1.45 GASKELLS HANDICAP HURDLE 3m149y (Grade 3)
A typically competitive handicap, Paul Nicholls’ gallant old boy Zakandar tops the weights.
The Fergal O’Brien trained Barney Dwan could go well after a fine second placed effort in the Pertemps Final at last months Cheltenham Festival. Whilst the Phillip Hobbs trained pair For Good Measure and Golden Doyen, who finished ninth and twelfth respectively in the same contest, also look for compensation here.
Hobbs also runs the progressive No Comment, who rattled up a hat-trick of wins prior to finishing seventh in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle. He’s the choice of Barry Geraghty.
The Skelton’s team up with No Hassle Hoff, who could be interesting stepping out of novice company and into open handicap company off a reasonable looking mark of 134.
The hat-trick seeking Fountains Windfall represents the bang in form yard of trainer Anthony Honeyball. The progressive 7-year-old could be well treated off a mark of 137, and could go well with just 10-12 on his back.
Duke Street, Joe Farrell, Mr Mcgo, Dadsintrouble and the mare Morello Royale look further interesting contenders.
This really is a trappy looking event, with plenty of contenders holding fair claims for this Grade 3 prize. But the selection is FOUNTAINS WINDFALL, who represents his in form trainer Anthony Honeyball, and has some decent form in the book.
2.25 BETWAY MERSEY NOVICES’ HURDLE 2m4f (Grade 1)
This looks a seriously good renewal of this valuable 2 and a half mile contest, with Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle winner Finian’s Oscar at the head of the market.
Alan King’s Messire Des Obeaux ran a very creditable race when finishing third in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park last month. Whilst Bordeaux Bill, Captain Forez, Le Breuil and Lough Derg Spirit arrive here having bypassed the Cheltenham Festival.
La Bague Au Roi tackles the boys after her seventh placed finish in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle in the Cotswolds. With Paul Nicholls Brio Conti, who won the consolation race at Kempton for horses who didn’t make the cut at Cheltenham, completing the field.
Le Breuil and Lough Derg Spirt should run well for Ben Pauling and Nicky Henderson respectively. And Messire Des Obeaux should also go well after a hugely successful campaign. I respect Captain Forez, but I see him more as a serious chasing prospect for later this year. However I was lucky enough to be at Sandown to witness FINIAN’S OSCAR’S Tolworth Hurdle victory in January, and although the form has taken a few knocks since, you can’t crab the manner in which he put the race to bed. He’s the selection.
3.00 DOOM BAR MAGHULL NOVICES’ HURDLE 1m7f176y (Grade 1)
Disappointingly, this race has cut up to just 5 runners, and only 4 of those appear to have a realistic chance of victory.
Kim Bailey’s Charbel is a short priced favourite after coming to grief at the penultimate fence when making the potential superstar Altior work for his victory in the Arkle Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham last month.
Brian Ellison is responsible for current second favourite Forest Bihan, who won the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster in January, form boosted by the second placed effort of Cloudy Dream at Aintree on Thursday.
Paul Nicholls fields both the flying grey Politologue and San Benedeto, who arrives in search of a 4-timer. Sam Twiston-Davies has elected to ride the former.
The Dunne’s team up with Colla Pier, who is the big priced outsider of the field.
There’s likely to be plenty of pace on up front as neither Charbel or Politologue like to hang around. The pair could easily battle out the finish, but, if they were to soften each other up with their exuberant leaps FOREST BIHAN could well be the one to take advantage.
3.40 BETWAY HANDICAP CHASE 3m210y (Listed)
Again this looks a hugely competitive handicap heat, with David Pipe’s Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate fifth Starchitect leading the way.
Harry Whittington’s Emerging Force, who hasn’t been seen since finishing fourth behind Singlefarmpayment at Cheltenham in December, could go well. Especially as he attempted to concede 8lbs to his talented opponent in the Cotswolds.
Our Kaempfer could go well for Charlie Longsdon if finding some fluency in the jumping stakes. Whilst Value At Risk, who was well supported for the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before missing the race after picking up a knock at home could go very well for the Skelton partnership.
Thomas Brown and Sizing Codelco look to be on reasonable marks for Harry Fry and Colin Tizzard respectively, and could easily go well. And the same could be said about the Phillip Hobbs trained Lamb Or Cod, who will relish the decent ground.
Henri Parry Morgan could look very well treated off a mark of 138 given he finished second to subsequent Hennessy Cup and Welsh Grand National winner Native River in Grade 1 company at this meeting last year. The 9-year-old finished a 17 length second to Thursday’s Grade 1 Betway Bowl Chase winner Tea For Two at Exeter in February, and could go very well for the father and son combination of Peter and Sean Bowen.
Sue Smith’s I Just Know arrives here in search of a hat-trick. Whist Potters Legend and Rightdownthemiddle could also go well.
This looks a very competitive handicap on paper, and there could easily be a few well handicapped novices’ here. But HENRI PARRY MORGAN looks particularly well handicapped on the form of his effort at this meeting last year, and is therefore the selection.
4.20 LIVERPOOL STAYERS’ HURDLE 3m149y (Grade 1)
Champion Hurdle seventh Yanworth is a short priced favourite on his first attempt over 3 miles for Alan King and Barry Geraghty, after being outpaced in the 2 mile Championship at Cheltenham last month.
2015 World Hurdle (Stayers Hurdle) winner Cole Harden has been running well of late and is next in the betting. Whilst Coral Cup victor Supasundae and the Nigel Twiston Davies trained Balloptic, who won this Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting last year, are next in.
Paul Nicholls fields both 2015 Coral Cup winner Aux Ptits Soins and 2016 French Champion Hurdle victor Ptit Zig in a last gasp attempt to overhaul Nicky Henderson, who runs Different Gravey, in the Trainer’s Championship.
Snow Falcon is the second and last Irish trained contender in the field. Whilst Coral Cup second, and this season’s BetVictor Gold Cup winner, Taquin Du Seuil rates a lively outsider for Jonjo O ‘Neill.
Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers and Oliver Sherwood’s Puffin Billy compete the 11 runner field.
I was expecting Yanworth to be campaigned over 3 miles this season, and having Barry Geraghty back on board is a definite plus. However he’s plenty short enough on his first attempt at the trip. Supasundae was mightily impressive when winning the Coral Cup last month and could have more to give over this longer trip. However the selection is BALLYOPTIC, who has been unlucky when falling twice this season, and looked a horse of great potential when grinding out a Grade 1 victory at this meeting last year. The presence of Champion Jockey Richard Johnson in the saddle is also a bonus.
5.15 RANDOX HEALTH GRAND NATIONAL CHASE4m2f74y (Grade 3)
I’d have to be Mystic Meg to predict who will win the Grand National, and that seems pretty unlikely! So I’ll just run through a few contenders who I think could go well at big prices.
Of the market principles, Blaklion is the one who appeals most to me. Winner of the 2016 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, the 8-year- old ran a fine race when second to Vieux Lion Rouge (who received 6lbs) in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February. Recent Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase winning Jockey Noel Fehily takes the ride.
Grand National loving owner Trevor Hemmings has recently purchased last year’s Scottish Grand National winner Vicente, who could go well if returning to the form that saw him land the Scottish marathon at Ayr last April.
Last year’s Irish Grand National victor Rogue Angel gained some experience over these fences in the Becher Chase in December. He may have finished tenth, but the 3m1f trip was always going to be on the short side for the gutsy Gigginstown House Stud owned gelding. He could run well.
Venetia Williams’ Houblon Des Obeaux would be my final dart at the contest having slipped down to a mark of 142, which is a full 16lbs lower than this time last year. A consistent performer in graded staying events over the last few years, for once he won’t have to carry a welterweight burden (10-12), which could see the thoroughly likeable 10-year-old run a big race here.
6.15 PINSENT MASONS HANDICAP HURDLE 2m103y (Class 2)
We have a handicap hurdle confined to Conditional Jockeys to bring the curtain down on the 2017 Aintree Festival, and it looks just as tricky as the previous 2 handicaps on the card.
The Ian Williams trained So Celebre could prove popular after an impressive win at Ascot last weekend. Whilst Wakea, who led the field a merry dance in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham before being swallowed up by the field on the climb to the line.
Bridget Andrews rides the Dan Skelton trained Born Survivor, who has always been held in high regard at home.
Chesterfield, Master Of Finance and Curious Carlos could go well for Seamus Mullins, Malcolm Jefferson and Peter Bowen respectively. Whilst Gary Moore’s Darebin and Oliver Greenall’s Zalvados are interesting at the foot of the weights.
The Evan Williams trained John Constable has some decent form from last season, and looks fairly treated off a mark of 129. Conor Ring takes the ride.
The Grey Taylor is starting to look dangerously well handicapped for Brian Ellison, having reached a peak rating of 140 in 2015. If he could rediscover his form, he could go very well off a mark of 126.
Vosne Romanee, Robinshill, Highland Fling and Chieftain’s Choice are further interesting contenders.
It’s definitely worth having 2 horses on side in this competitive handicap, so I’ll be backing both JOHN CONSTABLE and THE GREY TAYLOR tomorrow as both look potentially well treated on previous form.
1.45 Fountains Windfall 16/1
2.25 Finian’s Oscar 7/2
3.00 Forest Bihan 6/1
3.40 Henri Parry Morgan 12/1
4.20 Ballyoptic 9/1
5.15 Blaklion 14/1
Rogue Angel 25/1
Houblon Des Obeaux 50/1
6.15 John Constable 12/1
The Grey Taylor 25/1