The first day of the Grand National Meeting was somewhat disappointing but was nothing more than a mere appetizer.  For the main course, we will look at the Grand National itself;  our own Guineas; and, of course, in the good ol’ U.S. of A., the road to the Kentucky Derby heats up on both coasts with the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on the Pro-Ride in California.


At last it is here and this year’s renewal promises to be as exciting as ever but with a betting puzzle not so hard to solve.  First we must throw out all horses set to carry 11.0st or more (25 of the last 30 winners have carried less than 11st); and concentrate on the experienced (but not too experienced) Chasers aged 9 or 10 (23 of the last 30 have gone to 9-11 yr olds).

That permits us to draw a line through the favourite My Will (Ruby Walsh rides at 11.4) well fancied sorts like Chelsea Harbour (at 11.8, carrying more weight than Balloon Assamba in full African garb); Cloudy LaneBlack Appalachi (rewarded for finishing a remote 9th last year with a rise from 10.10 to 11.10 and now having about as much chance as Ras Astor Black in a Portland By-Election).  In addition, the drying ground will deliver a double-whammy to types like Black Appalachi (11.5 and needs it bottomless), Snowy Morning (another crucified by the handicapper for a decent run last year) and Mon Morne.

Thus we reduce a huge field to manageable proportions.  Of those left with hope, Parson’s Legacy is high on the list as he has proven stamina but also high in the handicap; Cornish Sett is the one for me from the Nicholls stable despite being snubbed by Ruby as he has caught the handicap (12th last year only 6l behind Chelsea Harbour and now 14 lbs better off with that rival) and his stamina questions were answered in the Welsh National in December; Darkness must be dangerous the drier the ground gets as, although he was pulled up on soft in the Welsh National, he bounced back on good going to win a Class 2 Handicap at Newbury in February by all of 11 lengths from Church Island.

But I expect Ruby’s blushes to be saved by the pair of Rambling Minster and HIMALAYAN TRAIL (nap) who should put paid to all else.  The former has been the subject of a quiet but persistent ante-post gamble but the rain he would so much love has not come.  He is not badly ground dependent but, on the likely sound surface, preference is for HIMALAYAN TRAIL who has been laid out for this by the trainer of 2003 Grand National winner Monty’s Pass (tipped up that year in this Column when it was published in the Complete Racing Guide); won the midlands National a year ago on this type of going (so will stay longer than Aunt Pearl from Manchester) and took well to the National Fences when 5th in the Becher Chase on unsuitably heavy ground in November.  Trainer James Mangan has been very patient since only racing him over hurdles to protect his handicap rating and you can be assured that no stone has been left unturned to get him to this race as fit and fresh as is humanly possible.  Cornish Sett is a big danger!!

Elsewhere in the Aintree meeting, we must stubbornly press ahead with the theory of Cheltenham disappointments coming good here despite Day 1’s repeated failures.  Those that stand out in this regard include VOY POR USTEDES (BANKER BET) below form in the Ryanair but who now returns to the scene of his career best effort (Friday; 3:10 p.m.; GMT) in The Melling Chase where he defeated Master Minded by 18 lengths last year; PING PONG SIVOLA (Friday’s nap), beaten favourite in the Festival Plate who returns in the Topham Chase (Friday; 3:45 GMT) with form figures in her last seven races of 2112221; THREE MIRRORS, a spring specialist who has given encouragement that this year will be no different on each time at the post although never a factor in the Festival Plate (kept on all the way to the end and now stepped up to 25f), returns to the race (The Handicap Chase; 3:25 GMT) in which he finished second last year; and SEVEN IS MY NUMBER (Saturday’s nap) confidently tipped by Your Humble Scribe to win Sandown’s Imperial Cup just before the Festival but suffered a nightmare trip now re-appears in the Handicap Hurdle (Saturday; 2m; 5:00 p.m. GMT) and must be followed.


Back home in Jamaica, the 1000 Guineas is a one horse affair although 15 go to the post.  MISS RUTH (BANKER BET) was not even half-way revved up for the Thornbird Stakes but has been taken to task since and Fernando Jara called to ride.  Game Over!!  The 2,000 Guineas is not much better as Bruceontheloose and THE GUMMER have it between them and THE GUMMER (nap) confirmed his superiority over Bruce (had beaten him by 6 ½ lengths in the 2yo Stakes) when cantering over rivals in the Prince Consort and posting a six furlongs split of 1.11.1 on March 21. A week earlier, in winning the Prince Consort, Bruceontheloose’s six furlong split Was 1:12.2

RUN, do not walk, to the betting windows and invest on the Guineas Double repeatedly.  Bet until you hear a voice say “BET NO MORE!!!”.


Finally, the Road to the Roses in America gets warm with two Grade 1 races on each coast.  On the East coast, some well bred and lightly raced hopefuls line up for the WOOD MEMORIAL (Aqueduct; 9f) not the least of which is West Side Bernie from the Kelly Breen stables.  This colt is by Bernstein (a Storm Cat sire) out of the Gilded Time mare Time Honored.  He ran a big race in the Grade 3 Holy Bull staying on 3rd by 3 3/4 lengths to Saratoga Sinner but then flopped badly in the Lanes End on polytrack.  The surface is no excuse as he won a Graded Stakes on polytrack as a juvenile so he has questions to answer.  The favourite will be the Jeff Mullins’ trained I Want Revenge by Stephen Got Even (an A.P.Indy sire) out of an Argentinian dam.  He showed marked improvement on last to win the Grade 3 Gotham by over 8 lengths on the inner track (first time off butes) but this is a huge step up in Grade and he might not be the soundest of horses.

The one I like is the lightly raced IMPERIAL COUNCIL from the “Shug” Mcgaughey barn.  This one is bred to be a Kentucky Derby winner being by Empire Maker out of the Thunder Gulch mare Jaramar Rain who won US$292,000 in stakes during her racing career.  This is her first foal.  As a 2 yo he won the second of two maidens in which he started (came late, lugged in and lost by a neck on debut) being over 7f at Belmont.  His reappearance was a facile win in a Gulfstream Allowance before running second in the Gotham beaten 8 ½ lengths (broke slow; stayed on strongly) by I Want Revenge. Now it is IMPERIAL COUNCIL who wants revenge and he has been taken to task at exercise by his Hall of Fame trainer (bullet work on March 29).  I fully expect him to be closer to the pace today and turn the tables on the short-priced favourite.

The Santa Anita Derby is also a 9f race but run over a much quicker track and a synthetic one to boot.  This is a competitive race on paper but I am in love with PIONEER OF THE NILE (BANKER BET) from the Bob Baffert Stables another Empire Maker colt, he has gradually improved with racing since transferred from Bill Mott and now has won 3 Graded Stakes races on the Californian synthetics, the first of which was the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity (as a 2yo in December) where he beat I Want Revenge by a nose getting up in the very last stride over 8 ½ furlongs.  His two wins this year have come in Grade 2 81/2f races namely the R.B. Lewis (again up late to win by ½ length; I Want Revenge 1 ½ lengths third); and the San Felipe (simple task; pulled early behind slow pace; led 3 furlongs out; drew clear).  He comes from off the pace so his Beyer Numbers do not shout at you but he has been begging for this step up in trip and is very much on the upgrade.

Good Luck!



  1. pj Says:

    Congrats on The Red Skull last Saturday. He fought well and prevailed. Hope he improves further from here and goes on to bigger things.

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