BILL ESDAILE PREVIEWS THE OPENING DAY OF THE CRABBIE’S GRAND NATIONAL MEETING AT AINTREE
ANYONE who witnessed Holywell's demolition of the Mildmay Novices' Chase field at this meeting 12 months ago will find it pretty hard to oppose the AP McCoy-ridden eight-year-old in the Betfred Bowl (2.50pm) at Aintree this afternoon.
He jumped and galloped a good field into submission that day and will take plenty of stopping if lining up in the same form. In fact, he would be a very confident selection if he hadn't had such a hard race at Cheltenham last month.
His supporters will point out that he's had one more week than usual to get over his gruelling fourth place finish behind Coneygree, but I'm a little concerned those efforts may have taken their toll.
Admittedly, he's demonstrated in the past that he can take his races, but the question is whether you are happy to take the 7/4 available with Betway on the back of such exertions – and I'm not.
If I'm opposing Holywell on the back of a tough outing at Cheltenham, it would be fairly hypocritical to recommend Silviniaco Conti, who seemed to have an even tougher test when finishing seventh.
He bounced back from Gold Cup failure when landing this very prize last season, and is bound to have his supporters again. The combination of a flatter track and shorter trip are huge positives, but he ran so below par last time it would take a giant leap of faith to jump in again.
It would be no surprise to see Menorah run well back on a better surface, and if there had been eight or more runners, he may well have been my selection at a double-figure price. However, I'm convinced Nicky Henderson's MA FILLEULE is a Grade One performer on a sound surface and she has a great record at this course with a win and a close-up third from two starts.
She ran a cracker when runner-up in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and gets a handy 7lb mares allowance this afternoon. She is a terrific natural jumper and if staying the trip – my only niggling concern – she is the one they all have to beat at 4/1 with Betway.
Hopefully, Ma Filleule will be making it a Grade One double for the Nicky Henderson team after HARGAM has got the job done in the Juvenile Hurdle (2.15pm).
My selection finished third behind two stablemates in the Triumph Hurdle last time on ground he would have found plenty soft enough. His trainer has always felt we would see the 'real' Hargam on decent 'spring' going and he'll get just that this afternoon.
Bristol De Mai looked a good horse at Chepstow over Christmas, but wants a soft surface. The Nicholls pair don't look world beaters and the biggest threat may come from the John Ferguson-trained Devilment.
However, they will all have their work cut out stopping AP McCoy from riding what could turn out to be his last Grade One winner.
There's a mouth-watering match in the opening Manifesto Novices' Chase (1.40pm) between Josses Hill and Vibrato Valtat. The former put in his best round of jumping yet in the Arkle last time and the step up in trip will help. However, he hasn't looked a natural over fences to date and Vibrato Valtat will pick up the pieces if things go wrong.
HARGAM 2.15pm Aintree
MA FILLEULE 2.50pm Aintree