Aintree: Thousand Stars looks to make it third time lucky in the Hurdle

Runner-up for last two years to Oscar Whisky aims to go one better in feature race on Aintree's opening day

Aintree

Anomalous as it may seem, plenty of real aficionados will view the one race that engages everyone else at Aintree this week as barely incidental to much they will witness in the meantime. Sprinter Sacre himself will dignify proceedings tomorrow, while the opening day of the meeting has been reinforced by a race previously overshadowed, on the Saturday card, by the Grand National.

Remarkably, Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars not only finished first and second in the last two runnings of the John Smith's Aintree Hurdle, but were divided by exactly the same margin – a neck – on both occasions. This time, however, Oscar Whisky must put behind him an uncharacteristically poor run at Cheltenham last month, in order to make Barry Geraghty repent of his decision to switch to Grandouet.

He also faces an emerging star in The New One, so impressive against fellow novices at the Festival. The presence of the Champion Hurdle third and fourth, Countrywide Flame and Zarkandar, should in theory go a long way to establishing The New One's eligibility for that race next year.

But this race asks that pair a fresh set of questions, being over another half-mile and barely three weeks after they soaked up a demanding race at the Festival.

The extra distance is itself something of a rogue element, given that the sharp track and drying conditions both restore the emphasis on speed. Zarkandar has often looked in need of farther, but could just be lazy. He is tried in blinkers today, in fact, an admission that he needs to sharpen up.

There are no such doubts about Countrywide Flame, a thorough stayer who could enjoy considerable improvement for this longer trip. He handled the track well at last year's meeting and reached a new peak in the Champion, travelling strongly before hanging in there with familiar courage.

The only cause for hesitation is that such a searching race would entitle even this superbly tough animal to recoil, so soon afterwards.

Grandouet was spared the obligation of digging deep at Cheltenham, still on the bridle when falling, but while the track will suit him, he does have to prove his stamina. The New One should meanwhile enjoy the demands of the race, not only because he won over a similar distance at Cheltenham but also because he did so by dint of his speed at the end of a slowly run race. It would be terrific to see him seal his breakthrough, but the odds make a few presumptions in favour of a horse who must raise his game afresh just when he might be ready for a rest.

With freshness on his side, having sat out the Festival, Thousand Stars (3.05) could yet make it third time lucky. He has spent most of his career being persecuted by Hurricane Fly, but there is no disgrace in that, while he seldom gets the chance to run on this type of going and has next to nothing to find on official ratings – whatever the odds might suggest.

The other big race of the day provides Silviniaco Conti (2.30) with an excellent opportunity to compensate for his Cheltenham misfortune in the Betfred Bowl.

Quite how well he would have got up the hill in the Gold Cup remains hard to say, but he was certainly still tanking along when coming down and his novice success here last year helped to establish his relish for sharp tracks.

As a rule he is a splendid jumper and, with however heavy a heart, he must be acknowledged a more likely winner than First Lieutenant, if only on account of the latter's exertions in pursuit of Cue Card at Cheltenham.

Mouse Morris turned out to be right – as if anyone could be surprised – in believing First Lieutenant better suited by this kind of trip, as he was caught flat footed that day, but the net result was a pretty hard race.

Flaxen Flare (2.0) landed a 25-1 nap at Cheltenham and merits fidelity as he steps up in class for the Matalan Anniversary Hurdle.

He travelled very powerfully in his new blinkers and a rapid tempo round these turns could prompt him to raise his game anew.

The amateurs, meanwhile, get a first crack at the big fences, and you can only hope they show a suitably professional sense of their obligations. Step forward Sam Waley-Cohen, who has a brilliant record round here and teams up with a feasible contender in Cottage Oak (3.40).

Though ultimately well beaten behind the classy Salsify in the Festival version, he was prominent a long way and may prove suited by this shorter trip.

The other race on Channel 4 is a horribly competitive handicap, with Paul Nicholls looking sure to be involved with either of his pair, but Pires (4.15) is none the less a strong fancy back on better ground for a trainer who had his rangefinder spot on at the Cheltenham Festival.

The meeting opens on going officially given as a mixture of good to soft and good, following a cold, breezy but dry day.

Only six runners were declared for the Melling Chase tomorrow, but the fact these include not only Sprinter Sacre but also Flemenstar and Cue Card qualifies it as potentially the race of the season.

For those Flat racing diehards indifferent even to such a field, meanwhile, the first serious Classic trials of the season are run in Paris today – featuring What A Name in the Prix Imprudence.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Flaxen Flare (2.0 Aintree) Worth playing up Festival winnings in this higher grade as the way he travelled in the blinkers at Cheltenham suggests he will adore this sharper track.

Next Best

California English (7.55 Wolverhampton) Hasn't always looked wholehearted but, ridden by Andrea Atzeni, definitely equal to this kind of rating, nailed only by a thriving rival in a photo on his last visit here.

One To Watch

The well-bred Moidore (John Quinn) is still going forward for his new trainer, judged from the gusto of his approach prior to a photo-finish defeat to Lady Kashaan on his reappearance at Musselburgh last weekend.

Where the money's going

Balthazar King is 16-1 from 22-1 with William Hill for the John Smith's Grand National on Saturday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game