Alex Hammond Blog: Tips for weekend's action including the Grand National at Aintree

Alex Hammond previews the Grand National
Alex Hammond previews the Grand National

Alex Hammond feels Step Back could be underestimated in Saturday's Randox Health Grand National - check out her Aintree thoughts.

It’s Aintree week – how do you approach the meeting from a betting perspective when it comes to weighing up the Cheltenham form?

The general consensus seems to be that the two festivals are slightly closer together than is sometimes the case and that will make it tough for anything that has had a hard race at Cheltenham.

I'd be inclined, where possible, to find horses that come here fresher than those that had a slog at Prestbury Park, but that doesn’t always ring true as it depends on the constitution of each individual horse.

The Betway Bowl is the day one feature on Thursday. Can Clan Des Obeaux get back to his best here?

Well, like many other fancied horse at Aintree this week, Clan Des Obeaux ran at Cheltenham (in the Gold Cup), but my previous theory will have to take a back seat here because all six runners in the Bowl ran at the Festival.

His trainer Paul Nicholls said in the week that he feels fresh and well at home, but until they are tested on the track, you never know.

Aintree should suit him better than Cheltenham did, that’s for sure, but the rain that’s been around in the week isn’t ideal. Having said that, the drop back from the extended three and a quarter mile trip at Cheltenham, to three miles at Aintree will suit perfectly and he deserves his position as Sky Bet’s 5/2 joint favourite.

Interestingly, Kemboy is the other joint favourite and he should be fresher than his rivals as he unseated his rider at the first fence in the Gold Cup, so didn’t have a hard race like some of his rivals.

I’m just sticking with Clan Des Obeaux as he's a really exciting young horse and I'm a big fan.

Clan Des Obeaux has the measure of Terrefort at Ascot
Clan Des Obeaux has the measure of Terrefort at Ascot

Warren Greatrex has chosen Thursday’s Manifesto Novices’ Chase for La Bague Au Roi, side-stepping a clash with RSA winner Topofthegame in Friday’s Mildmay Novices’ Chase. Will she get the meeting off to a flyer for favourite backers?

La Bague Au Roi fits the profile of a fresh horse that has been kept specifically for Aintree and she goes for this two mile four furlong contest in the absence of Defi Du Seuil, who misses Aintree having sustained a minor injury in his home work.

She’s 7/4 favourite with Sky Bet to win it, but I’m super keen on her to maintain her unbeaten record over fences and make it five from five over the larger obstacles.

Incidentally, now Topofthegame is odds-on for Friday’s contest, I’m happy to take him on with JLT runner-up Lostintranslation who looks to be crying out for the step up to this trip of three miles one furlong, with the Gold Cup his long term aim.

He’s 3/1 second favourite, which looks decent value to me about a horse his connections adore.

Can Tiger Roll really do the unthinkable and win back-to-back Grand Nationals?

It was interesting to hear Gordon Elliott speaking this week about his little superstar. He said he feels that if Tiger Roll wins back-to-back Nationals his achievements would eclipse those of Red Rum because of all the other races he has won, which make him so versatile.

I can see where he’s coming from, but the Grand National was a very different beast in Rummy’s day and I think comparisons are difficult to justify.

He looked spring-heeled when winning the Cross Country race at Cheltenham though and I don’t think that will have left its mark on the little horse.

He has an incredibly strong chance of winning back-to-back Grand Nationals, but unless you backed him a long time ago, I’m guessing the 7/2 with Sky Bet doesn’t really float your boat. However, the firm are paying five places, so...

Tiger Roll leads Pleasant Company over the final fence
Tiger Roll leads Pleasant Company over the final fence

Where does the each-way value lie in the great race on Saturday?

Having already backed Ms Parfois ante post, I’m now on catch-up as she misses the race with a foot abscess.

Step Back has got a cracking racing weight off his mark of 147 and we learned a long time ago not to dismiss a horse trained by Mark Bradstock that is short of experience.

He ran in eight point-to-points before going under rules and he has won three of his eight starts since joining the professional ranks, but has clearly had his training problems.

His win in last season’s bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on just his fourth start over fences looks strong, with a demolition of Rock The Kasbah off a handicap mark of 135.

Since then, he is entitled to have needed both his runs, the first after six months off and his latest after three months off. That should have just kept him ticking over and he should be cherry ripe for Saturday’s big race. He’s a 20/1 shot.

Richard Johnson is obviously keen to try and win the Grand National and he is on board the aforementioned Rock The Kasbah. He goes well fresh and comes here having had a nice break of four months since his last run. He’s also a 20/1 shot.

I backed Pleasant Company the last two years and he ran a corker to be runner-up to Tiger Roll last year. The Willie Mullins trained 11-year-old has to be on my shortlist again despite being 7lbs higher in the weights this time round. He’s another 20/1 shot.

Finally, I backed Vintage Clouds each-way in the last two runnings of the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham and he has finished third and second in that competitive handicap chase.

His owner Trevor Hemmings always targets the National and Sue Smith’s nine-year-old could run a big race on Saturday on his second start after wind surgery, running off the same mark as he did at Cheltenham. He’s 12/1 with Sky Bet.


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