EARLY POINTERS: THE GRAND NATIONAL MEETING

by The Final Flight Team

3/30/2016 12:48:59 PM


The Aintree Grand National itself is an iconic race in the National Hunt calendar. However, the meeting on the whole is often an afterthought and with the Cheltenham Festival only three weeks prior to the fixture this year that is likely to be the case once more. In this article I have highlighted a selection of horses who have notably skipped the festival or who will be better suited to Aintree. In my opinion, there is every chance that some horses will reverse the placings with their Cheltenham conquerors granted more favourable conditions. I have given the selected a Gold, Silver or Bronze rating based on the strength of the selection.   
Grant Copson, Author of ‘The Final Flight Jumps Guide’. 

MANIFESTO NOVICES' CHASE (GRADE 1) (2m4f) 
GARDE LA VICTOIRE (7-y-o) Kapgarde (FR) - Next Victory (FR) (Akarad (FR)   
Philip Hobbs’ gelding lined up for the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase last month with an unbeaten record over fences intact after victories at Uttoxeter, Cheltenham and Ludlow. He was tackling a trip beyond the minimum distance for the first time over the larger obstacles on that occasion but that seemed no concern to punters as he was sent off the well supported 4/1 co-favourite. His jumping had been highlighted as a chink in his armour and after falling at the top of the hill when still travelling well, this remains a concern.  
However, this 154 rated hurdler clearly has plenty of ability and I remain hopeful that he is a Grade 1 winner waiting to happen under this code. Assuming that he none the worse for his fall then I expect him to gain compensation at Aintree this month, with the Manifesto Novices’ Chase over two and a half miles the most likely target. Although he is unbeaten over two miles, he is extremely lightly raced over intermediate trips. I predict that he will show marked improvement when racing beyond the minimum distance, where a slightly slower early gallop will allow him to get into a nice rhythm.

SELECTION RATING: SILVER  
ANTE POST PRICE: 5/1 (PADDY POWER)

AINTREE HURDLE (GRADE 1) (2m4f) 
NICHOLS CANYON (6-y-o) Authorized (IRE) - Zam Zoom (IRE) (Dalakhani (IRE) 
Third in this year’s Champion Hurdle, I have always had the feeling that this Willie Mullins-trained gelding is best suited to races over two and a half miles and in my opinion, the Aintree Hurdle should have been his aim since the beginning of the season. Rumour has it that his Champion Hurdle conqueror Annie Power is also being aimed here and she clearly poses a huge threat to this multiple Grade 1-winning hurdler if taking up her engagement.  
As a winner over course and distance last year when winning the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, Nichols Canyon is yet to fulfil his maximum potential in open company and if he is given an enterprising ride from the front (similar to when beating Faugheen on his seasonal reappearance), he can give the superstar mare something to think about. His jumping is a real asset and I have absolutely no concerns about his stamina which is a big positive when trying to make all in this type of contest. The tenacity that he showed to see off the attentions of Identity Thief at Leopardstown over Christmas was impressive and a willing attitude can often count for more than raw ability. His battling qualities are likely to be tested when he turns into the straight as a sitting duck but he has the courage and knowhow to grind it out and I feel he can land a decisive victory here before he is tested over a longer trip at Punchestown.     
SELECTION RATING: BRONZE 
ANTE POST PRICE: 9/2 (WILLIAM HILL)

HANDICAP HURDLE (GRADE 3) (2m4f) 
MA DU FOU (6-y-o) Le Fou (IRE) - Belle Du Ma (FR) (Zamindar (USA) 
This Warren Greatrex-trained gelding has made a good impression this season, completing the hattrick in a Listed event at Huntingdon in February. Almost immediately after his latest victory Greatrex made it clear that Cheltenham was unlikely to be on his agenda this season and after speaking to him since, he stated that a handicap hurdle at Aintree was very much his spring target. He shed his maiden tag over timber at Ffos Las back in November when scoring by a cosy six lengths on extremely testing ground. That form couldn’t have worked out better with the runner-up subsequently landing the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and based on his achievements this season, Ma Du Fou looks nicely treated off a mark of 139.  
With novice chasing firmly on his radar next term, this race is an ideal opportunity for him to gain valuable experience in a higher grade. I advise that you consider this 6-year-old as a lively contender for this contest but also he is one for the long-term notebook as a horse with scope to progress again during the 2016/2017 campaign.  
SELECTION RATING: SILVER  
ANTE POST PRICE: CURRENTLY NO PRICE 

MILDMAY NOVICES' CHASE (GRADE 1) (3m1f) 
VYTA DU ROC (7-y-o) Lion Noir - Dolce Vyta (FR) (Grand Tresor (FR))  
Since filling the runner-up spot behind subsequent 2016 World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s meeting, Vyta Du Roc has progressed into a useful novice chaser for his connections this season winning two out of four starts to date. Although I was slightly disappointed with his performance in the Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase last month, he was only beaten 10 ½ lengths in the end and his overall profile suggests that he is up to winning at the highest level over fences.  
This gorgeous grey is a thorough stayer and based on his action, one wouldn’t be too surprised if he proves to be better suited to softer ground than he is likely to face here. However, at this stage I am of the opinion that he is not ground dependant as he showed that he handles good ground when running an excellent race to finish fourth in last season’s Grade 1 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle – a race in which he would arguably have been a clear second but for a bad mistake at the last. I have him down as a classy stayer rather than one who is likely to slog out a gruelling finish and for that reason, I think the Mildmay Novices’ Chase will suit him perfectly.   
SELECTION RATING: SILVER  
ANTE POST PRICE: 5/1 (BETFAIR) 

SEFTON NOVICES' HURDLE (GRADE 1) (3m½f) 
O O SEVEN (6-y-o) Flemensfirth (USA) - Kestral Heights (IRE) (Eagle Eyed (USA))  
Nicky Henderson saddled the runner-up Vyta Du Roc in this race last year and I expect that he is likely to be represented this time around by the consistent O O Seven. After showing plenty of promise in bumpers, this son of Flemensfirth made a successful switch to the hurdling ranks with back-to-back victories at Huntingdon and Sandown before bumping into Yorkhill in the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle. He then took a significant step-up in trip to contest the Albert Bartlett Scottish Trial at Musselburgh over three miles, landing a decisive success over Gordon Elliott’s Fagan. At the time it was easy to question whether that was a strong piece of form but with the runner-up giving it a significant boost with an excellent second in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, it is fair to say that that was a decent staying novices’ hurdle.  
Henderson decided that the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle was the most suitable race for O O Seven at Cheltenham (as he did with Vyta Du Roc 12 months earlier) but after only managing a well-beaten eighth, I predict that a return to three miles is on the cards. Although most of his form is on softer ground than can be expected at Aintree, I have no concerns that he will handle the quicker conditions over this longer trip and he is capable of announcing himself as a leading staying novice hurdler in what I deem a division lacking a real star.   
SELECTION RATING: GOLD 
ANTE POST PRICE: CURRENTLY NO PRICE 

MERSEY NOVICES' HURDLE (GRADE 1) (2m4f) 
BELLSHILL (6-y-o) King´s Theatre (IRE) - Fairy Native (IRE) (Be My Native (USA)) 
After running no sort of race in last season’s Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, Bellshill progressed into one of Ireland’s leading bumper horses, getting to within two lengths of Barters Hill in the Grade 2 at Aintree before landing the Grade 1 Champion Bumper at Punchestown. He made a smooth transition to hurdles winning his first three starts before failing to deliver in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown where his jumping was particularly poor. He failed to fire in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham with the speedier test exposing his jumping technique once more and there is no doubt that many will struggle to forgive him back-to-back disappointments.  
However, based on the fact that I feel he had an off day at Leopardstown and that Cheltenham clearly doesn’t suit him (his form figures read 00), I still have faith that he can dine at the top table and prove himself as a genuine Grade 1 hurdler. A return to this intermediate trip will definitely see him in a better light as his jumping will be less pressurised and he has the ability to cause an upset. Clearly the likes of Yorkhill, Yanworth and Buveur D’Air will deserve plenty of respect if lining up here but Bellshill remains a horse with a very bright future and it is far too early to right him off at the highest level.  
SELECTION RATING: BRONZE 
ANTE POST PRICE: 25/1 (BETFAIR)  

MAGHULL NOVICES' CHASE (GRADE 1) (2m) 
ALISIER D’IRLANDE (6-y-o) Kapgarde (FR) - Isati´S (FR) (Chamberlin (FR)) 
This well-related gelding cost £300,000 as a 4-year-old at Cheltenham’s Brightwell sales in April 2014 and although he failed to win on his two starts for Philip Hobbs, he showed plenty of promise on his rules debut at Ascot. He was switched to Henry De Bromhead’s training operation in the spring of last year and he bolted up on debut, landing a Thurles maiden hurdle by a wide margin. Being a point-topoint winner, there was no surprise that his connections were keen to get on with his chasing career and after a fall on his chasing debut when still in contention, he shed his maiden tag at Naas in February in fine style. He travelled powerfully that day and although he was jumping slightly left throughout, he was electric at his obstacles. He confirmed his promise with an all-the-way victory at 
Leopardstown later that month and his comfortable 9 length success set him up nicely for a tilt at this Grade 1 contest.  
I am certain that the speed test of the Maghull Novices’ Chase will to play to this progressive 6-yearolds strengths and as he demonstrated at Leopardstown, his jumping technique is improving with every run. I was particularly impressed with the way he corrected himself when getting in too tight at one of his fences and intelligence is a must have attribute when competing at the highest level over two miles. The two mile novice chase division clearly has a star in the form of Douvan and if he turned up here he would be impossible to oppose. However, if Douvan were to swerve Aintree in favour of Punchestown, Alisier D’Irlande can take the rise in class in his stride and confirm the early hype that surrounded him. Vaniteux fell when running a good race in the Grade 1 Racing Post Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival last month and assuming that he is none the worse, he will be the hot favourite to make amends here. However that simply enhances the starting price of De Bromhead’s trailblazer and with his enthusiastic running style likely to put his rivals in trouble from an early stage, he rates as a solid alternative.  
SELECTION RATING: SILVER  
ANTE POST PRICE: 8/1 (PADDY POWER)