A fascinating start to the Grand National meeting at Aintree this afternoon and we kick off with three grade ones.
2.00 Aintree Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo)
An exciting start to the card which sees the re-match of the two market leaders in the form of ROLLING STAR and IRISH SAINT. The former got the better of the first encounter between the two at Cheltenham but comes here on the back of a disappointing effort in the Triumph after being very well backed. Irish Saint missed the festival and comes here a fresh horse with conditions likely to play to his strengths too. FLAXEN FLARE comes here on the back of a romp in the Fred Winter in first time blinkers. This is a step up in class but if he backs that effort up he certainly comes into the reckoning. Vasco Du Ronceray and Ruacana are the two that potentially may improve significantly for the better ground but the latter would need to improve to reverse the form with Flaxen Flare. Rolling star is likely to be a warm favourite but I like the chances of IRISH SAINT reversing the form.
2.30 Aintree – Betfred Bowl Chase Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
A race that largely revolves around SILVINIACO CONTI who was travelling so well when coming down three out in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. It remains a mystery whether or not he would have got up the hill. If that fall hasn’t left a mark after just twenty days he is likely to be very difficult to beat indeed on a track that really does play to his strengths. Don’t be put off by the fall at the festival as he is a superb jumper in general. The Giant Bolster will struggle to reverse the form from Newbury with the favourite and First Lieutenant comes here on the back of a solid second to Cue Card in the Ryanair but may find this tougher still despite the step up in trip being in his favour. The favourite will be very difficult to beat.
3.05 Aintree – John Smith´s Aintree Hurdle Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
For me this is the feature of day one and is a brilliant renewal. The young guns and the untapped potential against the proven performers at this level. Last year’s winner OSCAR WHISKEY ran poorly at Cheltenham in the World Hurdle and will have to be forgiven that effort to be backed here. He is a class act at two and a half miles and if he returns to his best he will be a major player. Barry Geraghty has deserted him in favour of GRANDOUET but had he come here and missed Cheltenham he would be a short priced favorite so he is overpriced. Grandouet was another to come to grief at the festival just as the taps were about to be turned on in the Champion Hurdle. He comes here with every chance and the drying ground will be in his favour. I’m not convinced however that he wants two and a half miles. He will undoubtedly travel strongly through the race and for all you Betfair players he is likely to trade short in the run whatever the outcome so there will be an opportunity to trade out.
The current market leader on the back of an impressive win in the Neptune at the festival in THE NEW ONE. He hasn’t done anything wrong to date with his only defeat coming to the equally impressive At Fishers Cross just before the festival. Sam Twiston-Davies will tell you he should have won that day too had he been more patient. Now they have found the key to him he is likely to be a potent force as he has a real turn of foot and he should be hard to beat today.COUNTRYWIDE FLAME comes here on the back of an excellent effort in the Champion Hurdle and the step up in trip is likely to help him here too as will the track. He was a real stayer on the flat and must come into the reckoning here. Zarkander has a few lengths to find with Countrywide Flame and has the addition of blinkers for the first time over hurdles (did wear them on the flat). The step up in trip has looked like it is likely to suit him for some time and he is probably overpriced at around 6/1.
Thousand Stars is likely to run his race again as he usually does and certainly adds even more depth to what is a fascinating race. I think that THE NEW ONE will maintain his progress over hurdles and will be hard to beat but I will have a saver on Zarkander.
3.40 Aintree – John Smith´s Fox Hunters´ Chase (CLASS 2) (6yo+)
Hunter Chases have never been my strong point so I will leave the Foxhunter’s over the national fences to the experts. I am reliably informed that BOLD ADDITION is strongly fancied to run a big race this afternoon.
4.15 Aintree – Matalan.co.uk Red Rum Handicap Chase Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
A devilishly difficult handicap at 4.15 but a race in which I really fancy one. I am strong on the chances of PIRES from the Tony Martin team who hacked up in a couple of handicaps earlier in the season before running a cracker in a very strong race two starts back where the Grand Annual winner Alderwood was in second. That represents strong handicap form and rather than going to the festival he had a spin on the all-weather at Dundalk where he ran well. That was surely a prep for this and he comes here race fit and unexposed over fences. He looks sure to go well and I’ve tucked in at 10/1.
4.50 Aintree – Betfred Manifesto Novices´ Chase Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
Not a betting race for me as CAPTAIN CONAN is by far the most likely winner but he is just a horse that I’m not keen on. Slightly disappointed with the turn out here in truth as there is a nice prize up for grabs. He will probably win but if was in the ring I would want to take him on bigtime.
5.25 Aintree – Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
A minefield to finish the day with 21 of them going to post over the extended three miles. The two I like the most here are EASTER DAY and ERICHT. The former is progressive over hurdles and has won 3/4. He will need to just brush up his jumping in this more competitive race but he looks to be going the right way and should be followed again this afternoon. ERICHT in theory has a tougher task than at the festival where he was a solid 5th. Gary Derwin claimed 10lbs that day so from a handicapping point of view this is harder but he gets on really well with Barry Geraghty and I think he will be really patient on him this afternoon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him coming there very strongly and played late.
I’ve backed both at 8/1 and 14/1 respectively.
A cracking first day of the National meeting. I hope you enjoy and backed plenty of winners!
I’m off to the Premier League darts at the Brighton Centre tonight which should be cracking fun!