­may Novices’ Chase 12 months ago, he ap­peals as the most likely win­ner.

Talk­ing of horses run­ning at both Chel­tenham and Ain­tree, it could well be that more train­ers are in­clined to send their fes­ti­val run­ners to Liver­pool this sea­son, given there is a four-week gap be­tween the two meet­ings.

One place ahead of Holy­well in the Gold Cup was Road To Riches and he would war­rant ut­most re­spect if be­ing sent over by Noel Meade. Punchestown would be the ob­vi­ous meet­ing to spring to mind for the eight-year-old, but he rel­ishes good ground and did run at Ain­tree as a novice hur­dler, al­beit dis­ap­point­ingly when eighth of nine be­hind At Fish­ers Cross in the Sefton.We also know Gig­gin­stown like to have a run­ner in the race, with First Lieu­tenant rep­re­sent­ing the lead­ing own­ers in re­cent years, win­ning the race in 2013.

Run­ner-up two years ago Meno­rah could be an­other to fig­ure here, with Philip Hobbs de­lib­er­ately skip­ping Chel­tenham with this race in mind.He did blow out in the con­test last sea­son and he can throw the odd bad run in, but he won the 2m4f novice chase here the year be­fore and he was in fine form at the start of this cam­paign.

The win­ner of the Char­lie Hall, the 10year-old ran well when run­ner-up on ground softer than ideal in the Bet­fair Chase and we know he goes both well fresh and at this fix­ture.

AIN­TREE HUR­DLE

The big races just keep com­ing on the open­ing day and next up is the Ain­tree Hur­dle, in which last year’s win­ner The New One is likely to try and bounce back from his slightly dis­ap­point­ing fifth in the Cham­pion Hur­dle.

Nigel Twis­ton-Davies’ sta­ble-star never seemed com­pletely com­fort­able try­ing to keep tabs on Faugh­een, fail­ing to jump straight and hang­ing at times. The sev­enyear-old fin­ished run­ner-up in this race as a novice be­fore win­ning nar­rowly last year and, as­sum­ing noth­ing comes to light while this fea­ture goes to press, will prob­a­bly still be the top-rated horse on show here (with Faugh­een an un­likely starter).

The one horse I would love to see in the race (and I’m pretty sure I wrote the same thing in last year’s Ain­tree pre­view) is An­nie Power who was set to storm away from her ri­vals in the Mares’ Hur­dle at Chel­tenham, be­fore tak­ing off way too early at the fi­nal flight.

Wil­lie Mullins’ top-class daugh­ter of Shi­rocco was mak­ing her be­lated sea­sonal reap­pear­ance at the fes­ti­val, so it had been as­sumed that she would be con­sid­ered for Ain­tree ahead of the Punchestown Fes­ti­val at the end of the month.

Given the heavy fall she took, Mullins may now de­cide to give his seven-year-old a lit­tle longer to re­cover, but if she were to take her chance, she would be strongly fan­cied to make amends.

Last in the Cham­pion Hur­dle Van­i­teux could go well, with the ex­tra half-mile on good ground sure to help, though I would rather have seen him miss the fes­ti­val and be ar­riv­ing here fresh. He has plenty of ground to make up with The New One, who might well have been be­low-par in the Cham­pion.

Pre­sum­ably de­throned Cham­pion Jezki will wait for Punchestown, but he has won over 2m4f (last sea­son’s Hat­ton’s Grace Hur­dle) and Jessie Har­ring­ton’s seven-yearold is an­other who I sus­pect would rel­ish

Shut­the­front­door

The Druids Nephew

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