First Lieutenant for Aintree repeat
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt previews day one of the Crabbie's Grand National meeting and is keen on First Lieutenant.
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THE NEW ONE ought to gain consolation for his luckless third in last month's Champion Hurdle by taking the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle, albeit at likely short odds, on the first day of the Crabbie's Grand National meeting.
The six-year-old, narrowly beaten by Zarkandar in this race last year (Grandouet sixth), was badly hampered when Our Conor fell fatally in the early stages at Cheltenham and then produced a massive effort to stay on powerfully up the hill behind Jezki and My Tent Or Yours with Ptit Zig sixth and Grumeti last of eight finishers.
Following emphatic defeats of the re-opposing Rock On Ruby (switched back to hurdling after a bad blunder in the Arkle at Cheltenham last month) and Zarkandar at Kempton and Cheltenham respectively earlier in the season, The New One might have been slightly unfortunate not to beat My Tent Or Yours in the Christmas Hurdle in which he held a slight advantage when blundering at the final flight.
Although connections have always laid claim that their horse has bags of speed, this two-and-a-half mile trip (he won the Neptune Novices at Cheltenham last year over a furlong further) ought to suit him and, if anything, his defeat in the Champion Hurdle probably enhanced his reputation.
Willie Mullins had the choice of three runners and relies on Diakali who ran a super race at the Festival where he finished a close fourth behind Lac Fontana in the County Hurdle despite carrying 11st12lb.
Last June, he handed out a seven length beating to Ptit Zig in a Grade One event at Auteuil in Paris and then ran third to the new Champion Hurdler Jezki at Fairyhouse in early December so this is a smart horse.
Although The New One should take all the beating (but is not exactly betting material), it wouldn't surprise me if Diakali made him battle a little and, as a former Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby should not be entirely discounted either despite having a good deal to find with the selection on that early-season Kempton form.
Meanwhile, Ptit Zig's stable companion Irish Saint, while having a tough task on ratings, looks an interesting runner returning to a trip over which he was impressive in a handicap hurdle at Ascot in January.
The French-bred performed creditably when third giving plenty of weight to Splash Of Ginge in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February and will be fresher than most having bypassed the Cheltenham Festival.
Earlier, an intriguing renewal of the Betfred Bowl Chase can fall to last year's winner FIRST LIEUTENANT.
A late non-runner at Cheltenham, he should return to Aintree a fresh horse and is fancied to confirm placings with last year's second and third, Menorah and Silviniaco Conti.
A little out of sorts in his first two starts this season, First Lieutenant has subsequently rediscovered his renowned consistency chasing home Bob's Worth in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and then finishing third behind Last Instalment and Tidal Bay in the Irish Hennessy over the same course and distance in February.
In both those races, he had the Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere well behind him.
Menorah was only beaten three-quarters of a length last year and seems to save his best form for the spring nowadays so that, despite two poor efforts this term, another big run cannot be ruled out.
As for Silviniaco Conti, his Gold Cup effort was a mystery. On ratings, he ran way below his best when finishing a close fourth behind Lord Windermere (Houblon des Obeaux ninth) and, hanging badly on the run-in, he looked to have quite a hard race after being committed over three fences from home.
On his earlier defeat of Cue Card in the King George at Kempton, 'Conti' would surely be hard to beat and he had previously finished less than two lengths (needing the race) behind Dynaste when third to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November.
After a deplorable run in the King George (reportedly hurt his back), Dynaste bounced back to land the Ryanair Chase over two miles and five furlongs at Cheltenham last month (Menorah 10th) and, while this looks tougher over an extra half mile, he must also go close if in the same form.
The key question here is how well Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste have recovered from their Cheltenham races and they may have to be on top form to beat the selection.
Earlier, the well regarded AURORE D'ESTRUVAL is fancied to take advantage of the 7lb fillies allowance in the Injured Jockeys Fund 50th Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle.
John Quinn's French import travelled like a smart performer at Haydock in February but was probably found out by the testing ground and another promising type Abracadabra Sivola proved just too strong. That form looks okay; third-placed The Green Ogre has run well since and Hawk High and Handiwork, the first and ninth in the Fred Winter juvenile hurdle at the Festival (and who both reoppose), were both well beaten.
Cheltenham's Triumph Hurdle form is put to the test by Guitar Pete (third), Calipto (fourth) and Broughton (eighth) while Activial also looked very useful when beating Commisioned at Kempton and, like the selection, may have benefitted from missing the Festival.
In the Silver Cross Red Rum Handicap Chase, TURN OVER SIVOLA can break a run of seconds off a low weight.
Alan King's gelding has run consistently in his five starts over fences this season, battling on particularly well when beaten narrowly by Doeslessthanme at Doncaster last time.
Ideally suited by two miles on good ground and hailing from a stable in form, Turn Over Sivola looks certain to run well.