Forced to work for a living nowadays, Jack Houghton has had to come up with profitable punting strategies that don't rely on hours of form study. Having taken us through the four days at Cheltenham, he is looking to reprise his success at Aintree...
"I was big against The New One in the Champion Hurdle and, despite this being a less competitive race, I'm still prepared to take him on here."
The three-day Grand National Festival always presents punters with dilemmas: coming at the end of a long season and so soon after Cheltenham, it's hard to judge the relative ability of competing horses who might have had very different campaigns up to this point. Is a fresher horse a better prospect than a proven horse who's had a tough season?
Properly assessing these variables can be time-consuming, but over the years I've developed a few simple strategies to quickly assess where the value lies at Aintree. First, as expertly noted by Simon Rowlands this year and previously, look for horses who have run well at Cheltenham: the market tends to over-estimate how much the effort has taken out of them. Second, look for horses who are also proven on flat tracks, ideally tight-turning left-handed tracks like Aintree.
Third, use any commercially-available speed-ratings to properly assess the first two criteria: races at Aintree may not have the same break-neck speed emphasis as Cheltenham, but it's still highly competitive, so horses who have won slowly-run races elsewhere - however impressively - are to be avoided. The market tends to over-bet these kinds of horses, so they rarely represent good value.
Those are the rules, here's my take on Thursday's card...
Injured Jockeys Fund 50th Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle
Back Guitar Pete and Fox Norton.
With eight of these having run at Cheltenham, but in different races, the first challenge is to assess the relative strength of that form. According to my figures, the Triumph Hurdle was a stronger race than the Fred Winter, and so I would value the form of Guitar Pete, Calipto and Broughton over that of Hawk High and Baradari. And of those, I see little reason why Guitar Pete, at around 8.88/1 is twice the price of Calipto (4.77/2), despite beating that horse by nearly four lengths. The reason for the disparity in odds, of course, is that Calipto's stirrup broke in the closing stages of the Triumph, so he was seen as unlucky. The market always over-adjusts for such misfortune, though, and so, of the Cheltenham contingent, I'll be backing Guitar Pete. Despite having not raced since December, I'll also be backing Fox Norton, who posted the best speed figure available in this field when winning at Doncaster last time, a track not dissimilar to Aintree.
Betfred Bowl Chase
A six-horse race, but with only four genuine contenders. Dynaste won well at the Festival, but despite having won at Aintree before, he's yet to post a really fast time on a flat track, suggesting that the undulations of Cheltenham bring out the best in him. First Lieutenant, Menorah and Silviniaco Conti - in that order - filled the first three places in this race last year, with very little between them. With that in mind and the relative odds on offer, a back of Menorah at a generous looking 13.012/1 seems the sensible bet.
Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle
Back Rock On Ruby and Grandouet.
I was big against The New One in the Champion Hurdle and, despite this being a less competitive race, I'm still prepared to take him on here. His current odds of around 1.392/5 look ridiculous to me. Examining their best hurdle form, Rock On Ruby (14.013/1) and Grandouet (17.016/1) have both posted faster speed figures than the favourite and, crucially, have gone much faster on flat tracks. If it's a slowly run race The New One might be able to dominate, but I wouldn't be prepared to take short odds-on when that is not guaranteed.
Crabbie's Supporting The Hillsborough Families Fox Hunters' Chase
I have no idea. Good luck if you have.
Silver Cross Red Rum Handicap Chase
Back Oiseau De Nuit and Gus Macrae.
Claret Cloak is the only horse in the field to have competed at Cheltenham with much credit, and would have possibly won the Grand Annual if jumping with greater aplomb. But he runs off four pounds higher here in a competitive race. At bigger prices with the best adjusted speed ratings on show - especially on flat tracks - I'm going to take a punt on the veteran Oiseau De Nuit (19.018/1) and Gus Macrae (40.039/1), who has posted fast times at both Newbury and Aintree in the past.
Pinsent Masons Manifesto Novices' Chase
Lay Oscar Whiskey in place market.
As might be expected, the Arkle form from Cheltenham was stronger than the JLT Novices', so I would expect one of Western Warhorse (3.65) and Dodging Bullets (6.611/2) to prevail. However, in a small race which might not feature a fast pace, the better option might be to oppose Oscar Whiskey in the place market. All of his competitors have posted faster speed figures and his drubbing in a slowly run Aintree Hurdle last year is not encouraging.
Dominican Republic Handicap Hurdle
Back Jetson and Any Given Day.
In a race where only Jetson (14.013/1) performed with any real credit at Cheltenham, preference is for him and Any Given Day (34.033/1), who is by far the best horse in this field on adjusted speed ratings and has shown himself able to produce his best on flat tracks.
*All odds quoted are a guide and it is recommended you take Betfair SP.