Patrick Weaver previews the final day of the Grand National Festival and recommends laying Thyme Hill in the Ryanair Stayers' Hurdle...
"Thyme Hill's victories have come in slowly-run races. There is every chance that the first two home in 2019 - If The Cap Fits and Roksana - will ensure a fast gallop..."
The Randox Grand National at 17:15 doesn't appeal as a race to lay in this year.
It wouldn't occur to me to lay Cloth Cap. He ticks every box. He is nine years of age, has been placed over four miles at Cheltenham and won the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase over three miles, two in November. That's one of the most valuable chases in the calendar bar the National.
Cloth Cap has stamina and a turn of foot and, thanks to being cleverly campaigned, gets in on 10st 8lb. No wonder he is such a short price. He should make the first four as long as he doesn't fall or get brought down.
The French-bred Burrows Saint has won the Irish Grand National and never fallen, so I would expect him to make the first four, too.
No, it's not a race to lay a short-price runner in today.
There are plenty of good lays, though, before the National gets underway.
Ballyadam may have to settle for second again
Graded races are more my comfort zone and the first one is the Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at 14:25.
My Drogo is the favourite and officially rated 2lb higher than the other 11 runners headed by Ballyadam.
Neither has run over two and a half miles before and they have quite different CVs. My Drogo has been kept to Grade 2 races, staying on strongly for his wins at Ascot and Kelso. Ballyadam has already contested four Grade 1s, winning the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in November before finishing in the money behind Appreciate It twice at Leopardstown, and again at Cheltenham last month.
Next in the betting are two that have won over today's trip. Minella Drama will again have the hood that he wore for the first time when winning a Listed Hurdle at Market Rasen last time. Dreal Deal won the first of three handicap hurdles off a rating of 84 in September and is now rated 145 after comfortably taking a Grade 2 at Punchestown in January. How's that for improvement?
Admirel, which won a Grade 2 at Warwick but was pulled up after losing a shoe at Cheltenham, might make the first three but it is hard to fancy the rest.
Usually, I would go for the Grade 1 winner but My Drogo will be a tough nut to crack so I suggest laying Ballyadam for half the stake of the later lays.
Only Gumball's best will do to finish second to Shishkin
It is fair to say Shishkin will win the Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase at 15:00 bar a fall.
The 1/6 favourite has won all his four chases impressively, beating horses far better than the four that oppose him on this occasion.
Who, though, will finish second to him? Gumball is favourite to do so but, and it is a big but, he is so inconsistent. He was second favourite when he took on Shishkin at Kempton after Christmas and was a distant last of four. He has since beaten only two home in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. His only win over fences came at Uttoxeter in the autumn.
Contrast that with Funambule Sivola which is on an upward curve after winning handicap chases at Wetherby, Newbury, Chepstow and Ascot. He has been running in weaker company than Gumball but has been consistent, barring one poor run at Sandown in December.
Elvis Mail would have a good chance of finishing second if ridden for a place rather than going after Shishkin in the first mile. He has never fallen and finished first or second in 66 per cent of his races.
Longhouse Sale is unlikely to trouble Gumball despite being rated only 6lb lower. His wins came last summer at Stratford and Uttoxeter but has been tailed off in better company at Chepstow and Sandown.
It is likely to be a case of Shishkin first, the rest nowhere. I'm banking on Gumball not coming second.
Time to take on Thyme Hill
Thyme Hill is 9/4 favourite for the Grade 1 Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at 15:35. His strike rate of five wins from nine starts is solid but I reckon he is one to oppose.
His victories have come in slowly-run races and there is every chance that the first two home when the race was last staged in 2019 - If The Cap Fits and Roksana will ensure a fast gallop.
As layers of Thyme Hill we also have Paisley Park running for us. Emma Lavelle's nine-year-old beat Thyme Hill a neck in the Porsche Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December when Roksana was given too much to do by Harry Skelton - the mare closing at the line after being held up in last place for much of the Grade 1 race.
The first three in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock, Third Wind, Lisnagar Oscar and On The Blind Side, all take part so Thyme Hill hardly deserves to be as short as he is.
No Twist in the tale for National reserve Fagan
There is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to make build up your Betfair balance in the race immediately before the National.
Trainer Alex Hales was hoping Fagan would make the cut for the big race but his veteran chaser ended up being a reserve as he was 42nd in line and there are 40 runners in the National.
Fagan goes instead in the Betway Handicap Chase at 16:15 and I can't see him being placed.
A 14/1 shot he is a layable price for a place at around 4, but he was on the drift last night and you may not want to lay him at 4.5 or 5.
The 11-year-old won a Class 3 handicap off top weight by 10 lengths at Newbury last time. As a result, he has been put up 10lb to his highest rating since he was with Gordon Elliott three years ago. It's a big ask to be placed with such a hike.
Happygolucky, Cloudy Glen, Snow Leopardess, Top Notch, Sam Brown and Spiritofthegames all make more appeal and between them they should keep Fagan out of a place.
Get all the latest Exchange racing odds here
Lay Ballyadam to Win in the 14:25 at around 4.03/1 0.5pt
Lay Gumball to Place in the 15:00 at around 3.39/4 1pt
Lay Thyme Hill to Win in the 15:35 at around 3.613/5 1pt