Paul Ferguson previews day one of the Aintree Festival with six horses to follow. Compare odds and bet
Aintree stages an outstanding card on the opening day of the Grand National meeting, kicking off with the Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle, one of four Grade 1s on the card.
Nicky Henderson took this race with Binocular back in 2008 and can repeat the trick with Rolling Star (2:00) this afternoon. The son of Smadoun was arguably a tad disappointing when only sixth in the Triumph, but he travelled strongly to the foot of the hill and he is given another chance to build on the promise he showed on debut when beating today’s main market rival Irish Saint.
John Ferguson’s Ruacana got a lot closer to Our Conor on his penultimate start than the selection did in the Triumph, but Rolling Star looks well worth another chance, given he is the same price for this race (5/2 overnight) as he was in the much stronger Triumph last time.
Surprisingly champion trainer elect Henderson doesn’t have a runner in the Betfred Bowl, which should go the way of current champion Paul Nicholls with Silviniaco Conti (2:30) who looked all set to play a hand in the finish of the Gold Cup before coming down three out.
Assuming that hasn’t left it’s mark, the improving seven-year-old ought to take a bit of stopping with flat left-handed tracks proving ideal earlier in the season, when winning the Charlie Hall, Betfair and Denman Chases. A winner at this meeting as a novice last term, he was available at Evs with both the sponsors and Hills overnight.
The Aintree Hurdle looks the race of the day with crack novice The New One taking on proven top grade performers and, with a couple of firms paying ¼ odds first 3 places, Countrywide Flame (3:05) looks the each-way play following his career best third in the Champion Hurdle.
He is officially the top-rated horse in the contest and ought to relish the step up to 2m4f. He also has sound course form to his name when runner-up to Grumeti last year and, having improved since on the Flat, he has continued his progression over hurdles.
Available at a general 4/1, it is worth noting that Paddy Power are offering a money back concession if your horse finishes runner-up to The New One and they are 9/2 about Countrywide Flame.
Of the remainder, it seems significant that Barry Geraghty has deserted dual winner Oscar Whisky in favour of Grandouet, who is the fastest horse in the race for me. He will relish the sharp track and drying ground, but does have to prove his ability to last home over this new trip.
The John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase is the first race of the meeting over the Grand National fences and Bold Addition (3:40) is fancied to maintain his 100% record in this sphere, despite his limited experience.
Formerly trained by Paul Nicholls (who still owns a share in him) he relished this sort of trip of good ground under rules when he developed in to a smart hurdler. Seen just once over fences in those days, he is two from two in hunter chases after an easy success Sandown and a defeat of Silverburn at Warwick. Conditions look ideal and, if he takes to the fences, he has a class edge over most of these. Available at 6/1 with Paddy Power last night, I suggest backing him to win rather than each-way, with the fences being one of his main opponents. The firm may well open up a ‘faller insurance’ market this morning and it will be worth checking the price in this market.
Nicholls’ Gwanako and Irish pair Warne and Battlefront are others to consider, with Tuesday’s Fairyhouse winner Tammys Hill splitting the last named pairing last time.
The fourth and final Grade 1 of the day is the Manifesto Novices’ Chase in which Captain Conan (4:50) is taken to reverse Cheltenham form with Changing Time, who stayed on much more strongly than the selection.
Nicky Henderson’s previously unbeaten novice, who already has two Grade 1s to his name this season, clearly didn’t get up the hill at the Festival but should last home over 2m4f around this much easier track.
A winner over this trip in the Scilly Isles (when not at his best), the six-year-old ran his best race on good ground at this meeting last year (runner-up to stable-mate Darlan) and his running style reminds me of Mad Max, who won this contest for the stable in 2010. He was a best price 7/4 with Boylesports last night.
The concluding Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle looks wide-open and there are several lining up that I have tipped up in my column throughout the season. The likes of Many Clouds, Easter Day and Wilton Milan have all done well for us in novice company, but there are a couple who make more appeal today and I suggest a split stake on the pair (not something I often do, but acceptable at the prices).
Firstly, Evan Williams’ well-regarded novice Lienosus (5:25) who got off the mark at the third time of asking over hurdles at Fontwell recently, having earlier finished third to Wonderful Charm in the Persian War and second to the smart Clondaw Kaempfer over an inadequate trip at Haydock.
Entered in the Grade 1 Sefton tomorrow, this makes more appeal off an opening mark of 131 and Paul Moloney’s mount is worth backing each-way with Ladbrokes, who were offering 10/1 overnight.
And, given I put him up in the Pertemps and he was trading at 28/1 with Hills last night, I can’t help but have a bit each-way on Ballybough Pat who ran far too freely last time after a break.
Earlier in the season he beat the classy African Gold at Carlisle and ran a cracker in a Pertemps qualifier at Newbury, when he looked all over the winner before tiring in the soft ground. 3m around Aintree on better ground should be just about ideal and Timmy Murphy looks an interesting jockey booking. He certainly looks capable of out-running those odds.
2:00 Aintree: Rolling Star (5/2 Skybet)
2:30 Aintree: Silviniaco Conti (Evs Hills, Betfred)
3:05 Aintree: Countrywide Flame (each-way 9/2 Paddy Power)
3:40 Aintree: Bold Addition (6/1 Paddy Power)
4:50 Aintree: Captain Conan (7/4 Stan James)
5:25 Aintree: Lienosus (each-way 10/1 Ladbrokes) and Ballybough Pat (each-way 28/1 Hills)
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Last Year’s Book Results – Leading Prospects:
- SPRINTER SACRE – Unbeaten – winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
- SIMONSIG – Winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
- CINDERS AND ASHES – 10/1 winner of Supreme Novices Hurdle
- BOBS WORTH – 9/2 winner of the RSA Chase
- MENORAH & SILVINIACO CONTI – Both Aintree Winners
- SIR DES CHAMPS – Unbeaten inc 3/1 Jewson Cheltenham Winner
- FINGAL BAY – Won 4 times inc Challow Hurdle
- RAYA STAR – 10/3 winner at Wetherby, 12/1 Ladbroke Hurdle winner, 15/2 Scottish Champion Hurdle winner
- AMBION WOOD – 14/1 EBF Final Sandown winner
- CHAMPION COURT – 6/1 G2 Dipper Novices Chase winner
- PALACE JESTER – 14/1 winner at FFos Las
- SWINCOMBE FLAME – Hat-trick winner inc Lanzarote Hurdle at 9/2
- TEAFOR THREE – 5/1 NH Cheltenham Chase winner (Manifesto Novices’ Chase)