There’s more to Aintree than just the Grand National and from a host of top-class races there’s plenty for our team to discuss. We lead off with the Champion Hurdler.
ANNIE POWER TOO STRONG AT AINTREE
The feature race on day one of the Aintree festival was the Grade 1 Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle run over 2m4f, writes Chris Nash.
A field of just six went to post but amongst them were the first four from the Champion Hurdle twenty-three days earlier.
Annie Power had won that race by four lengths from My Tent Or Yours, with Nichols Canyon a further head behind in third. She started at odds-on to repeat the feat at Aintree and fully justified her short price with an authoritative display.
The first three were the same as at Cheltenham but the margins were completely different – she won by eighteen lengths and there was a further nine lengths back to third.
It would be impossible to believe that either My Tent Or Yours or Nichols Canyon had matched their figures from the Champion Hurdle here but it would probably be fair to assume that Annie Power might have surpassed her Cheltenham effort.
The margins between them at the line make it almost impossible to be definitive, but having run to 162 when winning at Cheltenham I have Annie Power running to 166 here, making it a career best effort.
The bare fact that she won a Grade 1 race by eighteen lengths makes this a plausible suggestion.
The second and third had recorded figures of 162 at Cheltenham but I have both running lower here with potential excuses - My Tent Or Yours (155) looked a non-stayer over this longer trip and Nichols Canyon (146) was slightly distressed post-race.
Obviously Annie Power receives the 7lb mares allowance so in terms of the “pecking order” she slots in behind Faugheen in the 2m division and Thistlecrack in the 3m division but this would rank as the leading 2m4f hurdle performance of this jumps season.
On Saturday the Grade 1 EZ Trader Mersey Novices Hurdle was run over the same 2m4f trip. The favourite for the race was Yorkhill who arrived with a rating of 156 having beaten Yanworth in the Neptune at Cheltenham.
He started as the odds-on favourite but had to work harder than that might suggest having refused to settle, idling when he should have been putting the race to bed too.
He eventually won by two and a quarter lengths from Le Prezien, with the rock solid Flying Angel a further length and a half back in third.
Flying Angel had won the Imperial Cup at Sandown and been placed in the Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham – he arrived rated 144 and looks a decent guide to the form. Framing the race around him has Yorkhill running to a figure of 149 but, given his run style through this race, I’m happy he can be rated higher than his bare figure and his post-Cheltenham rating of 156 will remain in place.
From what we saw on Saturday it is likely a bigger field, a stronger pace and a later arrival at the front of the race will see Yorkhill in a better light.
He remains unbeaten (two bumpers and four hurdle races) and is obviously a horse of great potential.
Le Prezien has a nicely progressive profile and this effort equates to another career best – he will be rated 146.
BALLYOPTIC WINS SEFTON FOR TWISTON-DAVIES
The Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle rarely has the strength in depth of the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham but the winner is usually on a par, writes Martin Greenwood.
Only the Mullins pair of Balko des Flo and Gangster ran in both races, the former doing much the better of them by finishing fourth. He was beaten nearly sixteen lengths, and I have him performing roughly the same in both races.
Another stable companion, Bellshill, fared much better and probably should have won, cruising into the race but crucially let down by his jumping over the last two flights and then idling.
This allowed Ballyoptic to maintain his unbeaten record over hurdles, regaining the lead after the runner-up’s antics and staying on very strongly with the aid of the stand rail.
Ballyoptic had won only minor races at Ffos Las and Uttoxeter previously and this represented easily his best effort.
His new rating is an up to standard 149, the same as Bellshill (from 146), the pair finishing well clear of the remainder.
The next day saw the mighty Thistlecrack maintain his 100% seasonal record by smashing inferior opponents to bits in the Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle.
Adopting a change of tactics, Thistlecrack made every yard and jumped immaculately before strolling away without coming off the bridle.
This result told us nothing new about him in terms of ability but given an injury free year he will surely take all the beating in every staying race he contests next season…..Thistlecrack is certainly a true Champion!
NICKY HENDERSON ENJOYS AINTREE WITH BUVEUR D'AIR
For the fourth time in five seasons, the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle went to a member of the Nicky Henderson team who had previously made the frame in Cheltenham’s Supreme, writes David Dickinson.
This year it was the turn of Prestbury third Buveur d’Air to stand in as a late replacement for his stable companion Altior and he battled to a hard earned success over Supreme eighth Petite Mouchoir, who unexpectedly came out best of the Willie Mullins trio with Limini disappointing.
I have raised Buveur d’Air’s rating 1lb to 153.
Every once in a while a race comes along that is impossible to assess using the usual principles of handicapping. Step forward Apple’s Jade.
In winning the meeting’s Grade 1 juvenile event, the Betfred Anniversary Hurdle, by no less than forty-one lengths (she was eased down, otherwise it would have been more) she’s set the assessors on both sides of the water, a real poser.
There is no right answer and whatever decision we come to will, no doubt, be criticised.
The remaining quintet of finishers raced to the line in competition for the places with just ten lengths separating the five of them.
It was easy to see that the Triumph winner Ivanovich Gorbatov failed to reproduce his Cheltenham running on the slower ground but what of the other four, who all went into Thursday’s race with form rateable at or very close to 140.
For instance, taking the run of Fred Winter-winner Diego du Charmil at face value (forty-six lengths behind Apple’s Jade giving her the sex allowance of 7lb) would give Apple’s Jade a rating of 179, using our usual 1lb a length in 2m races. This is clearly preposterous, good as Apple’s Jade surely is.
There were only two hurdle races on the Thursday when the track was officially slower than the chase course. It did appear to me that this race was run at such a tempo that stamina in the conditions became the only issue.
I went back to the races won by Annie Power and Apple’s Jade the year before, then won by Jezki and All Yours. The time comparison suggests that Apple’s Jade is roughly three seconds quicker than All Yours, carrying 7lb less. This would get her a figure around 153.
This is possible historically given that the outstanding juveniles of recent years are Katchit 159 and Our Conor 161.
Given the sex allowance, this would place Apple’s Jade between the two.
Happily it appears very likely that she will reappear at Punchestown, where hopefully a more sensibly run race might give us a more reliable guide.