Denman risks the Festival factor

Gold Cup second is at tight odds but faces very different test from Cheltenham

Aintree demands courage not just of horse and rider, but of those who try to predict their fortunes. Never mind the exotic hazards of the John Smith's Grand National itself – to punters, the next three afternoons of top-class racing are together akin to jumping Becher's Brook. For while you think you know where you stand on taking off, with championship form fresh in the book from Cheltenham, once committed you often find that the ground falls away beneath you.

You can never guarantee how Cheltenham form will stand up here. For one thing, horses who have given their all at the Festival have had little time to get over their efforts. Moreover the two courses play to very different strengths anyway, not least after such a dry start to the spring. Even extensive watering seems unlikely to inhibit a frantic tempo round the sharp, flat Mildmay course, suggesting an unequivocal emphasis on speed.

Today the conundrum finds its most obvious expression in Denman. The 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner made an unexpectedly sprightly defence of his crown, having seemed on the wane when making a tame comeback at Kempton the previous month. He had, of course, been treated for a cardiac disorder during his absence, but immediately seemed in better heart at Cheltenham, jumping with all his old gusto and persevering up the hill once Kauto Star had gone clear.

Though Denman is supposed to be difficult to read at home, Paul Nicholls says that he has been in ebullient form since Cheltenham. He will be very short odds for the Totesport Bowl, not least because he should be relatively fresh after missing so much of the campaign. At the price, however, the usual Aintree caveats apply. Compared with the scimitar of Kauto Star, Denman has always been the bludgeon, best on galloping tracks. His exuberant jumping should allow him to take the initiative, but he will do well to get Exotic Dancer (3.10) off the bridle through the race and could just be vulnerable to that rival's pace in the closing stages.

Exotic Dancer came from a long way back when third in the Gold Cup, and has shown himself very much at home round here – winning this race easily two years ago, and producing a top-class performance under a huge weight on his reappearance last autumn.

Albertas Run is better than he showed at Cheltenham, and tries a tongue-tie today, while Star De Mohaison would be easy to fancy at his best, in receipt of 10lb. Unfortunately his present form must be guesswork, so disappointing was he in the Gold Cup. The one certainty is that Ruby Walsh will be doing his best, Denman's owners having sportingly allowed Sam Thomas, his deputy, to keep the ride on the favourite as a reward for his efforts at Cheltenham.

The Nicholls stable can look forward to another excellent day, regardless. Chapoturgeon (4.55) will surely be hard to beat if in the same form as at the Festival, as the way he travelled there suggests he will have no problems with this track. Likewise the only reservation about Big Buck's (2.0) is that not even Nicholls could keep an edge on Kauto Star and Master Minded when they came here from Cheltenham last year. In principle all looks set fair: Walsh is a joy to watch on this rather awkward customer, who proved himself effective here when winning a steeplechase at the meeting last year.

Walsh and Nicholls will certainly be hard to beat in the Matalan Hurdle, Hebridean (2.35) having long been thought so clearly suited to this track that he sat out Cheltenham. Walkon ostensibly sets the standard of those who did go there, but Starluck showed far more speed before fading on the hill. He would be preferred but for the fact that Hebridean, apparently flourishing at home, has been kept fresh.

First crack at the National fences goes to the amateurs in the Foxhunters' Chase, and it would be nice to see a young point-to-pointing graduate beat the veteran handicap refugees. It happened at Cheltenham, when Cappa Bleu emerged from Shropshire, and maybe Agus A Vic or Having A Cut (3.45) can achieve something similar for Ireland.

The raiders could make their presence felt in the handicaps, too. Valain (next best, 4.20) may prove better suited by this track, having been set plenty to do at Cheltenham and done well to close before hitting the second last. Whinstone Boy (nap, 5.30) is another who could take to this place. He is a strong traveller who could well improve on the better ground.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
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

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home