Friday, 4 December 2015

The Aintree Factor !

It's a busy day for team Nicholls on Saturday with a total of 14 horses running up and down the country. In addition Dan Skelton has 6 runners which all makes for a fair bit of writing for the blog and a mammoth post !.

I will be going racing at my local track Aintree which has some fantastic races over the Grand National course, so there will be no blog post tomorrow but I will be back on Sunday morning.

Harry Skelton and Sam Twiston Davies both head to Sandown.

Paul Nicholls
1.40 - Unioniste has won at Aintree twice albeit not over the National fences. He ran in the National last spring and fell at the fifth. Prior to that he won a Class 2 handicap Chase at Sandown over 3m on soft off a rating of 148c. He then gave 5lb to Coneygree when beaten at Newbury in the Betfair Denman Chase. He starts this season on 158c and is said to need a strong stamina test and his campaign will be geared once more to the big one in April. He goes well fresh and this race has always been the plan so he should be ready to do himself justice but that said they probably wouldn't want to go up too much more in the weights if they were to win with the National in mind. The going should be fine, the cheek pieces are off but a first time tongue strap is deployed and the reliable Nick Schofield is in the saddle.

2.15 - Southfield Theatre ran 5 times last season winning three at Chepstow, Wincanton(Rising Stars novice chase) and Exeter. He also finished 2nd in the RSA after making a mistake at the top of the hill and suffering a nasty injury and he'd been beaten just a nose in the previous years Pertemps. He starts the season on a mark of 154c. He prefers better ground so this may go against him a little bit and he is also slightly worse off at the weights with the others has this been a handicap - though that shouldn't be too much of a problem as this will probably be a tactical affair in any event. He needed the run on his return against Coneygree recently and he should be a lot straighter now and a big run can be expected as he is another to wear a first time tongue strap.

2.45 - Qualando won the Fred Winter Hurdle at the festival beating his stable mate after keeping on strongly under today's jockey Nick Schofield. He is said to be a chaser in the making but is sticking to hurdles at present. He needs a step up in distance and he gets that here with the 2m 4f trip and he should be all the better for his return at Cheltenham. The going shouldn't be a problem although he is the youngest to line up.

3.20 - Rocky Creek was 5th in the 2014 Grand National but like so many horses he didn't fancy it next time and he came home a well beaten 17th, but the fact that he was prominent for a while has probably led the stable to running in this shorter race over the same fences. He ran well on his return at Down Royal against top opposition who had the benefit of a run. He is a very good horse on his day and could have run in last seasons Gold Cup. He has cheek pieces on for the first time in a bid to fire him up under top weight and Nick Schofield has picked him over Fago.

3.20 - Fago pulled up on his only appearance last season when he was top weight in a Chepstow handicap. An injury prevented him from returning to the track after that. First time out in 2013 he was the stables entry in the Haldon Gold Cup and he was campaigned at Graded level so they obviously think he has plenty of ability. He returned in a Listed handicap chase over 2m 3f at Wetherby on 30/10 off a rating of 145 and he ran an encouraging race to finish 2nd to Wakanda. He put in some great leaps there and he came up the straight on the bridle only to clout the last. I thought he was a little bit disappointing at Ascot next time when 5th but that could turn out to be a good race and he may have bounced a bit from his previous run after a long break. Also he had dropped down in trip to 2m 1f so he may put up an improved showing back over 2m 5f  in this with Paddy Brennan up.

2.30 - Benvolio was beaten a short head in last seasons Welsh National and that is presumably his target again. He needs soft going to show his best as he stays longer than the mother in law and this trip is probably not far enough. He has dropped 3lb since his last run and whilst he may run ok his season is geared towards another trip here at the end of the month.

1.20 - Keltus was thought to be on a good mark when going to the festival last season, having been 4th in the Fred Winter in 2014, but he didn't seem to stay the two mile four and a half furlong trip of the Listed handicap chase and he eventually fell. He was due to have a breathing operation so that may bring about some improvement and he is now back over hurdles in this Pertemps qualifier. No doubt he will return to the larger obstacles shortly.

1.55 - As De Mee Ran 7 times last season winning three including the EBF Final at Sandown by 2 lengths from stablemate Great Try. Said to have matured and strengthened up over the summer - he looks to have a bright future ahead of him. Returned at Chepstow in a Class 2 novice chase finishing 2nd to the more chase experienced Cocktails At Dawn. He was said to have needed the run so that makes it that much better and also the fact that the third placed horse Native River easily won next time out in another Class 2 novice chase. He then went to Cheltenham for the Steel Plate and Sections novices chase over two miles four and a half furlongs where he lined up having improved for his comeback run. Having jumped well but slightly right most of the way he finished a good second to More Of That who is a decent sort and he could improve further going right handed today.

1.55 - Bouvreuil was 2nd to Qualando in the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham festival and returned at Cheltenham recently when he was expected to improve for the run. He likes it as soft as possible so conditions may be a little fast for him. This is a tough starting point over fences but he must have shown something at home to bring about an entry in this grade and Nicholls has looked forward to him going chasing for a while so it will be interesting to see how he gets on this time.

2.25 - Some Plan wears a hood and a tongue strap for the first time and is another of the Brookhouse horses who have been tending to need their first run for the stable. He is a big chasing type who won 2 from 4 last season for Tom George before finishing 10th of 12 in the Supreme novices hurdle at the festival. If he does need the run then this is an above average race in which to start so he may be found wanting at the business end and is probably best watched on this occasion.

2.25 - Vincenzo Mio returned on the 8th of November having not run for 21 months after sustaining a leg injury. He is a big weighty horse who will have improved for his run at Sandown but like Some Plan he may be found wanting at the business end of this race. That said he has little mileage on the clock and he is on a decent enough mark on 129h and Harry Cobden's 7lb claim will make things easier.

3.00 - Mr Mole gained a hat-trick of wins last season and has won at Sandown previously. Two miles might be a bit sharp for him but he will like the soft going and he will have come on for his run at Cheltenham which is a track he doesn't perform his best at. Grade 1 is probably a step too far for him though but strange things can happen.

3.00 - Vibrato Valtat is one of the stable stars and a top class chaser. He was targeted at the Haldon Gold Cup which he won in fine style from Third Intention despite having to take up the running sooner than ideal and hitting the last. Although he had a breathing op the summer before last he still continues to wear a tongue tie. He kept improving last season and he's still a 6yo but that bit stronger now and more the completed article. He travels well and will probably appreciate a lead into the race and is the improver in the field. Now that Nicholls knows exactly what he has got to work with he will be cherry ripe for this and will have no trouble staying up the hill. He has won here before and has been working very well at home according to his trainer.

3.35 - Just A Par won the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown last April off a mark of 140 when staying on strongly. He returned at Cheltenham on 14/11 and he always needs a race or two to get him up to speed. His main target this season is the Grand National although I'm not sure severe hold up tactics adopted at Sandown are a recipe for success at Aintree. He was pulled up in the Becher chase last season so misses that today and I would imagine with top weight this is probably not a day to get involved.

Dan Skelton
12.30 - Great Link has been with a number of trainers over the years but he won on his only start for the stable at Market Rasen in June. He likes a bit of cut in the going and the stable think he is capable of winning more races off his handicap mark of 122c so if he ready to do himself justice he should go well although I'm not overly sure of his jockey.

1.05 - Beautiful Gem has been given time to mature hence the 565 days off before his previous run on 5th November when 10th of 16. I'm not sure she is good enough to figure here and she will have to have improved a fair bit and is one for me to look at in the paddock.

2.45 - Virgilio, a genuine sort, won two from two for the stable last season culminating in a win at Aintree over John Ferguson's Seal Lord in a Class 2 hurdle over 2m 4f on good by 6 lengths. He should have no problem with soft ground and being a conditions race he doesn't have to carry a penalty in this. There is more improvement in this horse and it wouldn't surprise me if he went close to winning this.

1.20 - Sir Mangan is a stayer who loves the mud flying. After breaking the track record and winning at Fontwell on his first start back, albeit on good ground, he then went to Cheltenham where he was only just denied when 2nd to Rons Dream in a Class 1 listed hurdle over three miles one and a half furlongs on good to soft. He's gone up another 7lbs for that and is now on a mark of 139h and he drops back down in distance. There is every chance e could improve again and it will be interesting when he resumes his chasing career.

1.55 - Willows Saviour is one of the stables core horses having won the Ladbroke hurdle a few years ago. After a while on the sidelines he returned at Warwick in a 4 runner Class 3 novices chase which he won by a neck from Venetia Williams Aso. He is a very good horse and this has been the plan since his win and two miles with cut in the ground are his ideal conditions so a bold run is expected against Bristol De Mai and As De Mee.

2.25 - Savello was purchased at the sales in September following a win for Tony Martin. He won the Grand Annual in 2014 beating Ned Buntline. He didn't really figure in last seasons Queen Mother when sixth. His ran in the Boylesports at Leopardstown when he was fourth of twenty four beaten five and three quarter lengths off a mark of 131. He runs off 139 here and will appreciate the cut in the going. If he gets a good pace to aim at he should be in the thick of things come the end.

Bets - there are plenty of opportunities above and you will need to look at each race carefully but I am going with the three below.

Fago - 0.50 points ew at 12/1 generally

Vibrato Valtat - 1 point win at 2/1 generally

Sir Mangan - 1 point win at 9/2 Bet 365

Additional Bet
Southfield Theatre - 1 point win @ 13/2 Paddy Power

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