Horse Betting: Paul Nicholl's Aintree runners
Chapoturgeon has, however, come out of that race in good form, and this 2f shorter trip is a positive too.
Exclusive to Betfair, champion trainer Paul Nicholls gives you his verdict on all his Aintree runners on Grand National Day.
Realistically, the three of us are just playing for the places here with Sprinter Sacre in the line-up. But the fences still have to be jumped and, as we have seen at this meeting already, Cheltenham can leave its mark on the best of horses - even if horses win races on the bridle at the Festival, they still take plenty out of them - so stranger things have happened. And I think we are fairly well positioned to benefit if the favourite doesn't perform, for one reason or another. Toubab's run at Cheltenham pretty much summed up my Festival - he was brought down when travelling well in the Grand Annual by Free World, a horse I used to train. But even though he was running off a mark of just 143 there, I think he has the potential to be a bit better and conditions could suit him here. I think there is plenty to come from this strong travelling horse, and hopefully a bad experience at Cheltenham hasn't left its mark.
Rock On Ruby
This looks some race but you really shouldn't fear any horse if you have the Champion Hurdler. Many people will look at his poor run at this meeting last year and be put off. And I admit that is a concern - it always is when you are attempting the Cheltenham-Aintree double with any horse. But he is much better and stronger this year and it is not as if he has been campaigned heavily. This will be just his fourth start of the season. And the simple facts are that we know he stays well and he won the Champion impressively, by 3 ¾ lengths. And who knows whether he has stopped improving? Hopefully, he hasn't and he will show that here.
I fully respect Oscar Whisky (clearly ran out of petrol in the World Hurdle) and Thousand Stars (fourth in the World Hurdle and possibly unlucky when a strong-finishing neck second to Oscar Whisky in this race last season), but I believe that Zarkandar could be the horse that Rock On Ruby has to beat today. He may have lost his unbeaten status in the Champion but no-one who watched the race could have failed to see that he was finishing like a train -- he probably would have finished second in another 100 yards -- and that 2m4f should suit him ideally. Factor in that I wasn't entirely happy with him that day -- he didn't look as well as I would have liked in the paddock -- and you have to think he is the most likely improver in this field.
And the Champion Hurdle showed that he doesn't have to progress too much to trouble the best. He is going really well at home now, much the best he has been all season, and I like his chances. In fact, I will put my neck on the line and say that I marginally (and it is very marginal) prefer him to Rock On Ruby today. Now that will get me into trouble with the Barber clan!
The handicapper has taken a real chance in dropping him 7lb since Cheltenham. Yes, he was tailed off when pulled up last time but he was still going well enough when a terrible mistake at the 12th knocked the stuffing out of him. Ruby looked after him and pulled him up soon afterwards. And it was only just over a year ago that he was beating What A Friend in the Aon, yet he now races off 141. There comes a time when you have to stop making excuses for horses and he could be well past his best (we already know that he is 11yo and clearly a shadow of his Grade 1-winning self of 2008), and easily make similar jumping errors here -- as he did at Ascot previously -- but I wouldn't be in a rush to totally dismiss him yet. Not off a mark of just 141.
I thought that he was going to give myself and David Johnson a Cheltenham Festival winner -- I own half, along with David -- jumping the last in the Foxhunter, but he couldn't quite wear down Salsify on the run-in. He has, however, come out of that race in good form, and this 2f shorter trip is a positive too. And I think he is reasonably treated off a mark of 138 as well. He hasn't enjoyed the best of luck in his two starts round here -- falling at the first in 2009 and being brought down the following year -- but I am hopeful. In fact, I think he will go very close to winning.
16:15, Aintree - The Grand National
Everyone knows that I don't have the best of records in this race, and it may be asking too much to expect 11yo Neptune Collonges to break my Grand National duck. But I am very surprised that he is trading at 50+ on Betfair. I see Giles Cross is half of that price and I can't work that out at all. He certainly looked the stronger stayer of the pair when just unable to reel in the winner by a neck at Haydock last time and we are 2lb better off here. This race has not been an afterthought for Neptune - I have targeted him at this race all season - and he has a lot going for him. He jumps and stays well (though, admittedly, he has fallen twice in his career), should find the going ideal (he goes well on the soft but I think he prefers good ground these days), is a Grade 1 winner and races off a very fair mark of 157, 2lb lower than at Haydock. You obviously need all the luck going to win this race and I am clearly not saying that he will win or even be placed, but I think he has a far better chance than his current Betfair odds imply.
The handicapper has kindly dropped him a whole 1lb after two disappointing runs and I have made no secret of the fact that he needs a breathing operation in the summer. So he doesn't appear to have a great deal going for him here. But he continues to work like a good horse at home and if he clicks, then it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest were he to win this. He may be the kind of horse who has to do everything on the bridle but, as a Group 3 winner over 1m4f on the Flat, I think he has races in him off a mark of 134 if everything goes in his favour. The track will suit but soft ground would not, so let's hope the rain stays away for him.