2.00 Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle – 2m 110yds
There’s no doubt that Rolling Star*** was a disappointing beaten favourite (6th) in the Triumph Hurdle but I’m not about to desert him on the back of one below-par run. He holds a Cheltenham win over Irish Saint and although Vasco de Ronceray was one place ahead of him in the Triumph I believe that he will readily reverse that form.
A fairly confident selection of the favourite at a current 2/1.
2.30 Betfred Bowl Chase – 3m 1f (Mildmay)
I’ve backed Silviniaco Conti**** all season and I’m not about to change horses now. By common consent he was a serious contender when falling at the third last in the Gold Cup and would surely have played a part in the finish. Based on Haydock and Newbury and, of course, his course and distance win on good ground in last year’s Mildmay Novices’ Chase he appears to hold all the right cards. Others to watch are Cape Tribulation, Quito de la Roque and First Lieutenant, although none of them are up to his standard and it’s a long time since the latter won a race.
Another favourite but very likely winner and still value at evens.
3.05 Aintree Hurdle – 2m 4f
The new highlight of the opening day (moved from Saturday), this race is all about the distance (half way between the championship 2m, and the stayers’ 3m). Some will benefit from the in between distance while others will be stretched too far or not enough. For example I can’t have Grandouet as a serious candidate beyond 2m whereas The New One demonstrated hitherto unknown ability and, in particular, a very impressive turn of foot when winning over 2m 5f in the Neptune at the Festival. Thousand Stars has a superb record at this time of year and at Aintree and must be a serious contender. Others likely to enjoy the distance are Countrywide Flame and Zarkandar.
This is an extremely hard race to call so, at a push, I’m marginally favouring Zarkandar**, fifth in last year’s Champion Hurdle and running well when giving Ruby Walsh a heavy fall in last year’s renewal, fourth in this year’s Champion Hurdle and ready to do better here this time.
My betting selection is a reverse exacta Thousand Stars (11/1) and Zarkandar (6/1) which should provide a tidy return if successful.
3.40 Fox Hunters’ Chase – 2m 5f 110y (National)
This is the first race of the meeting over the National fences and it’s for the amateurs. One of the big points about the National is that they don’t want the runners to go too fast but that’s exactly what will happen here with enthusiastic riders and an early first fence. Any of them could tip over at the first. I’ll therefore focus (without confidence) on the good horses with good jockeys who will hopefully feature in the run in. Horses to look out for are Battlefront (a front runner), Bold Addition (trained by Paul Nicholls’ mother in law and part owned by him), Cottage Oak, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen and with a proper hunter chases grounding for this and Warne**, about which a man who knows gave me a very good word at the excellent Rigbys preview last night. If you’re doing the placepot I recommend adding all those named (notwithstanding the expense) given the unpredictable nature of this race.
4.15 Red Rum Handicap Chase – 2m (Mildmay)
The horses in this race are, in a handicap, not the best but the handicap is exactly what you need to bear in mind. Avoid Rebel Rebellion and I’m very interested in Silver Roque* (10/1) carrying an interesting 10st 9lb which gives him a leading chance and a definite placepot selection.
4.50 Manifesto Novices’ Chase – 2m 4f (Mildmay)
This is one of the best races of the year and often overlooked (notwithstanding the £75,000 g’teed on offer). I have this between Captain Conan and Fago. The former was fifth in the Jewson and was a Grade One winner over hurdles. However, I’m not a big fan of translating hurdles to chasing form and, as previously advised, he’s not delivered at the highest level. The same can be said for Fago and he has performed lamentably, particularly at Warwick when he has knackered when falling. However, the good ground expected at Aintree could well see a transformed horse and I’m willing to take the chance that he’ll deliver.
5.25 Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle – 3m 110y
This race has a reputation for a 20/1 plus winner and there’s no reason to think that it will be any different this year. Double Ross* is an excellent each way option at a current 18/1 and the current favourite is Jetson at 7/1. He has a reasonable chance but the truth is that you could call half a dozen of the leading candidates for this one. My recommendation is to follow the market because I think that there will be a plunge. I’m at Aintree tomorrow so, if I find it, I’ll let you know!