The three-day Randox Health Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse begins with a feast of G1 action on Grand National Thursday 4th April.
The seven-race programme starts with four G1 prizes on the bounce, with the feature £250,000 G1 Betway Aintree Hurdle (3.25pm) having attracted 16 entries.
Nicky Henderson has captured the two and a half mile highlight four times since 2011 and, if successful in 2019, would equal Toby Balding’s record of five wins in the race. The Henderson team is led by the 2017 winner Buveur D’Air, who fell at the third flight when going for a third consecutive G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle victory at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this month, while G1 Christmas Hurdle heroine Verdana Blue, Brain Power and We Have A Dream are also entered.
A strong Irish challenge, made up of seven entries in total, includes G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle second Melon (Willie Mullins), plus the Gordon Elliott-trained pair of Apple’s Jade and Samcro.
Silver Streak (Evan Williams) has done nothing but improve over the last 12 months and ran right up to his best last time out to be third to Espoir D’Allen, just a neck behind Melon, in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle. The six-year-old grey is set for his first try over two and a half miles.
Trainer Evan Williams, based in the Vale of Glamorgan, said today: “Silver Streak has been great since the Champion Hurdle and Aintree is something we are thinking about.
“He ran really well at Cheltenham and we were delighted with our lad. He never lets us down and is a privilege to have in the yard – he is such as genuine performer.
“The plan is to step up in trip and hopefully that will be the step we take at Aintree.”
Other intriguing entries include Ch’Tibello (Dan Skelton), winner of the G3 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, and G2 Ascot Hurdle victor If The Cap Fits (Harry Fry).
Two of Britain’s top staying chasers, Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux, are set to clash again in the £200,000 G1 Betway Bowl Chase (2.50pm, 12 entries) over three miles and a furlong.
Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies) started the campaign by landing his second G1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in November, while Clan Des Obeaux (Paul Nicholls) came of age when winning the G1 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Both horses contested the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, finishing third and fifth respectively, separated by just under five lengths. Kemboy (Willie Mullins IRE) may also run after unseating his rider at the first fence in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Cheltenham Festival form could also be represented by Aso (Venetia Williams) and Road To Respect (Noel Meade IRE), who filled the places behind Frodon in a memorable running of the G1 Ryanair Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs) could bid for his third G1 success of the season in the opening £100,000 G1 Devenish Manifesto Novices’ Chase (1.45pm, 12 entries) over two and a half miles. The six-year-old defeated Lostintranslation to win both the G1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park in February and the G1 JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on 14th March.
Entries for the G1 Devenish Nutrition Manifesto Novices’ Chase also include impressive G2 victors Bags Groove (Harry Fry) and Glen Forsa (Mick Channon). Popular mare La Bague Au Roi is engaged, though trainer Warren Greatrex has indicated that she is set to contest the following day’s G1 Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase.
Pentland Hills (Nicky Henderson) and Band Of Outlaws (Joseph O’Brien IRE), respective winners of the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle and G3 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, are on course for an exciting clash in the £100,000 G1 Doom Bar Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle (2.20pm, 11 entries).
The Grand National course will be used for the fifth race on the card, the £45,000 Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase (4.05pm, 29 confirmations) over two miles and five furlongs, which is restricted to amateur jockeys.
Front-runner Road To Rome (Joe O’Shea) is the ante-post favourite after finishing fourth in the three and a quarter-mile St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham on 15th March.
There are three leading contenders from Ireland in Burning Ambition (Pierce Michael Power) and the Gordon Elliott-trained pair of Ucello Conti and Kruzhlinin, who have both contested the Randox Health Grand National on more than one occasion. Ucello Conti posted his best effort in 2016, finishing sixth, while Kruzhlinin came 10th in 2014.
Rounding off the action is the £90,000 G3 Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase (4.40pm, 30 entries) and the G2 Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (5.15pm, 33 entries).
Pictured, anticlockwise from top left: Bristol De Mai, Buveur D’Air, Melon, Samcro.