WILLIE Mullins and Ruby Walsh carried all before them at last month’s Cheltenham Festival and I expect them to continue in the same vein in today’s Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle (3.25pm).
ARCTIC FIRE was the stable’s supposed third string in the Champion Hurdle, but he flew past his rivals up the home straight to chase home impressive winner Faugheen. He had Hurricane Fly, Jezki and The New One behind him that day and it was undoubtedly a career best from the six-year-old.
This step up in trip to 2m4f is an unknown but the way he finished at Prestbury Park suggested he shouldn’t have a problem getting this distance and the 2/1 generally available is a fair price.
Jezki is his biggest threat according to the bookmakers and he has won at the trip. However, he was slightly disappointing at Cheltenham and Arctic Fire looks like he’s on the way up while Jessica Harrington’s stable star might just be regressing.
Perhaps the greatest danger to Mullins’ runner is Rock On Ruby, who missed Cheltenham after suffering a setback. He was only narrowly beaten by The New One in this race 12 months ago and loves this ground and the intermediate trip.
Noel Fehily will set out to make it a stamina test, but that could play into the hands of Walsh as it will help his horse settle. Rock On Ruby is respected, but he’s a 10-year-old now and has been beaten both times he’s run in this race.
Although the Crabbie’s Fox Hunters’ Chase (4.05pm) features a full quota of 30 runners, there are only a few with a realistic chance of winning. On The Fringe will be well-fancied after his Cheltenham win last month, but I slightly prefer last year’s winner WARNE.
Sam Waley-Cohen will be back on board the 11-year-old and there is no better amateur pilot over these unique fences. Warne has had a quiet time of it since winning this race by 13 lengths 12 months ago. He went on to be beaten by On The Fringe at Punchestown, but he doesn’t stay three miles plus as well as his rival, and he warmed up for this with a comfortable win in an Irish point last month.
My final selection is KATGARY for Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies in the closing Injured Jockeys Fund Handicap Hurdle (5.15pm).
The five-year-old has always been well regarded at Ditcheat and he won his first race for the yard at Newbury last month. He clearly loves a decent surface and he looks well-handicapped off 137. His dam is related to Katenko which gives hope that he will improve for the step up to three miles.
I’m up at Aintree for the next three days so you can follow my thoughts on Twitter @BillEsdaile.
ARCTIC FIRE 3.25pm Aintree
WARNE 4.05pm Aintree
KATGARY e/w 5.15pm Aintree