Four successive Grade 1 contests to start the Grand National meeting from Aintree this afternoon and we begin with the Manifesto Novices’ Chase over two-and-a-half miles.
Irish raider The Shunter landed a £100,000 bonus for connections after winning a handicap chase at the Festival last month following on from his Kelso win in the Morebattle Hurdle. His wining time at Cheltenham, however, suggests Fusil Raffles – runner up to Chantry House over the same C&D on the same day – has his beating this afternoon.
Paul Nicholls bypassed the Festival with Hitman (1.45) and I hope his patience is rewarded. The selection – 5/2 with MansionBet & 10Bet – bounced off the good ground when scoring at Newbury last time on his first start since coming down at the first of the Railway fences second time around in the G1 Scilly Isles Novice Chase when he jumped the fence fine but just knuckled on landing. I thought he was going best at the time and this flat left-hand track looks ideal. I will be disappointed if he does not run a big race. Fusil Raffles is considered his main danger.
The unbeaten Monmiral (2.20) runs in the same colours as Hitman and is another Ditcheat inmate who swerved the Festival to wait for the calmer waters of Aintree and I think the decision will bear fruit. The selection – 10/11 with BetVictor – beat a decent yardstick in Nassalam by 11L at Haydock when last seen in February and Gary Moore’s juvenile had previously gone down by just over a couple of lengths to Adagio at Chepstow in G1 company.
Adagio ran a cracker in the Triumph when second to Quilixios but he had a hard race and has been on the go since August when he landed a claimer at Clairefontaine on the flat under Christophe Soumillon. He has been a credit to connections and a testimony to the training skills of David Pipe who has had a terrific season.
Sir Alex Ferguson has had many great sporting days, but this really could be a red-letter day for the former Manchester United boss. Fergie is a part owner of Hitman and Monmiral as well as Clan Des Obeaux who is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time in the Betway Bowl by Paul Nicholls after a tame finishing effort at Newbury when he got to his stablemate Secret Investor but couldn’t – or wouldn’t – go past. A dual King George winner the 9-y-old may not need to be at his very best to land this, but the hope is that the headgear – which jockey Harry Cobden has been advocating for some time – can bring about a change of fortune.
The vote, however, goes to the brilliant Tiger Roll (4.20) who really should be defending his Grand National crown having looked as good as ever when turning the Cross-Country race at Cheltenham last month into a procession. Jack Kennedy is likely to make it a decent test of stamina aboard the Tiger who has not won over regulation fences since the 4m NH Chase at the Festival of 2017! He comes to life in the spring, however, will love the good ground and gets the ew vote at 5s with William Hill.
The best race of the day is the Aintree Hurdle and Abacadabras steps up in trip for the first time having only got as far as the third when coming down in the Champion Hurdle last time. He will love the decent ground and his breeding suggests this extra half-mile could bring about some improvement, but he does have his quirks.
McFabulous (3.25) is another Nicholls runner with an outstanding chance, and he gets a narrow vote even though I have always felt that he is a better horse going right-handed. He made a couple of significant errors when second to Brewin’upastorm – 6lbs worse off – at Fontwell last time over an extended 2m 2f and today’s extra distance will suit. Do note the executive have suggested that rail movements will add 83y to the advertised trip of 2m 4f. There is plenty of pace in the race which should suit the selection, who does get further, and if Harry Cobden can get him into a nice rhythm at his jumps – please not on the wide outside or he will end up on the Melling Road – then he looks sure to run a big race. The 10/3 with Boylesports is about right.
Brewin’upastorm never really took to fences but has looked better than ever in winning his last couple of starts reverting to timber but he is not as strong a stayer as McFabulous who gets a narrow vote.
I have backed a couple in the Foxhunter and preference for Some Man (4.05) over Dashing Perk is marginal. Some Man must have decent ground to be seen at his best and this frontrunner was very impressive when scoring at Down Royal last month after which his trainer immediately nominated this race as his target. The 17/2 with William Hill 4 places looks a fair each way price.
Dashing Perk is another who likes to get on with things and ran a terrific race on the Mildmay course here earlier in the season. His best form is, arguably, right-handed but he is another good jumper of regulation fences. I hope he takes to the unique test that the National fences throw up.
The Red Rum is one of my favourite handicaps of the season with luck sure to play some part in proceedings given 18 go to post in this 2m charge. My two against the field are Frero Banbou and Destrier (4.40) with preference for the latter who has dropped to a mark 15lbs lower than when third in the Haldon Gold Cup back in November 2019.
Following a long absence, the each way selection – 6s with William Hill 6 places – has run three times on ground softer than ideal so far this term but is still only eight and finished third in the G1 Novice Chase over C&D here two years ago. As soon as his stablemate Not That Fuisse finished fifth in the Grand Annual last month I thought this was the perfect race for him – it is interesting that Dan Skelton relies on Destrier in his absence.
In the concluding Mares Bumper the unbeaten Eileendover (5.15) receives 6lbs from Champion Bumper third Elle Est Belle and gets the vote. The Pam Sly trained 4-y-old has won her three starts by an aggregate of over 50L and could be anything with all underfoot conditions, seemingly, coming alike. I am not a great fan of the sire Canford Cliffs, but this granddaughter of the 1000 Guineas winner Speciosa could be very special. She is a shade of odds on at 10/11 with BetVictor.
Elle Est Belle is a course winner who lost her unbeaten record, but nothing in defeat, when third in the Champion Bumper. You would imagine that form would make her a good thing for a Mares’ only event, but the four-year-old is taken to maintain her perfect record.