HAWK HIGH, who ended a 15-year drought at the Cheltenham Festival for Tim Easterby when winning at last month's dazzling National Hunt showpiece, travels the M62 across the Pennines today in a bid to prove himself in Grade 1 company on the opening day of Aintree's Grand National extravaganza.
A decent handicapper on the Flat, Hawk High has enjoyed a good first season over jumps, winning three times, the highlight of which was his Cheltenham triumph in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle where he belied his 33-1 odds in decisive style.
Today's Injured Jockeys' Fund 50th Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle is another step-up for Hawk High. But he has already won on this course this season and there is no doubt that he is progressing from race to race.
He will not start at 33-1 this time and is to be underestimated in a strong field for the opening contest. Brian Hughes again has the mount on behalf of owner Trevor Hemmings - the man who owns Blackpool Tower - who loves winners at this venue.
One horse which won at last month's Cheltenham Festival and another regarded as the unluckiest loser of the meeting, are set to play starring roles this afternoon in two of the three Grade 1 races on the card.
Dynaste, fluent winner of Cheltenham's Ryanair Chase, is poised to add the £150,000 Betfair Bowl to his list of seasonal achievements.
The New One, who finished a close-up third in the Champion Hurdle after losing any amount of ground when hampered by a faller during the race, looks ready to gain compensation in the £200,000 Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle.
Dynaste scored in Grade 2 company over this course and distance last year and is proven on the track. He looked right back to his best at Cheltenham and promises to take plenty of beating for David Pipe and Tom Scudamore.
The New One lost much more ground than he was eventually beaten when badly interfered by a third-flight faller in the Champion Hurdle and it says much for his ability and determination that he went down by less than three lengths behind Jezki an My Tent Or Yours, who fought out the finish.
The step up to two and a half miles here is, if anything, an advantage to The New One, who will surely be a tough nut to crack for Sam Twiston-Davies, riding for his trainer-father Nigel.
Uxizandre is narrowly preferred in the Pinsent Masons Manifesto Novices' Chase, the other Grade 1 race on the card.
Alan King's charge found only Taquin Du Seuil too strong at Cheltenham in the JLT Novices' Chase. If he can produce a similar effort today, the main prize may come his way.
The Crabbie's Fox Hunters' Chase sees 22 runners, all ridden by amateur riders, tackling the Grand National fences and, although this is a race in which anything can happen - last year's Tartan Snow won at 100-1 and is in the field again - it is hard to overlook the claims of Mossey Joe, trained by Enda Bolger in Ireland. He is a potent force at this level and has won his last five races. Given a clear round, he will be hard to beat.
Kings Grey is worth a second look in the Silver Cross Red Rum Handicap Chase.
Trained at Lingdale by Keith Reveley, he may have needed his latest outing at Doncaster when finishing fourth after a break. That run should have helped put him spot-on for this valuable event and it is worth noting that he ran a blinder to finish fourth in the corresponding Aintree race 12 months ago. He is sportingly awarded the nap vote.
Heavy ground at Exeter last time was probably the undoing of Return Spring, who seems happier on a less testing surface. Philip Hobbs' gelding should have conditions more to his liking on Merseyside and, in a wide-open race, should give a good account of himself in the Dominican Republic Handicap Hurdle.
2.00 Hawk High, 2.30 Dynaste, 3.05 The New One, 4.15 Mossey Joe, 4.15 Kings Grey (NAP), 4.50 Uxizandre, 5.25 Return Spring.
5.45 Hustle Bustle, 6.15 Travel, 6.45 Star Up In The Sky, 7.15 My Single Malt, 7.45 Tepmokea, 8.15 New Tarabela, 8.45 Ivestar.
Today's other meetings
Lingfield and Taunton.
Aintree, Leicester, Sedgefield and Wolverhampton.