It's not all about the Grand National on Saturday and true jumps fans
will be just as excited about seeing reigning champion Binocular take on this
year's Champion Hurdle runner-up Peddlers Cross in the Aintree Hurdle
Get a free £200 bet on the 2011 Aintree Grand National when you sign up with bet365 using bonus code MAXIMUMBONUS.
Binocular, in case you need reminding, had to miss this
year's race over concerns that he would test positive after treatment for an
allergy and this is his chance to put the record straight. However, he is going
2m4f for the first time and any chinks in his stamina will be exploited fully by
Peddlers Cross, who will be suited by the extra four furlongs
here. Indeed, Donald McCain's charge has won over the course and distance at
last year's National meeting and beat an admittedly below par Binocular earlier
this season in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. To balance that out, Binocular will be
the fresher horse having missed Cheltenham, whereas Peddlers Cross gave his all
there and might still be feeling the effects.
It's tough to call but this is no two horse race by any means and I fancy we
could see a 'shock' winner. Oscar Whisky and Thousand
Stars, third and fourth in the Champion Hurdle respectively, are
certainly not out of it but CELESTIAL HALO is just preferred.
The Paul Nicholls-trained seven-year-old is classy on his day and, after an
abortive attempt over fences and a couple of lacklustre attempts over hurdles
around the turn of the year, he has looked back to something approaching his
best on his last two starts. He probably would have won this race 12 months ago
but for a fall and has the advantage of being fresh having missed Cheltenham.
His trainer has been in excellent form at the meeting and with Ruby Walsh to do
the steering he could well pop up at a nice price.
The opening Mersey Novices' Hurdle (1.45) is just as mouth-watering with
Cheltenham runner-ups Spirit Son (Supreme Novices') and Rock On Ruby (Neptune
Novices') being taken on by Cue Card and Recession Proof, fourth and fifth
respectively in the Supreme. However, this has not been a good race for fancied
horses, especially those who ran at Cheltenham, and BOLD SIR
BRIAN could beat them all. The son of St Leger winner Brian Boru has
always been held in high regard by his trainer Lucinda Russell and the form of
his Grade 2 win at Kelso last month has had a couple of boosts since from the
placed horses. There should be plenty of pace on here and that will suit this
hold-up performer, who can deliver a strong challenge up the straight and dent
the reputation of his more fancied rivals.
The Maghull Novices' Chase (2.15) looks at the mercy of Arkle runner-up
Finian's Rainbow, who should again take care of
Ghizao (fifth) and Dan Breen (seventh).
Starluck was the best of these over hurdles but didn't look a natural over
fences last time at Sandown and is hard to fancy on that effort. Unfortunately,
we are not going to get rich backing Finian's Rainbow at 4/5 so save your money
instead for INVISIBLE MAN in the John Smith's Handicap Chase
(3.25). The Ian Williams-trained chaser will be a lot sharper for his run at
Haydock last month and looks nicely weighted on just 10st 4lb here. Fast ground
seems to suit him best so conditions have come right and this prominent racer
looks sure to make a bold bid from the front.
As for the big race itself, there are plenty of tips flying round this site
and I've previewed the race myself elsewhere. If anything, this year's renewal
looks harder than ever and, as always, luck is going to play a massive hand.
However, for what it's worth my idea of the first three
are BACKSTAGE, Quinz and Niche
Market , with Surface To Air the best outsider at
100/1 with Victor Chandler, who must be commended for offering 1/4 odds, six
places. Give them your custom or at least steer clear of those bookmakers
offering just four places - I won't name them here. And get your bets on early
as, if last year is anything to go by, just about everything will be shortening
before the off.
1.45 Bold Sir Brian (each-way)
2.15 Finian's Rainbow
3.25 Invisible Man NAP
4.15 Backstage (each-way)