BET £10 GET A £5 FREE BET FOR THE GRAND NATIONAL
1.45 - EFT Systems Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 3m½f)
Teenager Unowhatimeanharry heads the weights for this and it would be fabulous to see him running a big race. He's won over C&D as recently as November and should give a good account, but this is asking a lot.
J'ai Froid is on a roll and shouldn't be underestimated despite a 13lb hike for his most recent wide-margin success at Warwick. He's got a forward role to play again in all probability, while Come On Teddy ran a stormer at Cheltenham last month when third in the Pertemps Final and is another solid player from just 3lb higher for Tom George and Johnny Burke.
The handicapper has asked tough question of Irish raider Whirling Dervish, perhaps too tough, so the pair of most interest are POLISH and Southfield Harvest.
Fergal O'Brien's charge got the better of his Ditcheat counterpart at Newbury in February and this once-useful Flat performer really appeared to relish that first attempt at the three-mile journey. A 7lb rise looks fair for a horse that could have plenty more to offer at this distance.
Not everything went to plan for Southfield Harvest that day as he finished third. He hasn't got that much to make up on the winner and is better off at the weights here, while first-time cheekpieces can also aid him. No surprise to see both in the mix in the closing stages.
2.25 - Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)
My Drogo has been going the right way quickly for Dan and Harry Skelton and they'll be hoping he can provide further Aintree success after a good start to the week.
He made it 3-3 over timber at Kelso in the Grade 2 Premier Novices' Hurdle early last month (Lucky One well back in fifth) and looks a major player on that form. He looks comfortably the best of the British challengers but there has to be some fear the Irish will hold sway again.
They did so in emphatic fashion in this division last month at Cheltenham, winning each of the Grade 1 novice hurdles and in some considerable style at that.
BALLYADAM was never any match for old foe Appreciate It in the Supreme and was fortunate in gaining second spot after Blue Lord came down at the last. That said, leading UK challengers Metier and Soaring Glory were a fair way behind him. He was a three-mile point-to-point winner on good to soft ground and may improve for this faster surface and the step up in trip.
This is his toughest test so far, much more so than Grade 1 Royal Bond he won earlier in the campaign, but it's highly likely he delivers a standout performance with this longer trip a positive check in the box for him.
Dreal Deal has made remarkable progress this season, winning each of his last six starts (four over hurdles) and shouldn't be discounted too readily for trainer Ronan McNally.
Jay Bee Why was behind Adrimel in a Warwick Grade 2 over 2m5f on heavy ground in January but Alan King's charge could turn that around.
He's won well back there since and should appreciate the better ground. It's almost certain he's got more to come and he arrives here fresh having skipped Cheltenham last month (where Adrimel folded very tamely in the Albert Bartlett over three-miles - and may pay for that exertion now).
3.00 - Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 1m7½f)
The SHISHKIN show rolls into town and this should be another stroll for Nicky Henderson's hugely-promising chaser. Nico de Boinville had to take up the running sooner than likely he desired in the Arkle at Cheltenham - as nothing could go the pace to lead his mount - but everything seems to come easily for Shishkin and he cruised through the closing stages in the Cotswolds.
That's four-from-four this season - all of them at long odds-on - and he's impossible to oppose in this contest.
The remaining quartet are fairly well matched on paper and a good scrap for the minor money should ensue.
Longhouse Sale blotted his copybook at Sandown on return from a break last month and needs a bounce back, while Gumball is a quirky character. He was in good form in the autumn but fell at Cheltenham in November and paid a hefty fine at Kempton in December when trying to lead Shishkin around. Poor in one run since over hurdles, he's tough to side with.
Funambule Sivola is progressing well over fences (four wins in six) and could go well here, but his best stuff has come dictating from the front and the presence of Gumball is a worry therefore, as will be his answer when Shiskin inevitably cruises by.
Elvis Mail has been second in his last two starts, latest behind promising One For Rosie at Leicester, where he tracked the leader and looked briefly as though he might upset the jolly. That sort of patient approach might reward him here with a silver medal.
BET £10 ON THE GRAND NATIONAL AND GET 25 FREE SPINS!
3.35 - Ryanair Stayers Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)
Paisley Park had the stars aligned for him last month at Cheltenham when THYME HILL was ruled out a week out from the Stayers' Hurdle. Roksana defected to the Mares' race and Lisnagar Oscar fell, but Emma Lavelle's stable star was in trouble himself a long way from home and never really looked like landing a decisive blow, despite battling on for third in the end as Flooring Porter delivered a masterclass from the front.
Thyme Hill beat Paisley Park at Newbury (getting 3lb) in November before the latter avenged that at Ascot in December's Long Walk. That Grade 1 was a race Richard Johnson felt he left behind and, despite the four-time champion rider retiring last week, his old running mate can gain revenge now under Tom O'Brien for trainer Philip Hobbs.
At seven, his star remains on the rise, whilst those of Paisley Park, Roksana, If The Cap Fits, On The Blind Side, and Call Me Lord are most likely in decline.
Thyme Hill missed Cheltenham, but Hobbs reported a very minor setback and he's likely to be pitch-perfect now. Spring ground is in his favour and he's very much the one they all must fear.
Roksana has previous in this race, agonisingly denied by If The Cap Fits in 2019 in a memorable joust that also included Apple's Jade - little splitting the trio. Her form this season has been excellent and the Skeltons seemingly felt three-miles in the Stayers' at Cheltenham might be too much. It should be less so around this venue and the 7lb she gets from the boys isn't to be sniffed at.
Vinndication ran well enough at Cheltenham back over timber when sixth in that Stayers' race, first-time blinkers could aid him here. He's certainly amongst those with each-way claims but this looks best to Thyme Hill to stamp his authority on.
4.15 - Betway Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 3m1f)
Happygolucky only found one too strong at Cheltenham in the Ultima last month having gone off a well-backed favourite. That was essentially another step forward from him, as he had the rest well in hand only to find Vintage Clouds in unstoppable form in a race he had tried and failed to win many times. A 2lb rise therefore shouldn't stop Kim Bailey's runner having another big crack at this prize.
Top Notch (Plate, third) and Cloudy Glen (Kim Muir, second) ran crackers themselves in the Cotswolds last month and are deserving of mentions again, while the returning Lalor is one to keep an eye on for Kayley Woollacott. He has gone well fresh before and has the quality to be involved if fit enough after 14 months off.
This trip around here might be ideal for HOLD THE NOTE. He was third behind Happygolucky in a five-runner event at Cheltenham in December, his stamina seemingly stretched in that tough finish. He's better off on these terms and again ran with credit when fourth in the Kim Muir last month.
His prior second to Enrilo at Newbury was a good effort, advertised since by the third Ballymoy, and Mick Channon's charge isn't badly treated off a mark of 140. Tom Scudamore has taken something of a softly-softly approach at this meeting, before his date with destiny on Cloth Cap in the National, and he could get a nice confidence-booster here just before the main event.
5.15 - Randox Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 4m2f)
The big one! After no Grand National in 2020, a welcome return for the Aintree showpiece and Cloth Cap will bid to succeed Tiger Roll by emulating him in justifying short-price favouritism in this great race.
Jonjo O'Neill's charge won the Ladbrokes Trophy in November and was well-touted for this afterwards. Following the weights announcement, he stormed to victory up at Kelso in the Listed Premier Chase - effectively leaving him a stone 'well-in' on these terms.
His front-running style will be harder to employ in this, though connections are adamant he doesn't have to lead. They also won't want any severe watering as good ground is perfect for him.
He's been second in a Scottish National, looks sure to stay the distance and arrives in top form - so there's no shortage of positives. But at around 4/1, it's safer to seek out some value as this remains - largely - an unpredictable challenge.
With 40 runners, finding creditable candidates is easy done. Any Second Now, Potters Corner, Minella Times, Class Conti, Kimberlite Candy, Burrows Saint, Anibale Fly and the mare Magic Of Light all fit the bill and are respected but we'll take a couple against the field.
ACAPELLA BOURGEOIS defeated stablemate and former Irish National winner Burrows Saint at Fairyhouse in the Bobbyjo Chase in late February, doing it decisively when he was asked.
He's got a couple of pounds in hand on ratings here and rider Danny Mullins is enjoying quite the time of it this spring. 10st 12 is a lovely racing weight for him and he's sure to handle the conditions. His jumping is safe these days and with that last time out effort in mind he's a player. He was giving 6lb to Burrows Saint there, but gets 1lb from the same rival now.
He was third behind him in the Irish National of 2019 and represents value against him today.
Talkischeap is another that might be worth chancing at a huge price. Alan King's charge excelled over 3m5f in the bet365 Gold Cup on good ground at Sandown in April 2019 and has been lightly-raced since.
He had a couple of all-weather spins in January/February after a layoff and was then soundly beaten in a 3m Kempton contest won by Clondaw Castle (second in the Grade 1 Bowl here on Thursday) in February. The Sandown wins remains his only start at a marathon trip and if he finds that sort of form now, the nine-year-old could a big threat to all under Tom Cannon.
BET £10 GET A £5 FREE BET FOR THE GRAND NATIONAL
6.20 - Weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Standard Open NH Flat Race (Grade 2, 2m1f)
One of life's mysteries will be why this bumper isn't run before the National, allowing the big race to take the stage and keep it. Instead it wraps up the meeting, nearly an hour after post-time in the big race.
A glance at the racecard shows a lot of 1s beside the contenders and this is a strong Grade 2 on paper, with lots of scope for improvement in all corners.
Ireland's only runner in the Mares' bumper on Thursday came out on top and THE GOSSIPER is a big player for Emmet Mullins, with cousin Patrick on board. The son of Dylan Thomas did it nicely on debut last month at Wexford and, while that form may not be all that strong, he certainly should improve for the run and the better ground here. He's a player.
Super Six ran a cracking fifth at Cheltenham last month, his only defeat in three thus far, and has claims with the extra furlong to suit now as Sam Twiston-Davies takes over for his father.
Balco Coastal, World Of Dreams, Sure Touch and Go Dante are just a few of the many other dangers in a wide open Aintree finale.