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The Aintree Opening Day Sermon – Plus, Why I am no National fan… Don’t shoot.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire where the dirty air clings to your skin in a thin film.  The warmness, the itchiness, unsettling, anxiety droops slowly from all buildings, all structures, losing their integrity, slowly, watch your step my friends.

Aintree is here and the Major has decided to run through the card of each day with a notable race exception being the Grand National itself.  Regular followers might know that it is not my race but I shall clarify anyway.

It is darn difficult to find a winner in a 40 runner handicap full of Irish handicap smugglers and horses experiencing the challenging fences of the Mildmay for the first time, but this is not the trouble.  It is the safety record.  I shall not be crass and crow but I am uncomfortable with the fatality rate, which I feel is just too high .  It is about as likely as not that one of the competitors will die on Saturday, this compares to a death in approximately every 25 races in normal National Hunt racing.

Two things about this before some of you explode.  Firstly, I truly hope the changes implemented last year, in which a much safer race ensued, continue to have effect.  I am not hoping to be proven right about a bad safety record at all and I want it to be a safe (not sanitised) race.

Secondly, I recognise that my position could be reasonably criticised as hypocritical, I cannot deny the claim.  My objection is purely on quantum and not utter moral.  The positive side of racing as a sport, industry and spectacle is a very hefty ledger too.  In the sense of balance, I just feel the loss of horses in the National has been too much.

As you can see, I am wrestling with it.  This, mixed amongst many other facets of life that trouble me too, last night again was entirely restless, turning constantly, too warm or too cold, rolling from side to side, listening over and over to the Divine Comedy regarding Dantes passage through hell (worth a listen on Iplayer Radio).  As the night broke, I stared at the horizon and the edge of the sky thinned, slowly,  almost imperceptibly from black to a band of deep dark blue, I started to shake myself into order, I broke cover in the dusky morning for Pershore and first light in the old Georgian market square was pleasant, I bought fresh croissants whose warm crisp layer dented to the touch.  I surprised the good lady by presenting them with good coffee and all was well again.

For those following my twitter feed (@tdl123) – I have been in good form this week, picking 6 Southwell winners from just 11 selections.  A strike rate of more than one in two would be some result on this card, we shall endeavour.

Ready the mothership.

Aintree Thursday Tips

Now as a rule, when it comes to Cheltenham and Punchestown, I like to find good ground horses that have been laid out for these specific festivals.  This is a markedly different track to Cheltenham, it has a slight rise but is largely flat, the cornering is tighter too.  We must balance this desire for horses that have been targeted and will enjoy the course without dismissing any classy sorts that simply might outclass their rival in spite of these impediments.  Let me see…

We start with a juvenile hurdle where the favourite is one of the hard luck stories of the festival.  Who knows whether Calipto would have won but for the breaking of his gear, he certainly was travelling sweetly to that point.  There are a lot of folk thinking that Activial, for in form Harry Fry, might have the measure of Calipto but I am not sure.  Regardless, I like Fox Norton, who has distinguished himself well on these shores and in France.  A key piece of form was giving half a stone and a narrow beating to Broughton – Crucially he has been targeted to this and Nick Williams is in decent form.

The Ryanair gave Dynaste a fine opportunity to win a Grade 1 festival race but it might be that he finds this a step too far this season.  He did win on his only other visit to Aintree mind and while the Major has found him quirky, he is clearly some talent on his day.  Silviniaco Conti had an even tougher race in the Gold Cup when seemingly in with a chance at the last before fading badly to be unplaced, although some way clear of fifth.  He faded so quickly, I wondered if something was amiss but he is turned out again quickly and so it seems not.  He had the measure of Dynaste in the King George and if he is over those exerts, he will definitely be a contender as I rate him the best in the field.

That is a big if though, it was a big gruelling effort and he looked bottomed out.  I am not a First Lieutenant fan and so am left with a decision between a quirky but talented sort and a horse that gave his heart just under three weeks ago.  Not an easy choice but I go for Dynaste at 15/8 because I was very worried about the exertions of his main market rival.

The Aintree Hurdle is a testimonial for The New One if you believe the markets – Many folks feel that he was also a very unlucky horse in the Champion Hurdle although I am unconvinced, not a doubter just open-minded.  Anyway, being only 3l down at the finish anyway proves he is better than this lot and he has already served up Rock on Ruby on a plate.  Should win.  Not much fun.

The Foxhunters can go to current favourite Mossey Joe who as an eleven year old can recoup some of his enormous fee by taking this.  Boxer Georg has the assistance of Mullins who is the best amateur rider in this race.  Best because of skills, best because of experience (almost twice as many rides in the last year as any other jockey in the field) and best for strike rate (30% owing to the exceptional book of rides his father supplies!). I was initially whole heartedly into Mossey Joe, his jockey is a steadier 2 wins from 46 rides…. A saver on Boxer Georg is definitely required (20/1).

In the 4.15 I am chancing Off the Ground for Emma Lavelle.  He ran an OK race for most of the way at Cheltenham last time and I am not concerned about this shorter trip.  He likes good ground (2 from 3) and at 16/1 I give him a squeak but it is a tentative bet.

Back for a fourth Grade 1 of an excellent card and the Novice Chase.  Western Warhorse caused a stink by narrowly defeating the crowd favourite Champagne Fever.  He could go in again here but as an unpredicatble sort, I am not sure I would want to be on and I am equally uncertain that the tighter track will suit.  Oscar Whisky is a much more solid sort and providing he was not set back in his fall at Cheltenham he will be fit and not overcooked.

In the last, there are a number of likely sorts in such an open hurdle handicap.  Riverside Theatre has the class to take them on but is older, less consistent and more exposed than most, even though his chase mark is a stone higher.  Nope, Doctor Harper is the one for me, he has progressed as a hurdler and enjoys these conditions, David Pipe won this three years ago and his father had a decent record in the race too.  12/1 is available but 11/1 generally.

Good luck if you are at Aintree tomorrow, have a great day…… Courage and roll the dice.

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