Tony Calvin returns with a trio of selections for the first day of Aintree including a big priced selection in the Aintree Hurdle...
"He spent the first part of this season chasing before winning on his return to hurdles in the Morebattle at Kelso last time, and that brought his form figures over the smaller obstacles to 1114191"
Tony Calvin on Cyrus Darius
The racing at Aintree on Thursday certainly wouldn't be my ideal card from a betting point of view.
Testing ground (though it is currently being called good to soft, soft in places) and a mixture of small-field condition races, a Hunters' Chase and a mares' bumper actually make it pretty unappetising at first glance, but let's get stuck in, in chronological order, and see what we dig up.
Cyrname at the top of the Manifesto
With Footpad and Petit Mouchoir no-shows in the opener at 13:45, it has become an eminently winnable Grade 1, but I can't really warm to the favourite Brain Power on this ground and at his first attempt at this trip.
Paul Nicholls' Cyrname would be my idea of the likeliest winner after a series of good efforts over 2m and 2m4f, his best effort arguably coming in defeat when a neck second to Terrefort in the Scilly Isles, but the problem for this front-runner is that there are two or three others in here who also like to go forward.
You can also make a fair case for five of the six, the possible exception being the 138-rated, 40/1 outsider Calino D'airy (though it is interesting that Henry De Bromhead is bringing this horse over and he does at least come here fresh and relatively unexposed over fences so maybe he is no forlorn hope), so it will come as no surprise that I am not playing in the race.
Shakira could improve for headgear
There doesn't look to be a shortage of pace in the juvenile hurdle at 14:20, where Nicky Henderson dominates the market with Apple's Shakira and We Have a Dream.
The former went off a ridiculously short-priced 6/5 favourite in the Triumph Hurdle and finished a soundly beaten fourth, but she has always been far too keen for her own good, and it is no surprise to her wearing a first-time hood.
Henderson is an impressive 12 from 40 when using this strategy in recent years, and it will be no shock if she improves here.
We Have A Dream missed Cheltenham as he was off-colour in the run-up to the meeting but there is little doubt that he is a major player now he is fit and well again.
He has looked very impressive in rattling up a four-timer since coming over from France, most recently when beating Act Of Valour at Musselburgh in February, and his chance is obvious.
I am struggling to see past the pair, to be honest, though Cristal Icon does interest me at a massive price. She is currently 50/1 on the Betfair Sportsbook, and bigger win-only on the exchange.
She was modest on the Flat and has a lot to find form-wise with the principals, but there is no doubting that she took a massive step forward when winning easily by 17 lengths at Cork last time.
She is a rare runner in this country for Tom Mullins, whose horses are in fair form (3 from 8 in March), and he will be hoping that the ground is as bad as the going stick suggests it could be, as it was bottomless at Cork.
I will stop short of putting her up as a bet - she could be a "social" runner as she is owned by the trainer's wife, Helen - but it wouldn't surprise me if she outran odds of 40/1+, and maybe even nicked a place.
Might Bite potentially worth taking on with Shuffle
There have been some high-profile blow-outs and shocks in the Bowl at 14:50, down the years, so I imagine plenty will be looking to oppose Might Bite after his gruelling second in the Gold Cup.
A fresh and well Might Bite could be expected to dominate this field, but Cheltenham may well have left its mark and connections were hoping for better ground than they are likely to encounter here.
He is eminently easy to swerve at around the 8/11 mark, and the question is do you leave the race alone or field against him?
The problem with backing one each-way against him is that there is a fair possibility of a non-runner in this ground and we only have the dead eight at the moment, though, of course, original place terms stand if you are a backer on the exchange.
It is a tight-knit race outside of the favourite - four horses are rated within 2lb of each other - but the one that interests me most is Double Shuffle.
He ran the race of his life when a length second to Might Bite in the King George and, if he can do it away from his beloved Kempton, then this progressive 8yo could be the one to benefit if the favourite underperforms.
But the ground is a nagging doubt - he bypassed the Gold Cup because of the conditions, though at least that means he comes here fresh - and the form of the Tom George yard is worrying.
His horses have been running poorly of late and his only winner in March was a certain Summerville Boy in the Supreme, and he has had only three winners since February. I'll pass on the race, all things considered.
Cyrus can revel in the ground
I suspect Supasundae is a very solid favourite at around the [2.14] mark in the Aintree Hurdle at 15:25, as the Stayers' Hurdle runner-up is the best horse in the race and 2m4f could well prove to be his optimum trip.
But I am going to take a flier with Cyrus Darius win and place at [30.0] and 6.0], or bigger, respectively.
He has 16lb to find with Supasundae on official figures, and is only rated superior to Izzo in here, but he hasn't had many chances to show how good he is over hurdles.
He spent the first part of this season chasing before winning on his return to hurdles in the Morebattle at Kelso last time, and that brought his form figures over the smaller obstacles to 1114191, and I am hoping the ground rides worse than the official good to soft for him (though he won at this meeting on that ground years ago).
His two-month absence is a positive, as he goes well off a break, the 2m4f trip isn't an issue and he won the Grade 2 novice hurdle by 10 lengths at this meeting in 2015. Hopefully, he can take a big step forward here.
Two fancies for the Red Rum
My eyes go all blurry when I look at a Hunters' Chase and a National Hunt Flat race, so my only other "bet" race is in the Red Rum at 16:40.
Tom George, who took this prize in 2014 with Parnsip Pete, has three decent chances in the race.
Bun Doran finished third in the race last season and has strong claims back to 2m, Baby King is a fairly-handicapped course-and-distance winner, and Noche Des Reyes has had a wind op and could come into calculations if the ground isn't too bad.
At the prices Baby King interests me most at 20/1, but that stable form is a real concern to me, and I can pass on all three.
King's Socks has an obvious chance stepping back down in trip, having travelled well for a long way over 2m5f at Cheltenham, and he strikes me as the one to beat ahead of last year's runner-up Theinval.
However, I will take two against the field in the shape of Doitforthevillage at [13.0] or bigger, and Bentelimar at [18.0] and above,
Doitforthevillage was hampered a couple of times, and made a few mistakes, when never managing to get competitive from off the pace in the Grand Annual. He still ran a creditable race to finish sixth there, and remains on a fair mark, just 4lb higher than when winning comfortably at Cheltenham in November.
He was nibbled at in the market when an 11/1 chance in this race last season, and was going really well in midfield when he clipped heels and came down after jumping the fourth-last. Hopefully, compensation awaits here.
I like a headgear stat, so I really should be put off by the fact that Charlie Longsdon is 0 from 16 in recent years when putting cheekpieces on his horses for the first time.
Odds of around 18/1 seem generous about Bentelimar, though, as I thought he ran well for a long way before getting tired over 2m4f at Kempton last time, his first start for the best part of two months.
The step down in trip looks a good move, and he is 1lb lower than when a good third to Gino Trail and Bun Doran over 2m at Cheltenham in December. If he can put in a polished round of jumping - he does hit the odd one - then he is a very big price here.
Back Cyrus Darius [30.0] win and [6.0] place, or bigger, in 15:25
Back Doitforthevillage at [13.0] or bigger in 16:40
Back Bentelimar at [18.0] or bigger in 16:40