Like a needy middle child who overdo it on the chips yet managed to underdo it on the actual achievement in life, the Grand National hogs the limelight at Aintree over the next few days. It’s a spectacular race which is likely to provide more drama, uncertainty and pain than insulting Jeremy Clarkson at a Top Gear party, but the meeting gets underway with a cracking card this Thursday. Four Grade One races provide the festival of fake tan and bad scouser impressions with a good starting point and we’ve been through the form book so you don’t have to. Coming after the crescendo of Cheltenham, this meeting has been known to throw up some surprising results and that’s what we’re pinning our hopes on here.
2.50 Aintree – Betfred Bowl Chase
The contenders are thin on the ground, but we’ve still got a fascinating race in prospect. Not being Cheltenham, Silviniaco Conti should have a great chance this time out. We know once and for all the Cotswolds suits him like a remotely difficult question suits Ed Milliband. Holywell ran creditably to finish nine and half lengths fourth in the Gold Cup. It boils down to whether or not you forgive Silviniaco his Cheltenham run. Both the leading protagonists have good course form as does Ma Filleule, so that’s not much of a deciding factor. We’re forgiving types in Power Tower, so we give the nod to Paul Nicholls’ chasing superstar.
Verdict: Silviniaco Conti
3.25 Aintree – Aintree Hurdle
Willie Mullins insists Arctic Fire will have no problem stepping up in trip for this race, but there’s limited evidence of that in the form book, so he misses out on the sweet spot. Jezki ticks a lot of the boxes, but after getting beaten by Hurricane Fly for most of the season and then not being able to overturn him in the Champion Hurdle, there is the sense that he’s just not at his best this term.
Rock On Ruby is a solid choice, but possibly the most interesting of the lot is the youngster, Volnay De Thaix. He’s rated only two pounds behind Rock On Ruby, but he’s only six and he’s open to improvement. He was only beaten two and half lengths in by Rock On Ruby in December before running well in the cavalry charge of the Coral Cup and he’s around six times the price of the former Champion Hurdler. Having three places would make it a cracking each way bet, but you can’t have it all and we’re going to side with him any way for some value hunting.
Verdict: Volnay De Thaix
4.40 Aintree – Red Rum Handicap Chase
This race is made up of some vastly experienced handicappers so it’s no surprise to see the middle of the grid more jam-packed than an Irish off-licence on Easter Thursday. You can make a case for a number of the runners here and even the ones only ticking two of the three boxes are hard to rule out definitively. Next Sensation won at Cheltenham, but we suspect he may have expended too much energy in that race to be at his best here. One that hasn’t expended a lot of energy since about October last year is Surf And Turf. He’s very consistent (mostly at not actually getting his head in front) but his good Aintree record appeals and he’s the pick in a wide open race.