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1.45pm - 20 Years Together, Alder Hey & Aintree Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m4f)
Langer Dan didn't get further than the second flight in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham last time, brought down by a falling rival having gone off favourite to improve on his 2021 second in the Festival finale. The Dan Skelton runner is a fresh horse therefore and should go well here on his first visit.
Cobblers Dream has only finished out of the money once in six hurdles starts and was second-best in that Martin Pipe behind Banbridge, who has Grade 1 aspirations later on this card. He's rated 4lb higher but is another sure to be prominent in the betting. He had Highway One O Two behind in second when winning the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton in January, Chris Gordon's charge is a fresh horse coming into this and has a nice turnaround at the weights with his old foe, so he's on the shortlist for honours.
Paddys Motorbike was a good second at Kempton (2m5f, good) last month for trainer Sam Thomas, who has booked the excellent 7lb claimer Finn Lambert here, ensuring his mount is worth considering with the stable in form.
The mare SPEECH BUBBLE is preferred. She has figures of 212 in three starts over timber and her Sandown second behind Love Envoi in February over this sort of trip was well advertised by the winner scoring since at the Cheltenham Festival. The ease underfoot will suit her as things stand, with any further rain a help, and despite a relative lack of experience, Noel Williams' charge is going the right way and could be well treated.
Selection: Speech Bubble
Next Best: Highway One O Two
2.20pm - Betway Top Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2mf½)
For around a half-furlong after Dysart Dynamo exited the stage in last month's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, it appeared as though JONBON and stablemate Constitution Hill were going to have a real duel at Cheltenham. That didn't last however, as the winner oozed quality and sped away from his rival in a record-breaking time. Aidan Coleman's mount had no answer, but he did fend off Kilcruit to hold second spot and they can earn some compensation now.
Losing out to Constitution Hill isn't a stick to beat Jonbon with and Nicky Henderson will feel he's got the best horse in this race.
On the face of it, the Seven Barrows handler might have the two best. First Street finished closest to State Man in the County Hurdle in the Cotswolds, a fine effort behind a rival sure to have graded ambitions soon. That came on the back of a good third in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and ensures Nico de Boinville's mount gives his trainer an excellent team.
On that evidence, First Street should hold Surprise Package here. One for each-way contenders could be Vina Ardanza for Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell. He was having only his second hurdles start when narrowly denied in a Naas Grade 3 last month on testing ground and is open to further progress.
A Different Kind had been winning in lower grades prior to finishing third on Cheltenham Trials Day in January and might find the tempo hot here dropped in trip.
The unknown is El Fabiolo for Willie Mullins. He easily justified cramped odds on debut for this trainer at Tramore on New Year's Day and was touted for a run in the Supreme until late in the day. His trainer has a decent opinion of him and clearly he's open to progress.
Next Best: Vina Ardanza
2.55pm - Betway Mildmay Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m½f)
Just four runners, the smallest field of the meeting so far, but what a contest in prospect if they all take their chance.
L'homme Presse has been unstoppable this season since going chasing and made a Grade 1 breakthrough in the Scilly Isles at Sandown in February for Charlie Deutsch and Venetia Williams.
He took the step up to this trip in his stride last time at Cheltenham, taking up the running a long way out and leading home re-opposing Ahoy Senor by three-and-a-half-lengths in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase. He will be a tough nut to crack and conditions are favourable, with co-owner Andy Edwards suggesting L'homme Presse will only run if there is enough juice in the ground.
Ahoy Senor won a Grade 1 novice hurdle at this meeting last year, stunning today's rival BRAVEMANSGAME when he did.
However, Lucinda Russell's charge was put in his place by the same rival in the Kauto Star at Kempton over Christmas and, having come up shy against L'homme Presse last time, it's hard to see him overcoming both if they run their races now.
Bravemansgame, of course, was a last-minute defector at Cheltenham 23 days ago when he was favourite for that Brown Advisory contest as Paul Nicholls felt the deluge of raceday rain, added to the watering officials did overnight, had made the surface too testing.
At the time of writing Aintree going for Friday is 'Good-good to soft in places' with a chance of rain on Thursday. On the face of it, it should suit both L'homme Presse and Bravemansgame as it stands and a cracking duel will come to pass.
The Ditcheat inmate hasn't put a foot wrong this season and, as good as L'homme Presse has been, Harry Cobden's mount may be too nimble and too fast when it counts late on.
Irish raider Fury Road is a Grade 1 winner this season himself, but does look to have something to find on paper.
Next Best: L'homme Presse
3.30pm - Marsh Chase (Registered As The Melling Chase) (Grade 1, 2m4f)
FAKIR D'OUDAIRIES won this Melling Chase a year ago by 11-lengths after chasing Allaho home in the Ryanair. Joseph O'Brien elected to skip a rematch with that rival this time around in the Cotswolds but his charge had already marked himself down for this by winning the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase in February. He did that in good style and sets a lofty benchmark for his rivals.
The very consistent Funambule Sivola followed his Game Spirit Chase win at Newbury in February by finished second to Energumene in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in Cheltenham. He was never a match for the winner and that race did rather fall apart, while Venetia Williams' 7YO also has something of a stamina query beside him at this increased trip.
Allmankind needs to rediscover his best stuff to play a role for the Skelton team, while Sceau Royal and Captain Guinness are reliable sorts if perhaps short of this level.
Second choice, therefore, is Hitman for Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost, despite Harry Cobden's apparent preference for Saint Calvados. Hitman ran well in third behind Protektorat over C&D as a novice at this meeting last year. He's 0-3 this season over shorter distances including runner-up finishes in the Haldon Gold Cup and the Tingle Creek before finishing third behind Funambule Sivola in the Game Spirit. He is still quite lightly-raced (eight starts) as a chaser and while more is demanded to topple the Irish raider, he's got a fighting chance.
Selection: Fakir D'oudairies
Next Best: Hitman
4.05pm - Randox Topham Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m5f)
The Topham is a proper puzzle with a field of 30 engaged and lots of chances in the mix.
Willie Mullins is bidding for three in a row in this contest and Royal Rendezvous spearheads this attack now, though Paul Townend's mount is conceding weight all round.
Spiritofthegames ran another cracker at last month's Cheltenham Festival and comes here with a chance, while Killer Clown, Annamix, Mister Coffey and Palmers Hill are all worth a look.
SENIOR CITIZEN was third in this contest a year ago for Alan King and should go well again despite being rated 6lb higher now. He has only a length to find with Mac Tottie after they finished first and second in the Grand Sefton over C&D in December and, with just one run at Newbury since, the Barbury Castle inmate has likely been trained with this in mind.
Foxy Jacks is another for the shortlist. He was making some eye-catching ground in the Ultima at Cheltenham last month before he ploughed through the fourth last fence, staying upright but losing all chance. He could do well if the fencing holds up.
Selection: Senior Citizen
Next Best: Foxy Jacks
4.40pm - Cavani Menswear Sefton Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m½f)
Banbridge was strong at the finish when winning the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham last month and could excel again upped in class/trip here for Joseph O'Brien on an afternoon when the Irish handler has leading hopes. He is, however, short enough in the betting stepping out in a Grade 1.
Stag Horn found the Albert Bartlett a bridge too far in the Cotswolds, though this smart ex-Flat performer could find this venue far more to his liking.
Ascot novice scorer SKYTASTIC pulled a long way clear with Scarface that afternoon in a race that has worked out well and he commands a rise in class for Sam Thomas now tackling a new trip.
Gelino Bello for Paul Nicholls and Laura Morgan's improving Bold Endeavour also earn places on the shortlist.
Next Best: Stag Horn
5.15pm - Park Palace Ponies Handicap Hurdle (Conditional Jockeys And Amateur Riders, 2m½f)
Homme Public got back on track at Newcastle last month and could still have more to offer, Oliver Greenall's charge can throw his hat in the ring. Olly Murphy's Washington boasts excellent form and comes into this off the back of a win at Southwell, his second from five this season (figures of 12331), so he definitely commands scrutiny.
WHIZZ KID represents a Richard Newland team in flying form right now and can bag the finale. Useful on the Flat, he ran into Constitution Hill on stable/hurdles bow at Sandown in January, though it was of some note that his trainer started him off in that Grade 1 Tolworth.
He's bagged wins at Catterick and Ludlow since, hardly exiting third gear in doing so. An opening mark of 125 looks lenient and he's got the excellent Cillin Leonard easing that burden by 5lb.
Selection: Whizz Kid
Next Best: Washington
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