Aintree are watering ahead of the Randox Health Grand National meeting which begins on Thursday with dry cold weather forecast for the rest of the week.
Good ground forecast at Exeter today and Tom O’Brien will be looking to get off to a flying start as he begins life as first jockey to Philip Hobbs and I hope to see a big run from Gavrocheka (2.20) in the handicap hurdle over 2m 3f. The ew selection – 11/2 with 10Bet – won at Ludlow following a 191 day break back in July and she has been off the track since disappointing at Sedgefield on ground softer than ideal in December. The mare is back down to the same mark as when scoring back in the summer and she clearly goes well fresh. Avoid De Master – blinkered for the first time – and the lightly-raced Fulgurix – first start since a wind operation – are considered the main dangers in a competitive little heat.
In the following handicap hurdle over the minimum trip, I believe the two market leaders are vulnerable and I am going to give Crooks Peak (2.50) a last chance at a course where he boasts an unbeaten record having landed his sole start here on similar ground when trained by Philip Hobbs. The ground was softer than ideal when he travelled well but found little at Newbury last time and has been dropped another 4lbs in the weights. He is something of a rarity in that he is a Dan Skelton trained runner who has been out of form this season but he is very well handicapped on his best form and today’s fast ground is what he needs. The ew recommendation is 9/2 with MansionBet.
The 3m trip is a concern for Frisson Collonges but the return to a right-hand track will suit the Skeltons’ 6-y-old who jumped right when a beaten favourite at Uttoxeter last time. He is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time this afternoon, but preference goes to the 11-y-old Muffins For Tea (3.20) who is lightly raced for one of his years. The selection – 9/2 with Boylesports – has raced just twice in his career on good ground and has a record of 12 and is 10lbs lower than his last winning mark. Any Colin Tizzard runner comes with a wealth warning given the form of the stable, but he is the best handicapped horse in the race and gets the vote.
The valuable 10f handicap at Pontefract is a cracker and all six runners hold realistic chances. Of more interest from a punting perspective is Trawlerman (3.00) in the 12f maiden for the Gosdens. The colt, who holds an entry in the Derby, lost his race from the gates at Wolverhampton last time but is bred to appreciate this stiff test of stamina on turf and he gets the vote ahead of Mark Johnston’s King Frankel. The latter has, arguably, the best form on offer having finished runner up behind Act Of Wisdom over 10f at Goodwood and that form has been franked by the winner who won his two subsequent starts. I just think Trawlerman – Evens with Boylesports – could be the stronger stayer in a decent maiden.
At Bath Villanelle (4.40) remains a maiden after 13 career starts but she has only raced twice on turf and is 3lbs lower than when runner up at Leicester back in June from a 3lbs higher mark. Tyler Saunders – who was in the saddle on that occasion – takes over in the plate for the first time since. Do note that the winner of that contest – Pleasure Garden – is now rated 24lbs higher. The ew selection is 11/2 with BetVictor 4 places.