The National is what Aintree’s festival is all about, but the best card of the week looks to be reserved for day one, with Buveur D’Air, Clan Des Obeaux and Pentland Hills all in attendance. However, something tells me that all three may be vulnerable and one name in particular stands out as a rival to the first names. Selections for every race below.
Warren Greatrex made it clear much earlier in the season that La Bague Au Roi would skip Cheltenham in favour of other targets. She’s a dual Group One winner over fences already and will be difficult to pass if in front. However, over this track and trip she may be vulnerable to another with some tactical pace. Glen Forsa unseated early when fancied for the Arkle but already looked uncomfortable as part of a pack. He will be unable to dominate here while Kalashnikov looks just a little below top-class. The value lies in the three outsiders and MENGLI KHAN is a slightly speculative choice for the opener. He was matching Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation until the final fence in the JLT. That is solid form in what looked a high-quality contest and with Aintree’s impetus more on speed, he could run very well. Bags Groove has been prolific this season and is surely much better than when well beaten by the favourite in the Kauto Star while Spiritofthegames was third in a red-hot handicap at the Festival and its possible he has less on his plate here.
1. Mengli Khan
2. La Bague Au Roi
BAND OF OUTLAWS was wildly impressive in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham. He had to negotiate a tricky path up the home straight, but after jumping the last, his turn of foot was that of a smart of horse. He carried a big weight that day and he would likely have gone very close in the Triumph. That race was won by Pentland Hills who travelled kindly, but the form put up merely against the runner-up is not superb for all that he won well. Fakir D’Oudairies may be the toughest opponent for his stablemate after he was unlucky in running on two occasions when fourth in the Supreme. That was an admirable effort though and he can improve as well. Christopher Wood looks to be the only other contender with a chance though this is a huge step up on what he’s faced in his short career to date.
1. Band Of Outlaws
2. Fakir D’oudairies
3. Pentland Hills
Before the Gold Cup, Clan Des Obeaux would have looked a warm order for this contest after his victory in the King George. However, he and Bristol De Mai were involved in a scrappy, stamina-sapping contest that day with both fading up the hill. This is a backup option for the both of them as it is for Willie Mullins’ KEMBOY. However, the latter horse unseated at the first in the Cheltenham blue riband and arrives fresher than the aforementioned pair. He disposed of Road To Respect in the Savills Chase over Christmas and given he was higher in the Mullins pecking order than eventual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo, he’s clearly a horse with ability. Road To Respect will appreciate coming back in trip though Elegant Escape will need rain to stand a realistic chance.
2. Bristol De Mai
3. Clan Des Obeaux
Though this is a stellar field, only Ch’tibello can boast winning form from Cheltenham last month. His victory in the County Hurdle saw an improvement on previous form this season, but he’s always struggled in pattern company. Buveur D’Air is left with an increasing amount to prove having fallen when chasing a hat-trick in the Champion Hurdle last month. He’s also won this race before too though it’s plausible that 2m 4f stretches him a tad. Faugheen emptied up the Cheltenham hill in the Stayers so this trip may prove ideal unlike for stablemate Melon, who saves his best for Cheltenham and for whom two miles is optimum. Verdana Blue, likewise, is all about speed and so it might be worth chancing SUPASUNDAE. Second on all three starts before weakening in the Stayers Hurdle, he was perhaps flattered to finish second in that contest in 2018 when it turned into a sprint. This is much more his trip and he was a good second in the race last year. He is the only nailed down two-and-a-half miler in the field and should be competitive.
2. Buvuer D’Air
Ucello Conti has some course form, though having fallen in the last to Grand Nationals you couldn’t be fully confident of him getting round. Burning Ambition was favourite for the 2018 Cheltenham Foxhunters but proved disappointing. Road To Rome is likely to go close having led for a long way in the 2019 renewal last month and so stepping back in trip should suit. Top Wood beat him at Cheltenham that day but this looks on the sharp side while none of Dineur, Balnaslow or Bears Affair look as capable as they have in previous seasons in this race. Road To Riches and Champagne West were the best of these under rules and the former shaped as if ability remains last time out, but KRUZHLININ has become a regular winner between the sticks. He’s completed in a Grand National and is generally a sound jumper. Sir Jack Yeats was running a big race in this last year and returned to the winners’ enclosure most recently while Starkie and Asockastar are the best of the big outsiders.
2. Road To Rome
3. Top Wood
EAMON AN CNOIC (nap) was just outstayed in a very strong running of the Byrne Group Plate at Cheltenham. He was beaten just 3 ½ lengths into fourth and the return to a sharper two miles should suit David Pipe’s strong traveller. Lady Buttons is even better over fences than she is over hurdles, but will face a tough test at the weights as will Group One winning novice Diego Du Charmil, who has failed to kick on this season. Moon Over Germany remains off a potentially appealing mark as does Brelan D’As, third in the Grand Annual. Movie Legend and Cracking Find could be separated by just ¾ length last time out and both have been ultra-consistent this season while Forest Bihan is 2lb better off with Brelan D’As from their previous contest and is more than capable of carrying a sizeable weight in this. The novice Azzurri and last year’s second Theinval add further spice to the race.
1. Eamon An Cnoic
2. Forest Bihan
3. Cracking Find
You have as much idea as me on this one although THE GLANCING QUEEN ran well enough when fifth in the Champion Bumper which entitles her to go well in this weaker contest. There’s no shortage of potentials though and Minella Melody won authoritatively on debut and is held in very high regard. Miss Heritage won very easily last time out as well while Misty Whisky chases a hat-trick, as does Timetochill. Whitehotchillifilli was beaten by the latter that day but had shown better prior to that. Eyren and Who What When are unbeaten so are respected too, as, to be honest, are most of the field in what could prove a guessing game.
1. The Glancing Queen
2. Who What When
3. Minella Melody