Sky Sports Racing presenter Alex Hammond looks ahead to the weekend's action and fancies Harry Cobden to be among the winners at Aintree.
Rain rain go away. We’ve moved on from the icy blast and now racecourses are battling excessive downpours. Before we move on to this weekend’s eclectic mix, which includes to rescheduled Fighting Fifth Hurdle from last weekend’s snow-bound Newcastle fixture, here’s one horse to note for one of the feature Christmas fixtures.
There are cliff horses and there are CLIFF horses, and Monbeg Genius is starting to fall into one of those categories for me. He was on my radar once again at Newbury last week and whilst he didn’t win the Coral Gold Cup, he put in an improved performance to finish third after pulling up in Ascot’s Sodexo Live! Gold Cup Handicap Chase last month.
However, I think it’s all been building up to a winning performance and that could come in Chepstow’s Coral Welsh Grand National on the 27th of this month. I’m not reinventing the wheel with this theory, as he’s Sky Bet’s 6/1 favourite to win at Chepstow. Looking further ahead, he’s 14/1 joint favourite for the Grand National, a race won by his trainer Jonjo O’Neill in 2010 with Don’t Push It. That has been the long-term plan, and it could be that the stars are aligning with the seven-year-old.
He needs significant ease in the ground, and he’ll certainly get that at Chepstow. Whether he will at Aintree in the spring is a different matter - Jonjo will be hoping we get another year like in 2001 when Red Marauder led home four finishers in heavy ground.
Newcastle’s loss has been Sandown’s gain, and they host the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle on Saturday. Once again Constitution Hill is the very short-priced favourite (2/9 with Sky Bet), but will he show up?
It’s almost impossible to read between the lines but trainer Nicky Henderson is putting it out there that the proximity of this race and the Christmas Hurdle could be an issue with the Fighting Fifth being run on testing ground. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him taken out. It goes without saying, that if he’s in, he’ll win. Let’s speculate though.
Shishkin, anyone? He’s around 14/1 with Sky Bet to win, but to do that he’ll have to jump off first. His last hurdle start came in the 2020 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, which he won narrowly. I could be prepared to take a chance that he will. Connections of Love Envoi will be hoping Nicky Henderson errs on the side of caution with his stable star. She is a class act and goes well fresh, so it’s not a problem that this is her seasonal debut. The ground won’t be an issue, and she receives 7lbs from her rivals thanks to the mares’ allowance. She’s 7/1 to win for trainer Harry Fry. It may be uncompetitive if Constitution Hill lines up, but it’s intriguing, nonetheless.
Jonbon’s task looks straightforward in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown. He’s Sky Bet’s 2/7 favourite. So, it could be a day for accas at Sandown. You can chuck JPR One into that category as he goes on a retrieval mission in the Betfair Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.
It was painful viewing at Cheltenham to see him make that shuddering error at the last fence which resulted in jockey Brendan Powell deploying the ejector seat. He’s going to be a different animal over fences and is 7/4 favourite to win on Saturday and 20/1 for the Arkle. A win here would give trainer Joe Tizzard a first Grade 1 since taking over the licence from his father, Colin.
Jamie Snowdon and Gavin Sheehan teamed up to win the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury last weekend with staying chase revelation Datsalrightgino, and they take JPR One on with Colonel Harry. He’s a 7/2 shot against the favourite. He needs to step up, but he gets the ground he enjoys and is an exciting prospect.
Away from Sandown, and Aintree host their Boylesports Becher Chase meeting. The feature race takes place at 2.05 and Sky Bet are paying five places instead of three. As he did at Ascot a couple of weeks ago, Harry Cobden is away from the main meeting, and instead heads to Aintree for a good book of rides (hardly a minor fixture).
He gets the leg up on The Big Breakaway for Joe Tizzard in this three and a quarter mile handicap chase over the Grand National fences. The horse is a 13/2 shot with Sky Bet, but connections will be hoping he gets further than he did on his first experience of these fences, when falling at the second in the Grand National back in April.
He made a satisfactory return to action at Wincanton and has been dropped a couple of pounds for his trouble. He was runner-up in the Welsh National last year, and I wonder if that race could be on his radar again after this. He's currently a 10/1 shot for the Chepstow race.
He faces last year’s Becher winner Ashtown Lad who is only 2lbs higher in the ratings than when successful twelve months ago. He also had a spin in the Wincanton race, pulling up in the end, but he is bound to have tightened up for that. There must be some debate about the Grand National with him, as he doesn’t seem to stay four miles plus, so this is his big day. He’s Sky Bet’s 7/2 favourite but I wonder if the wet weather is detracting from his chance of a follow up.
Percussion has an eye-catching weight for trainer Laura Morgan, and he comes here off the back of an excellent second to Gesskille in the Grand Sefton over these obstacles. He’s only been nudged up a couple of pounds for that and he has completed all three times he’s tackled these fences. He’s 9/2 second favourite.
Coko Beach could be an each-way play. Gordon Elliott’s recent Troytown winner may have top weight to carry here, but the trainer has booked Danny Gilligan to claim 5lbs off his back again. Unlike some of his rivals, he’ll relish the testing conditions that are likely to prevail at Aintree on Saturday, so I wouldn’t be against him running into one of those five places. He’s now a 9/1 shot with Sky Bet.
Another horse who will enjoy conditions is David Pipe’s Sidi Ismael. He hasn’t won for over a year, but this is his second start after a wind op, and he ran well in the West Wales National at Ffos Las back in April off the same handicap mark. At 12/1 he could also run into a place.
One more race to look at before we go and Sky Bet are offering money back as cash in the 1.30 race at Aintree, the two and a half mile handicap chase. I’m going to take a chance on War Lord here. He’s another for the Joe Tizzard/Harry Cobden combination and he comes here after a promising reappearance in the Haldon Gold Cup.
He was third behind his stablemate Elixir De Nutz, despite running from 5lbs out of the handicap. That was also his first start after a wind op, so that run should have given him some confidence.
He’s effectively 1lbs lower in the weights here and I hope he can fulfil the promise he showed as a novice. Conditions will suit, as should the step back up in trip given his staying-on performance at Exeter.
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