Denman should be opposed after Festival exertions

PAUL Nicholls saddles the first three red-hot favourites on the card at Aintree’s Grand National meeting which gets underway live in front of the BBC cameras at 2.00pm this afternoon. Betting shop punters across the land will perm Big Buck’s, Zarkandar and Denman and the latter will be sent off really short if the first two ‘good things’ oblige. However, I will only be backing one of the three and will be laying the other two on Betdaq.

Let’s start with Denman, currently trading at evens with Hills, Victor Chandler and Paddy Power, in the totesport Bowl (3.05pm). On paper he looks a certainty, particularly now that the recent rain has softened the ground.

Only Long Run prevented him from regaining his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown on ground that would have been far too lively for him. Yet, he was trained for Cheltenham and, quite literally, ran his heart out there. He showed at Punchestown last year, after finishing a gallant second to Imperial Commander at Cheltenham, that he badly needed a summer holiday and I expect more of the same this afternoon. Now, the beauty of the advent of the betting exchanges is that we no longer have to find something to beat Denman. All we have to do is ‘lay’ him at the shortest price possible on Betdaq.

Nacarat looks the most likely to pick up the pieces, although he doesn’t really seem to stay this three miles plus trip and the ultra game mare Carole’s Legacy may well be the answer with AP McCoy in the saddle.

Big Buck’s kept up his extraordinary unbeaten run over hurdles when landing a third World Hurdle at Cheltenham last month and he will be many people’s idea of the banker of the meeting. He is by far the most likely winner, but makes absolutely no appeal at around 8/15. In fact, I will be looking to lay him on Betdaq at that price because I’m not sure Aintree really suits him.

Now, that might well sound crazy as he is unbeaten in three appearances at the Grand National meeting. However, his two wins in this race over the last two seasons have been his least impressive. Last year, he was pushed out to beat ‘trees’, while two years ago, I was convinced that Mighty Man had him beat approaching the last flight. I’ve just got a feeling that Grands Crus will be ridden more aggressively and will be the one to lower his colours. That said, by laying Big Buck’s on Betdaq you get all of the other 10 running for you. It won’t be all doom and gloom for ‘Team Nicholls’ as it’s pretty hard to see past ZARKANDAR in the 2.30pm contest. He was mightily impressive at Cheltenham and I see no real reason why Grandouet should reverse that form.

The Fox Hunters’ Chase (3.40pm) is as wide open as every year and you always need a great deal of luck?. I like to back horses who have had experience over the National fences before, so will be with last year’s runner-up MONCADOU and

OFFSHORE ACCOUNT. The former has been laid out for the race again, while the latter ran really well in Mon Mome’s National and was seventh in the Topham last year.

Alan King thought MEDERMIT was his best chance of a winner at Cheltenham and was obviously disappointed with his performance in the Arkle. It seemed as though he just got tapped for toe over two miles and he should appreciate the step back up to 2m4f in the 4.50pm.

Wishfull Thinking will attempt to make the running as he did in the Jewson, but I’d be worried about him getting caught up the long Aintree straight. ‘Choc’ Thornton should be able to get Medermit into a better rhythm over this extended trip and I fancy him to pick off Philip Hobbs’ runner.

Get Me Out Of Here was unlucky not to win the County Hurdle last month andconnections will be looking for compensation in the 5.25pm. He has to carry top weight, though, and there are a whole host of unexposed horses that could well be better handicapped.

I like horses with Aintree form and I’m going to stick with two each-way selections who won at last year’s meeting. Gary Moore’s MEGASTAR was an impressive winner of the Bumper here on Grand National Day and finished an excellent fifth in the Neptune at Cheltenham. He will love the good ground, as will

ORSIPPUS, who won the four-year-old Novices’ Hurdle at a massive 40/1 12 months ago. He was a decent third in last month’s Coral Cup and Michael Smith’s yard is absolutely flying at the moment.