Lieutenant can be First
Man On The Spot previews the action on the opening day of the John Smith's Grand National meeting at Aintree.
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1400: Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle
Flaxen Flare made mincemeat of the opposition in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham when fitted with a pair of blinkers. It's no surprise that the headgear is left on again here and Gordon Elliott's runner should confirm that running with Ruacana and Zamdy Man. The race was run in a much quicker time that the Triumph Hurdle in which ROLLING STAR finished sixth, a length behind fifth Vasco Du Ronceray. But not much went right for Nicky Henderson's charge that day and he is better judged on his defeat of Irish Saint at Cheltenham - he can get back to winning ways today. The latter went on to beat Vasco Du Ronceray and L'Unique in a Grade 1 at Kempton and should be thereabouts again but this is a big step up for Bob's World, Runswick Royal and the once-raced Hefner.
1430: Betfred Bowl
Silviniaco Conti was just starting to send out a few distress signals when falling three out in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. The Giant Bolster went on to finish fourth and Cape Tribulation fifth but Wayward Prince had already been pulled up at that point and it's difficult to make a case for Hilary Parrott's nine-year-old here. Silviniaco Conti had beaten The Giant Bolster and Menorah in the Denman Chase at Newbury earlier and won the big novice chase at this meeting last year so has to go close with a clear round while Colm Murphy will be hoping for a big run from the talented Quito De La Roque, who had a confidence-boosting win at Thurles in January though was well beaten behind Wayward Prince here in December.
FIRST LIEUTENANT deserves a big-race success this term after cracking runs behind Tidal Bay in the Lexus at Leopardstown and Cue Card in the Ryanair at Cheltenham - it could be his turn today. Oliver McKiernan trained the 50/1 winner of this last year and Whodoyouthink will start at similar odds, though appears outclassed.
1505: John Smith's Aintree Hurdle
Oscar Whisky is bidding for a hat-trick in this Grade 1 and connections have hopefully abandoned any further thoughts of running him over 3m after he was pulled up in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. The eight-year-old shouldn't be far away while Countrywide Flame and Zarkandar, third and fourth in the Champion Hurdle, will have their supporters trying an extra half-mile.
Grandouet still appeared to be travelling well when falling in the Champion Hurdle and could also play a part but Willie Mullins' Thousand Stars has been found wanting at this level this term and neither Fontwell winner Prospect Wells nor Saphir River appear to have the class to win a race like this. Nigel Twiston-Davies has never disguised the regard in which he holds THE NEW ONE and this race will indicate whether he not he is ready to take on the big names in the Champion Hurdle next year. The five-year-old won the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at The Festival last month without breaking sweat and his only defeat so far over hurdles came at the hands of another impressive Cheltenham winner. He can pass his biggest test so far with flying colours as the quicker ground will suit.
1540: John Smith's Fox Hunters' Chase
With 25 runners, the best place to be in this traditional amateurs' race over the National fences will probably be out in front. The market has got it largely right in recent years so we'll concentrate on those likely to be prominent in the betting and in the race itself.
Sam Waley-Cohen takes over the reins on Cottage Oak, who only weakened two out when third in the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham. His tendency to jump left there is a bit of concern on this track, however, and he also had a hard race whereas several of his rivals missed The Festival to come here. Gwanako had little more than exercise canter at Sandown last time and has a touch of class. He was still going well when falling in this 12 months ago when Cloudy Lane went on to beat another big field that included Keenan's Future, Sizing America, Boxer Georg, Emergency Cover, Offshore Account, Kildonnan, Harps Counsel and 2010 winner Silver Adonis.
Warne beating a decent field, including Battlefront, at Fairyhouse in February and has to go on the short-list but would have been better suited by some rain so the vote goes to BOLD ADDITION. He'll relish this surface and was impressive when beating Silverburn over a similar trip at Warwick last month. Rebel Du Maquis is also unexposed over fences and may prove the pick of the remainder.
There have been a few shocks in this down the years but Edgardo Sol was a popular winner last year and his trainer, Paul Nicholls, has a couple of fancied entries this time around. Ruby Walsh has chosen Sandown scorer Rebel Rebellion ahead of Doncaster winner Toubab and he goes on the short-lists along with Kid Cassidy, runner-up in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham.
Oiseau De Nuit finished third at The Festival while Anquetta was ninth. Viva Colonia, Tanks For That and Stagecoach Pearl all failed to finish. ASTRACAD goes well fresh and was second in this 12 months ago off a 2lb higher mark. The good ground is very much in his favour and first-time blinkers may just encourage him to put his best foot forward and go one better this year, though it would be no surprise to see Pires, Kings Grey and Echo Bob in the firing-line as well and novices Ciceron and Kie don't look badly treated.
1650 Betfred Manifesto Novices' Chase
CAPTAIN CONAN easily beat Changing Times in a Grade 1 at Sandown in February but the placings were reversed behind Benefficient in the Jewson at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson's six-year-old will have to jump better here but is capable of doing so and is probably the one to beat on his best form as the going may be too quick for Fago, surprisingly beaten at Sandown after falling when favourite at Warwick.
His Excellency finished second in that Warwick race and was then a staying-on third in the Arkle but fell when turned out again quickly in the Grand Annual, where Drumshambo eventually finished fourth, and lacks a bit of scope now. Carlito Brigante ran in another handicap at The Festival but was pulled up and is likely to find at least a couple of these too good off level weights while it's even harder to make a case for Sunny Ledgend and Tap Night.
1725: Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle
An impossible-looking staying handicap rounds off proceedings and features several unexposed types. Wilton Milan certainly falls into that category but the stable selection looks to be Easter Day, whose only defeat over hurdles so far came in a Grade 1 at Newbury in December. Useful Flat performer Buthelezi won here on his hurdling debut and was successful over 2m3f at Catterick in February. He is potentially well treated if last home while Nico De Boinville takes 7lb off Open Hearted, though he's closely matched with Baby Shine on Kempton running.
Considering it was heavy ground, MANY CLOUDS ran a cracker under a welter burden in a Grade 3 at Sandown last month. Oliver Sherwood's novice will almost certainly be suited by the step up to 3m and could be the one in this though Barafundle is rarely far away and Sixty Something returned to winning ways at Market Rasen last time. Lienosus could also be worth a second look off a low weight while Jetson finished ahead of a number of these in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, though is high enough in the weights now.