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Fox Norton and God’s Own head 13 entries for G1 JLT Melling Chase

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase runner-up Fox Norton and defending champion God’s Own headline 13 contenders for the two and a half-mile £200,000 G1 JLT Melling Chase (3.25pm), one of the highlights of Ladies Day at Aintree’s Randox Health Grand National Festival on Friday, April 7.

Fox Norton (Colin Tizzard) went down by a head to Special Tiara in the two-mile chasing championship contest at Cheltenham on March 15 and has finished first or second on all four of his appearances so far this season, including when the decisive winner of the G2 Shloer Chase, also at Cheltenham, in November.

God’s Own (Tom George), fifth behind Fox Norton in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, scored by two and three-quarter lengths in last season’s JLT Melling Chase on the Mildmay Course and followed up his Aintree success with a game victory in the G1 Punchestown Champion Chase later the same month.

Other leading entries include the 2015 Ryanair Chase hero Uxizandre (Alan King), this season’s Ryanair Chase runner-up Sub Lieutenant (Henry de Bromhead IRE) and Josses Hill (Nicky Henderson), successful in the G2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon in December.

Impressive G2 Peter Marsh Chase scorer Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies) may drop back in trip after coming home seventh in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup over an extended three and a quarter miles, while Kylemore Lough, a G1 winner in Ireland, and Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase fourth Top Gamble could both line up for trainer Kerry Lee.

Art Mauresque (Paul Nicholls), Aso (Venetia Williams), Devils Bride (Henry de Bromhead IRE), Royal Regatta (Philip Hobbs) and Traffic Fluide (Gary Moore) complete the potential line-up.

The feature race on Ladies Day is the £120,000 G3 Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase (2.05pm) over two miles and five furlongs of the Grand National Course.

There are 39 confirmations for the race including Ultima Handicap Chase fifth Go Conquer (10st 1lb, Jonjo O’Neill) and Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase second Gold Present (10st 8lb, Nicky Henderson), who are 9/1 joint-favourites with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival.

Dr Richard Newland saddled Pineau De Re to glory in the 2014 Randox Health Grand National and the Worcestershire handler is seeking another major Aintree success with Seefood (10st 1lb), a 10/1 chance with Betway.

The 10-year-old has already run well over the Grand National fences, having finished second to As De Mee (10st 10lb, Paul Nicholls, 10/1) in the Betfred Grand Sefton Handicap Chase in December, and was sixth in a Doncaster handicap hurdle on his only subsequent appearance on March 4.

Newland said: “Seefood is in good nick and the plan is to run in the Randox Health Topham Chase. He has been trained for the race.

“He needed the run a bit last time at Doncaster. It was his first outing for a while and he will come on for that. Good ground would suit if he can get it.

“It was frightening when I saw that he is joint-favourite with some bookmakers. He ran well in the Grand Sefton so I can understand why but it is one of those races – there will be 29 others and you need the luck.”

Ladies Day also features three G1 races for novices, including the extended two-mile £100,000 Crabbie’s Top Novices’ Hurdle (2.20pm). A total of 13 entries includes Moon Racer (David Pipe), returning to novice company after being pulled up in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

River Wylde (Nicky Henderson) was third in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, with the hat-trick seeking pair of Mount Mews (Malcolm Jefferson) and Chti Balko (Donald McCain) also among the entries.

Might Bite (Nicky Henderson), an eventful winner of the RSA Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month, heads 12 contenders for the £100,000 G1 Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase (2.50pm) over three miles and a furlong.

Henderson has also entered Whisper, who went down by a nose to Might Bite at Cheltenham, with Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate victor Road To Respect (Noel Meade IRE) and Tiger Roll (Gordon Elliott), successful in the J T McNamara National Hunt Novices’ Chase, engaged as well.

The extended three-mile G1 Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (4.40pm) has attracted 20 entries including West Approach (Colin Tizzard), whose half-brother Thistlecrack captured the same race in 2015 before going on to dominate the staying hurdle division.

His rivals may include The World’s End (Tom George), who fell when travelling strongly in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham, and Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle third Messire Des Obeaux (Alan King).

Racing gets underway with the £70,000 Alder Hey Children’s Charity Handicap Hurdle (1.40pm), which has attracted a bumper 59 entries, and concludes with the £45,000 Weatherbys Private Bank National Hunt Flat Race (5.15pm, 32 entries).

The 2017 Randox Health Grand National Festival commences with Grand Opening Day, Thursday, April 6, and the £200,000 G1 Betway Aintree Hurdle (3.25pm) over two and a half miles looks set to be a superb renewal with Stan James Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air featuring among the 10 entries.

The Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old could re-oppose his stable companion My Tent Or Yours, who was second at Cheltenham, while OLBG Mares’ Hurdle winner Apple’s Jade (Gordon Elliott IRE) may seek another Aintree success following her stunning 41-length victory in the G1 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle 12 months ago.

The entries also feature two previous winners of the G1 Betway Aintree Hurdle – The New One (Nigel Twiston-Davies), successful in 2014, and 2015 victor Jezki (Jessica Harrington), plus this season’s 32Red.com Christmas Hurdle victor Yanworth (Alan King) and G1-winning hurdler Identity Thief (Henry de Bromhead IRE), who has been novice chasing this season.

The three-day Aintree extravaganza ends on Grand National Day, Saturday, April 8, when the £1-million Randox Health Grand National at 5.15pm is the worldwide highlight.