The Randox Health Grand National Festival is one of my favourite weeks of the year – with a carnival atmosphere, fabulous fashion and top class racing, what more could you ask for?
I’m up in Liverpool for all three days, so keep an eye on this space throughout as I put all the big races under the microscope.
There’s also plenty to look forward to for Meg as the opening day of Aintree Festival kicks off.[/caption]
The meeting kicks off with a bang as superstar novice chaser La Bague Au Roi takes to the Aintree stage.
She’s clearly the one to beat after producing some fine performances over here and in Ireland this season, though I’m surprised to see her in this race rather than the 3m contest on Friday.
Saying that, the race has cut up quite nicely so it could be a shrewd move from Warren Greatrex.
Glen Forsa and Kalashnikov would be threats on their best form, though neither managed to complete at Cheltenham so it’s difficult to make a massive case for them.
Bags Groove is improving, but they’ll have to go some to catch the mare.
This a hot race but I reckon our horse Christopher Wood has a better chance than his price would suggest.
I’ve always loved him and he’s now proving it on the track, having won both his starts nicely.
He’s continued to improve at home and I can’t wait to see him run.
We missed Cheltenham on purpose and we’re one of the few coming into the contest off a break.
The quicker ground here will be a lot more suitable and he looks to have Band Of Outlaws to beat, who has a similar profile to our lad.
We run our King George hero Clan Des Obeaux in this – and I think he has a great chance.
He ran a huge race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup where he just didn’t get home in the rain-softened ground, but this will suit a lot better.
You can see how testing it must have been as mud-lover Bristol De Mai was bang there at the finish.
This a completely different test and Clan is raring to go.
I would say his biggest danger is probably Kemboy, who unseated early in the Gold Cup and comes into it fresher than most.
He has some strong form on sharp tracks and is certainly the one I fear most.
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We haven’t got one in the Aintree Hurdle but I think favourite Buveur D’Air could be vulnerable in what looks a tremendous contest.
He had a hard fall at Cheltenham and it can be tough to produce a massive performance off the back of that.
Willie Mullins brings over a strong team headed by Faugheen, who ran a massive race in the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle.
However, I reckon his other runner, Melon, could be the one to beat after finishing a fine second in the Champion Hurdle.
Don’t discount Verdana Blue, who could sneak into the frame.
We run Wonderful Charm in this. He missed the Cheltenham edition because he prefers quick ground and consequently comes here a fresh horse.
Will Biddick takes the ride and he could have a great time as our lad tends to jump pretty well.
He seems in good form at home and should put up a nice display.
Road To Rome is an obvious danger after his good run in the Foxhunter at Cheltenham but had a hard race there and the one to beat could be Irish raider Burning Ambition.
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Diego Du Charmil carries top weight here but loves this time of year and his work at home has been exceptional.
He looks fantastic and if doesn’t find the welter-burden too much of a hindrance then he must have a big chance.
We also run Brelon D’As. It’s taken a while for the penny to drop with him this year but he seems to be heading the right way now and ran a massive race last time under Bryony.
If he can reproduce that he’ll be bang there.
We’re runnerless in the finale and I reckon it could go the way of Misty Whisky for the Sean Bowen/Harry Fry combo.
Harry’s done well with his bumper horses this year and this one beat one of ours at Sandown last time which was a very good performance.
She tackles different ground today but clearly has ability.
Minella Melody is a worthy favourite, having won a point and bumper pretty impressively and she looks the one to beat.
Miss Heritage has an outside squeak as David Elsworth does well with this type and Harry takes the ride.
It’s not just Aintree where the action’s happening…
We have a quartet of runners at Taunton headed by last-time-out winner Birds Of Prey in the novice hurdle at 2.40.
The handicapper gave him a mark of 124 which looks fair enough but we decided to try and nab another novice.
On ratings he has a bit to find with Chris Gordon’s On The Slopes, but that one comes off the back of a poor performance last time, for all that it was in graded company.
Our runner has his confidence up and can hopefully do the business again
Choix Des Armes did a bit better at Exeter last time and hopefully will run a big race in the handicap hurdle at 3.10.
He settled better that day but will need to reserve his energy even more over this longer trip – though I think the step up in distance will help him.
David Pipe’s Eur Gone West looks the one to beat under a penalty.
My old favourite Capitaine runs in the handicap hurdle at 3.50 and I’m hoping he’ll find the better ground more to his liking than he did at Cheltenham.
It didn’t help matters that he had to be led in that day as we missed out on a prominent position – though he wouldn’t have won as conditions were too testing.
He’s run well here before and should be hard to beat.
Philip Hobbs’ Cotswold Way is the one to beat if putting his best foot forward.
Starsky lines up in the bumper at the end of the card.
He’s raring to go after a 134-day break and has definitely come forward from his debut second at Wincanton.
He was meant to run at Stratford but we had to pull him out as he didn’t eat up – but he’s been A1 since then.
Lorcan’s claim means he gets 5lb off his back and it would be nice to get his head in front.
ONE TO WATCH – Pentland Hills
Nicky Henderson’s juvenile has been a revelation since being sent over hurdles, winning the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in style on just his second start last month.
He wasn’t any great shakes on the Flat but the switch to timber has clearly done the trick.
I would be amazed if he’s reached the ceiling of his progression just yet and he comes into this 4lb clear on ratings.
The obvious danger is Band Of Outlaws, but he needs to improve on his Fred Winter form.