Seabass to make history
Man On The Spot previews Saturday's card at Aintree including the John Smith's Grand National.
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13:45: John Smith's Mersey Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2)
Utopie Des Bordes may have found 3m just too far at Cheltenham but had won a Listed race over this trip at Sandown earlier and handled good ground well enough when successful at Doncaster. The mare should be thereabouts in this but Dodging Bullets has questions to answer over the trip and after a modest effort over 2m at The Festival. We're going to concentrate on a couple that by-passed Cheltenham with Eduard likely to be suited by a step up in distance. His third to Melodic Rendezvous at Cheltenham in December has worked out well, though he was a little disappointing when beaten at Kelso last time. UP AND GO fell in a Grade 2 at Sandown in December but is otherwise unbeaten under Rules and his latest victories at Wetherby and Ascot have been franked - he can make all in this.
14:15: John Smith's Maghull Novices' Chase (Grade 1)
Overturn had his spirit broken by Simonsig at Cheltenham and ended up well beaten. He is probably capable of bouncing back, especially on this better ground, but the eventual second in the Arkle, BAILY GREEN, can go one better here. Mouse Morris' charge has now been placed twice at this level and is clearly a smart novice with scope for further improvement. Alderwood won the Grand Annual but was well handicapped and seems to reserve his best for Cheltenham while Sire De Grugy probably faces his stiffest task to date over fences, though his second to Captain Conan at Cheltenham in November was boosted by the winner here on Thursday. The remainder appear to have a lot find off level weights.
14:50: John Smith's Liverpool Hurdle (Grade 1)
Celestial Halo made Solwhit fight all the way to the line when trying 3m for the first time in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. He may last longer out in front on this easier track and should confirm that running with third Smad Place and sixth Oscara Dara, though whether he'll be good enough to reverse running with the winner is another matter. That may not have been the greatest renewal of the Grade 1, however, and it would be no surprise if something popped up to upset the apple cart here. There must be a reason why Barry Geraghty prefers the lightly-raced Bear's Affair to Oscara Dara while Grands Crus reverts to hurdles after an unhappy season over fences and could figure. Holywell and Medinas both won valuable handicaps at The Festival but we'll take a chance on the tough novice AFRICAN GOLD. He found At Fishers Cross too strong in his race at Cheltenham but that was no disgrace as the heavy going would not have been ideal. He'll appreciate the better ground today and could represent a bit of value with the novice hurdle form at The Festival looking very strong.
15:25: John Smith's Handicap Chase (Listed)
Harry Fry has his string firing on all cylinders so the unexposed Opening Batsman, winner of three of his four races over fences, has to go on the short-list here. Cantlow was withdrawn at the start when fancied for a big handicap at Cheltenham and should be thereabouts if fully recovered from a minor setback while Cannington Brook usually runs his race. Ikorodu Road is handicapped to go close if first-time blinkers spark a revival while Storm Survivor and Ballyoliver arrive off the back of recent wins and Mac Aeda has the ability to get involved off bottom weight but BATTLE GROUP looks the one to beat. Kevin Bishop looks to have found the key to the quirky former David Pipe inmate as he skated up over hurdles here on Thursday. Runner-up in this last year off a 6lb higher mark, he can go one better this season. Loch Ba's jumping let him down at Cheltenham and he's probably best watched here while Tour Des Champs can also make mistakes but Duke Of Lucca can't be ignored and looks a better bet than stablemate Planet Of Sound.
16:15: John Smith's Grand National Chase (Grade 3 Handicap)
Julie Krone in the States, Hayley Turner on the Flat and Nina Carberry under National Hunt Rules have all shown that women are the equal of their male counterparts in the saddle when given the right ammunition and Katie Walsh is up there with the best. Hollywood once imagined Elizabeth Taylor riding the winner of the world's most famous race but Walsh can turn fantasy into reality by partnering SEABASS to victory in this year's renewal. Her father Ted has kept the 10-year-old wrapped in cotton wool since he finished third in 2012 and he arrives here fresh and still on a decent mark. He only gave best at the Elbow last year having travelled strongly throughout and is better off at the weights with Sunnyhillboy, an unlucky runner-up 12 months ago. It's no surprise that A P McCoy has chosen the Walsh's other runner Colbert Station ahead of the latter as he's a progressive and unexposed sort and he makes more appeal than probable favourite On His Own, whose jumping may be suspect. Big Fella Thanks is likely to give a bold sight and Always Waining has won the Topham Trophy three times over these fences but both may have stamina limitations. Teaforthree and Chicago Grey are both former winners of the 4m National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, however, and will be staying on if avoiding traffic problems. The latter looks particularly well handicapped and was brought down last year. Seven-year-olds have a shocking record in the race but Saint Are won over the Mildmay fences here last season and the runner-up bolted up over hurdles here on Thursday, while these unique fences could inspire the potentially well-treated Harry The Viking to put his best foot forward. Ballabriggs may struggle to turn back the clock, however, and What A Friend and Weird Al may have too much weight. But Balthazar King could go close as he goes well fresh and proved his versatility and stamina by winning the cross-country chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year and following up over conventional obstacles at the same track in October. At big odds, Tatenen might give each-way backers a run for their money as well and the talented Bryan Cooper could get a tune out of Rare Bob so he looks the pick of the remainder.
17:10: John Smith's Handicap Hurdle (Conditional Jockeys And Amateur Riders)
Almost a third of this field bring winning form into the race and several others appear well handicapped on past efforts. The pick of the first group may well be Charlie Swan's Prince Of Fire, who had a run on the Polytrack last month to blow away a few cobwebs. He beat Distant Memories at Down Royal last summer. Shotavodka is chasing a four-timer after beating Changing The Guard at Newbury but the runner-up is 5lb better off and Richard Newland also has a chance with the lightly-weighted SMALIB MONTERG. This will be the latter's first run over hurdles since finishing behind Local Hero in a Listed handicap at Market Rasen last September but he ran a race full of promise in a Wolverhampton all-weather maiden last month and looks to have been laid out for this. Paintball is thrown in on his best form but has been woefully out of sorts this term and, like Local Hero, Zarzal, Distant Memories and Makbullet, is returning from a break. The four-year-old Cockney Sparrow gets all the allowances but is inexperienced while the handicapper may have got to Kian's Delight and Jumps Road and Cry Of Freedom will probably find at least one too good again.
17:45: John Smith's Champion Standard Open NH Flat Race (Grade 2)
PURPLE BAY finished just ahead of Pure Science when fifth in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and had Caledonia and Sgt Reckless further behind. As that was only his second run, John Ferguson's Flat-bred four-year-old may well be capable of better and can get back to winning ways on this quicker surface as he arrives with a similar profile to that of last year's winner The New One. Killyglass didn't settle at Newbury in February and should do better in time but he finished behind Vago Collonges and his yard has been in the doldrums. More interesting is impressive Naas winner Quickpick Vic while Dakar Run is also worth a second look after defying a penalty at Huntingdon. The maidens Master Malt and Wilde Blue Yonder may be the pick of the remainder ahead of Ffos Las scorer Monkey Kingdom and hat-trick-seekers Alphabetical Order and Dance Of Time, though it's interesting that the Henderson stable are running Tistory without the benefit of a recent outing.