COUNTRYWIDE FLAME (Aintree, 3.05), Zarkandar and Grandouet represent the Champion Hurdle form, while star novice The New One, a classy winner of the Neptune Investments Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, adds further glamour. The celebrated quartet are supplemented by last year's first and second, Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars, who renew rivalries to give the contest further depth. The lofty level of competition means selecting a winner is anything but straightforward, however Countrywide Flame did enough at Cheltenham to suggest he can mix it at this level and the step up in trip should suit a horse who was narrowly denied in the marathon Flat handicap The Cesarewitch last autumn.
I like the fact John Quinn's horses are in rude health at present, their well-being advertised by a Lincoln Handicap win for Levitate at Doncaster on Saturday, and the selection has already run with great credit at the north west venue when a game second to Grumeti here 12 months ago.
WARNE (Aintree, 3.40) caught the eye at Fairyhouse with a stylish defeat of Tammys Hill under Mikey Fogarty and could prove the answer to the Foxhunters' Chase with the drying conditions likely to play to his strengths. He looks to have the touch of class required to win this event.
Tony Martin enjoyed a wonderful Cheltenham with two winners and PIRES (Aintree, 4.15) can strike for the shrewd Irish handler in a warm renewal of the Red Rum Chase. A flat two miles on decent ground are the nine-year-old's optimum conditions and I'm hoping his ability to travel well off a strong pace before displaying a change of gear are two attributes which come into play this afternoon.
SIXTY SOMETHING (Aintree, 5.25) is a sporting nap in the finale as he stuck to his task well to score at Market Rasen last time and already has a seven- length course and distance win to his name courtesy of a smooth win in the hood here last October.
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