Two winners (SP’s 2/1 and 7/2) on the opening day of the National meeting from six selections and I hope those of you who backed Pied Piper also got paid on the dead heat courtesy of the First Past The Post concession that so many bookmakers offer. The decision of the Aintree stewards to demote the juvenile was wrong and sets a dangerous precedent.

The race was symbolic of another frustrating day for Gordon Elliot who saddled two seconds, but it would have been a hat-trick of runner up finishes had Zanahiyr not took a heavy fall at the last in the Aintree Hurdle.

The first of the Grade 1 contests this afternoon is the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle over two-and-a-half miles, and I am surprised that Sam Thomas is running Good Risk At All in this race rather than in a handicap from his current mark.

Three Stripe Life finished runner up to Sir Gerhard in the Ballymore and that is the best form in the book. Elliot deserves a change of luck, but I think he is a vulnerable favourite. Walking On Air could be anything after looking a potential star at Newbury on debut but I will look for an each way alternative to the market leaders.

ELLE EST BELLE (2.25) missed Cheltenham to wait for Aintree and I hope the patience of Dan Skelton is rewarded. The mare had Three Stripe Life behind when third in the Champion Bumper of 2021 and she showed improved form over timber when stepping up to 2m 3f+ in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon.

Recommendation: ELLE EST BELLE 2.25 Aintree EW at 8/1 with BetVictor 4 places

It is great to see Arkle winner Edwardstone rock up in the Maghull Novices’ Chase and he cannot be opposed although at odds on I will be looking for an alternative bet in the race.  

I enjoy looking at markets without the favourite and I hope it is a good day for the Skeltons’ as I will be supporting THIRD TIME LUCKI (3.00) in the market without Edwardstone.

The selection was no match for Edwardstone in the Henry VII Chase at Sandown back in December – went too hard up front – or at Warwick last time when beaten just over 4L by Alan King’s outstanding novice. For Pleasure looks sure to set a decent gallop with Third Time Lucki and Irish raider Gentleman De Mee stalking with Edwardstone held up and waiting to pick up the pieces.

Gentleman De Mee was no match for stablemate Haut En Couleurs at Leopardstown in a Beginners Chase over Christmas and the winner was beaten 16L behind Edwardstone in the Arkle. He looks to have improved in his last couple of starts but he will have to if he is to chase up the favourite.

Recommendation: THIRD TIME LUCKI in market without Edwardstone at 7/4 with Bet365

FLOORING PORTER (3.35) was a facile winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle under a magnificent ride by Danny Mullins from the front and it is hard to see why runner up Thyme Hill or the fourth home Champ should reverse the form although I appreciate Mullins was given an easy time on the lead.

He is a dual Stayers Hurdle winner, however, and I have long thought that Aintree would suit Gavin Cromwell’s 7-year-old at least as much. Champ has flattered to deceive in his last couple of starts and he seemed to be going best at the top of the hill at Cheltenham last time. He has four lengths to find on the winner and last year’s winner of the Liverpool Hurdle Thyme Hill looks the main danger.

Recommendation: FLOORING PORTER 3.35 Aintree at 7/4 with Boylesports

Shan Blue would have won the Charlie Hall a minute had Harry Skelton not come a cropper three out and this better ground will suit more than the soft ground he encountered when running poorly behind Allaho in the Ryanair last month. He is entitled to come on for the run but at 9/4 he looks too short in the market for this competitive handicap returning to an extended three miles.

Christian Williams did us a favour last week in the Scottish National and I hope he can have another big Saturday winner with CAP DU NORD (4.15) despite an 8lbs rise for landing the Coral Trophy at Kempton at the end of February. That form has been franked in the interim period and the drying ground is a big plus. He can reward each way support.

Recommendation: CAP DU NORD EW 4.15 Aintree at 8/1 William Hill 5 places   

The Randox Grand National remains the greatest horse race in the world and, although it is not quite the equine test it once was, it is a magnificent spectacle. Let’s hope whatever the result all horses and jockeys come back unscathed.

Escaria Ten has been my major fancy for the race since the weights were announced and those who took the 33s available at the time will be on good terms with themselves. His third-place finish behind Galvin and Next Destination in the 2021 NH Chase is top class form and he has had a quiet season with everything geared around the National. He is a must for any shortlist.

A win for Snow Leopardess would be a remarkable story with the mare having taken time off when injured to have a foal and return to the track better than ever. A beautiful looking grey the drying ground is a concern and I wonder if she has the stamina for the trip.

Burrows Saint’s stamina gave way coming across the Melling Road a second time last year and he disappointed in the Bobbyjo last time. He was the last of my EW recommendations when the weights were announced but they have all made the race and are much shorter prices.

At the 11th hour, however, I have jumped ship and my pin has come down on ANY SECOND NOW (5.15) who finished third in the corresponding race 12 months ago having been badly hampered at halfway. He is 7lbs higher this afternoon but beat Escaria Ten a nose in the Bobbyjo last time and is 1lb better of; he is another Irish challenger with a great chance.

Recommendations: ANY SECOND NOW 5.15 Aintree at 10/1 with William Hill 6 places

Already advised: Escaria Ten 25/1, Snow Leopardess 33/1 and Burrows Saint 33/1 all each way.

Grand National 1-2-3-4

  1. Any Second Now
  2. Escaria Ten
  3. Burrows Saint
  4. Longhouse Poet

Up to Newcastle and I am prepared to give Sirwilliamwallace (3.25) one last chance back on decent ground returning from a four-month break. He will be the outsider of his five-runner field, but I am sure there is a good chaser in there trying to get out.

Recommendation: Sirwilliamwallace 3.25 Newcastle at 10/1 with William Hill 

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