The first day of the three day Grand National meeting has no less than four Grade 1 races on the card in addition to the Fox Hunter’s Chase over the Grand National fences and two cracking handicaps. Kevin O’Malley takes a look at all seven contests.

View Racecard: 2.00 The Matalan Anniversary 4YO Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) (2m 1/2f)

A re-match between the fresh Irish Saint who missed Cheltenham with this race in mind, and his winning rival Rolling Star from their meeting on trials day in January. This represents a new test for both. Good ground, Aintree’s flat track and a fresh horse Vs a horse who was pummelled in the market on the day of the Triumph, only to disappoint in sixth behind a rampant Our Conor.

Fred Winter winner Flaxen Flare takes his chance but could be out of his depth if the top pair run up to their best, while the like of Ruacana and Vasco Du Ronceray have each-way shouts at best given the same expectation from Rolling Star and Irish Saint to dominate.

As a fan of both horses, I find it hard to split them and will in all likelihood sit the race out, but Rolling Star perhaps has more questions to answer now on the back of his festival run and Irish Saint could be seen as the safer bet. William Hill go 3/1, which is fair.

You couldn't rule out big runs from L'Unique at 10/1 and Runswick Gold at 18/1 either for the each-way thieves.

View Racecard: 2.30 The Betfred Bowl Steeplchase (Grade 1) (3m 1f)

Again it seems unlikely that Silviniaco Conti or First Lieutenant, the clear market leading pair, would finish out of the places. But this contest in particular has a knack of throwing up ridiculous surprises, not least last year’s 50/1 winner Follow The Plan. That horse’s trainer, Oliver McKiernan, saddles Whodouthink here and he may not be the worst 100/1 shot I’ve ever seen that’s for sure.

The Giant Bolster has every chance of being involved but is too inconsistent when presented with varying tests and conditions to be considered a bomb-proof E/w selection, while Cape Tribulation would probably need the ground a little more testing to make his presence felt in this company.

Quite De La Roque has a nice profile for this, has won at the meeting before and the race has been his target since his victory over Roi Du Mee at Thurles last time out, who has since gone on the frank the form twice. Colm Murphy’s 9yo has plenty of quality about him and it is not too difficult to see why punters have been backing him E/w. Paddy Power still go 10/1.

Menorah is another obvious candidate around here and could be being under-estimated by the bookmakers and betting public under conditions he’s sure to relish. He didn’t jump particularly well out of soft Newbury ground in the Denman Chase behind Silviniaco Conti where he was only 7/1. I’m not certain he should be double those odds re-opposing this time around at a course and on ground he is sure to like.

For me, Menorah and Quito De La Roque are the plays to have. Perhaps 1pt E/w at the said prices. Why not have a couple of quid E/w on Whoduthink as well. Just in case! His trainer isn’t in the habit of travelling abroad to take his horses on picnics or scenic walks.

View Racecard: 3.05 The John Smith's Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1) (2m 4f)

What an intriguing puzzle this is, not least with The New One taking his chance following his romp in the Neptune last month. All credit must go to Nigel Twist-Davis for holding no qualms whatsoever in pitching this horse in against his elders in a senior Grade 1. It could be seen as crazy by some or genius by others. Either way, he is the undoubted spice element here given all the recent talk of his 2014 Champion Hurdle credentials.

Oscar Whiskey is chasing a three-timer in this contest and has long been reputed as the 2m4f champion – and rightly so. He put in another complete stinker at Cheltenham last month however and it is hard to be too dogmatic about his well-being. That said, he is probably still the standard bearer for the race and warrants maximum respect.

Barry Geraghty opts for Grandouet which is of obvious significance, but does little to help form students split the Henderson pair, in reality. I don’t like either of Henderson’s for the race given elements of negativity surrounding their recent runs.

Countrywide Flame is very solid. If he runs up to his Champion hurdle mark over 20f then he is basically a certainty to be bang there on the premises once more. Of the main contenders he, arguably, has the least questions to answer on recent showings. The door is open for The New One if he is good enough to walk through it, but it would be shade disappointing if one of the more established stars in the field were not good enough to out-gun this bright novice.

Thousand Stars has questions to answer but Mullins has made no secret that this has been his main target all season. He’s ben second in the contest twice and at 11/1 in a place (Sportingbet), he could definitely be conceived as a viable E/w alternative.

Personally, I’ve backed Raya Star E/w at 33/1 as I think that price is disjointed with both Oscar Whiskey and Prospect Wells. He side-stepped a Champion Hurdle tilt to stay fresh for this on ground he’ll love and he is capable of running a big race provided his jumping is as accurate as it can be.

A very difficult race to call; If there were a gun to my head and I had to choose the solid E/w bet-to-nothing, my answer would probably be Countrywide Flame.

View Racecard: 3.40 The John Smith's Fox Hunters' Steeple Chase (Class 2) (2m 5+1/2f)

The first race of the meeting over the Grand National course and it is an exceptionally difficult race to predict, but the horse that caught my eye recently was Cottage Oak in the Foxhunter chase at the festival last month. He didn’t appear to get home over 3m2f but travelled and jumped ominously well up to a point before weakening having looked very likely to get involved. Over this shorter trip of 2m5f he could easily make his presence felt if taking to the fences. Sam Whaley-Cohen gets the leg up and he rides these fences very well indeed.

View Racecard: 4.15 The Red Rum Handicap Steeplechase (Grade 3) (2m)

A competitive big field 2m chase and I’ve compiled a shortlist of four; two on the speed figures and two who fit the bill for form, consistency and liking to conditions.

Rebel Rebellion was quite impressive at Sandown on bottomless ground last time out in a novice chase and a mark of 140 may not yet be the ceiling of his ability. He posted a quick time and 7/1 is fair price. Silver Roque has posted consistently good Topspeed figures all season, has good form at the course and could easily go well again under Timmy Murphy off a low-weight.

Ciceron(6) and King’s Grey(12) have not been out of the first three in 18 of their most recent runs combined. The trip is fine and the good ground is what they’ve both been waiting for. At 18/1 and 25/1, they complete the shortlist.

View Racecard: 4.50 The Betfred Manifesto Novices Steeple Chase (Grade 1) (2m 4f)

Captain Conan is still a doubtful stayer to my mind and although he is probably entitled to be favourite, it is impossible to suggest he is value at 6/4. Fago was fairly impressive on debut but hasn’t convinced at all since. I thought Changing Times ran well in the Jewson and is fair E/w value at around 6/1. It is also interesting that Venetia Williams sends her Drumshambo to this instead of a handicap. The trip and the ground will be fine and although this looks a bit hot for him, he has posted a couple of very comparable speed ratings this term despite needing to improve considerably on official figures. 14/1 could be a savvy piece of E/w thievery.

View Racecard: 5.25 The Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) (3m 1/2f)

A 22 runner cavalry charge and once again the best you can hope to do is narrow the field to a shortlist, back them E/w for small money and hope for the best! The vibrant market does cater for such an approach though and there could be value to be had.

Oliver Sherwood thinks plenty of his Many Clouds and the horse is yet to let him down this term. 12/1 is a decent price for progressive young type who will prove difficult to keep out of the placings. Flemenstar’s full-brother, Barafundle, is a picture of consistency over this trip and enjoys the hussle and bustle of big field handicaps. He skipped the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham in favour of Aintree and should go well again at 16/1.

Two outsiders to have E/w shillings on are Ballybough Pat and Sentry Duty. The former is a very decent novice who’d have a great chance if you crossed out his last run and Sentry Duty because he has a very good record when fresh and if in the mood he could easily outrun 50/1 odds despite his ageing years.

A cracking day in prospect we know you’ll agree! Let us know what you fancy below in the comment section!

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