Harry Fry: Bags Groove is back to his best ahead of Aintree
The Betway ambassador reviews his runners on the first day of the Grand National Festival and looks ahead to the big races, including the Betway Bowl.
We’ve known for a while that we’d be keeping some of our best horses fresh for Aintree.
We’ve got seven runners lined up over the three days and, with the exception of Hell’s Kitchen, none of them ran at Cheltenham.
Hopefully our patient plan of attack will reap the rewards.
That’s not to say that some horses that ran at Cheltenham can’t go on and win at the Grand National meeting.
But there’s no doubt that Cheltenham leaves its mark more often than not, so we’re very pleased to be going to Aintree with fresh horses.
The alarm is set for 06:00 on Thursday and we’re looking forward to a big three days of racing.
Bags Groove was back to winning ways over 2m4f at Kempton last time out and we thought we’d stick to that trip and go for the Manifesto Novices’ Chase (13.45).
Good to soft ground will be absolutely perfect for him. I think the chase course will actually provide slightly better ground than the hurdles’ track, which will suit him, and he’s been in great form since Kempton.
That race was always going to be a stepping stone for this and he looks right back to his very best at home.
Jumping has been one of his strongest assets, and over 2m4f he can go out there and really attack his fences and not worry about staying the trip.
A truly-run three miles may have just stretched him, so we’d prefer to go over 2m4f and be really positive.
The race has taken a slightly different shape with Defi Du Seuil ruled out but it still looks a very strong Grade 1.
La Bague Au Roi also skipped Cheltenham to come here and she’ll take a fair bit of beating in receipt of her 7lb weight allowance, but I’m much happier with where Bags is compared to the last time we took her on at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Sean Bowen schooled him on Tuesday and he couldn’t have been more pleased. He did a great piece of work and we’re really looking forward to the race.
His jumping is what’s won him races so far, so touch wood he puts in a good clear round again.
Misty Whisky and Whitehotchillifili line up in the Grade 2 mares’ bumper (17:15).
Both came out of the Sandown race well and, with this being a Grade 2, Misty Whisky escapes a penalty despite winning a Listed race.
Whitehotchillifili perhaps ran a little under par last time, having had a flu jab before the race, and she seems in better form this time around.
They’ve both had a nice three weeks to prepare for this and hopefully they can step up again.
You’d still just have to favour Misty Whisky, but then we said the opposite last time out and looked what happened! They’re still hard to split.
It’s a very competitive race with 22 going to post, but I wouldn’t swap my two mares for anything.
Sean obviously wasn’t going to give up the ride on Misty Whisky after winning on her at the Esher venue, so we’re very pleased to have Richard Johnson booked for Whitehotchillifili.
When you need a rider and you see that the champion jockey is available, there’s no better person to call on.
Noel Fehily rode her at Sandown and he’ll be the one giving the instructions tomorrow.
Elsewhere, it’s a strong renewal of the Betway Bowl (14.50).
Kemboy interests me most, having not got very far in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
He should be a bit fresher than Clan Des Obeaux and Bristol De Mai and could take a fair bit of beating with a clear round of jumping.
If The Cap Fits had the option of running in the Aintree Hurdle (15.25), but will instead take his chance in the Stayers’ Hurdle on Saturday.
The Aintree Hurdle has a dual Champion Hurdle winner, a former Champion Hurdle winner, alongside the second and third from this year, so we just thought the other race was a better option.
I can see Faugheen running well, stepping back in trip. He was travelling really well when coming down the hill in the Stayers’ at Cheltenham before running out of steam.
Buveur D’Air is still well clear on ratings and remains the one they all have to beat, but I certainly don’t think it’s going to be easy.
Over at Taunton
Space Oddity takes his chance in the 2m3f handicap hurdle (15.50) at Taunton. He’s been returning to form a bit and continues to get his confidence back over hurdles.
He’s a course and distance winner and the handicapper has given him a chance, so hopefully he should be competitive.
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