Smart Josses Hill can go one better in today’s opener

Bill Esdaile
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TIME will probably tell that JOSSES HILL bumped into an absolute monster in Vautour at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

Willie Mullins’ powerhouse smashed the track record, held by none other than the mighty three-time Champion Hurdle hero Istabraq, that day and there was certainly no shame in Josses Hill finishing six lengths away.

The six-year-old held off his more fancied stablemate Vaniteux for second and that form is well above what any of his rivals in today’s opener at Aintree, the Grade Two International Festival for Business 2014 Top Novices’ Hurdle (2.00pm), have achieved.

Nicky Henderson’s string are in fine form, and three of the four last time out winners in this field of 10 are stepping up massively in grade from either maiden or handicap company.

Sgt Reckless has always been highly regarded by Mick Channon but there’s little reason to expect him to reverse Cheltenham placings with the selection.

Festival form is on show in the next too, with Holywell and O’Faolain’s Boy looking to follow-up big wins at Prestbury Park in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase (2.30pm).

Holywell ran a cracker behind Solwhit in a Grade One hurdle here last season after winning at the Festival, so I’m not concerned about Jonjo O’Neill’s charge running again so soon and he warrants respect looking for a four-timer.

However, I’m not sure he has the class or potential of some of these and I can swerve him along with O’Faolain’s Boy, who had a tough race last time. And Star de Mohaison in 2006 was the last horse to do the RSA/Mildmay double.

Instead I’m going to chance DON COSSACK. The Gigginstown-owned gelding looked like the next big thing hurdling two seasons back but injured himself in a fall and is still lightly-raced for a seven-year-old.

He was going well enough when falling in the RSA but still boasts strong form courtesy of a win over Carlingford Lough in December. The son of Sholokhov might not want this 3m 1f distance but he should get home on this sharp track and looks the bet.

The Melling Chase (3.05pm) is one of the weakest top-level contests you will see for a long time with all 11 runners well below the level of previous winners like Sprinter Sacre, Master Minded and Voy Por Ustedes.

It’s a trappy race but Dynaste franked the form of the Ryanair Chase when a gallant second behind Silviniaco Conti in the Betfred Bowl yesterday and RAJDHANI EXPRESS was less than five lengths behind him that day.

Henderson’s chaser might just have a bit more improvement in him than the others and, at 9/2 with Star Sports, he is a solid bet against the favourite Module, who is better over shorter and surely wants the ground far softer.

My last bet of the day will be an each-way one on BIG FELLA THANKS at 20/1 with Star Sports in the Topham Chase (3.40pm).

Older horses have a decent record in this courtesy of hat-trick hero Always Waining, Irish Raptor and Cregg House, and this 12-year-old veteran has long look suited to the shorter 2m 5½f trip run over the Grand National fences rather than the big one itself.

Tom George’s horse has run in the National four years running, negotiating a path round three times, but seemingly never quite getting home and a distant fourth in 2010 was the best he’s managed.

Standing Ovation is a big danger having sneaked in off bottom-weight, but he’s likely to be over-bet and current favourite Double Ross carries a big enough burden to put me off.

Big Fella Thanks is five pounds below his last winning mark and, providing he gets luck in running, should go well.

■ Pointers…
JOSSES HILL 2.00pm Aintree (today)
DON COSSACK 2.30pm Aintree (today)
RAJDHANI EXPRESS 3.05pm Aintree (today)
BIG FELLA THANKS e/w 3.40pm Aintree (today)