Alan Thomson, the former Racing Editor at the Daily Record, puts up five tips at Aintree on Saturday including Rocky Creek in the Grand National. View selections below.
ROCKY CREEK (4.15) looks sure to be involved in the thick of the Crabbie’s Grand National action for Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies. The 10-year-old jumped with aplomb 12 months ago, taking it up around halfway before fading into fifth spot. Nicholls has campaigned him lightly this season and Rocky Creek was most impressive when slamming Le Reve in the BetBright Chase at Kempton in February. My selection is better off at the weights with last year’s top two, Pineau De Re and Balthazar King, and slightly less aggressive tactics could pay the ultimate dividend.
Victory for Tony McCoy’s mount Shutthefrontdoor, the 2014 Boylesports Irish Grand National hero, would bring the house down, but the bookies will ensure AP’s final Grand National mount goes off at restrictive odds. That doesn’t mean Shutthefrontdoor cannot win, of course, and Jonjo O’Neill has wrapped him in cotton wool since picking off a five-runner Graduation event at Carlisle back in November. He looks dubious value at around 7-1.
Balthazar King bypassed Cheltenham this year to ensure he arrived at Aintree a fresh horse and would become the fourth successive 11-year-old winner following Pineau De Re, Auroras Encore and Neptune Collonges. Good ground is to his advantage. Nina Carberry, no stranger to the National fences, would become the first successful woman rider and she has landed a plum ride in classy First Lieutenant. He is a safe, rather than spectacular jumper and that is no bad thing around here.
Gordon Elliott was the last Ireland-based trainer to land the Aintree showpiece (Silver Birch in 2007) and he has leading prospects of repeating the feat with Cause Of Causes. Paul Carberry, who steered Bobbyjo to success in 1999, is the perfect hold-up rider for Cause Of Causes, an impressive winner from Broadway Buffalo at last month’s Cheltenham festival. Seven-year-old Cause of Causes would become the youngest Grand National winner in 75 years but he appears well treated if putting in a clear round for a stable in cracking form.
Punters searching for a couple at bigger prices could do worse than consider Nicholls’ enigmatic Mon Parrain, rejuvenated by first-time blinkers when scoring at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, and Monbeg Dude. The latter found the ground a bit too lively 12 months ago when a one-paced seventh but is 2lb lower now.
ZARKANDAR (2.30) can exact his Cheltenham revenge on Cole Harden in the Silver Cross Stayers’ Hurdle. The Nicholls-trained eight-year-old was well supported to land last month’s World Hurdle and he was still cantering when a howler two out almost put him on the deck. Zarkandar did well to rally for third spot and he has classy previous winning form on Merseyside, having landed the 2013 Aintree Hurdle from The New One and Thousand Stars. My selection finished in arrears of winner Whisper when contesting this event last April, but was probably feeling the effects that day of a hard season.
PARLOUR GAMES (1.30) can give McCoy the perfect start by proving a popular winner of the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle. The seven-year-old has adapted well to hurdles since joining John Ferguson and put down significant markers when scoring in good company at Newbury and Cheltenham, thereby earning a tilt at last month’s Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. Held up off the pace, Parlour Games made significant ground to chase home impressive winner Windsor Park. Nicholls Canyon, third at Cheltenham when sent off favourite, returns for another crack at Parlour Games and rates an obvious threat.
COURT MINSTREL (2.05) defied 11st 12lb to lift a Class 2 handicap hurdle at this fixture 12 months ago and has taken well to fences. After mopping up his first two novice chases at Newton Abbot and Cheltenham, Court Minstrel was all at sea on deep ground when floundering behind Vibrato Valtat at Sandown in December. He wasn’t disgraced when running fifth to Un De Sceaux in the Arkle Trophy but is a much better horse when encountering a sound surface on a flat track.
THE GAME CHANGER (5.10) left plenty of money in the bookmakers’ satchels when fading out of contention behind Wicklow Brave in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham but may recover losses in the One Stop Energy Handicap Hurdle. Gordon Elliott’s six-year-old, carrying the Gigginstown Stud colours, should find this company less demaning and Luke Dempsey is good value for his 5lb claim.
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