The three-day Grand National meeting kicks-off at Aintree on Thursday, with plenty of top action on offer.
2.00pm Injured Jockeys Fund 50th Anniversay, 4-y-o Novices’ Hurdle
The meeting kicks-off with an intriguing Grade One, where Calipto looks the worthy favourite following two brilliant wins at Newbury, before looking like an unlucky loser in the Triumph Hurdle. His stirrup leather broke, and Daryl Jacob lost his irons when travelling comfortably two out. This meant he couldn’t mount the strongest challenge possible, and he ended up fading into fourth.
He travelled like the best horse in the race, and he will prove extremely tough to beat at the Liverpool track.
He comfortably had the beating of second-favourite Activial in a Juvenile Hurldle at Newbury, and he will have had to improve massively to reverse the placing’s. He has the potential to do so, as he shown when landing the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton in a very taking fashion. The form of the race looks strong, but he will find it hard to match Calipto.
Fox Norton and Guitar Pete both have real claims, with Fox Norton arriving fresh after missing Cheltenham to head straight to Merseyside. He has shown solid form on his two starts in the UK, improving on a solid second behind Royal Irish Hussar on his debut, to land a Grade Two at Doncaster, oozing class. He shown he can handle a battle, and looks to be the biggest danger to Calipto.
5. Calipto @ 7/2 with Betvictor and Coral
2.30pm Betfred Bowl Chase (Grade 1)
The Betfred Bowl is always an interesting race, and this year is no different. Dynaste lines up after his Cheltenham Festival success, and looks a worthy favourite. He won at Aintree last year, and looks a horse firmly on the upgrade, for in-form trainer David Pipe.
His main market rival is the extremely classy Silviniaco Conti, who finished fourth in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, when travelling extremely well for a long way. He also has form around Aintree, having won the Mildmay Novices’ Chase in 2012, and should go very close.
However my selection comes in the shape of First Lieutenant, who bypassed potential engagements in the RSA Chase and the Gold Cup, to head straight to Aintree.
He finished a fantastic second behind former Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth, in the Lexus Chase on last start of 2013, before finishing third, when starting favourite in the Irish Hennessey. He won this race last year, and arrives here fresh which is a major positive. The front-pair in the market will be hard to dislodge, but it is worth taking a chance on First Lieutenant at 100/30.
3. First Lieutenant @ 10/3 with Betvictor, William Hill and Ladbrokes
3.05pm Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1)
The biggest race of day one looks set to be the easiest to dissect, as The New One looks as safe a bet you will find during the entire Aintree festival. The six-year-old has been running consistently at the top level, and looked an extremely unlucky loser in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. He was badly hampered when the ill-fated Our Conor fell in front of him, and he was bumped back in the field, before creeping back into the race and finishing best of all to take third on the flat.
He landed the Aintree bumper in 2012, before finishing a fair second behind Zarkandar in this race last year, so he has solid course form in the bag. This looks a rather weak Group One, and the 4/11 price does reflect his chances. He should win the race with ease, and it may pay to add in former Champion Hurdle winner Rock on Ruby in for the forecast, after having a mixed campaign over fences.
The New One/Rock On Ruby – Forecast with Paddy Power
3.40pm Crabbie’s Supporting The Hillsborough Families Fox Hunters’ Chase (National Course)
Mossey Joe misses the Grand National, where he was a leading fancy, to take his place in the Fox Hunters’ Chase. He is many punters idea of a banker, and there will be plenty of multiples with him and The New One.
He is on-course for a five-timer, and Enda Bolger’s 11-year-old looks a potential ‘good thing’, with all bar one, going off level weights. His form is outstanding, and he is still on the upgrade, constantly racking up wide-margin wins.
The 6/4 on offer is very fair, with only Warne looking like mounting a serious challenge. The ten-year-old was sent off favourite to beat Mossey Joe at Killarney, but could only manage a disappointing fourth. He has been out since then and beat Seabass, who was sent off joint-favourite for the 2012 Grand National, finishing third, by staying on best of all.
He should go very close, and it looks as though it may well be a straight battle between the pair, but it looks as though he will find it hard to reverse the placing’s with Mossey Joe, who is still on an upward curve.
13. Mossey Joe @ 6/4 with bet365 and Stan James
4.15pm Silver Cross Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
A very competitive renewal of the Red Rum Handicap Chase looks extremely hard to call, with many in with serious chances.
Claret Cloak looks a worthy favourite, following his third in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham, and should have his fair share of supporters.
However, Sound Investment looks the most value at a surprising 8/1. Paul Nicholls charge has taken his last two chases in a very impressive manner. They have been small fields, and he has gone off a short price both times. Yet, he looks as though he will appreciate the competitive nature of Aintree, and if given the chance to go from the front, he will be able to dictate the race in the manner would like. A potential high-class horse in the making, the 6-y-o looks firmly on the upgrade, and 8/1 looks a very fair each-way price.
7. Sound Investment @ 10/1 with Coral, 9/1 with Paddy Power and Bet victor
4.50pm Pinsent Masons Manifesto Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Oscar Whisky will be looking to restore his lofty reputation, when he re-appears at Aintree, after a disappointing performance at Cheltenham, when falling at the first.
He had previously finished ahead of eventual winner Taquin De Seuil, so there are fair arguments suggesting he would surely have gone close if he had stood up, yet it is the jumping errors which mean he is a risky proposition at such a short price.
Therefore, Western Warhorse who landed the Arkle in a very impressive manner, getting the better of Champagne Fever in the dying strides. He is extremely unexposed and unbeaten over fences which suggests there is plenty more to come. A repeat of his Arkle performance would be enough to land the race, and there are vibes from the in-form Pipe camp that he has improved since Cheltenham.
If this is the case, he will have a major chance, and the 11/4 about him appeals much more than the 9/4 about Oscar Whiskey.
5. Western Warhorse @ 11/4 with bet365, betvictor and stan james
5.25pm Dominican Republic Handicap Hurdle
The finale on the opening day of the Aintree festival looks an incredibly difficult selection for punters, with 9/1 the field.
There are numerous big players around the 10/1 mark, but there is a 14/1 shot that really sticks out as a perfect each-way poke to end the day.
Spirit of Shankly is an extremely consistent sort, and has only finished outside of the first three once in eight starts over hurdles, and should he run to his level again on Thursday, he looks to have massive claims in an extremely open race.
The 6-y-o looks a likely improver for Charlie Longsdon, and he will go off a lot shorter than the current 14/1, due to the his form lines, and also the allegiance his name has with the red half of Merseyside.
If ridden more prominently on Thursday, he could well go very close, and the current odds look a little large, in such an open race. He is sure to go off very close to the favourites, and Noel Fehily is a perfect man to help steer the gelding, off an extremely attractive bottom weight.
22. Spirit of Shankly @ 14/1 with betfred, bet365 and Ladbrokes