The great news about the 2011 John Smithâ€™s Grand National Festival is that it will be officially launched by none other than Merseyside comic legend Ken Dodd on Thursday. The Farm will be playing after racingâ€¦.All Together Nowâ€¦who?
In all seriousness the Aintree Festival grows year by year and although more and more column inches are given over to the Liverpool Day (Friday) fashions than the racing itself the sport is absolutely top class culminating in the great race itself on Saturday.Â
The meeting gets underway with the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle and Big Buckâ€™s who traded at odds against for much of the week leading up to the World Hurdle at Cheltenham will be long odds on to confirm his superiority over Grands Crus who was no match for the Paul Nichollsâ€™ runner at the Festival.
Liverpool Hurdle: prices from victorchandler: 1/5 ew 1, 2, 3;
Big Bucks 8/13, Grands Crus 9/2, Karabak 10/1, Carlito Brigante 10/1, Sentry Duty 14, Khyber Kim 14, Possol 16, 25/1 Bar:Â
William Hill Liverpool Hurdle: 4-7 Big Buck’s, 7-2 Grands Crus, 8-1 Carlito Brigante, 16-1 Karabak, Khyber Kim, 25-1 Sentry Duty, 33-1 Knockara Beau,Â 50-1 Possol, 66-1 Won In The Dark, 150-1 Gwanako, 200-1Markington (1/4 1,2,3)
Barring accidents Big Buckâ€™s is likely to make it 12 in a row and a hat-trick of Aintree successes. It will be fascinating to see if connections persevere with him over the smaller obstacles next season and a fourth World Hurdle or whether they switch their attentions to chasing and a crack at Long Run?
Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar has been entered for the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle and in recent years Detroit City 2006 and Katchit 2007 both followed up their Cheltenham successes at Aintree. The following year Supreme Novice runner up Binocular was 7L too good for Triumph winner Triumph winner Celestial Halo, so the race, for so long considered a graveyard for Festival winners, has been a good one for those coming on from Cheltenham and there had been five winning favourites in a row before a 40/1 shock last year.
Zarkandar must take the beating but Grandouet, although ultimately beaten 5L by the Nichollsâ€™ runner, travelled like a top-class horse at Cheltenham and gave every indication that the less taxing Mildmay circuit would be an ideal test.
What A Friend landed the Aintree Bowl last year but with the Gold Cup 4th confirmed a runner in the Grand National stablemate Denman will represent Paul Nicholls in the day 1 feature. It will only be the former Gold Cup winnerâ€™s third race of the season but he didnâ€™t look completely at ease on his sole previous visit to the track when a faller two out in the corresponding race back in 2009 when embroiled in a titanic struggle with Madison Du Berlais.
Â As a son of Presenting good ground wouldnâ€™t be an issue for Denman and the good news for his followers is that Gold Cup winner Long Run will miss the race; not on account of the ground but connections have decided as a six-year-old that he has done enough for this year and with the King George/Gold Cup double that is a fair assessment!Â Â
One of the lasting images of the 2011 Festival was the picture of trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies comforting his son William after the fall of Baby Run at the second last on the final day. Baby Run only got as far as the sixth in last yearâ€™s Aintree Foxhuntersâ€™ and whilst he is a bold front-runner at his best it is possible that he is too brave for the National fences. Moncadou was badly baulked at the first last year before running a cracker to chase home shock 50/1 winner Silver Adonis and at a big price could go well having travelled very strongly at Warwick last time before his stamina gave way. My Way De Solzen winner of the 2006 World Hurdle and 2007 Arkle jumped like a bunny at Hereford last month and must enter calculations in what looks an excellent renewal of the Foxhuntersâ€™.
Woolcombe Folly wasnâ€™t good enough in the Champion Chase but his entry in the Red Rum Handicap Chase gives the race a lop-sided look with many of the entries likely to run from out of the handicap. Amateur Ryan Mahon (rides My Way De Solzen earlier) takes off a valuable 5lbs and he must go very well, but despite being out of the handicap I expect to see Iâ€™m Delilah run a big race for Ferdy Murphy.
Medermit unsurprisingly is stepped up in trip to 2m4f for the Manifesto Novicesâ€™ Chase having flopped in the Arkle. Wishfull Thinking ran a cracker in the Jewson at the Festival behind Noble Prince and he will take the beating given Medermit didnâ€™t convince with his jumping over these fences when making a winning debut at 1/5 back in Aintree and Ghizao who made significant errors in the Arkle looks the danger Â again stepping up in trip half-a-mile.