Alan Dudman advised three ante-post winners for Cheltenham, including Pacha Du Polder each-way at 16/1 and Nichols Canyon at 8/1 for the Stayers' Hurdle. He now turns to Aintree, and looks at day one of the Grand National meeting.....
"Empire Of Dirt didn't run to his rating of 166 at Cheltenham, but the trip accounted for that. He's a fast-improving horse who has also scored on good ground in the past. Back up to a suitable trip will see him in a better light."
It was supposed to be the season for the juvenile jewels of rookie trainer Joseph O'Brien. Having inherited triple-digit Flat performers Housesofparliament, Landofhopeandglory and Sword Fighter from his father, big things were expected in these ranks from the illustrious trio - but the tour de force that is Defi Du Seuil proved that the best laid out plans of men and horses can go awry. For O'Brien anyway - not for Philip Hobbs.
Hobbs' star juvenile was breathtaking in the Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle - landing the Friday event by a healthy five lengths, and Defi Du Seuil is the 4/9 favourite on the ante-post Sportsbook market to score again at Aintree. His claims are obvious, but there's not much point in putting up an odds-on poke who according to Timeform ratings has 6lb in hand of his fellow rivals. If you like backing at those prices, he does look plenty superior to other contenders for Liverpool.
He still has a 'p' attached to his name too - which is fairly frightening for the others. So is his TF figure of 151.
Cheltenham form can be reversed of course, history tells us that. We only need to look at last year when Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov was beaten by 41 lengths with Apple's Jade winning. The season before; All Yours showed how a flatter track and quicker ground can improve a horse in Liverpool - and All Yours was beaten in the Fred Winter.
The Triumph-placed horses in the ante-post market are Mega Fortune 10/1, Bapaume 14/1, Ex Patriot 16/1 and Landofhopeandglory 16/1. The latter was the best early season Irish juvenile and also the one-time ante-post favourite for Cheltenham. He might have the fancy Flat background, but he lacked the pace in the Triumph to be considered for the speedier test for Liverpool, and that is often the case with these juveniles.
Gordon Elliott's Mega Fortune was up with the gallop for the whole way at Prestbury Park, and I admired the way he rallied to finish second. He is another potentially for a longer trip down the line, and also might prefer softer ground. I like the horse, and headgear has helped him along with a couple of cute rides, but Aintree might not be his thing.
I would be more interested in Bapaume at 14/1 on the Sportsbook, even though he has form tied-up with the main Irish contenders judged on the Spring Juvenile run from earlier in the season.
However, dealing with the Triumph run, Ruby Walsh smuggled Bapaume into the race from quite a long way back, which was a different tactic to those previously employed in his Irish races - as he usually raced handy and forced the pace. I am not too worried about the test of speed for him at Aintree, as he made up ground quite stylishly down the back straight before the hill - so much so that he traded from his Betfair SP of 12.52 to be matched in-running at 2/1 in-play. He dived and guessed at the last hurdle, but a defeat by five lengths from where he came from indicated he can improve.
Whether he will have Punchestown as his main target I don't know, but he is worth an each-way bet for me at 14/1.
Shock Fred Winter winner Flying Tiger can be backed at 10/1 ante-post for this race, and he beat Divin Bere by a neck at Cheltenham - with the latter shorter in the market at 8/1 here. The former enjoyed the bigger field and end-to-end gallop to reduce his free-going tendencies, but he looked a handicapper to me on his Adonis run. I am prepared to be totally wrong!
And a brief mention with the Adonis form; Master Blueyes is [17.0] on the Exchange and his trainer Alan King has a decent record in this Aintree contest thanks to likes of Grumeti, L'Unique and the splendid Katchit. His impressive performance at Kempton could make him a big contender for more of a test of pace - but he reportedly finished lame at Cheltenham.
This 2m4f top-level race is usually a high-class affair and it seems that owner JP McManus has all bases covered here with Buveur D'Air 11/10, Yanworth 5/2, My Tent Or Yours 10/1 and Jezki 12/1.
Yanworth's claims are obvious over this longer trip to exact his revenge on Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air, but that takes a mighty leap of faith. Yes, the steady early pace in the two-miler at the Festival was against him, and he will always be vulnerable to something with a better turn of gear (unsurprising for a Neptune runner-up), but I still think he's a bit quirky and I wasn't blown away with him during his unbeaten run prior to the Festival.
The trip has to present a question mark regards backing Buveur D'Air at such short odds. A four-and-half length victory in the Champion quite rightly makes him the 11/10 hottie here, and he's as slick a hurdler as you could find at the moment. However, I (perhaps wrongly) think he is better on soft ground, and maybe (just maybe) there was the requisite juice in the going at Prestbury Park to help. With the new trip to boot, I just cannot entertain him at that price.
In my ante-post preview for the Champion Hurdle, I plumped for Brain Power. He ended up as the market mover in the weeks leading up to the race, and became a better horse without running.
A lot went wrong at Cheltenham. He was too free in the race and ran without any cover, and for a big strong horse, he effectively blew his brains out. That's the worry with him, as you get the feeling he is somewhat of a tinderbox - ready to explode at any minute. Losing a right fore show didn't help him either - but he still traded at [4.40] in-running before emptying. Brain Power is much better than he showed there, but mentally he has to start putting it together.
In hindsight, the lack of a run prior to Cheltenham was a big negative. Racecourse gallops are fine, but Brain Power has taken a while to mature physically and in his own mind, and the break of three months after his impressive success in the big handicap at Ascot might have put him on the back foot.
With so many excuses, I want to give him one more chance. The price of 16/1 on the Sportsbook more than compensates for the doubts, but nothing at all went right at Cheltenham - he can put that right on a likely quicker surface at Aintree, which is what he wants.
Aintree favourite The New One has a staff party for this race such are his regular appearances here, and at 12/1 he will be far better suited to the 2m4f trip and a contest he has won (and fallen in) before. We know he stays, which is something My Tent Or Yours is unlikely to for this race. He ran in the 2016 renewal and was walloped by Annie Power to the tune of 18 lengths.
He'll love the good ground though, and with three placed efforts in the Champion Hurdle, he's some horse. He is [13.0] at the time of writing on the Exchange, but he won't stay, so I would offer up a back-to-lay strategy with him to earn yourself a green book.
Cue Card exorcised the pain of the Gold Cup fall in 2016 to hammer Don Poli in this race by nine lengths last season, and against the 15/8 Sportsbook price of his stablemate Native River, Cue Card's odds of 5/2 has its attractions to repeat the feat in 2017. He also hammered Djakadam in this 12 months ago, and holds a superb record at Aintree - with seconds to Don Cossack and Sprinter Sacre in past Melling Chases. He also finished second in the Mersey Novices' Hurdle - way back in 2011.
With the heartstrings being tugged, I'd love to see Cue Card do it again after his latest Cheltenham exit.
However, at a bigger price and head ruling the heart, I'll get to the point with the ante-post pick here with Empire Of Dirt at 6/1.
He looked a potential Grand National type when hacking up in the Troytown Handicap at Navan earlier this season, and bettered that with his Leopardstown Irish Gold Cup run two months ago behind subsequent Cheltenham hero Sizing John. On those two runs alone, he warrants serious interest coming from a different angle.
And we'll throw in the effort in the Ryanair - a trip that completely took him out of his comfort zone behind Un De Sceaux. He just couldn't lay up with the speed over the intermediate distance (no surprise for a potential National type). Despite struggling early and running off the bridle, he still produced a decent display.
Empire Of Dirt didn't run to his rating of 166 at Cheltenham, but the trip accounted for that. He's a fast-improving horse who has also scored on good ground in the past. Back up to a suitable trip will see him in a better light.
I still don't know what to make of the Cheltenham Gold Cup form, as Saphir Du Rheu was in contention for a long way for it to be considered a vintage race. Then there's the angle of an out-and-out stayer in Native River finishing not too far away from a horse who had been running over shorter (Sizing John).
Djakadam is 11/2 for the Aintree Bowl, and he produced his party-piece of emptying up the hill at Cheltenham once again (traded at Evens for second successive year in-running). I don't know if he wants a trip or to come down, as he does travel well through large chunks of his races, but there isn't much room for errors with his price.
Aintree Ante-Post Recommended Bets
Back Bapaume each-way @ 14/1 Sportsbook price for the Juvenile Hurdle
Back Brain Power each-way @ 16/1 Sportsbook price for the Aintree Hurdle
Back Empire Of Dirt @ 6/1 Sportsbook price for the Aintree Bowl