The Grand National meeting at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool comes hot off the back of the Cheltenham Festival this year.
With just three weeks and a day between the Gold Cup and the world’s most famous steeplechase, owners and trainers could be forgiven for resting their star horses and putting them away for next season.
Early indications are we’re set to see some of the biggest talents in jumps racing one more time before the summer throughout the three-day Grand National Festival. Here’s who to look out for…
Altior bids to surpass Big Buck’s and make history in Melling
No horse has ever beaten the awesome Altior over obstacles and the Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old could step up in trip to two-and-a-half miles for the first time in his storied career in the JLT Melling Chase on Friday, April 5th.
There is no two-mile top grade race over fences at the Grand National Festival, so Altior is rather forced into tackling a new distance if he turns up on Merseyside. Connections of the dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner have opted for the Jumps Finale card at Sandown and the Celebration Chase instead over the last two years.
However, it looks as though Altior will make his Aintree debut as Henderson wants to find out if he will stay further. A possible tilt at the big Christmastime feature, the King George VI Chase at Kempton, has been talked about as a target next season.
Betfair have priced up an ante-post market for the Melling Chase and installed Altior as the favourite at 8/11. As he matched the record of 18 consecutive victories under National Hunt Rules set by legendary staying hurdler Big Buck’s at Cheltenham last time out, tackling something slightly different could see history made in the process.
Tiger Roll ready to emulate Red Rum with Grand National repeat
Altior isn’t the only the four-time Cheltenham Festival winner in line for Aintree. Last year’s Grand National winner Tiger Roll has the green light from owners Gigginstown House Stud to go for back-to-back wins in the big race.
Many horses have tried what the Gordon Elliott-trained nine-year-old is setting out to achieve, but only Red Rum in modern times has won the four-and-a-quarter-mile marathon in consecutive seasons. Tiger Roll is simply thriving after winning the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan after his winter break and then defending his Cross Country Chase title at Cheltenham when sauntering to a wide-margin victory.
Some horses simply come alive in the spring and his record at this time of the year speaks for itself. Bookmakers are running scared from Tiger Roll, who naturally heads the Grand National betting tips from Betting.Betfair, at 4/1 for a repeat bid.
Judged on the way he stormed home in the Cross Country, it’s going to take something very special to stop him from going in again. Tiger Roll is entitled to be favourite at Aintree and even the British handicapper has admitted he may have underestimated him, but the Grand National is one race where anything and everything can happen.
Buveur D’Air seeks to bounce back in Aintree Hurdle
Very little went to plan in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Dual winner Buveur D’Air had a dramatic fall in the back straight and the mares he was giving weight to failed to perform to expectations, so a new star was born in runaway winner Espoir D’Allen.
That early exit for Henderson’s JP McManus-owned top British hurdler left a lot of questions unanswered. Buveur D’Air has the chance to bounce back and show himself no worse for that tumble though, in the Aintree Hurdle over two-and-a-half miles on the first day of the Grand National Festival.
He went on to win that race two years ago after his first Champion Hurdle success. Henderson hasn’t fully committed Buveur D’Air to Aintree yet, but it is likely to afford his eight-year-old gelding a great chance to resume winning ways.
This is because it’s a race that the Irish tend to leave alone with it often being run too soon after Cheltenham to make the trip over again and/or too close to the Punchestown Festival. Buveur D’Air has won seven Grade 1 races in his career, so one fall does not make him a bad horse.