Spring has signalled a welcome return to form for Malcolm Jefferson, with a superb Aintree festival winner in the shape of Cyrus Darius and judging by the general good form of his horses, the Malton-based trainer may well be in for another graded winner courtesy of the hat-trick seeking Oscar Rock, who holds strong claims in the Future Champion Novices’ Chase (2.00) on a difficult card at Ayr on Saturday.
In the opener at Fontwell (1.10) on Friday, Mr Dinosaur should do better with a run under his belt, and the former winning Irish pointer is fancied to get the verdict over Buckthorn Timothy, his only serious rival for the two and three-quarter mile novice contest.
I have always had a soft spot for trainer Nigel Hawke after he steered home Seagram to land the Grand National back in the mists of time, and the former Aintree-winning jockey is enjoying something of a purple patch with his small team of jumpers right now. Perhaps the hat-trick seeking Midnight Request can maintain the stable's momentum by landing a novices’ handicap chase (5.00) at Cheltenham on Thursday.
Cheltenham’s two-day April meeting swings into action on Wednesday with a series of wide open handicaps and maybe the Nicky Henderson-trained New Horizons can follow up his recent Kempton win and continue his upward progress by landing the 20-runner staying contest (4.25) at a sunny Prestbury Park.
Peter Bowen suffered the disappointment of Al Co’s first-fence fall in last Saturday’s Grand National but the stable’s Sandynow can put a smile back on the trainer’s face by making light of a 7lb penalty in the handicap hurdle (2.30) at Exeter on Tuesday.
Every Grand National throws up a hero but Many Clouds’s wonderful victory in the most famous and demanding race in the world must surely go down as one of the very best in modern times. On the go since last November and coming into Aintree on the back of a comprehensive defeat in a brutal Gold Cup, he was braver than brave as he made light of a heavy weight to hold on for a thrilling success from the plucky Saint Are.
The Grand National rolls into town on Saturday with total prize-money of a £1m, making it the richest race of the jumps season by a long chalk. The race’s peril factor is still high along with the excitement, and while the fences have been modified, the spirit of the race has not been lost completely. For the 2015 renewal, Rocky Creek looks a sound each-way bet for champion trainer, Paul Nicholls.
The feature race on Friday’s Aintree card is the Grade1 Melling Chase (3.25) and in a difficult and open renewal of the 2m 4f contest, perhaps the Irish raider Don Cossack can gain compensation for a disappointing effort at Cheltenham the other day.
Aintree’s three-day flagship fixture slips into gear on Thursday, and the classy Hargam looks the day’s banker for Nicky Henderson in the Anniversary Hurdle (2.15) for four-year-olds. The drying ground has come right for the smooth travelling grey, and the form of his Triumph Hurdle third is good enough to win most renewals of this weak Grade 1 event.
On Wednesday, Nottingham’s Further Flight Stakes (3.40) is one of the few decent contests staged at the Flat-only East Midlands course, and this time around the John Gosden-trained Forever Now looks the one to beat in a tightly-knit contest.