Paul Ferguson kicks off Aintree with two selections; Gwanako in the 15.40 and Al Ferof in the 16.50. Compare odds and betAintree’s Grand National meeting kicks off today and the battle for the trainers’ championship between Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson will be an on-going sub-plot throughout the three-day fixture.
It looks as though it will be first blood to Nicholls on day one, starting in the very first race when Big Buck’s can land a fourth straight Liverpool Hurdle and, in doing so, etch his name into the National Hunt record books by winning for the 17th successive time.
Nicholls then saddles three runners in the competitive Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle, but it’s his Al Ferof (4:50) that looks the best bet on the opening day in the penultimate contest the Manifesto Novices’ Chase, a race that has been upgraded to Grade 1 status for the first time today.
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner won his first two starts over fences this term, jumping well to land graded events at Cheltenhan and Sandown.
Thrown into the deep end next time, the grey chased home Somersby and subsequent Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Finian’s Rainbow in open company in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot, after which he could manage only fourth in the Arkle at Cheltenham last month, but he wasn’t knocked about after a blunder four out put pay to any chance he had.
The step up in trip is a big positive here and, in all honesty, this doesn’t look the strongest of races for the grade. Improving mare Pepite Rose has been winning much weaker contests and, whilst high-class hurdler Menorah has the raw ability to win a race of this nature, Philip Hobbs’s seven-year-old has still to convince with his fencing.
The current champion trainer can also land the meeting’s first race over the famous Grand National fences courtesy of Gwanako (3:40) in the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase.
The nine-year-old carried a big weight to win the 2008 Topham around this track when only five and, though he’s failed to complete on his last two starts on the unique course, he is fancied to complete the hat-trick since joining the hunter chase ranks.
An impressive winner under today’s jockey at Sandown in February, he returned to the Esher track to beat just two rivals last month, but he jumped that difficult track really well on both occasions and won with any amount in hand.
Though he goes on soft ground, he wouldn’t want it bottomless, so the dry day we had yesterday and overnight should ensure that conditions are just about right.
Henderson’s best chance of getting on the scoreboard on day one will come in the Betfred Bowl, where he saddles Riverside Theatre, Burton Port and Master Of The Hall.
The former has done this column a couple of good turns this season, winning the Ascot Chase and the Ryanair at Cheltenham last time but, while he has the best form on offer and promises to improve for reverting to a flat track, he had a very hard race at the Festival so I’m prepared to watch rather than back him again today.
The Lambourn trainer saddles a couple in the concluding Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle, one of which Spirit River was my each-way selection in the Coral Cup last month. He ran well for a long way before crashing out at the last and would be capable of going close if he’s fully recovered, but this looks wide open and I’m happy to stick with just the two bets on the opening day.
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Last Year’s Tips Included 40 Leading Prospects: £499.80 profit to a level £10!
- AL FEROF won Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 10-1
- BENSALEM won Stewart Family Handicap 5-1
- BOBS WORTH won A Bartlett 15-8, 4/4 for year
- CAPTAIN CHRIS won Arkle Trophy 6-1
- FIRST LIEUTENANT won Neptune Investment 7-1
- (plus Grade 1 in Ireland 16-1)
- JAMES DE VASSY won Lanzarote Hurdle 8-1
- LONG RUN won King George 9-2, Gold Cup 7-2
- OSCAR WHISKY won Aintree Hurdle 6-1
- Peddlers Cross (Fighting Fifth Hurdle)
- Medermit (Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase)
- FINIAN’S RAINBOW (Maghull Novices’ Chase)
- WISHFULL THINKING (Manifesto Novices’ Chase)