William Hill ambassador Nick Luck looks ahead to the first day of the Aintree Grand National Festival and assesses expectations of Constitution Hill in the William Hill Aintree Hurdle.
SAINT ROI has to be the play at the prices in the Grand National Festival opener on Thursday (1.45pm), for which he is 3/1. His excellent Arkle third (settled better) is at least the equal of his market superiors this season, added to which Stage Star was rather gifted the Turners and Banbridge may resent any further softening of the ground. Truthfully the selection may always have wanted this trip, but is only now sufficiently grown up to deal with it.
PERSEUS WAY has possibilities at a price of 11/1 in the Anniversary Hurdle (2.20pm). He might have beaten Nusret at Kempton if he hadn’t been so badly hampered and hadn’t ploughed through the last. Adding to that, he was way better than his finishing position at Cheltenham where he raced too handily and challenged away from the action. With a little more restraint, he could easily hit the frame.
CONFLATED is a hopeful answer to the outrageously tricky question of the Bowl (2.55pm) at 11/2. He ran a lovely race in this last year (this trip on an undemanding stamina track is probably bang on) and is unarguably a better horse this time around. He’ll need to be, because this is loaded with top notchers, but who can predict with confidence which versions of Shishkin and A Plus Tard will show up, while Ahoy Senor was quite shaken after his fall in the Gold Cup and Bravemansgame is considered to need plenty of time between races. The selection might not be far off anyway judged on their Gold Cup running, in which he had far from a perfect trip.
No point opposing CONSTITUTION HILL (1/7), who might win the William Hill Aintree Hurdle (3.30pm) by even further than his Champion Hurdle success, over this trip on easy ground. That said, I’m somewhat tempted by William Hill’s 5/2 about SHARJAH in the ‘without Constitution Hill’ market. He ran another excellent race at Cheltenham and his running style is perfect to maximize his chance of finishing second.
FIER JAGUEN can give Cheltenham hero Bradley Gibbs another memorable day in the Foxhunters’ (4.05pm). This time, however, victory will not be unforeseen at 5/1, particularly if you’ve accessed footage of his point wins this season. Quite simply, he’s a spectacular jumper and incredibly zestful galloper. And, although he has a marked tendency to shift right at his obstacles, he made light of the left-handed track at Revesby Park, where he marmalized a very useful pointer that won his next three Opens well. Last time at Ston Easton he was even more impressive, gearing down late in the fastest time of the day. If he gets in a rhythm early, he’ll be a proper sight over these fences and should get home well.
HASANKEY has a little chance at a biggish price of 14/1 in the Red Rum (4.40pm). He’s a little bit of an ‘after you’ merchant, but has plenty of ability, arrives here in good form off a perfectly fair mark, and with his regular claiming rider aboard. What is compelling is his very good record on flat, left-handed tracks and with a bit of juice in the ground. If they go the usual nutty pace in this, he could well still be travelling well late on and I’m encouraged that he never gave up from an unpromising position when running well in last season’s Grand Annual, showing at least that he could hack this sort of test.
MAGIC DAWN makes quite a lot of appeal in the mares’ bumper (5.15pm) at 14/1. She looked well above average when quickening clear in a Christmas bumper before joining Gordon Elliott, and has the pedigree to be good, as she is a full sister to the smart Magic Daze from the family of Kicking King. She has the physique as well, and won’t mind if this becomes a proper test.