Still spending your winnings? Still reeling from the shocks? Still on cloud nine from the calls you got right? Still can’t believe Might Bite got back up?
Yes, the Cheltenham Festival is over for another year and the post Cheltenham blues are kicking in for many; but never fear as we are into Spring now and there is precious little time until The Grand National and even shorter than that until the beginning of the fine three-day Aintree Festival at one of the country’s finest courses. Now after months and months of speculation let’s look at who could be going to Merseyside on Day 1.
1.45 The Manifesto Novices’ Steeple Chase (Grade 1)
Nicky Henderson’s fantastic Cheltenham now means that he leads Paul Nicholls in the Trainers’ Championship and with enviable strength in depth, he has plenty to aim at Aintree for a title he desperately wants. Top Notch, second in the JLT Chase to Yorkhill could easily be sent here and one would fancy him to beat Politologue once again if Nicholls was to send him to Aintree as well. Waiting Patiently put in a sterling effort to beat Politologue at Haydock on soft ground in February and would also be a major player here.
For less obvious contenders, what about Road To Respect, who won the Festival Plate like the best handicapped horse of the whole week at the Festival? With some decent novice form in the past and his correct trip and good ground likely to prevail, this could be a tempting option. Baron Alco had no chance giving weight but was still a good second, and this test might suit if he’s still in good order.
2.20 The Doom Bar Anniversary 4YO Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1)
No decision has been made on whether Defi Du Seuil will head to Aintree in a bid to complete the double having won the Triumph. If he goes then it’s a tall order for his rivals to get close to him, rain or shine. There could be riches up for grabs here, especially if the Richard Johnston trained runner heads to Punchestown along with Mega Fortune and Bapaume who are likely to go there given the title race in Ireland. Ex Patriot too could go to Ireland which would leave Charli Parcs, who was a disappointment in the Triumph, with a big chance for redemption here.
Joseph O’Brien ran his Triumph winner last year in the Anniversary Hurdle and it would not be a surprise if Landofhopeandglory had a big form chance. He ran well enough when fifth in the Triumph and this could be an easier task for him. Flying Tiger beat Divin Bere in the Fred Winter, and the latter looks a fine prospect for Henderson. This would be an interesting next step for the pair of them, although their collateral form didn’t hold up well in the Triumph. However, plenty of Fred Winter winners have gone well in this.
2.50 The Betway Bowl Steeple Chase (Grade 1)
Colin Tizzard finished runner up in two Championship races at the Festival and with Sizing John going to Punchestown his Native River could give him yet another big prize. He took the Mildmay Novices last year after finishing second in the National Hunt Chase in some style and the track and trip suits plenty so he’ll be a short priced favourite. Cue Card is probably going to join him here, although the form of his two Grade 1 wins this season does not look as strong as in previous years and he might be vulnerable.
Saphir Du Rheu ran his best race in an age when fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and has plenty of history around the course so don’t be surprised to see him run well once again here. Djakadam could skip to wait for Punchestown, as could Empire of Dirt. If the latter went here he would be of huge interest with these more suitable conditions; The Ryanair was too quick for him. Bristol De Mai disappointed slightly in the Gold Cup but this could be right up his alley. Tea For Two might want a stiffer test of stamina and so would Smad Place, who is perhaps not the horse he once was.
3.25 Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1)
This already has the makings of one of the clashes of the week, if not the season. Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air, so impressive when taking the field apart at Cheltenham, is said to be taking on Mares’ Hurdle winner Apple’s Jade. A mouth watering prospect before one considers the improvement that the latter could show. She stepped forward from a Triumph defeat last year to win the Anniversary Hurdle by 21 lengths and then beat Let’s Dance by eight lengths at Punchestown and this is clearly her time of year.
Yanworth was a disappointment in the Champion Hurdle when he ran well below his best but this trip ought to suit him more and it may be worth retaining the faith if he goes. My Tent Or Yours, second in the Champion, could also be seen. Arctic Fire was narrowly ahead when he fell in this race two years ago, then as a strongly supported favourite, and he was trained and ridden brilliantly to take the County Hurdle off 158 at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. That was his first run since January 2016, so a fantastic effort, but one worries about if the bounce factor will come into play here.
The New One runs many solid races but they don’t tend to be enough at this exalted level and Brain Power appeared to either not run his race or simply not be good enough in the Champion. Jezki himself won this two years ago, but was disappointing when not getting home in the World Hurdle. Camping Ground was right back to his best when he trashed his rivals in the National Spirit Hurdle, and on that form, would have every chance no matter who turned up. The worry is that the dynamics of a very different race will curtail his ability, as they did when he was beaten 90 lengths last year here.
4.05 The Randox Health Foxhunters’ Steeple Chase (Class 2)
Always a lot of fun to watch, especially if you happen to be JP McManus or Enda Bolger these past few years. This tends to be a Cheltenham rematch in the large part but winner of the Cheltenham Foxhunters Pacha du Polder ran a stinker over these fences last year while the second Wonderful Charm was pulled up in the Grand National last year and must prove he takes to the test.
There were horses at 100/1 (Barrel Of Laughs), 40/1 (Balnaslow) and 100/1 again (Minella For Value) in the first six so expect surprises plus thrills and spills. For the latest odds and special betting offers on this year’s race check out LatestBettingSites. On The Fringe, fourth at Cheltenham, could be the one to beat again with his liking for the course perhaps best just to sit back and enjoy watch one of the spectacles of the week.
4.40 Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
This tends to be a fast and furious rematch of the Grand Annual, so contenders involved at Cheltenham can be expected to run here. Look for a big price winner as there have been plenty in recent years. Thenival would not be a surprise runner here given the aim of Nicky Henderson and neither would Dandridge (last year’s runner up) or Rock The World, who stepped up in class to come seventh in last season’s Manifesto Novice Chase.
5.15 The Goffs Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open NH Flat (Grade 2)
We could be in for a treat here. It appears to be a good year for mares in bumper terms with Fayonagh taking the Champion Bumper in spectacular style at Prestbury Park plus Cap Soleil and Daphne Du Clos showing good form. Cap Soleil beat Daphne Du Clos at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and then beat Champion Bumper fifth Western Ryder in fine style at Newbury in a strong Listed bumper before winning Sandown’s pre-Festival Listed bumper in good style. The form of both of those 3 wins has been well represented since. They are likely to be joined by Petticoat Tails who finished six lengths clear of the third when finishing second to Cap Soleil at Sandown. A big challenge can be expected from Ireland too so this could be a thrilling end to Grand Opening Day.
Advice (updated at 3pm on 5 April)
1.45 Aintree – Top Notch – 2 points win
2.50 Aintree – Empire Of Dirt – 2 points win
4.40 Aintree – Dandridge – 1 point win
5.15 Aintree – Petticoat Tails – 2 points win
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