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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 21 August, 2014

Mark Your Card: Aintree Day One

Fresh from a successful four days in the Cotswolds, Mark Hobbs is back to preview the first day of the Grand National meeting.

A racegoer sits amongst the rubbish after Aintree Ladies Day last year.
A racegoer sits amongst the rubbish after Aintree Ladies Day last year.
Image: Tim Hales/AP/Press Association Images

AINTREE’S GRAND NATIONAL meeting may not capture the public’s imagination in the same way that Cheltenham does, but it has to be said that it’s still a mouth-watering prospect for racing fans.

The general rule-of-thumb for this meeting is to oppose Cheltenham form. While occasionally you do get horses that follow up their great runs and wins with further success here, more often than not it’s a bridge too far.

This is perfectly understandable; Aintree comes a mere three weeks after the festival and it can be difficult to recover in time – especially if it was a gruelling victory.

This makes the case of Denman all the more confusing. On official ratings Denman is 19 lbs clear of the next best challenger Punchestowns. This means that on a good day for the pair the Gold Cup second should come home some 19 lengths clear. If life was that simple the 5/4 available on the Paul Nicholls star would be worth remortgaging the house for. Unfortunately, racing is never as easy as that.

The Aintree Bowl has been a graveyard for favourites, with only two obliging in the last 10 years. Imperial Commander, Kauto Star and Denman himself have all come up short in recent years after their Aintree exertions; and that must be a nagging doubt for “The Tank” tomorrow.

Denman fell two out in the 2009 renewal when battling with Madison du Berlais, but that may be explained by the fact that he was not primed for the occasion after undergoing heart surgery earlier in the season. Owner Paul Barber believes that the horse’s breathing operation could enable him to recover quickly from his last outing, and he may be 100% fit for the first time since he landed the Gold Cup in 2008. He should win well, arguably he’s one of the greatest chasers of all time after all; but the statistics in the race are a little intimidating and most of his opponents avoided Cheltenham for this.

In the Grade One three mile hurdle Big Bucks will seek to maintain his perfect record in the staying division. Last year he was far from impressive in winning a weak renewal, but it’s hard to make a case for getting him beaten. The good ground is likely to make Grand Crus’ task even more difficult, but connections are still bullish about his chances.

Gordon Elliot’s Carlito Brigante enjoyed a facile success at Cheltenham and should be competitive, but the each-way value could be in Karabak. AP McCoy’s mount was kept deliberately fresh for this, and he was shown some smart form in the past. Outside the top two the race is very open, and he is one to consider to fill the places.

The four-year-old’s hurdle appears to be at the mercy of Zarkandar. The Cheltenham factor may come into play again however, not to mention that this flatter track may not suit as well. Grandouet has an outside chance of reversing form with the favourite, having travelled with ease last time out before finding the hill a little too much for his stamina.

Nap of the Day

I want to say Denman so much. But it’s so hard to be certain bearing in mind how Gold Cup horses have performed in the past. He’s a legend, so maybe we can enjoy his run without a bet. The 4/6 on Big Bucks is probably a bit safer than Denman’s 5/4. But for something more substantial, it may be worth looking at Royal Charm at 4/1 in the Totepool Manifesto Novices Chase. Paul Nicholls’ charge goes to Aintree a fresh horse and this may give him an edge over the principals who endured tough races a few weeks ago.

Each-Way

Orsippus surprised a lot of people last year by winning a Grade One at this venue after his third in a handicap in Cheltenham, and there’s no reason why he can’t so something similar here in the final race. After enduring a torrid time on the winter ground he came back to his old form on the spring ground at Cheltenham, and pushed Bothy close for second. Neither of the pair had a chance with the well-handicapped winner, so in essence he is running as a winner here without a penalty. He likes the course, will like the good ground, and has run well off this mark. 11/1 seems slightly generous.

Thoughts for the Day

It’s prudent to look out for horses that show their best from in the spring and autumn, good ground can make all the difference to some horses. Running on bogs all winter will have seen some drop down in the weights, so don’t be surprised if there are some long priced winners.

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