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Fehily to ride Aintree regular State Of Play


Having gained overdue reward in the Champion Hurdle last month, one of the most respected veterans on the circuit has now been given the chance to complete his fulfilment in the John Smith's Grand National itself. If Noel Fehily happens to win on State Of Play at Aintree on Saturday week, however, it would be no less a triumph of patience for the owners and trainer of his mount.

For the Aintree specialist has once again been given an extraordinarily daring preparation by Evan Williams. Since Boxing Day 2008, State Of Play has had just four starts. All but one of them have been in the Grand National, in the last three runnings of which he has finished fourth, third and fourth respectively – in the process vindicating Williams' conviction that he is best when absolutely fresh.

Williams yesterday revealed that Fehily had been booked for State Of Play after Paul Maloney, his partner in each previous attempt, elected to ride the rejuvenated Cappa Bleu instead. Williams hopes to saddle a third runner, in Deep Purple, but stressed that he is "desperately" keen to see rain on Merseyside next week if they are all to take their chance.

Despite the dry spring, watering has maintained the current going on the National course as good, good to soft in places. The track management is monitoring an unsettled forecast for next week.

History is in the offing on the first day of the meeting when Big Buck's seeks to claim outright the record he shares with Sir Ken following a 16th consecutive success over jumps, at Cheltenham last month. His owner, Andy Stewart, confirmed that he will run in the BGC Partners Liverpool Hurdle.

"Obviously, he had a race at Cheltenham, but he just seems to recover so quickly," Stewart said. "You wouldn't have known he had a race at Cheltenham – he could have gone round again. After the race the reaction of the crowd was quite overwhelming. It's an absolute privilege to be a part of it.

"And Big Buck's has never been beaten at Aintree. He ran in a chase the year before he won his first Liverpool Hurdle and, despite hitting every fence in the back straight, still managed to get up and beat Albertas Run."

So You Think, fourth in the Dubai World Cup, has been given the option of dropping to a mile as one of 19 possible rivals for Frankel in the JLT Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on 19 May.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Apothecary (7.00 Wolverhampton) Denied only in a photo on handicap debut over course and distance, despite a troubled passage. Demonstrably entitled to go close again off a mark just 2lb higher.

Next best

Trop Fort (2.50 Exeter) Has got his act together since fitted with blinkers and was reeled in only close home after being kicked clear a long way out at Hereford last time.

One to watch

Captain Bertie (Charles Hills) Unlucky not to land a gamble at Doncaster on Saturday, caught in heavy traffic. While he did not build on a promising return last year, he may prove a different proposition as a gelding.

Where the money's going

Four Commanders is 10-1 from 12-1 with the sponsors for the Ladbrokes Irish National at Fairyhouse on Monday. Most Improved is in continued demand with Coral for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, and is now 9-2 from 6-1.