AINTREE GRAND NATIONAL FESTIVAL – DAY 1 (THURSDAY)

13:45 Aintree Four consecutive victories not just in the UK but also in Ireland lead to La Bague Au Roi missing the prestigious Cheltenham Festival. Although for some that may be seen as a negative for some that mid March break has probably done the horse the world of good. The Warren Greatrex trained eight year old has been a revelation this term and has put some very good horses to the sword.  Today’s rival Glen Forsa was very well fancies at Cheltenham but unseated his jockey to leave punters seething. He aims to redeem himself for his previous misfortune however he looks to be up against a horse with a touch of class and perhaps a minor role looks more likely. If I had to pinpoint a horse that’s the most likely to give our selection something to think about it’d have to be the Irish trained Mengli Khan who hasn’t had as tough a season as some of today’s competitors and could have something in reserve. LA BAGUE AU ROI (WIN) – NAP

14:20 Aintree It’s not often that we see two Cheltenham Festival novice race winners putted against one another so quickly but that’s exactly what we’ve got here and it leads the race to resemble some what of a match race. Band Of Outlaws and Pentland Hills were very impressive to win their respective contests and it’s a task to try and work out which horse, despite so few outings, holds the best form. Although it may bite me on the proverbial derriere I just can’t see a winner outside of the two at the head of the market. The unbeaten Christopher Wood could spring a surprise but it seems unlikely. Based solely on which horse seemed to have an easier race at Cheltenham I’m going to side with Pentland Hills. Unbeaten in two starts over fences and a winner of a classier race last month. With only two starts this season compared to Band Of Outlaws four the UK based runner may have more in the tank and is taken to ever so slightly get his head in front. PENTLAND HILLS (WIN)

14:50 Aintree There may only be six runners for this prestigious Grade 1 contest but it looks a highly competitive renewal. Clan Des Obeaux was well fancied for this year’s Gold Cup but didn’t quite manage the extra stamina required so a drop in trip and on a less undulating course should be of huge benefit to Paul Nicholls runner. The seven year old King George runner seems to have a touch of class and with the likes of Native River, Presenting Percy and Might Bite not in today’s line up it may be hard to see past the Alex Ferguson part owned horse. Kemboy was seen as a dark horse in the Gold Cup but sadly unseated their rider. If the pre-festival hype wasn’t just hot air then expect a much improved effort this time around but the horse has a tonne of  questions left to answer and up against a few classier types only time will tell if he’s up to this task. Bristol De Mai was potentially heading for the National on Saturday but instead has opted for this contest. A great horse who, on his day can compete at this level, but just looks to lack the class needed to win a race of this nature. He’s capable of going close so don’t discount him too readily but never the less Clan Des Obeaux looks a likely winner. CLAN DES OBEAUX (WIN)

15:25 Aintree Sadly Buveur D’Air fell when traveling nicely in the Champion Hurdle a handful of weeks ago. Nicky Henderson’s stable star is by far the classiest runner in the field but some onlookers feel his best days may be behind him so the big question is “was his recent fall just a blip or a sign of his decline?”  Despite the naysayers its easy to forget that the former Champion Hurdle victor is still only eight years old. If his age is anything to go off he’s far from past it and although this race looks packed with talent it seems less of a task compared to the Champion Hurdle field he should go much better here at Aintree.  The likes of Verdana Blue and Ch’tibello could go well at bigger prices for punters looking for each way value but the biggest threat definitely falls to the feet of Melon. Second in back to back Champion Hurdles he deserves to win a big race but his tag as a proverbial bridesmaid will be hard to shake.  You can’t look at this race without mentioning Faugheen. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house if he found his way into the winners enclosure but after a disappointing run at Cheltenham it’s hard to know if he has anything left and don’t be surprised to see this as his last ever racecourse appearance.  BUVEUR D’AIR (WIN) 

16:05 Aintree The amateurs take centre stage here on the National course and plenty of formerly useful types over regulation fences give this the look of a cracking renewal. Road To Rome has enjoyed a successful season already and he almost slipped the field before emptying after the last fence in the Cheltenham Foxhunter. Dropping down in trip today and with Sam Waley-Cohen onboard one would expect him to go close if competing and respect is afforded. Burning Ambition is an intriguing challenger, comfortable when winning a point the last day, at only eight it is reasonable to assume he has plenty of improvement left in the tank and Derek O’Connor is a eye catching booking. Balnaslow won this last season, he hasn’t shown much since although this venue is most certainly falls into the horses for courses category. Ucello Conti ran well enough at Cheltenham last time, this trip looks on the short side though he could pickup the pieces if they go too hard. Dismissing any of the rest would be folly as this is such a unique test, as such we shall have two small plays, one being on the unexposed Burning Ambition and the other being an each way play on defending champion Balnaslow. BURNING AMBITION (WIN) BALNASLOW (E/W)

16:40 Aintree Cheltenham Festival form will be a re-occurring theme throughout this meeting and this race is no different. Eamon An Cnoic travelled really well when fourth in the Brown Advisory last time, this half mile drop in trip looks almost certain to suit and that festival form does look very strong. Azzuri has long left the impression that he has a pot of this nature in him, returning from the wind op and a horse who will be fresher than most, he could go well at a price off his feather weight. Theinval goes well here and has placed in the last two editions of this race, he has solid place claims and is respected. Lady Buttons could only muster a moderate fourth in the Mares Hurdle, she has a decent record though Eamon An Cnoic might be a little too sharp for her and it is the latter who is taken to land this. EAMON AN CNOIC (WIN)

17:15 Aintree Miss Heritage defied a penalty when bolting up at Catterick last time, despite being entitled to win that day she left the strong impression that more was to come. Minella Melody represents Henry De Bromhead and she is won in good style at Gowran on her rules debut, quite what she achieved that day is open to debate though she was impressive enough and is respected. Who What When was bred for the flat and is 2-2 so far, this demands much more although you wouldn’t discount her chances out of hand. Timetochill and Misty Whisky are others with claims, however, currently trading at each way prices, Miss Heritage is taken to continue on her upward curve and can run into at least a place. MISS HERITAGE (E/W)

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