9:52am Thursday 12th April 2012
By Tom O'Ryan
Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson, locked in battle for the trainers’ championship, each look set to bag major prizes at Aintree today as the three-day Grand National meeting gets under way.
Nicholls can draw first blood with Big Buck’s, who will start at predictably cramped odds in the £100,000 BGC Partners Liverpool Hurdle, in which he will attempt to break the long-standing record of Sir Ken and win his 17th race on the spin.
Quite simply, Big Buck’s is in a league of his own as a staying hurdler. He is aiming to make this race his own, having won it for the last three years, and with Ruby Walsh, who knows him so well in the saddle, he is impossible to oppose.
Nicholls also has outstanding prospects of winning the £35,000 John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase with Gwanako.
Not only has he sauntered to two easy wins lately, Gwanako won the Topham Chase over the National fences he faces today in 2008. His class should stand him in good stead in this big field.
Henderson can lift the £150,000 Betfair Bowl Chase. Riverside Theatre, owned by actor James Nesbitt and the winner of last month’s Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, is the most likely winner among the trainer’s three runners.
Both Henderson and Nicholls will be strongly represented all the way through the opening card, and Henderson may bag a second winner, courtesy of Tanks For That in the matalan.co.uk Red Rum Handicap Chase.
Barry Geraghty’s mount finished an excellent second to stablemate Bellvano in the Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham last time.
All eyes will be on Countrywide Flame in the £100,000 Matalan Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle. The gelding is trained at Norton by John Quinn and was successful in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Triumph winners have a good record in recent years in this likewise Grade 1 event and Quinn is adamant the sharper Aintree course will hold no fears for his tough-as-teak representative. Dougie Costello again has the mount on Countrywide Flame.
Malcolm Jefferson, Quinn’s neighbour, also runs Cheltenham Festival winner Cape Tribulation. He goes for the Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle and looks sure to give a good account of himself.
But punters could do worse than plump for Tim Easterby’s lightly-weighted Trustan Times, who makes each-way appeal at big odds.
On the Flat at Leicester tomorrow, the nap vote is cast in favour of Ted’s Brother (3.30), trained by Richard Guest. He looks one to follow again this term.
Lyric Ace (2.20) can recover losses under Ryan Moore, who can also score on the promising Ladyship (5.15).
2.00 Big Buck’s, 2.30 Countrywide Flame, 3.05 Riverside Theatre, 3.40 Gwanako, 4.15 Tanks For That, 4.50 Menorah, 5.25 Trustan Times.
Folkestone, Newton Abbot and Wolverhampton.
2.20 Lyric Ace, 2.55 First Bid, 3.30 Ted’s Brother (NAP), 4.05 Party Line, 4.40 Samminder, 5.15 Ladyship, 5.45 National Hope.
Aintree, Sedgefield and Wolverhampton.
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