Three weeks is a short span between the two major racing festivals of the Spring. Plenty of reputations earned in the cauldron of the Cheltenham Festival’s 28 races are subsequently tarnished at Aintree when the results of a hard race in Gloucestershire show themselves.
Increasingly, owners and trainers are identifying races at Aintree as stand alone targets rather than afterthoughts to the Festival, and why wouldn’t they, with significant prize money on offer and the contrasting charms of Liverpool against the Cotswolds.
However, there are plenty of clues to Aintree’s three day spectacular to be found still at Cheltenham, especially among the handicap chases that provide intense betting interest across the Festival’s four days. So in selecting your Grand National ante-post betting offers for 2020, at it pays not to ignore key races at Cheltenham.
Tiger Roll has championed the route through the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase en route to Aintree in the past two years, a race largely ignored as a Grand National Trial previously. At Evens for a third successive triumph at Cheltenham, he represents poor value, although he would join a unique group of horses winning a fifth race at the festival. Remember, this is a horse that won the JCB Triumph Hurdle in 2014! Watch and enjoy, or drop him into accumulator bets. In this most international of the Festival’s races, don’t underestimate the strength of the French contingent. 20% of the entry is trained the other side of the Channel, and Emmanuel Clayeux has targeted this race for several years, having trained horses for the late Charles Hamer, who brought sponsor Glenfarclas to the sport several years ago.
Trainers from around the West Midlands area are quite well represented in the Aintree spectacular. Nigel Twiston-Davies has five entries in the big race, headed by stable star Bristol de Mai, who will take his chance in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup first. The Gold Cup is a demanding race, so it may be best to review after March 13, but his price at between 33/1 and 66/1 is probably a reflection on his likelihood to run instead of the valuable graded race earlier in the week.
Ben Pauling is double-handed with Kildisart and Le Breuil. Le Breuil has been campaigned with the National in mind since winning the National Hunt Challenge Cup at last year’s Festival, and ran creditably in the Becher Chase at Aintree last November. He’s reasonably weighted and offers value at 25/1. He’s also in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir and the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham first.
Kildisart had an excellent Novice career last season that saw him graduate to success in a valuable handicap at the Aintree fixture. He’s yet to get his head in front this season but was beaten only 6l in the most recent renewal of the Graded Handicap at Kempton in late February, which has been a platform for assaults on the National previously. At 40/1, he represents great value. Look out for him in the Ultima or the Plate on Thursday.
Slad-based Tom George has two entries, and is no stranger to Aintree success. It was only a few years ago that St Are paraded at Andoversford shortly after his second in the National. Double Shuffle, a class act, has already had experience of Aintree, whilst Singlefarmpayment is not one to write off, even at 100/1.
However, my idea of the winner is Venetia Williams’ Aso, also entered in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. A winner of handicaps over 2m4f, it’s not unusual for horses campaigned over that shorter distance to excel over the much longer distance of the National. It would complete the rehabilitation of rider Charlie Deutsch, who endured a spell in jail for a driving offence, but has let his riding do the talking very successfully since returning to the saddle.
Spare a consideration also for leading amateur rider from Chedworth in Gloucestershire, David Maxwell. David’s Festival rides include last year’s Foxhunter runner-up Shantou Flyer and Bob And Co. Beaten 4l by Hazel Hill last year, 7/1 chance Shantou Flyer has enjoyed a perfect Cheltenham preparation with victories in an Open at Larkhill in January and a facile victory at Fakenham last month. Contrastingly, Bob And Co was pulled up when leading a Warwick Hunters Chase in January, but has subsequently regained winning ways at Bangor and Fontwell. It’s a tantalizing choice, but they both won’t run as Maxwell reports, “I’ll definitely choose the wrong one!”
Chances are whichever Maxwell opts not to ride at Cheltenham will line up for the Aintree Foxhunter instead. Mark your card for that too.