The opening day of Aintree’s Grand National meeting saw several of racing’s stars confirm their class. Not only some of the finest hurdlers in Buveur D’Air and Defi Du Seuil but also in history-making jockey Lizzie Kelly. Her victory aboard Tea for Two in the Bowl became her second Grade 1, having won her first (and the first for a female jockey ever) on the same horse in 2015.
It was a ride of fine quality with a finish that required strength and resolve, which hopefully only better dispels the stereotypical criticism female jockeys endure.
The feature race of the card, the Foxhunters, proved that some horses take to this course and its distinctive fences much better than others. Dineur, second in the race last year (and tipped here yesterday) demonstrated that as he streaked home ahead of Big Fella Thanks, previously placed in a Grand National and a Becher Chase.
For another female jockey, her Grand National hopes appeared over. Katie Walsh was expected to miss Saturday’s event after injuring her arm in a fall while riding Distime when jumping The Chair. She has since tweeted that the fall only left her with 'a bit of bruising' as well as her excitement ahead of the big race.
On to Friday’s racing. The day begins with a highly competitive handicap hurdle where progressive horses understandably feature near the front of the betting. As mentioned above, experience is always worth siding with at Aintree though and Hawk High appeals on that basis. A winner on two of his three starts at the course who lines up on his last winning mark, Tim Easterby’s charge should run well on his preferred ground.
Synonymous with Aintree, the famous silks of Trevor Hemmings will also be carried by Mount Mews in the Crabbie’s Top Novices’ Hurdle. This Malcolm Jefferson trained gelding bypassed the Cheltenham festival to target this, unlike his two most significant rivals Moon Racer and River Wylde. The latter ran a great race in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the festival and will certainly be suited by this flatter track.
In the JLT Melling Chase several will be seeking redemption after disappointing performances at Cheltenham. Fox Norton would have been delighted with a 2nd place finish in the Champion Chase were it not for Douvan’s unexpected defeat.
He was a fast finisher that day though so, despite not getting the better of Special Tiara, could well improve for the longer distance. Sub Lieutenant will surely not be far behind and God’s Own always runs well at Aintree.
The day’s feature is the Randox Health Topham Chase, run over the Grand National fences but a much shorter distance of just over two and half miles. 30 runners go to post making it nearly as tricky to navigate as Saturday’s big race.
As such great jumpers are the ones to keep on side and one that stands out is Go Conquer. His Cheltenham run was eye catching, jumping brilliantly but not quite able to see out the three miles as he finished a creditable fifth.
Others to note include previous Aintree winner Clarcam and fellow Grade 1 winner Irish Cavalier, both of whom will relish better ground.
For those already looking ahead to the Grand National, all your runners and riders are available here.
Race 1: Hawk High 16/1 ew
Race 2: Mount Mews 3/1
Race 4: Fox Norton 3/1
Race 5: Go Conquer 8/1
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