One of the oddities of the jump racing calendar is that its two big festivals, Cheltenham and Aintree, fall within a short space of one another.
Much debate over the next few days will still revolve around horses that are due to run at Liverpool and whether they will have actually ‘recovered’ in time from Prestbury Park.
Every year, some horses don’t show the same form at Aintree as they did at Cheltenham, but this can be for a variety of reasons and others will thrive between the two Festivals, sometimes a promising run at the former merely signposts an even better display on Merseyside.
Here, Sky Sports Racing’s Mike Cattermole has shortlisted 10 horses that caught his eye at the Cheltenham Festival and can be expected to go on to even better things at the Grand National Meeting.
For much of the Coral Cup, Brio Conti was cantering all over his rivals and indeed was just about the last horse to come off the bridle as they turned into the straight.
However, there were three who stayed on more effectively up the hill and he had to settle for fourth place. This much flatter track should see Brio Conti in a better light and he must hold a very sound chance in the Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle on Friday, which is also run over a furlong shorter trip than the Coral Cup.
His light campaign thus far is also in his favour.
2/6, tracked leaders, switched towards outside before 5th, pushed along 4 out, one pace when hung left between last 2, ridden and stayed on to snatch 2nd final strides, no chance with impressive winner
Bit of an obvious one this but Clan Des Obeaux, for all that he ran well in the Gold Cup, clearly didn’t stay in fifth place.
Indeed, his performance was as perfect an an example of that as you would wish to see as he travelled well throughout and was only found out late on when both Anibale Fly and Native River went past him up the hill.
He never stopped trying, though, and as long as he has had time to recover then the drop back to three miles for Thursday’s Betway Bowl will suit the King George winner admirably.
Turning for home in the Arkle, Tom George’s gelding was the only one that could match strides with Duc Des Genievres who soon left him behind when they straightened up for home.
Thereafter, Clondaw Castle was rather jelly-legged as he dropped away to fourth place. So long as that race hasn’t bottomed him, the idea to drop him in class and take on the older handicappers, in the Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase on Thursday, might be an inspired one.
A front-runner, this much sharper and flatter track is going to play to his strengths.
He looked all set to justify favouritism in the Martin Pipe until run down by Early Doors and there were some who thought his jockey had held on to him for too long. I don’t subscribe to that view and believe he was beaten by a better one on the day.
What it did prove is that he is improving quickly and this likeable chasing type has three interesting options at the meeting, the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle on Friday and the Gaskells Handicap Hurdle or Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle both on the Saturday.
Whichever Gordon Elliott and his team choose, he is sure to give a good account as he is one to follow.
This is a smart chaser who we haven’t seen the best of yet. It was not so much of a surprise when he was dropped in the deep end at the Festival but rather the choice of race, the Queen Mother Champion Chase against Altior and co, when his most recent form suggested strongly that the Ryanair that would have been a better fit.
He will get the chance to make the point when he lines up in the JLT (Melling) Chase on Friday, which looks very tough but could see him snaffling some prize money at a price.
Being pulled up at the Cheltenham Festival is not normally a recommendation for Aintree but Lough Derg Spirit remains an interesting one, even after failing to complete in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (started 12-1).
Even allowing for being knocked sideways at the seventh fence, he never looked to be in any tempo at all and he was a long way back when pulled up before the fourth last. At least he didn’t have a hard race and on the evidence of his previous and easy win at Ludlow – when he wore cheekpieces for the first time – he might be worth another chance.
He is inked in for the Betway Handicap Chase over three miles and a furlong. For me, he is overdue a crack at around three miles which ought to suit him on pedigree.
This all said, he doesn’t wear the headgear for nothing and could be a touch quirky.
Won the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle in style (following Benie Des Dieux's final-flight fall) and given that that was just her second start of the season, there should be plenty more to come.
Remember, Dan Skelton’s mare was second last year to Santini in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle over three miles and she could take on the big boys and girls this time over the same course and distance as she is a possible for Saturday’s Stayers Hurdle.
So long as the ground doesn’t dry out too much, she should give a good account as she is likely to be still improving.
It is a surprise, given his pedigree, that Us And Them has yet to race beyond an extended two miles and the Arkle always looked as though it was going to be a bit sharp for him.
Indeed it was but, in a race where admittedly several big names failed to finish, Joseph O’Brien’s gelding stuck to his task manfully and stayed on strongly behind the easy winner Duc Des Genievres. There were six in front of him after jumping three out and he managed to pass five of them for a “good” second.
Stepping up to two and a half miles in the meeting’s opening race, the Devenish Manifesto Novices’ Chase, is really going to suit him.
There’s not much not to like about this genuine grey who ran his heart out as usual in the Ultima Handicap Chase when only Beware The Bear could get past him.
That was his first start since a wind operation and it certainly seemed to help. Now he goes for the big one on Saturday where he is allowed to race off his old mark, having been raised 5lb for Cheltenham. Good ground will be perfect as it was on a similar surface that he ran so well when third in the Scottish National over four miles last season.
It would be great to see him get into a good rhythm on Saturday and give himself every chance of staying.
Verdana Blue ran a perfectly respectable race in the Champion Hurdle, especially as the ground was soft enough for her.
She is much more effective on a sound surface and with the forecast looking dry, she could get the sort of conditions that will suit her, and not necessarily some of the others, in Thursday's Aintree Hurdle.
She has tried a similar trip once before - when third in a Listed mares’ event at Cheltenham two years ago - and it is easy to imagine her switching off nicely before being produced with that trademark turn of foot.
Remember, she has beaten Buveur D'Air once already this season and represents decent each-way value in a renewal that's perhaps more open than the betting suggests.