Aintree Reflections

April 10th, 2016 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

There were plenty of clues for the future to be found over the three days at Aintree. Although the betting opportunities were stifled in some races by very short-priced favourites, it was wonderful for visitors to Aintree to see some of the stars that had run at Cheltenham.

Arzal looked very well and alert in the paddock before making all to win the opener on the first day. His trainer had swerved Cheltenham to run at Aintree and the plan paid off in a major way.

Ivanovich Gorbatov did not impress in the paddock. He was on edge, sweating and rather dip-backed in appearance. He is not a horse I warmed to. Apple’s Jade won by a staggering 41 lengths – unheard of in a race of this type for this age group. One has to wonder if there was a fluke about this. A literal interpretation of the form has the winner running to a mark in the mid-190s.

Cue Card looked extremely well and won accordingly. The form book shows that he had 17 lengths in hand of Djakadam, who had finished just four and a half lengths behind Don Cossack at Cheltenham. Also he won easing down.

Don Poli benefitted from a more positive ride than at Cheltenham and jumped well, although occasionally to the left. The ground may not have been as soft as he would like, but I was impressed with his attitude and expect him to land Grade 1 staying chases next season in the mud of midwinter.

In the big hurdle race My Tent Or Yours settled well following his return in the Champion Hurdle but having got to within five lengths of Annie Power at Cheltenham, on this occasion he was beaten 18 lengths. This is probably Annie Power’s optimum trip, but even so the margin of superiority just less than a month later surprised me. Nichols Canyon is unprepossessing physically and ran a little below his best, despite the ground and step up in trip.

The second day was one of pure quality, especially with the longer term in mind. It would not surprise me if we saw embryonic top-class staying chasers in action, notably in the novice hurdles.

Buveur D’Air needed every yard of the trip when getting up close home to beat Petit Mouchoir. He will be five, going on six, next season so I suspect fences beckon for him.

Native River looked as fresh as paint before the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase. Given how well he finished when second in the 4m National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham it was sound tactical thinking to make the running on him over this extended three miles. In beating Blaklion, rated on 154, and Un Temps Pour Tout, rated 159, he ran to a mark in the mid-160s. That still leaves him a few pounds adrift of the top staying chasers, but he has yet to finish out of the first three in seven starts over fences and I love the way he battled here from the front.

The classiest looker in the Doom Bar Novices’ Hurdle was Bellshill, who possibly would have won if Ruby Walsh had been able to ride. The six-year-old lost more ground than that by which he was beaten by drifting right after the last, having blundered at the penultimate flight and overjumped at the last.

The track had become very testing after a heavy shower by the time we walked into the middle of the course for the Grand National.

Conditions were not so bad at the start for the opening extended 3m handicap hurdle, won in good style by Ubak – noted favourably by my assistant Jodie in the Cheltenham Postscript for this meeting after running such a gallant race at Cheltenham.

Urban Hymn caught the eye in the paddock as a fine stamp of horse but he fell at the first. He is a fresh horse for the spring and is handicapped to win a top prize.

Flying Angel has the scope to jump a fence and progress next season. Both Jodie and I were surprised to see that he was such a big horse. Yorkhill is rangy, not quite having the depth of girth we had expected. He has abundant talent but is not a straightforward ride, racing keenly and then dossing out in front.

Douvan was the best-looking horse Jodie and I saw all week. It is not often that a horse with such ability has the looks to match, but he is an exception.

Thistlecrack does not have the physical scope or presence we had expected to see. I am not familiar with his physique but, to my eyes, he had the demeanour of a horse that may have had enough for the season. However this was not borne out by his performance, as he powered away approaching the last to win by seven lengths. Colin Tizzard plans to send him to Punchestown with a switch to fences and the Gold Cup as a possible target next season.

Moving to the Grand National Gilgamboa looked extremely well but the least imposing horse in the field was The Last Samuri, who is a smallish close-coupled horse. He became warm as well but could not have run a gamer race, battling away and still pulling clear from the third even though he had been passed by the winner Rule The World.

Of the others Morning Assembly ran far better than his ninth place suggests, travelling very smoothly until fading away from the second last when his stamina probably ran out. He is one to keep in mind for a top handicap chase over a shorter trip.

My selection on the day, once the ground turned, was Goonyella, who was the only horse apart from the winner that appeared to come home with still more to give, plugging on to finish a never-nearer fifth. Even these conditions were possibly not testing enough for him.

Had the rain not come I think The Last Samuri would have won. Mind you better ground would have brought plenty of other horses into the race, but The Last Samuri would probably have proved himself the best horse in the race at the weights on better ground.