THE Grand National Festival gets under way today and Alan has a pick for all seven races of the Aintree showpiece.
LA BAGUE AU ROI can get favourite backers off to a flyer at Aintree. Warren Greatrex’s eight-year-old receives an invaluable 7lb mares’ allowance against some very smart 2m 4f novice chasers.
La Bague Au Roi was last seen winning over there miles at Leopardstown in early February and had earlier beaten off Topofthegame and Santini in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. This shorter trip is a slight concern but she should have the measure of Mengli Khan, third to Defi Du Seuil in the JLT Novices’ Chase and two early Cheltenham casualties, Glen Forsa and Kalashnikov.
In an intriguing contest, Bags Groove cannot be ignored after giving weight and a beating to Castafiore in the Pendil Novices’ Chase, while Spiritofthegames threw in an excellent effort at the Festival when chasing home Siruh Du Lac and Janika.
BAND OF OUTLAWS landed a sizeable gamble in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham and looked a bit special after being sandwiched running down to the last flight. He is preferred over Joseph O’Brien’s other entrant Fakir D’Oudairies, a slightly disappointing fourth to Klassical Dream in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. That may have been a stronger contest, however, and he isn’t passed over lightly.
Christopher Wood has mopped up two less competitive races with ease for Paul Nicholls and could be anything, while Nicky Henderson’s Pentland Hills sprung a surprise in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. Henderson also saddles Adjali but he hasn’t lived up to earlier expectations.
CLAN DES OBEAUX didn’t quite get home in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup but he was quite brilliant in the King George at Kempton. Aintree’s flat track should play to his strengths and Paul Nicholls is hopeful Clan Des Obeaux has recovered from his Cheltenham exertions.
Bristol De Mai is looking to make it third time lucky in this 3m 1f Grade 1 contest. He finished runner-up to Might Bite last year, with Clan Des Obeaux held in third, following a below-par fifth in 2017. He also had a hard race behind Al Boum Photo at Cheltenham but looks sure to go close if recovering in time.
Kemboy was the most fancied of Willie Mullins’ Gold Cup quartet but unseated his rider at the first fence. That means he arrives on Merseyside a fresh horse and Ruby Walsh has been bullish about his chance after thumping Monalee and Road To Respect at Leopardstown’s Christmas fixture.
BUVEUR A’AIR is out to atone for his Cheltenham mishap and the dual Champion Hurdler should land short odds in the 2m 4f Betway Aintree Hurdle. He missed this race last year but edged out My Tent Or Yours in 2017. Buveur D’Air also won at Aintree the previous season, just getting the better of Petit Mouchoir in a Grade 1 Novices’ Hurdle.
Faugheen is another previous Champion Hurdle winner and ran third to Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle. This intermediate trip may be more suitable but stablemate Melon, twice runner-up in the Champion Hurdle, should appreciate this step up in trip and rates the danger.
UCELLO CONTI has plenty of Grand National back-form and should go well in the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase. He was fancied to land the Cheltenham equivalent last month but found himself too far back to land a blow behind Hazel Hill, staying on in fifth. Gordon Elliott’s veteran needs to reverse places with Shantou Flyer, Top Wood and Road To Rome but this track represents a very different test.
EAMON AN CNOIC ran a stormer in finishing fourth to Siruh Du Lac at Cheltenham and should play a prominent role in the 18-runner Close Brothers Red Rum Chase. David Pipe’s gelding had earlier scored at Chepstow over a longer distance.
Sandy Orr’s Theinval is one to note when rolling up at Ayr next week but often runs well in this event, finishing second for the past two years. He also scored here in a handicap hurdle in 2015 and is a real spring horse.
THE GLANCING QUEEN is back racing against her own sex after a fine fifth to Envoi Allen in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
12:00 Pontefract - Race: 1
12:10 Windsor - Race: 1
12:20 Hexham - Race: 1