Aintree host their banner meeting this week and Tony Keenan has three for the Grand National itself along with one for the Melling Chase...
"There could some value in just looking for the obvious horse on the up, zigging when most bettors are zagging, and Pleasant Company stands out in this regard; he seems sure to win a big staying handicap sooner rather than later."
Phil Smith might throw accepted handicapping norms to the wind when framing the Grand National weights but that doesn't mean you should do the same when trying to find the winner. The market of the National is often influenced by an Aintree factor where horses proven over the fences are shorter than they might be in a standard race but frequently the winner is a one that never ran over the course.
Thus there could some value in just looking for the obvious horse on the up, zigging when most bettors are zagging, and Pleasant Company stands out in this regard; he seems sure to win a big staying handicap sooner rather than later. After failing to stay in last year's National Hunt Chase when too keen, he has been more settled and much improved for the application of the hood and looks like he has been aimed at the race after making a bleated first start of the season in the Thyestes where he was an eye-catching fourth. His prep run in the Bobbyjo was excellent considering the ground was slower than ideal and it's not difficult to foresee a situation where he is really well-backed by post time with Ruby Walsh likely to ride.
He's the main bet but Blaklion and Saint Are also appeal. Blaklion is not dissimilar to Pleasant Company being just out of his novice season. While he hasn't hit the heights his RSA Chase win suggested, his mark could be lenient for a Grade 1 winner. His second to Vieux Lion Rouge last time was a career-best on the clock and this notably sound jumper should be suited by the test.
A bet on Saint Are is a bet on the forecast which looks set to be dry between now and Saturday afternoon; I fancied him for the race last year but the soft ground ruined his chances. Given a similar preparation to last year, he ran well at Doncaster last time and while nothing like as progressive as the other two, he appeals as overpriced.
There is little point in picking lots of holes in the rest of a 40-runner handicap field as there are obviously plenty with chances, notably One For Arthur, Vieux Lion Rouge and The Young Master. I'm less keen on horses like The Last Samuri, Highland Lodge and Rogue Angel from a purely handicapping standpoint, their marks looking too high relative to their ability, allowing that they could have relish these fences.
Lieutenant to boss Melling Chase field
Outside of the feature, the Melling Chase provides one of the more interesting markets of the meeting. The Champion Chase form dominates with Fox Norton and God's Own heading the betting and they could well improve on what they showed there; Fox Norton should be suited by this step up in trip while God's Own was hindered by significant jumping errors. That said, the Champion Chase looked an ordinary renewal beforehand, Douvan excepted, and with that one not running his race it is hard to get carried away with the form with the exposed Special Tiara winning.
There is a chance the race is being overrated due to its prestigious status when the Ryanair could be stronger form and Sub Lieutenant looks the obvious one from that; there seems no logical reason he should be twice the price of Champion Chase pair when he is more proven at this trip.
He didn't get the run of things either, losing his position and having to come from rear, finishing well, so seems better than the bare form. In his last three starts, he has been beaten by Djakadam, Outlander, Sizing John and Un De Sceaux and all but Outlander would be close to evens for a race like this so [6.6] seems a big price.
Back Pleasant Company @ [20.0], Blaklion @ [16.5] and Saint Are @ [46.0] for the Grand National
Back Sub Lieutenant @ [6.6] for the Melling Chase