Sir Alex Ferguson: Enjoying himself as an owner at Aintree

Live Racing Blog | Latest news, tips and chat from the Aintree Grand National Festival

Rachael Blackmore waited until the last to get on the scoresheet at Aintree as Sir Alex Ferguson and friends dominated the first half of the opening day of the Randox Grand National Festival.

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1730: That's all folks.

For today at any rate.

I hope you've enjoyed it and that you'll all be back to join us from around 10am tomorrow as we build up to and follow another excellent day of racing.

1715: Eileendover has hit evens as the bookies try to get some money in the book and end, what I imagine is a good day for them, on a high. The tapes have been drawn across the track and they'll be coming in shortly.

The favourite is settled in about fifth, front rank, a little wide on the course.

Mansoline and Swincombe Fleat lead. Elle Est Belle has only two behind and will be played late. Eileendover has been taken back to ninth, there's a little under a circuit to go. The big two are two of the last five.

Milans Edge is third with Glimpse of Gala fourth, the front two are as they were. Eileendover creeps closer, stalked by her market rival at every step. In the straight. Me Too Please goes well but Skelton hasn't moved on Elle Est Belle. Me Too Please hangs but leads.

Me Too Please beats Elle Est Belle and Miss Lamb with Eileendover only fourth.

Victory goes to Arthur Moore and Rachael Blackmore, the winner is returned at 14/1.

The runner-up followed the wrong horse there, understandably, but I think they will feel that's a race that got away. That said, the winner was very green and could have found more when challenged so you can never be definite.

Dixon and Luck pointing out that the placed horses were watching the favourite while Blackmore kicked clear, racing on a different part of the track from them and stole the race.

The suggestion is that Eileendover over-raced in the first half of the contest and had nothing left in the closing stages as a consequence. That's a shame but there will be other days for her.

1704: Hands up if you want to see Eileendover hose up?

She's looked very good so far and jockey Paul O'Brien believes that she can certainly achieve black type form on the Flat which is a level which should make her hard to beat in this sphere. That is reflected in her price of course and she's remained notably strong all day despite Cheltenham third, Elle Est Belle, being in opposition.

If backing 3/1 shots each-way is your sort of thing then that doesn't seem an unreasonable wager to strike on the second favourite with everything else available at double figures.

There's been a bit of money around for Me Too Please and Wheres Maud Gone (interesting booking with Derek O'Connor riding for Laura Morgan) but I wasn't in a rush to look beyond the jolly.

I did have a second glance at Milans Edge who impressed on her Rules bow and also won a point on her only start in that discipline. There's not a shred of money for her though and it wasn't a strong race that she won.

It's a long time ago that Donald McCain had the talented mare Whiteoak in his stable, mind you she was a well beaten eleventh at 25/1 in this race before coming into her own over hurdles.

1655: Anyone do an each-way multiple with today's Value Bet selections?

There are no prizes for coming second as they say but second is where all three finished with Clondaw Castle (9/1), Buzz (20/1) and Sully D'Oc (16/1) all having to settle for minor honours.

They were all put up win only so it's 'nil points' for Matt - it's a tough game and a tough gig - but that's a cracking effort nonetheless.

Here's a little reaction from Nicky Henderson to the Aintree Hurdle:

“They’ve both run great races and it was just lovely to see Buveur D’Air run like that.

“Jason The Militant (the loose horse) didn’t help him in any way. He was giving him his lead and then when he went and unseated his rider down the far side Buveur D’Air just started tanking too soon, which was bad luck on Nico as he’d lost his cover and then all he did was interfere with him when loose all the way up the straight. He was nearly doing too much too soon. There’s more to come from him. He’s a long way from his pension and that was good to see.

“When I talked to JP (McManus) the other day we were kicking ourselves for not putting him in the three-mile race at Punchestown rather than the two-mile. He’s in the Champion, but so is Epatante, and that’s where she’s intended to go. But he isn’t going to probably beat Honeysuckle. Probably Epatante won’t either, but she’d have a chance and she’s in good form.

“Buzz has improved dramatically but that will be it for him because he loves soft ground. He’s running in these now (Grade Ones) because he’s hit the top of all the handicaps. On good ground two miles is too short for him, but he stays two and a half, and he’ll get two and a half in heavy ground too, so all of those good two and a half mile races will come into play for him.”

Alex Hales and Kielan Woods enjoyed a thrill with third home Millers Bank and he could be a name to note over fences next season judging by their comments.

Hales: “We thought he was improving and to be honest everything is about his chasing career really, so I didn’t think we had an awful lot to lose. I was keen not to run him in the handicap with there being 20-odd runners and we’re taking baby steps with him. He’s such a lovely horse and it really is all about next year and God willing he stays in one piece. He’s a big raw baby and all he wants is a fence.”

Woods: “If he was in Paul Nicholls’ yard he wouldn’t have been that kind of price (100/1). The bold call was proven right and it’s chasing next year for him. That’s his game and he’s a chaser through and through, he’s big and scopey and that was just absolutely fantastic.”

1648: Josh Moore tells Matt Chapman: "The horse took me along. Got into a fantastic rhythm. Missed the cross fence and got lucky at the last. Luckily he had enough in hand to go on and win. It was frustrating there wasn't a stride at the last but luckily he got away with it."

I think that was more or less what he said. Plenty of credit being paid to the winning trainer and the team at home.

Winning owner Steve Preston is enjoying himself and rightly so.

Nick Luck and Martin Dixon believe the winner can hold his own in better class with the latter saying flat tracks and good ground give him the perfect platform for his talents.

Check out the latest preview for Aintree

1634: I was surprised to see a runner in the Tabor colours going to post before I remembered Gowran Park are also racing today.

Lydia Hislop declares she's quite interested in Jan Maat and she thinks he'll be suited by the 'circumstances' of this race and the quicker conditions. He was sent off at 12/1 for last season's Grand Annual and lines up from a similar mark but at double that price.

Zanza will be the same price soon at the rate he's going, he's now 16/1 having been 8s in a place yesterday.

Martin Dixon is in no doubt that Destrier is in completely different form physically than he was earlier in the season. In a very positive way.

Support continues to come for Dostal Phil who is now 17/2.

Post time.

All over the first. And second. Editeur du Gite leads. Zanza out to his right in rear at the third. On The Slopes and Grey Diamond in behind the leader. Destrier sixth or so on the inside. Great jump from the leader at the first on the far side, opens up by three or four. He's over seven and a few of those behind are out of their comfort zone. Three to go. Editeur still leads from Grey Diamond. One to go.

He needs the line and he gets it. Sully D'oc second and Dostal Phil third. Frero Banbou fourth.

Editeur du Gite wins for Josh and Gary Moore. A thrilling, front-running performance and the winner is returned at 9/1.

Getaway Trump is walking away after a fall at the last, as is Harry Cobden, when still in the mix.

1620: Ed Chamberlin reporting that all the horses are fine after that race which is always good news.

Two races to go with the day's only handicap, the Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase, up next.

This promises to be a really good race of its type and as you'd expect, cases can be made for a good number of the field.

Destrier and former winner Moon Over Germany appear to have been prepared with this race in mind while I don't fancy Getaway Trump at all, I can see an argument that this sort of test will suit.

It should be ideal for On The Slopes but he's surprisingly easy to back whereas support continues to come for Dostal Phil.

The King Of May is one I like at longer odds but there aren't many in the top dozen in the betting that I'd be putting a line through (except Getaway Trump).

1606: Forming a line.

Two down at the first of 18, Dashing Perk and Kashmir Peak. Risk And Roll falls at the fifth. Billaway is pushed along ahead of Becher's for a stride or two. He makes a bad mistake at the next (Foinavon?) and Patrick Mullins was right up his neck. He'll do well to win this. He's just got a reminder and the favourite is in real trouble. The last time I said that in-running was about Mount Ida.

Cat Tiger has made a bad mistake and Ucello Conti unseats. Latenightpass and Some Man lead with two to take. Cat Tiger and Sametegal prominent. Cat Tiger leads but is challenged on all sides at The Elbow.

Cousin Pascal wins.

Latenightpass second, tight for third. Billaway ran an extraordinary race to finish a really close fifth.

The winner was returned at 66/1.

Cat Tiger and Clondaw Westie the two involved in the photo for third. Cat Tiger confirmed as third while the fourth was returned at 200/1.

That was a thrilling finish and a second victory in the race for jockey James King. The winning trainer was Joe O'Shea.

King tells Chapman: "Just got very lucky to ride such a horse. All credit to him (O'Shea) and his team, they've improved the horse no end. Brilliant.

"Very disappointed to miss Cheltenham but great that we can get back here and racing. I did appreciate the first time I won this race and I'll definitely appreciate it now."

The lass said something along the lines of 'he tries to kill you every day but he doesn't mean it'. Never a dull moment working with horses.

1602: A small window into the mindset of Sir Anthony McCoy on the clip below.

"Was it a rivalry or a friendship?"

"It was a rivalry. I knew I had to ride more winners than him every day if I wanted to be Champion Jockey. I couldn't control what he was doing but I wanted to!"

Almost a little scary.

It's all far more convivial over where Rishi Persad and Dr Newland are chatting and the latter is hoping for a good run from Dashing Perk.

Most of the field have had a good gander at the first obstacle and hopefully they'll all safely negotiate it.

1555: I wonder why there was a 40 minute gap scheduled between the Aintree Hurdle and this race when the others are 35 minutes apart?

Anyway. Here's a line from Jack Kennedy's post-race interview that I failed to catch at the time.

“I got there way too soon on him, but the loose horse (Jason The Militant) really helped me keep him interested.

“Two and a half miles there, ridden patiently, it suited him great – and he jumped great."

1543: Up next is the Rose Paterson Randox Foxhunters' Open Hunters' Chase where Billaway, narrowly denied at Cheltenham, heads the betting at 5/2.

There are five horses, almost six, in single figures and an awful lot available at fancy odds. There was a 100/1 winner in 2013 but there have also been four winning favourites, one as short as 15/8.

Sametegal ran well in the Grand Sefton a little more than a year ago and is ridden by Will Biddick (for Paul Nicholls) who trained the winner of the Cheltenham Hunter Chase. That would be some double.

Tango de Juilley wasn't far behind Cat Tiger two starts ago and has won since but he's five times the price of the Nicholls runner and consequently makes a modicum of appeal as an each-way alternative.

1535: Jack Kennedy on the winner: "I'm delighted for the whole team. They're one of the best teams in racing, they work really hard. It's good to reward them with winners like this.

"Happy over the first two fences (on Tiger Roll) but I couldn't go any faster after that. He was totally outclassed."

They've just shown a replay of Jason TM's unseat and he jinked to his right very close to the hurdle, unbalancing Rachael Blackmore and seeing her go out of the side door as they say.

The pace didn't appear to be anywhere near as strong as I had expected (although I haven't noted the winning time yet) which might be a frustration to one or two. A few of the beaten horses may have preferred a lead for a little longer but the riderless Jason The Militant performed that role to some extent for Abacadabras for whom the cards fell absolutely perfectly.

1525: They're off.

What do I know? Nothing it seems. Song For Someone is settled in midfield as Jason The Militant leads from Not So Sleepy and McFabulous. The favourite is controlling the pace.

Buveur is fourth with Silver Streak behind and Song For wide on the track. The field are well grouped. Aba lobs along on the heels of Silver Streak. Song For Someone is last and has spat out the dummy. He should have led!

Not much change to the rest of the order but the pace appears to have quickened as Blackmore is unseated from Jason The Militant! Four to jump and Buveur d'Air goes on. You can throw the proverbial blanket over them on the side of the course.

The loose horse jumped into Buveur who still leads. Aba cruises up but gets the last wrong. Aba has the loose horse for company and that helps him. Buzz flies home but Aba has a length in hand.

Abacadabras wins a messy race but I don't think there's any doubt that the loose horse helped him. The winner is returned at 5/1.

Millers Bank runs a huge race to be third. That's a fantastic result for Alex Hales and his team.

1518: The Aintree Hurdle promises to be a cracker.

There's still support for Song For Someone and Buveur d'Air but most of the runners in this field seem to have been tipped somewhere or other which is indicative of the open nature of the race.

In theory this should be run at a reasonable pace which should ensure those stepping up in trip have a proper stamina test and I'd expect to see David Bass give Song For Someone an aggressive ride. Hughie Morrison made a reasonable case for Not So Sleepy while Buzz has been put up on these pages.

There's three minutes to post time and the field are gathered together at the start. Enjoy.

Martin Dixon says of Jason The Militant, 'I think he's got a really good chance'.

1505: Watching the head on and I think Tiger Roll has finished fourth with Aso fifth, a small payday for their connections and reward for them for keeping going.

The money continues to come for McFabulous and there has been plenty of talk that Paul Nicholls has prepared his horses for this meeting. He can win without my money on him at 7/2 though.

He may well take over at the top of the market from Jason The Militant while I'm becoming vaguely interested in Abacadabras now that he's drifted to 11/2. My initial each-way fancy was Brewin'upastorm and I'll stick to my guns with four places on offer with Betfair, Paddy Power and Sky Bet.

Paul Nicholls on Clan Des Obeaux: "I said to Harry either get a lead or be very, very handy. Cheekpieces, as I've always thought, focused his mind. The best thing we did was not take him there (Cheltenham). It's hard to do both. Today was always the plan. That (defeat at Newbury) woke us up a little bit as we were probably getting the tactics wrong with him a little bit.

"The King George will be his number one aim and then back here and that will be it really. If the ground is decent that's a decent race (Betfair Chase at Haydock) for him, the Charlie Hall would be the other one.

"That (bet365 Chase at Sandown) would be the other possible or supplement him for Punchestown but it's never really been on my radar. It might be worth a look but the Sandown race is very interesting.

"He hasn't done a lot this season and he's in the form of his life.

"If he (McFabulous) puts his best foot forwards, why not. Deep down I think he's better right-handed."

Seems everyone is taking credit for the cheekpieces, makes you wonder why they weren't used before!

1500: That was simply very, very good.

Harry Cobden speaking to Matt Chapman: "What a difference it's (the cheekpieces) made. That just brought the best out of him today. I wanted to be up there, fairly positive and get him jumping well. Brilliant. It's all come together. It's great to have him back in top form, absolutely delighted.

"I've given him a clip round the ear and I could feel him take off beneath me."

Cobden told Chapman that he'd been trying to persuade everyone to put the cheekpieces on him before and feels that they made a big difference to the nine-year-old.

Native River appeared to sulk after failing to get to the front, it seemed fairly extraordinary that he couldn't, while Waiting Patiently wasn't anywhere near his best. Mister Fisher made one mistake too many and there really wasn't anyone left to challenge Clan Des Obeaux after that. Clondaw Castle tried hard but was a handicap winner taking on a dual King George winner.

Always easy in hindsight. The winning time was 6:25:94.

1447: This may not be a top-class renewal of the Betway Bowl but it is an intriguing race and Tiger Roll lining up is just a small part of that.

Clan Des Obeaux hasn't been at his best this season but I'm warming to the idea of him bouncing back here and I think that should be enough to see him win this prize. Money continues to come for Native River though and Waiting Patiently is holding his position in the market.

Walking in.

Native River rousted along to try and get to the lead but he's in fourth and going nowhere after the first. Mister Fisher is the surprise leader over the third, from Clan Des and Tiger Roll. Jonjo O'Neill still trying to get to the front on Native River and he's switched inside horses in an attempt to get the old boy to pick up the bit. Real Steel is being ridden cold with Waiting Patiently just in front of him.

Tiger Roll has been taken back (or dropped back?) to the second half of the field. Native River is almost into a share of second at fence eight. Tiger Roll in the last three now, behind even Waiting Patiently. Clondaw Castle is fourth. They're over 11 with eight and a circuit to go.

Aso and Real Steel struggling, they're in company with Tiger Roll while Mister Fisher has unseated De Boinville leaving Clan in front. Native River his nearest pursuer but Clondaw Castle still goes well.

Three to jump. Clondaw Castle second. It's between the two. The dual King George winner is back and Clan Des Obeaux wins impressively and by a wide, wide margin.

The form may not be worth anything but you can't hold that against the winner who must have returned to somewhere near his best.

1439: Two out of two (races not runners) for the predominantly white silks which will be carried by Clan Des Obeaux and he is one of three selections for Kevin Blake, in fact he carries the nap.

Jason The Militant and Moon Over Germany, names that have been put forwards repeatedly, are the other two.

I've warmed to Clan Des Obeaux, in no small part due to his price in relation to his rivals. I can buy into the belief that Newbury was something of a prep for this contest and that he'll improve for the fitting of cheekpieces.

Paul Nicholls tells Lydia Hislop (about Monmiral): "He's a horse with a future and that's a lovely race here to win.

"He was very impressive at Haydock and today he's beaten Adagio well. It's hard with the novice chasers as five-year-olds, if he had another year over hurdles it wouldn't do him any harm. It might be nice to start in something like the Fighting Fifth. It's something to think about over the summer. A bit of time wouldn't hurt him.

"We can keep our options open and then decide. Harry said to me 'he's one of the best juveniles he's sat on' but ultimately chasing will be his job."

Nicholls went on to add that he felt Hitman was a little light today and that he will improve as he matures and strengthens up. He could drop back in trip next season. Nicholls pointed to his struggles against the older horses in the spring (without the now reduced weight for age allowance) as a reason why they might keep Monmiral back over hurdles for another year.

There was no word on Clan Des Obeaux but the runners for the Bowl are leaving the paddock and making their way on to the course.

1430: Harry Cobden tells Matt Chapman: "Absolutely fantastic. He's a proper horse. He's top class. He had loads in the tank. He's a proper Grade One horse. I'd love to see him jump a fence."

Sounds like it will the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy for Monmiral rather than the Champion Hurdle and it wouldn't be any great surprise if he's the new market leader.

I'm no bookmaker!

He can still be backed at 22/1 according to the Oddschecker grid which does surprise me.

Everyone on Racing TV is suggesting that fences will bring the best out of him and that he's a smart long-term prospect.

1419: There could be more pressure put on Monmiral's hurdling in this better race and the favourite has gone odds against on the exchanges. He has made one or two mistakes in his short career but these young horses are entitled to do that.

We're a shade past post time but the flag is raised and they're sorting themselves out.

Fiveandtwenty leads from Paros then Monmiral who is tracked by Adagio. Quite a long run to the first. The lead is around three or four lengths as they pass the winning post. These tactics have been employed to good effect at Musselburgh and it might be dangerous to give her too much rope. They're at the sixth and she's stretched her lead. No change to the order.

Heading to three out. Monmiral moves up to challenge. Adagio waited with. This is shaping up nicely but Adagio made a mistake at the last and that may have made the difference, a great shame although Monmiral stretched about seven or eight clear so it may not have made any difference. A very impressive performance.

Monmiral was returned the 10/11 favourite.

Martin Dixon was very impressed suggesting that could be the best juvenile performance of the season but neither he nor Nick Luck believe the winner will be hanging around over hurdles.

The winning time was 4:12:6.

1413: It's 12/1 bar the big two and it's hard to argue with that as there doesn't appear to be a great deal of depth to this contest.

Dan Skelton runs a couple of 80+ rated Flat horses but they've got to improve a great deal from their initial experiences and it won't be until next season and beyond that we see the best of them in this sphere you'd imagine. Lydia Hislop is quite encouraging about John Locke though, and reveals that Dan Skelton told her that he would be played much later in the day than he was in the Adonis at Kempton.

You'd imagine that Fiveandtwenty will lead again and that she will be shadowed by the big two.

Meanwhile, there's news of a going change at Taunton where it is now good to firm, good in places.

1403: Monmiral is back down to odds-on for the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

I'm quite partial to a drop of the sponsor's brew but I'm not particularly sweet on one of the market leaders over the other in this two mile Grade One. It does seem a little rude to Adagio that he's not the market leader so he would be my nominal pick as a result.

There was no fluke about his run in the Triumph Hurdle where he split two very good horses.

Dan Skelton: "I think we all learnt a few lessons about Cheltenham and maybe we'll do things differently next year. I have to say that was a bit of a shock for him to win. He was beaten after two jumps (at Kelso). Everything had to change (tactics, wind operation, tongue strap). It was a surprise though. I thought he would run well and maybe finish third or fourth. I honestly didn't think that what happened would happen.

"This is definitely his trip. A little softer ground wouldn't be amiss. We're very, very proud of him. You've got to take your hat off to the horse. Originally I was thinking we'd start in something like the Old Roan but maybe we could start in the Charlie Hall but that's a long way off and we'll concentrate on now. I was surprised by him winning but that's not to say I didn't think he's a very good horse; he has a big, big future."

1354: Dan Skelton's fine run of form continues and Protektorat was returned at 17/2.

Three and three quarter lengths and a neck were the winning distances.

I'm tempted to stay with the coverage from Taunton but I've switched to Racing TV's dedicated Aintree channel in the hope of picking up some reaction to that first Grade One.

Nick Luck is reporting that initial indications are that Fusil Raffles is okay, he's walking back.

I don't think any interviews are going to be immediately forthcoming but ITV Racing are up and running now so it may not be too long until we hear from one Skelton or t'other.

That success saw Harry draw level with Brian Hughes on 134 winners in the Jump Jockeys' Championship.

1343: It won't be long until they're coming in.

Nick Luck is keen on Eldorado Allen but Martin Dixon doesn't sound persuaded. They're off!

Fusil Raffles leads from Hitman and The Shunter. They've jumped three. They're almost in single file behind Fusil as they enter the home straight for the first time but that scenario doesn't last long.

Fusil Raffles loses the lead after making a mistake at the first on the far side. He's pulled up not long after.

Hitman, The Shunter and Eldorado the front three. Umbrigado a close fourth, four out.

The Shunter goes well in second but doesn't take that fence well. Protektorat played late. Hitman still leads and kicks on.

He's challenged at the last and Protektorat goes past and wins by about three lengths, The Shunter edges out Hitman for second.

He had had a wind operation and was fitted with a tongue tie and was given a very good waiting ride by Harry Skelton.

Dave Nevison is suggesting that Hitman and The Shunter did plenty out in front and the former still looks very much a work in progress while the latter has plenty of room for improvement in his fencing.

1333: The Shunter is in picture and looks to be gleaming.

Lydia Hislop is going to run through them but doesn't comment on his appearance.

Hitman has two handlers and is on his toes, throwing his head around a little; hopefully he won't get too worked up.

I think Tom Symonds is paddock side casting his eye over the runners, it will be a big day for him if Song For Someone goes close as Hislop casts aspersions on the claims of Protektorat.

Fusil Raffles, though, should be 'very well suited by conditions' and he is on his way down to the start under Daryl Jacob.

Don't miss Sky Bet's Money Back as Cash offer for Aintree

1323: It won't be long until the focus on Racing TV switches to the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices' Chase with the horses due to come into the paddock shortly, if they're not there already, but there's an update from Taunton first. I did wonder about backing Presuming Ed in the second at Somerset but I've rather missed the price. I think I can leave him alone now.

As for the betting at Aintree, The Shunter is the outright favourite with some firms which seems fairly extraordinary to me but might just be a measure of the confidence behind him.

I'd still rather have Hitman and, primarily, Eldorado Allen on my side with the latter appealing as an each-way option.

Get set for the Randox Grand National at Aintree

1311: I got a little overexcited yesterday when looking at Friday's card and jumped in with both feet, possibly without due consideration.

Master Debonair caught the eye in the opening race. He's moved from Colin Tizzard to Harry Fry (whose string seems to be in better form) and has his first start since having a wind operation.

That's fairly by-the-by as it was the pick of his novice hurdle form, such as his eight length defeat of Ribble Valley, that really captures the imagination in company with his much reduced handicap mark. It's easy to forgive him this season's two poor runs given the form of the Tizzard stable in the first half of the season.

The closing handicap hurdle is horribly competitive but Thistimenextyear was only beaten a head in the race in 2019 and lines up from a pound higher mark (he's not raced since June of that that year) with Richard Spencer going to the trouble of booking top Irish conditional Simon Torrens. That suggests connections are hopeful of another big run and I'm hopeful that he's primed to go one better.

I may have got carried away.

Sky Bet paying Extra Places on the Aintree feature

1258: Paddy Power are offering money back as a free bet on the Betway Bowl (if you finish second, third, or fourth) this afternoon so if you haven't made your mind up who (if anyone) you're backing in the Grade One feature then perhaps the below tweet might help.....

I've been coming around to the idea of Clan Des Obeaux winning with the 3/1 eminently tempting. He's only nine years of age so is hardly too long in the tooth yet.

It could be a huge day for the owners, including Sir Alex Ferguson, whose colours are also carried by Hitman and Monmiral.

1248: There you have it. There's a little under an hour until the first but the all-weather action from Southwell is almost underway and Taunton doesn't follow far behind.

Ben Linfoot is on duty at the track today and I've just asked if he had any gems that I can share in the blog.

'Not really!' came the reply.

I suppose there aren't that many people there so perhaps the gossip and words to the wise are thin on the ground. Either that or he's just keeping them all to himself.

1237: The Racing TV team have moved onto the Foxhunters' and I'm going to try and pay attention.

Dan Barber of Timeform is keen on Billaway with the belief that the distance of this race suits him better than the trip at Cheltenham. He points out that Will Biddick could achieve an unusual feat in training the winner of the Cheltenham race and riding the winner of the Aintree version.

There's a quiz question / answer for you.

When pushed by Tom Stanley for one at longer odds, Latenightpass is put forward. I think the latter's odds have collapsed rather since they last checked the market as the double figure prices they were talking about are no longer available.

They are concentrating on the 'plots' in the Red Rum with Moon Over Germany - who won the most recent renewal - preferred to Destrier.

Barber's best bet on the card is Hitman saying: "I'm normally a formbook punter but he could have that x-factor and I don't think the form target set in this race is insurmountable."

Megan Nicholls nominates Monmiral as the runner of her father's that she is most looking forward to. She would be surprised if he didn't handle the better ground as he's got a very good action.

'Team Tips' from the Racing TV crew: Niall Hannity: Moon Over Germany; Tom Stanley: The King Of May; Megan Nicholls: Brewin'upastorm; Dan Barber: Hitman.

1232: Jonjo O'Neill jr is hopeful of a big run from Native River and has got an exciting book of rides over the next three days and the better ground will suit a number of his mounts, including Eldorado Allen in the opener.

He rides Mister Malarkey in the Grand National on Saturday, his first ride in the race, and describes him as 'an interesting runner' but you rather get the feeling he wasn't expecting a great deal.

Click on the image for Alex Hammond's Grand National preview

1225: It is the time when the season's merge and some breaking news on the wire from the Flat.

Teddy Grimthorpe is stepping down from his long-standing role as racing manager to Juddmonte Farms after 22 years.

Grimthorpe's statement read: “I have always felt that the time for me to stand down from Juddmonte would be when Prince Khalid was no longer involved. It has been a huge privilege to work for the Prince and his family, and with the outstanding Juddmonte team, which has been so successful for so long.

“Of course I am sad to leave. But, with the Prince’s death two months ago and over 20 years as his Racing Manager, now is the right time. I leave an organisation in great shape, which is supreme at what it does, and I have no doubt Juddmonte will continue to thrive and produce top-class homebred thoroughbred horses competing at the highest level on racecourses across the world.”

1218: Zac Baker, younger brother of George, rides Killaro Boy in the Foxhunters and is hopeful of a good run: "He travels well jumps well, should be a good spin. Looking forward to it.

"He will take me there, he's quite keen, he wears a hood for a reason but that might help me. Try and race in third and fourth and fiddle away from there."

Baker works at Nigel Twiston-Davies' yard and schooled Ballyoptic over some National fences recently and reports that although he hasn't sparkled this season they 'really lit him up' while he reveals that Daryl Jacob is excited ('that doesn't happen very often') about the prospect of riding Bristol de Mai in the National.

1207: It's not often that people are waiting around to watch the Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race but Eileendover has captured the imagination this season.

Pam Sly's filly is odds-on but faces no easy task with the Cheltenham third in opposition while the sole Irish raider Me Too Please featured in the market movers (1055 entry).

Fran Berry is providing his selections on Racing TV and he kicks off by putting up Waiting Patiently in the Bowl. He believes today's conditions could help to bring about the best in Ruth Jefferson's stable star.

Jason The Militant is Berry's fancy in the Aintree Hurdle with further improvement expected over the new trip.

Zanza is preferred to Moon Over Germany in the Red Rum with little having gone right for Philip Hobbs' runner on his last two starts. I am surprised that he hasn't proved more popular in the market as there were a lot of people making a case for him being well handicapped prior to Cheltenham. Berry sticks to those guns here.

I think he thought his interview was done when a question about The Shunter was thrown at him but he did reply, "I think he'll take a lot of beating".

He didn't make it into the three selections though.

1158: I didn't linger on the Rose Paterson Randox Foxhunters' Open Hunters' Chase but the Cheltenham form could come to the fore with runner-up Billaway heading the market and fourth home Latenightpass among the market movers.

David Maxwell enjoys himself in this sphere and Cat Tiger is an obvious contender for Paul Nicholls who revealed in his column that this race 'has always been the target'.

I'm afraid there is no great insight forthcoming from these quarters.

1149: I'm hopeful that the first might be a 'pot buster' but I couldn't see beyond the big two in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

Splitting them isn't easy, particularly now that the pair are much closer in price. Adagio has been underestimated all season and may have been again but it's not a contest that I have a strong view on.

A couple of fillies have popped up here in the last decade and Fiveandtwenty has done everything easily enough so far. It's feasible that she can take the necessary steps to get involved but I'm in no rush to pay to find out.

1126: The day opens in a little over two hours time with a fascinating renewal of the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices' Chase.

I was reading yesterday about how well Fusil Raffles' run in the Marsh Novices' Chase stacked up on the clock but that hasn't made me any less keen to take him on.

In contrast, The Shunter's time was poor but that hasn't stopped JP McManus reaching for the cheque book (non-fungible tokens? I learnt a new word this week) and purchasing the Plate winner and he's been backed as though the legendary owner is keen to recoup the purchase price.

One of the stories of the season, The Shunter fairly sprinted home despite a mistake at the last and McManus must believe that the eight-year-old hasn't hit his ceiling yet.

Protektorat looked so good earlier in the season but can't be backed with confidence now while it's a stretch, but not impossible, to make a case for Phoenix Way at 33s. It looks best to concentrate on the top of the market though and as much as I like Hitman, Eldorado Allen appeals as the one to be with at around 7/1.

He ran well in the Sporting Life Arkle, shaping as though this longer trip would suit, and that form - as well as the balance of his chasing efforts - entitles him to greater respect in the market. He just looks overpriced for my money and I'd be quite happy to back him each-way with the two places on offer.

1115: It's time for another press release!

It's an update from Aintree on the going and non-runners.

The 2021 Randox Grand National Festival gets underway today with Randox Liverpool’s NHS Day and the going is Good to Soft on all courses – Mildmay, Hurdle and Grand National.

Sulekha Varma, Clerk of the Course, said: “The team have done a superb job. It’s been a really challenging couple of weeks with the weather - we had a spell of hot weather, and now we’re all well rugged-up.

“It’s pretty chilly now and windy today. We’ve had rain promised and not arriving, so it’s been a real challenge for the team, but they’ve stepped up and I think what we’ve got now is perfect.

“We’re Good to Soft on all three courses to start racing today. We’ve been watering for the past three days and we also did a bit of watering when it was hot last week. We’ll see where we are by the end of today. We are forecast some rain tonight, so it may be that we can sit back and let nature take its course this evening.”

Varma took up her role as Aintree’s Clerk of the Course at the beginning of 2020 but has had to wait more than a year to oversee her first Randox Grand National Festival after COVID-19 cancelled last year’s event.

She said: “I’m dying to get going now. I’m glad today’s finally arrived and I’ll be even happier when Saturday gets here.

“It’s been a long build-up, but for me the cloud had a silver lining in that it gave me more time to get my feet under the table, as such, and get to know the team and settle in. We had the challenges of COVID and so on and I actually think it has brought the team together more as a unit.”

GoingStick Readings: Hurdle Course - 5.8; Mildmay – 5.6; Grand National – 5.4

Non-Runners Today

4.05pm Rose Paterson Randox Foxhunters' Chase

3 Captain Cattistock (Self Certificate, Lame)

10 Greensalt (IRE) (Self Certificate, Infection)

5.15pm Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race

2 Code Name Lise (IRE) (Self Certificate, Lame)

Non-Runners Tomorrow

4.40pm Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle

14 The Cob (IRE) (Self Certificate, Bad Scope)

Non-Runners Saturday

2.25pm Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle

3 Ballybegg (IRE) (Double Declaration)

1104: I had hoped to find one that I was really keen on in the Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase but, as a friend once said to me of Venice, I found them all 'much of a muchness'.

I think we ended up in a bar watching Chelsea v Swansea in the Premier League. Culture eh?

I may yet change my mind as the market continues to take shape but the horses I latched onto initially are mainly towards the top of the betting and the prices didn't excite me. Destrier, the well-backed (see below) Grey Diamond, Moon Over Germany and On The Slopes are all to the fore while I was intrigued to see Tom O'Brien on Dostal Phil rather than Zanza as I imagine he had the choice.

Having finally remembered to look more closely I see that Michael Nolan has ridden Zanza twice back in the day so perhaps that's all there is to it. Dostal Phil is proving far the stronger of the pair in the betting.

The one that did take my eye at longer odds (25s) was The King Of May who has posted a series of creditable efforts this season. He will need to improve to win and I don't think that's impossible but I haven't convinced myself that I'm strong enough on his winning chance to back him each-way and he may be more of a candidate for the exotics.

In contrast, if On The Slopes hits 10/1 my finger will be twitching over the 'back' button.

1055: Details of the Sky Bet and Paddy Power market movers and offers have been sent my way and here they are:

Sky Bet Market Movers

1345 – The Shunter 11/4 from 4/1

1420 – Adagio 5/4 from 15/8

1450 – Mister Fisher 6/1 from 7/1

1525 – Buveur D'Air 8/1 from 11/1

1605 – Latenightpass 13/2 from 9/1

1640 – Grey Diamond 15/2 from 10/1

1715 – Me Too Please 10/1 from 12/1


1420 Aintree – Money Back As Cash If 2nd

1450 Aintree – Betway Bowl Chase – Paying 4 Places instead of 3 if 8 or more run

1525 Aintree – Aintree Hurdle – Paying 4 Places instead of 3 if 8 or more run

1605 Aintree – Foxhunters Chase – Paying 6 Places instead of 3 if 18 or more run

1640 Aintree – Red Rum Chase – Paying 6 Places instead of 4 if 16 or more run

1715 Aintree – Paying 4 Places instead of 3 if 8 or more run

Price Boosts

1345 Aintree – Manifeso Novices’ Chase – Fusil Raffles 11/4 to 3/1 & Hitman 11/4 to 3/1

Paddy Power Market Movers

1420 Paros 25/1 from 33s

1450 Mister Fisher 6/1 from 15/2

1525 Song For Someone 9/1 from 10s

1605 Cat Tiger 6/1 from 13/2

1640 Grey Diamond 15/2 from 17/2

1043: I'll continue below shortly but the Grand National declarations are in and Secret Reprieve is a second reserve. If there are any non-runners before 1pm on Friday, the reserve system will come into play.

It would be a shame to see a leading fancy denied a run and there will be an anxious wait for connections.

1038: Eddie O'Leary has produced a few headline making soundbites this week and I wonder how many of Tiger Roll's supporters will want to see him win this 'terrible Grade One'.

Tiger Roll can't be held responsible for his connections' comments and it was brilliant to see him back in top form at Cheltenham for all there is a suspicion that Easysland wasn't in the same form as the previous year. It's been a long time since he's run over regulation fences and it would be very surprising were he to emerge on top.

I wouldn't go as far as O'Leary's description of the race but most of the field do have questions to answer. Clan Des Obeaux has been below his best this season (cheekpieces could help and this could have been the target for some time), Waiting Patiently isn't easy to catch right and hasn't won since 2018 and the drying ground could be against the admirable Native River.

It's no surprise that punters and tipsters have looked outside that trio to Mister Fisher and impressive Kempton handicap winner Clondaw Castle but the 'fancy' prices on the latter have disappeared and I'm coming back to the idea of Clan Des Obeaux being the bet at 3s.

1024: I'd love to see Buveur d'Air win it solely because he's been such a brilliant campaigner with his electric hurdling always a joy to watch.

I can't see it though and I'm reasonably keen on Brewin'upastorm as an each-way option. He was impressive when beating McFabulous at Fontwell and Aidan Coleman was insistent that there was further improvement to come from that run and Coleman presumably had the choice between this fellow and Song For Someone who impressed earlier in the season.

The race should be run to suit with Not So Sleepy and Song For Someone (for whom David Bass should be an excellent partner) likely to be ridden aggressively and there are are four places on offer with Betfair, Paddy Power and Sky Bet.

I expected Abacadabras to run well in the Champion and there's plenty of encouragement in his pedigree for him seeing out this new trip but he's tricky to produce at the right time in the finish and is hard to trust win only.

McFabulous was almost too bad to be true in the National Spirit. This looks to be his trip and he meets Brewin on better terms. I suppose the fact he's half the price of that rival is encouraging if you fancy him as better is clearly expected but I'd want them to be much closer together in the market before I considered backing the Paul Nicholls runner.

1015: There shouldn't be many excuses with the ground but there are a few runners that still have to prove they can handle spring good to soft.

The last two winters have been fairly wet and most of last spring's racing was lost so a fair few runners have only ever encountered soft and heavy going. They include Jason The Militant who is favourite for the Aintree Hurdle and trainer Henry de Bromhead said 'it has to be a concern' and he did jar himself on his racecourse bow on good ground when third to Envoi Allen in a bumper.

You'd hope that he'd be able to cope with these conditions just fine now he's a little older and more mature individual and that he'll also be equally at home over this longer trip, the first time he's raced beyond two miles.

The 3/1 favourite does, though, have those two questions to answer but his 'biggest fan' seems in no doubt that he can.

1007: You may be wondering about the state of the ground (good to soft) and weather fans can get up close and personal with the forecasts throughout the day with WeatherTrax Live making its Aintree debut.

According to the press release which I've clearly copied and pasted: 'WeatherTrax is delivered by Cambridgeshire-based technology and ground management company, TurfTrax, and connects users directly to the on-site racecourse weather station providing 24/7 access to a range of detailed scientific measurements via the racecourse’s own website.

'Information including wind speed and direction, air and soil temperature and soil moisture is streamed live and published alongside independent GoingStick readings enabling horsemen, media and racing fans to monitor weather changes and ground conditions in real-time.'

Latest WeatherTrax information for Aintree Racecourse can be found here.

Aintree Clerk of the Course Sulekha Varma said, “The Randox Grand National Festival is a global event and the appetite for data increases year on year."

The more information the better and there have been positive steps with the publication of wind-operations and steps being taken to provide sectional timing but it could be a while until I'm monitoring the soil moisture levels. Then again, I'm always a step behind with technology.

According to Mike Maher of TurfTrax, "The data was accessed almost 50,000 times during the Cheltenham Festival band we expect Aintree data to be equally sought after."

1000: Good morning.

The temperatures may not feel like summer but the first of the swallows have arrived and it won't be long until the action is hotting up on the track.

There's a good, solid, competitive card at Aintree this afternoon with nary an odds-on favourite in sight - well, apart from the bumper but I wouldn't be surprised to see Eileendover hit evens or bigger.

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