Another fantastic three days of racing to look forward to on Merseyside with the start of the Aintree Grand National Festival.
This is much more of a social spectacle than the Cheltenham Festival but the action on the track is still spectacular and we get underway with four consecutive grade 1 contests, with the superstar Constitution Hill making what could be a final appearance over hurdles.
Due to Easter falling last weekend, there is an extra week between Cheltenham and Aintree this year, but it was still notable how the two big Grade 1s at Fairyhouse last weekend went to horses who had skipped Prestbury Park so it is still something to bear in mind when forming an opinion.
BANBRIDGE was a late withdrawal at Cheltenham on account of the ground and although there is rain forecast for Aintree, there are also strong winds and I don’t expect it to be as testing as Cheltenham got.
BANBRIDGE caught everyone’s eye when staying on in the Irish Arkle behind El Fabiolo and skipping Cheltenham could be a blessing. You can put a line through his poor run at Aintree last year, it was over three miles and he had won at the Festival so it was just too much for him at that stage. He won his first two chases with ease and again the ground was a factor when third in the Drinmore before Christmas before looking like this extra half mile is just what he needs at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Stage Star is likely to make the running and had a tough race at Cheltenham, while Saint Roi, third in the Arkle, steps up in trip for the first time.
Zenta was the third home in a Willie Mullins 1-2-3-4 in the Triumph Hurdle. She looked a threat travelling to the last but didn’t get up the hill as well as the first two and this speed track should suit, but that run may have left its mark.
I was at Haydock when Bo Zenith won the Betfred Victor Ludorum in February in good style. Connections opted to swerve the triumph and take in a confidence booster at Stratford in which he won with little fuss. Gary Moore’s team are electric right now, operating at a 40% strike rate for April and he is respected, as is stable companion Perseus Way who was well beaten in the Boodles Fred Winter.
Scriptwriter was too bad to be true at Kempton and he could be worth a small saver for Milton Harris whose Knight Salute had a similar profile before winning this race twelve months ago.
However, I was really taken with the way NUSRET won the Adonis at Kempton, beating Perseus Way and Scriptwriter a well beaten sixth. He wasn’t put into the race behind Blood Destiny the time before and had caught the eye behind Lossiemouth over Christmas in what proved an impossible task giving her weight. Kempton proved the speed track suits and, ultimately, he missed a hard race at Cheltenham.
2.55 AINTREE – A PLUS TARD & AHOY SENOR
Tipping up two runners in a six runner race isn’t my usual MO, but I have a strong opinion the two market leaders are to be taken on and at the prices can justify the selection.
Bravemansgame and Conflated slugged their guts out the whole of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and only one of the last twelve winners of the Bowl had competed in the Gold Cup (Might Bite). Shishkin didn’t jump well in the Ryanair but did exceptionally well to get as close as he did in the end. There is no question of his ability, but there is a question of him taking his racing and he’ll need to jump better here.
Saying that, AHOY SENOR has had his jumping flaws and they struck again last month. However, he had bizarrely jumped better than we’d seen for a while when making the running in the Gold Cup and just clipped the top of the ditch at the top of the hill. He has won at the last two Grand National festivals though, beating Bravemansgame on both occasions and he must carry some of my cash here.
Also, A PLUS TARD was just being put into the race by Rachael Blackmore when Ahoy Senor departed and was badly hampered twice, appearing to be kicked. The game was up then and the rider rightfully pulled him up. That decision could reap rewards here as he looks the forgotten horse as we don’t know what would have happened at Cheltenham and the opportunity to back him at around 7/2 here can't be missed.
THE LAST DAY did us a favour twelve months ago and he is worth an each way play to defend his title in the Red Rum Handicap Chase off just a 2lb higher mark.
He didn’t reappear until January when well beaten at Sandown and then was pulled up in the Grand Annual. This has clearly been the 11yo’s target as he bids for a third course and distance success from three attempts.
Douglas Talking is on a hat-trick but the handicapper hasn’t missed him for his Sandown romp while Third Time Lucki will need luck as he is held up in a race where they do go quick. He didn’t get the breaks at Cheltenham when hampered late on, but it’s a big ask to carry 12-0 in such a competitive contest.
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