The prolific Big Bucks attempts to extend his successive win record to an astonishing 17 victories on the trot today as he lines up in the Grade 1 BGC Partners Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree today.
Paul Nicholls’ gelding reverted back to the smaller obstacles after tipping up in the 2008 Hennessy at Newbury. Since then, the son of Cadoudal has won four World Hurdle’s, three Liverpool Hurdle’s, three Long Distance Hurdle’s, three Long Walk Hurdle’s and two Cleeve Hurdle’s making him the most prolific staying hurdler of all time. Many have tried to dethrone the mighty ‘Bucks’ but all have failed. There is simply no stopping him and at the age of nine, who’s to say he won’t go and win a fifth World Hurdle next year? Ruby is in the plate once again today and there are seven rivals taking on Andy Stewart’s pride and joy. Smad Place is the closest to him in the market after finishing third in the World Hurdle. However, Nicholls is three-handed in the race and it wouldn’t surprise me if Poungach and Tidal Bay were to fill the second and third spots.
Countrywide Flame was a surprise winner of the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and she puts her credentials on the line as she lines up in the Grade 1 Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle (2.30). With Pearl Swan now a non-runner, Countrywide Flame faces ten rivals, three of which she beat in the Triumph Hurdle. While she was a good winner of the Triumph, I am going to oppose her today. After a tough race at Cheltenham, there’s a chance that she might not be firing on all cylinders. A horse that really catches my eye is the Paul Nicholls trained Hinterland. After winning on his debut at Cheltenham he became the ante-post favourite for the Triumph. He went off the 2/7F the next day where he was beat by Baby Mix, who was then made favourite for the triumph. He ran okay next time out when finishing third in a Handicap Hurdle, once again at Cheltenham but I still think there’s improvement in him. He comes into this race a fresh horse, the flat track will suit him, the ground will suit him and his connections won the race last year with Zarkandar. He is around an 8/1 shot at the moment which is value enough for me.
The Grade 1 Betfred Bowl Chase is a very tough race to sum up and it’s hard to write off any of the 11 runners. Barry Geraghty performed miracles on Riverside Theatre in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham as he broke fences and still managed to win. He looked to me that day as if he wanted a step up in trip so I wouldn’t have any worries about the distance for him. He comes into the race as the deserving favourite and it wouldn’t be any surprise to see him win. Burton Port is the second of Nicky Henderson’s three runners and he finished fourth in the Gold Cup. There was a slight worry after the race that he had ‘bounced’ after running so well behind Long Run at Newbury but I don’t think this is the case. He won the Mildmay Novices’ Chase in 2010 at this course and with Tony McCoy on his back you can’t rule him out. Hunt Ball has been one of the fairy-tale stories of the season. Starting off in a Handicap Chase at Folkestone rated a mere 68, he has gone on to win six races since, including a win at the Festival and he runs here off a mark of 154, some 86lbs higher than when he won at Folkestone in November 2011. He faces the ‘big boys’ for the first time today and it is really hard to assess how much improvement is still in him. It would be great to see him win but I just feel he might be punching above his weight today. All of the above have great chances, as do the majority of the rest of the field, but the horse I fancy to run a huge race is What A Friend. He has a reputation for being a bit of a ‘monkey’ but there’s no doubting his ability. He only got as far as the second fence in the Gold Cup where he was fancied as an outsider who would go close. He comes here a relatively fresh horse and if his fall at Aintree hasn’t dented his confidence he is in with a great shout. He won this particular race in 2010 and stayed on like a train in the 2011 Gold Cup to finish fourth. If Ruby Walsh can coax him into producing what I know he can produce, then 8/1 will look very big post-race. Nacarat is also a horse I’d like to keep on my side. Although he is 11, he won this race last year, he loves Aintree and he showed his well-being by winning at Kempton last time out.
Nicholls could have a day to remember if everything goes to plan and he is represented by Gwanako in the Foxhunter’s Chase. He was won over course and distance before which is a plus and although he has two in-completions to his name I’d still be confident he can do the business today. Top tipster Darran Pearce is a genius when it comes to British point-to-point and Hunter Chase form so the fact he goes for Gwanako is also another major positive.
The Grade 3 matalan.co.uk Red Rum Handicap Chase is a very competitive renewal of the race with eight of the runners in the Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham re-opposing. Edgardo Sol finished a good second to Alderwood in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham and Alderwood franked the form at Fairyhouse last week. If taking to fences and if Cheltenham hasn’t taken too much out of him he has a great chance. The horse I fancy to run a big race in this is Oiseau de Nuit. He finished second to Silk Drum (re-opposes today) in this race last year and was last seen when brought down in the Grand Annual five out, travelling well. Stephen Clements takes a valuable 7lbs off his back meaning he carried 11st 2lbs and judged on his close third to Finians Rainbow at Kempton in December I think he is great value at around 10/1.
A; Ferof is the class horse in the last of the Grade 1’s the Betfred Manifesto Novices’ Chase. Many people, including myself, expected him to push Sprinter Sacre close in the Arkle but the horrible mistake he made at the top of the hill put pat to his chances. Although he probably wouldn’t have beat Sprinter Sacre, I’m confident he wouldn’t have been as far away as the other horses were. Ruby didn’t give him a hard time once his chance was gone and for that reason I think he’ll be fresh and well to do himself justice today. The extra four-furlongs will suit and at 6/5 he could be a bit of value. Pepite Rose is the unexposed improver in the race but she still has to prove she can mix it with the best.
The Grade 3 Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle is possibly the most competitive race on the card with 22 runners going to post. Gullinbursti is a horse a like a lot and this race has been the plan for some time now. Emma Lavelle has done a great job with him since she acquired him from PJ Conville in Ireland. 5/1 isn’t very appealing in such a competitive handicap hurdle but I feel he is a better horse than his rating of 139 suggests and I think he can take this race before campaigning over fences next season.