The first taste racegoers get of the Grand National fences at this year’s meeting comes in the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase at 3.40pm. Paul Nicholls last won this race 10 years ago with Torduff Express and he saddles the likely favourite Gwanako who was pitting his wits against Big Buck’s at this meeting last year.
Andy Stewart’s nine-year-old is two from two in Hunter Chases and actually won the Topham over course and distance in 2008. However, he has fallen plenty of times in the past and I’m happy to take him on at what is likely to be a short price.
Cloudy Lane surely needs a greater stamina test, while it’s anyone’s guess how much ability former World Hurdle and Arkle winner My Way De Solzen retains. The one who interests me is Willie Mullins’ BOXER GEORG who was only just beaten by Baby Run in this contest 12 months ago. He travelled really strongly that day and even though he made a couple of slight mistakes, the fences really seemed to bring out the best in him.
The 10-year-old relishes soft ground and all of his best form has come at this kind of trip. He won well at Clonmel in February and has relatively few miles on the clock compared to a number of these. Patrick Mullins gets on well with him and he looks to have a solid chance of going one better than last year.
The Matalan.co.uk Red Rum Handicap Chase (4.15pm) is Aintree’s version of the Grand Annual and a number who ran at Cheltenham reappear this afternoon. Nicky Henderson had a one-two last month and he will hope to repeat the feat with Kid Cassidy and Tanks For That. I’d favour the former of that pair, but he’s likely to be short enough and I’m willing to look elsewhere.
KUMBESHWAR has been a model of consistency for Alan King in his first season over fences. He finished a highly respectable third in the Grand Annual last time and gave Zarkandar a real race in the Juvenile Hurdle at last year’s meeting. Aintree seems to suit him and this could be the day he lands his first big handicap over fences.
I’m also going to have a saver on last year’s winner SILK DRUM who is now under the care of Dianne Sawyer having formerly been with Howard Johnson. He was a huge gamble 12 months ago, being backed from 20/1 into 9/1, and he absolutely hammered his rivals. The ground conditions will be very similar this afternoon and with only 3lb more to carry he is worth backing each-way.
The novice chase looks particularly trappy and although the closing handicap hurdle (5.25pm) is fiendishly difficult, it might be worth throwing a few quid at Donald McCain’s REINDEER DIPPIN. Jockey bookings would suggest that stablemate Son Of Flicka has a better chance, but he had a hard race in the Coral Cup and has gone up in the weights.
Reindeer Dippin finished second at this meeting last year at 40/1 and he has definitely improved for the step up to three miles. Henry Brooke takes off a valuable 3lb and with conditions to suit, they should go pretty close.
I will be at Aintree for the next three days so you can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile for all my views.
BOXER GEORG e/w 3.40pm Aintree
KUMBESHWAR 4.15pm Aintree
SILK DRUM e/w 4.15pm Aintree
REINDEER DIPPIN e/w 5.25pm Aintree