Grandouet is among Alex's tips for the opening day of the Grand National meeting
The Aintree Grand National meeting gets underwary on Thursday - here's Alex's tips for day one.
Last Updated: 04/04/13 12:14pm
Bowl Chase - 3m 1f
Silvinianco Conti is looking for compensation in one of the four Grade 1s on the opening day, the Bowl Chase. He fell at the third last in the Gold Cup to compound a fairly lacklustre Cheltenham festival for his trainer Paul Nicholls. It was hard to say how much of an impact he would have had if he had stood up as the fall was still a long way out.
However, he won the Mildmay Novices' Chase at this meeting last year and keeps pleasing with his progress. Ruby Walsh reported that there wasn't a bother on him after that incident and he deserves his place at the head of the market, although I think he is plenty short enough in a race like this.
First Lieutenant will be ridden by rising star Brian Cooper who has been on the horse in his most recent outings for the Gigginstown Stud. He was second to Cue Card in the Ryanair and now steps back up in trip. Prior to that he was only just denied by Tidal Bay in the Irish Hennessy and has some very solid placed form to his name this season. He is a Presenting gelding and they seem to prefer top of the ground so the ground should be ideal for him. I like his chance.
The Giant Bolster is another horse who will enjoy the ground. He hasn't had his preferred surface since finishing 2nd in last year's Gold Cup and can bounce back here. So, it's a red hot contest, but I'm sticking with First Lieutenant to give Mouse Morris and Bryan Cooper a great start to the meeting.
Selection: First Lieutenant @ 7/2 with Sky Bet
Aintree Hurdle - 2m 4f
Sam Twiston-Davies must be champing at the bit to ride at this meeting as he now rides Imperial Commander in the National as regular jockey Paddy Brennan is suspended. Well, that's not all he has to look forward to as he has the plum ride on The New One on day one. He is an exciting novice taking on the established hurdlers here so it represents a different challenge than running against novices. However, he showed a good turn of foot and plenty of class in winning the Neptune at Cheltenham.
His only defeat over hurdles was inflicted by At Fishers Cross and that horse went on to win the Albert Bartlett at the festival so the form is very good. He had the option of staying in novice company at this meeting and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies wouldn't waste an opportunity.
Paul Nicholls will put the blinkers on Zarkandar for the first time over hurdles. He did wear them when running on the flat in France, but having finished 4th in the Champion Hurdle on his last outing he has reached for them here. This is only his second try at the trip having fallen in this race 12 months ago. Grandouet is the main threat to the favourite I think and he has been well backed since Barry Geraghty gave him the vote of confidence. He fell in the Champion Hurdle, but it was too early to say how he would have fared there. I did fancy him at Cheltenham though and think he has a great chance of gaining compensation. He enters unknown territory here though as he has never run over the trip before. There is plenty of stamina on the dams side of the pedigree though and it shouldn't be an issue.
Countrywide Flame hails from an inform stable. His trainer John Quinn has made a great start to the flat season winning the Lincoln last weekend. This horse hasn't run over this trip over hurdles, but he was 2nd in a Cesarewitch so it shouldn't inconvenience him. He seems pretty versatile regarding the ground. AP McCoy has picked up the ride on Oscar Whisky for Nicky Henderson. The horse reverts to his optimum trip in this Aintree Hurdle and runs in a race he has won twice before.
Selection: Grandouet @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Nicky Henderson can cement his position at the top of the trainers championship as he has a couple of very good chances elsewhere on the card. I like Rolling Star in the opening four year old Hurdle and Captain Conan over 2m 4f in the Manifesto Novices' Chase - I hope both can bounce back from defeats at Cheltenham. The highly strung Kid Cassidy wouldn't be without a chance either although he has top weight to carry in the Red Rum Handicap Chase.