William Hill ambassador Barry Geraghty looks ahead to the first day of the Grand National Festival from Aintree, featuring Constitution Hill in the William Hill Aintree Hurdle and Shishkin in the Aintree Bowl.
1:45 Manifesto Novices’ Chase
It’s a small field but competitive. Stage Star was impressive over 2m4f in the Turners on soft ground, but I just think you have to tread with caution with that form when you take into account the runner up and the performance of Appreciate It next time at Fairyhouse.
Banbridge obviously missed Cheltenham and comes here fresh, but the ground is a concern for him, so the more rain that falls, the more that could count against him.
SAINT ROI was a good third in the Arkle, when finishing 12 lengths behind El Fabiolo and seven lengths behind Jonbon. I just feel that’s a stronger level of form than the Turners. I won the 2020 County Hurdle on him over 2m1f on soft ground, so while he’s unproven at this trip, I’d have no concerns about him stepping up to 2m4f.
2:20 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle
ZENTA put in a great performance to be third in the Triumph on only her second start for Willie Mullins. She chased home Lossiemouth and Gala Marceau there, and the three were well clear of the fourth. It was a step up on what she had shown before, she travelled and jumped really well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her step up again, and she would be the one you’d want to be on.
There are plenty of others with chances though. Bo Zenith disappointed first time out in Sandown, but has won impressively on his two starts since. I suppose what’s most interesting about him is that he beat Blood Destiny in Auteuil this time last year. If you draw a line through his run at Sandown, he would have very strong claims as well.
I think Nusret would have to step up on what he’s shown so far, and might not have that potential, while Bo Zenith still does.
2:55 Aintree Bowl Chase
There’s a big clash here and it’s going to be a brilliant race to watch.
Bravemansgame was brilliant in Kempton at Christmas, and he ran a great race then to be second to Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup. My only reservation about him is that his runs this season have been at the end of October, the end of December and the middle of March. I wonder if he has benefited from those races being so spread out. He was disappointing last year here at Aintree, when beaten 30 lengths by Ahoy Senor, and he was also beaten two years ago in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle by that same rival. He’s been to Aintree twice and he’s been beaten twice, which would be a slight concern.
SHISHKIN was only beaten three lengths in the Ryanair, but he didn’t jump or travel the way he should have done, certainly not compared to his run at Ascot the time before. The vibes from Seven Barrows are strong though, and considering what he did at Ascot, I’d just side with him.
I think Conflated, who was third in the Gold Cup, could be the one that’s been overlooked here and might be the main danger to the top two. A Plus Tard pulled-up in the Gold Cup, and although he was hampered, I’m not sure he was going that well at the time. Ahoy Senor fell six out and he might just have been starting to feel the pinch too.
3:30 Aintree Hurdle
The 2m4f trip shouldn’t be a concern for CONSTITUTION HILL. His pedigree, being by Blue Bresil out of a King’s Theatre mare, would suggest that he’ll stay. He ran in a three-mile point-to-point as a four-year-old and albeit he got beaten, he didn’t have an issue regarding stamina that day. On what he did at Cheltenham, you’d expect another dominant performance.
Of the opposition, the one I thought that deserved most respect was Zanahiyr, who was third to him in the Champion Hurdle. The step up in trip will suit him and if the ground is on the soft side it won’t be an inconvenience to him.
4:05 Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase
WINGED LEADER was very unlucky to be caught by Billaway in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham last year. He’s been trained for this race, and has won three Point-to-Points since the turn of the year. Barry O’Neill is one of the best amateur riders in both Ireland and England, so Winged Leader is definitely one for the shortlist.
Another of interest is Famous Clermont, who has another good amateur rider on his back in Will Biddick. He ran a good race in Cheltenham last time, but probably didn’t quite get the 3m2f trip. This is different over 2m6f, and is very much a test of jumping.
Latenightpass won this race last year and comes here off the back of a win in his Point-to-Point, although he only won a neck at a short price. I’m sure there is improvement to come on that run, but there needs to be.
4:40pm Red Rum Handicap
This is a very competitive handicap. DANCING ON MY OWN was second in this race last year and looks to have been trained again with this race in mind. He was only beaten two-and-a-half lengths by The Last Day last year, so has to be of interest off only a three-pound higher mark.
Grey Diamond put up a good performance when beating Cornerstone Lad at Haydock last time and has gone up seven pounds for that. He was well suited by the flat track at Haydock, so Aintree should suit him too.
Douglas Talking looks to be a horse on the up. He was a good winner last time at Sandown, when ridden by a seven-pound claimer. He has to carry a 10-pound penalty for that and doesn’t have the benefit of the claim here, so is effectively 17 pounds higher, and would need to have improved again to win this.
5:15pm Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race
The one I like here is GAILLIMH A RUN – Gaillimh which means Galway in Irish – for John Queally. John is a very shrewd trainer and won this race a few years ago with Getaway Katie Mai. Gaillimh A Run put in a smart performance in a bumper at Naas last month and in Thurles in December. Before that she was third behind Halka Du Tabert, who has since gone on to run third in the Mares’ Novice in Cheltenham. Jamie Codd is an interesting jockey booking as well.