Skeltons the team to follow on an Incredible National day

Aintree selections Saturday 13th April

Grand National day has arrived and the Irish challenge is stronger than ever accounting for 28 of the 33 runners. All three of my big race selections have travelled across the Irish Sea. However it would be folly to ignore the rest of an excellent card and trainer Dan Skelton can pick up some big prize money in his quest for a first trainers crown. We had to settle for placed efforts from our each-way bets yesterday through Jango Baie (advised 11/1), James du Berlais (advised 13/2) and Kandoo Kid (advised 11/1).

Aintree 1.20: West Balboa & Fine Margin

An easy winner for us in this same race last year, there is every reason to think WEST BALBOA can go in again at one of her favourite tracks.

She is 6lbs higher than when winning this by 5l last season, but she warmed up nicely for this race when a fast finishing sixth at Kempton over 3f shorter and on ground probably quicker than this. She showed her liking for a flat track when winning at the same London venue in the Lanzarote last season and made it 2-2 at Aintree with a very easy win in a conditions hurdle in the autumn. Given Dan Skelton’s exemplary record at readying one for a handicap hurdle it is safe to assume West Balboa will have been trained to the minute for this race.

As an alternative, FINE MARGIN looks some value. He looked well handicapped on the basis of his first start for Willie Mullins when second in the valuable Haydock handicap run in November. That track is remarkably similar to here, a sharp, left-handed 3m. Had he not disappointed at the Dublin Racing Festival, he would surely be near favourite here.

Surely something was amiss that day as he went from travelling smoothly to pulling up within a furlong. Mullins is adamant this horse wants better ground and drying conditions should bring him into the equation again.

Aintree 2.30: The King of Ryhope

The Skelton bandwagon can roll on when THE KING OF RYHOPE lines up for the 3m1f handicap chase.

Skelton has confirmed this has been the long term target and this keen racing, strong travelling type looks ready now for this sort of challenge. A winner over this trip on his only Irish point, he was also third in a Grade 2 hurdle over 3m last season. For his novice chase campaign though he had largely been raced over shorter distances.

He started well with a win over 2m3f at Chepstow, cruising to the front two out. He seemed to get bogged down on winter soft ground on his next two starts, but he caught the eye when tanking into contention in the Reynoldstown at Ascot in February. He still held every chance when blundering badly at the last, but I think he will be suited by a likely stronger gallop and the drying ground today. He remains very much at the right end of the handicap.

Aintree 4.00: Vanillier, Mr Incredible & Panda Boy

I fancy three horses who still seem well handicapped in the second half of the field for the National.

Marginal first choice would be MR INCREDIBLE who has hopefully transformed into a reliable stayer now having looked very wayward in his earlier career. He was moving nicely into contention in this race last year when Brian Hayes’ saddle slipped on jumping the Canal Turn second time and he came out the side door.

That was no fault of the horse and he has been trained with this race in mind again. He made a superb reappearance when chasing home Beauport in the Midlands National, and provided that race has brought him forward, not knocked him back he should be bang in the mix from a 5lb higher mark. He is building an excellent portfolio of races in big handicaps, having finished third in the 2023 Kim Muir and second in a Classic Chase at Warwick. Hayes has been his regular pilot and gets another chance at redemption today.

Considering his jumping was moderate last year, the finishing effort of VANILLIER in getting into second place last year was very noteworthy. This horse is all about stamina, having won the Albert Bartlett in his novice hurdle season and with another furlong, he would probably have been an emphatic winner last year.

Of course he has to cover the same distance today, but is 9lbs better off with Corach Rambler this time around. The experience he has gained over the big obstacles can hopefully bring about a slicker performance today so he does not have to gain as much ground late on. Drying ground is a positive and he has been campaigned to peak for today. He had no chance in three races between 2m and 2m5f earlier in the season, though those races might have taught him to jump quicker at pace. He was no match for I am Maximus at Fairyhouse, but the ground today will be in Vanillier’s favour and the victor that day has to prove an aptitude for the Aintree fences.

Anything that is trained by Martin Brassil has to be treated with maximum respect and PANDA BOY can take advantage of keeping in a the bottom of the weights. A very consistent sort, cheekpieces seem to have sharpened him up no end.

He was a strong finishing second to Meetingofthewaters in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown and is 11lbs better off today. He has since finished strongly for fourth in a good handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. He held every chance two out before finishing fifth in the 2023 Irish National, but the headgear and drying ground can bring about an even stronger performance today.

Aintree 5.00: Etalon

If the National is famous for thrills and spills it might just get outdone today by the 2m novice chase that follows. A frenetic early pace looks assured with Nickle Back, Matata and Hercule Du Seuil all horses who crave going from the front. This might be best left to ETALON who has been gaining experience in handicap chases ahead of this step up in grade.

A promising hurdler last season, good enough to finish fourth in the EBF Final at Sandown, he has been unbeaten in three starts over fences this term. He was particularly impressive when winning by 9l against far more experienced opponents at Sandown last time jumping fluently in the process.

Of course this is a much sterner test, but this race might set up perfectly for the progressive 7yo who I am sure will be tracking the strong gallop, not making it. Drying ground is a slight unknown, but having missed Cheltenham, Etalon should be at his peak for this contest.

Recommended bets:

1pt win – West Balboa – 1.20 Aintree – 11/4 general

0.5pts each-way – Fine Margin – 1.20 Aintree – 16/1 Bet365, Paddy Power (1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt each-way – The King of Ryhope – 2.30 Aintree – 9/2 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 4)

1pt each-way – Vanillier – 4.00 Aintree – 16/1 Betfred (1/5 odds 1st 7)

1pt each-way – Mr Incredible – 4.00 Aintree – 12/1 Betfred (1/5 odds 1st 7)

0.5pts each-way – Panda Boy – 4.00 Aintree – 14/1 Bet365 (1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt each-way – Etalon – 5.0 Aintree – 15/2 general


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