Luck in running can play a major part in National Hunt racing at the best of times, but with big fields prevalent and the addition of the big Grand National fences, the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase requires that extra bit of good fortune.
And one way to stay out of any trouble during the race is to go from the front and avoid any potential fallers ahead, whilst getting a clear sight of the spruce-topped fences.
That has been a regular feature of Aintree’s 2m5f contest, set to be played out once again on Merseyside this Saturday.
Of the 12 winners of the race since it was reinstated in 2003, all of them have raced in prominent positions, within the first four or five horses in the field, while five of that dozen have led from start to finish.
There are 25 entrants in the race as it stands, and with a large field likely, getting an easy lead will be tough, but it could be key.
Ahead of the race in Liverpool, we’ve dug out five horses who could be vying for the lead in the early stages and attempting to make all.
Poole Master – 14/1
David Pipe’s horse did exactly the sort of thing we are talking about 12 months ago, both landing after the first and passing the winning post ahead of the chasing pack.
He’s done very little since, with a 33-length defeat to Soll at Newbury in February the closest he has got to a winner following his Aintree success.
That’s not necessarily off-putting, with a similar story in the four races before he landed this race 12 months ago.
He’s just 3lbs higher in the weights this time round (though could actually carry 2lbs less), and needs to prove the fire still burns bright, but with his trainer notorious for plotting these handicap good things, cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Cocktails At Dawn – 16/1
Winning this race as a novice will be a big ask with no horse completing the feat since the race was brought back into the racing calendar.
Despite this Nicky Henderson’s charge does have seven chase starts to his name, so is hardly inexperienced but must build on a below average run in the Paddy Power Gold Cup when last seen.
The form of his win at Chepstow looks excellent after he gave 8lbs and a 3¾ length beating to subsequent Worcester Novices’ Chase winner Native River.
He’s got the talent, with a couple of excellent wins in 2015, but whether others are better handicapped remains a worry.
Opening Batsman – 16/1
A switch to regular front-running tactics look to have rekindled some smart performances in Harry Fry’s charge, with his two wins in 2015 coming when he has been allowed to lead from the start.
A winner of the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton in 2013, he has worked his way back up to a similar mark after some disappointing performances at the start of the last campaign.
Dropping back to this trip should suit after a poor performance first time out, with form figures in races between 2m4f and 2m6f reading 1121201.
The big worry would be that he could one of those fabled ‘spring horses’ with just one of his seven career wins coming this side of the New Year.
Al Alfa – 16/1
Philip Hobbs has started the season in flying fashion, boasting a 22 per cent strike-rate, which easily eclipses his tally for the past four campaigns.
What’s more, when his horses aren’t winning they have still generally been running well with 57 per cent of his charges in 2015-16 finishing in the first three.
Al Alfa has done just that on all three starts since August, winning twice. He was well-beaten off a pound higher last time out, though it may be that the trip was too sharp for him.
He’s currently just outside the handicap, but with the likelihood of a featherweight on his back, could out-run his odds.
Mwaleshi – 33/1
Sue Smith sent Gansey out for this race twice in the past three years, and both times has he made the frame at Aintree.
She will be hoping for a similar story for Mwaleshi, but he will need to overcome some pretty poor form.
Beaten out of sight on his last three runs, potential backers will have to cling to the fact that Gansey had shown little in his races before making the frame in this contest.
What’s more, all three of those outings came on good ground, and with all seven of the 10-year-old’s wins coming when there was cut in the ground excuses can be made. He’s intriguing for a handler who knows how to get them ready for an attack on those fearsome fences.
The importance of not straying too far from the pace is demonstrated by the previous winners of this race.
While a couple of the quintet highlighted have to overturn some pretty shabby form, the people who train them are just the sort that can get them ready for big days like this.
Nevertheless, current form is pertinent to our selection, and AL ALFA ticks the boxes.
While he doesn’t necessarily have to lead, he is likely to be right up with the pace and can continue a fine season for Philip Hobbs.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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