Star hurdler Buveur D’Air (Nicky Henderson) headlines the 16 entries after bravely defending his Unibet Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham last month, when he repelled Melon by a neck in a thrilling finish.
Buveur D’Air rounded off last season with a five-length victory over stable mate My Tent Or Yours, now 11, in the 2017 Betway Aintree Hurdle and has the chance to join horses such as Monksfield and Morley Street as back-to-back winners of the race.
Supasundae (Jessica Harrington IRE), winner of the G1 Irish Champion Hurdle in February, is set to drop back in distance after beating all bar Penhill in the three-mile G1 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
There are two other entries from Ireland in the shape of the mercurial Yorkhill (Willie Mullins IRE) and Identity Thief (Henry de Bromhead), while Auteuil G3 scorer Izzo could line up for France-based handler Carina Fey.
Popular 10-year-old hurdler The New One (Nigel Twiston-Davies) won the 2014 running of the Betway Aintree Hurdle and is entered again.
Betway Aintree Hurdle – odds from Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival
8/13 Buveur d’Air
10/1 L’Ami Serge, My Tent Or Yours, The New One
16/1 Identity Thief, Yorkhill
25/1 Old Guard
33/1 Clyne, Izzo, Verdana Blue
40/1 Air Horse One
50/1 Charli Parcs , Cyrus Darius, Diakali
Might Bite (Nicky Henderson), runner-up to Native River in last month’s G1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, is on course for a mouth-watering clash with impressive G1 Ryanair Chase victor Balko Des Flos (Henry de Bromhead IRE) in the £190,000 G1 Betway Bowl Chase (2.50pm, 11 entries) over three miles and a furlong of the Mildmay Course.
Last year’s gutsy winner Tea For Two (Nick Williams) has Aintree in his sights again and could become just the third back-to-back winner of the Betway Bowl, following Docklands Express (1993 & 1994) and Silviniaco Conti (2014 & 2015).
Tea For Two’s regular pilot Lizzie Kelly became the first female rider to win a G1 chase when the pair captured the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park in December, 2015.
Jane Williams, part-owner and assistant trainer of Tea For Two, said today: “Tea For Two has come out of Cheltenham absolutely fine [after finishing seventh in Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup].
“He got round in the Gold Cup, which is all we were expecting, and we were happy enough with that.
“I would be much happier next week if the ground is faster, as he seemed to enjoy the better ground when he won the Betway Bowl last year.
“I think it is only the ground that could catch him out, but we will give it our best shot.”
Betway Bowl – odds from Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival
4/7 Might Bite
7/2 Balko des Flos
6/1 Bristol de Mai
15/2 Definitly Red
8/1 Double Shuffle
14/1 Tea For Two
16/1 Clan des Obeaux
20/1 Cloudy Dream
25/1 Sub Lieutenant
50/1 Sizing Codelco
66/1 Shantou Flyer
Double Shuffle (Tom George) has a length to find with Might Bite after the pair finished first and second in the G1 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park over Christmas.
Impressive G1 Betfair Chase victor Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and Definitly Red (Brian Ellison), a dual G2 winner this season including the over course and distance in 188bet.co.uk Many Clouds Chase, are also set to line up.
The top-class seven-race card on Grand National Thursday starts with the £100,000 G1 Big Buck’s Celebration Manifesto Novices’ Chase (1.45pm, 15 entries) over two and a half miles of the Mildmay Course.
The race is named in honour of the retired Big Buck’s by owner Andy Stewart. Big Buck’s won a record 18 consecutive races over hurdles between January, 2009 and December, 2012. No less than 10 of those victories came at G1 level.
His wins included a record four consecutive successes at Aintree in the race now known as the Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle (2009 to 2012 inclusive – a G1 contest from 2010 onwards). Big Buck’s was also successful over fences at Aintree earlier in his career, landing the G2 Mildmay Novices’ Chase in 2008. The horse retired from racing in 2014 with 23 wins from 40 starts and prize money earnings of £1.3m.
The 15-year-old still enjoys a day’s hunting with Lucy Felton and the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale, as well as accompanying her children and their ponies on rides.
Owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede have the two form contenders in the Big Buck’s Celebration Manifesto Novices’ Chase the impressive G1 Racing Post Arkle hero Footpad (Willie Mullins IRE) and fellow G1 scorer Terrefort (Nicky Henderson), who finished second in the G1 JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, but they will not have things all their own way.
Black Corton (Paul Nicholls), an eight-time winner this season who has helped propel his rider Bryony Frost into the limelight and is part-owned by Jeremy Kyle, is entered as are his talented stable companions Cyrname and Modus. Other entries include Brain Power (Nicky Henderson), runner-up to Footpad at Cheltenham, and Finian’s Oscar (Colin Tizzard).
The G1 action is completed by the £100,000 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle (2.20pm, 14 entries), in which G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle disappointments Apple’s Shakira (Nicky Henderson) and Redicean (Alan King) could reoppose.
Henderson and the Munir/Souede partnership have We Have A Dream, who is unbeaten in four starts in Britain.
The Grand National fences will be in use for the £45,000 Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase (4.05pm, 25 entries), the highlight of the meeting for amateur riders.
Amputee and former soldier, Guy Disney, is set to become the first amputee jockey to ride in a race over the famous Grand National fences.
Disney rides with a prosthetic lower right leg after the vehicle in which he was travelling in Afghanistan was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in July, 2009.
In February, 2017, the former Army Captain became the first amputee jockey to win a race under Rules in Britain when gaining victory aboard Rathlin Rose in the Royal Artillery Gold Cup at Sandown Park Racecourse. Disney and Rathlin Rose teamed up for a repeat success in the same contest this year.
Disney’s ride in the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase comes after he assembled a syndicate, Somerset Racing GD, to buy Gallery Exhibition, trained by Grand National-winning trainer, Kim Bailey. The horse was purchased with the explicit aim of running in the Aintree race for amateur riders.
Balnaslow (Graham McKeever IRE) was the fast-finishing second 12 months ago, before going on to capture the Champion Hunters Chase at the Punchestown Festival.
Others to note include the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Wonderful Charm and Unioniste, plus Wells De Lune who represents last year’s winning trainer Mickey Bowen and Irish stalwart On The Fringe (Enda Bolger), successful in 2015 and 2016, who is due to be ridden by Nina Carberry.
Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase – odds from Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival
6/1 Grand Vision, Wonderful Charm
9/1 On The Fringe
12/1 Unioniste, Mendip Express
14/1 Wells de Lune
16/1 Monsieur Gibraltar, Barrakilla, Gallery Exhibition, Sir Jack Yeats
20/1 Bear’s Affair, Distime
25/1 Winged Crusader, Mon Parrain
40/1 Rouge Et Blanc, Premier Portrait, Eddies Miracle
50/1 Curraigflemens, Never Complain
66/1 Warden Hill, Bound For Glory, Lilbitluso
The final two races of the day are the £90,000 G3 Red Rum Handicap Chase, which could feature 2017 scorer Double W’s (Ruth Jefferson), and the concluding £45,000 G2 Goffs Nickel Coin Mares’ National Hunt Flat Race (5.15pm), both of which have 35 entries.
The three-day Randox Health Grand National Festival continues on Ladies Day, Friday, April 13, and finishes on Grand National Day, Saturday, April 14.
Aintree will be supporting the military on Grand National Thursday by providing hundreds of tickets to military veterans and specifically from the combat wounded community.
Grand National Thursday will feature an Opening Ceremony for the first time, including a 40-strong Scots Guards Marching Band, which will move through the crowd to help create a great atmosphere for the start of the three-day Randox Health Grand National Festival.
The Opening Ceremony will also involve a thrilling Red Devils display from nine Red Devil parachute jumpers who will carry Randox, Aintree and Union Jack flags. A handover of the Randox Health Grand National trophy will take place on the track by the Red Devils.
There will be Grand National-winning horses in the Parade Ring – Bindaree, Silver Birch, Mon Mome, Neptune Collonges, Pineau De Re and Rule The World.
Aintree is also delighted to extend its support to Invictus Games medal winners in the North West, who will feature as part of the brand new Champions Lounge on Grand National Thursday.
The ground at Aintree is drying and Clerk of the Course Andrew Tulloch late this afternoon changed the going descriptions.
He said at 4.40pm: “It has been an overcast and grey day but dry so far and the courses are continuing to dry gradually.
“The Grand National course is now Good to Soft, Soft in places, while the Mildmay and Hurdle courses are both Good to Soft.
“There is a bit of rain forecast tonight and a bit tomorrow, but forecasts differ and we will have to wait and see if we get any.”
Mildmay & Hurdle – Good to Soft (previously Good to Soft, Soft in places)
Grand National – Good to Soft, Soft in places (previously Soft, Good to Soft in places)
Grand National Thursday
From 1977 onwards, when the Grand National Festival became an all-Jump meeting, Grand National Thursday has developed into an outstanding day of racing action, a true Day for Champions.
It is only one of three racedays during the entire British Jump season to offer four Grade One (G1) contests.
Uniquely, Grand National Thursday is the only day of the year with two open G1 races and two G1 contests for novices.
The G1 chase action on Grand National Thursday is headlined by the Betway Bowl, staged over three miles and a furlong of the Mildmay Course.
The fabulous roll of honour boasts the names of some of the very best chasers of the modern era with Wayward Lad, Desert Orchid, See More Business, Florida Pearl, Siliviniaco Conti and Cue Card all having been successful.
Lizzie Kelly created history in 2017 when becoming the first female jockey to win the Betway Bowl aboard Tea For Two.
The G1 Betway Aintree Hurdle moved to Grand National Thursday in 2013, having previously been on Grand National Day. The race is the only British G1 open hurdle run over the distance of two and a half miles.
First staged in 1975, it has proved to be the perfect follow-up for horses who have won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
In 2017, Buveur D’Air joined great performers Annie Power, Jezki, Istabraq, Morley Street, Beech Road, Dawn Run, Gaye Brief, Monksfield, Night Nurse and Comedy Of Errors by winning both the Champion Hurdle and the Betway Aintree Hurdle.
Often regarded as the greatest hurdle race of all-time, the 1977 renewal of the Betway Aintree Hurdle saw a dead-heat between Monksfield and Night Nurse, both dual winners of the Champion Hurdle.
The G1 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle over two miles and a furlong is the natural next target for horses who competed in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Last season Defi Du Seuil followed in the footsteps of Pollardstown, Detroit City, Katchit and Zarkandar by winning both the JCB Triumph Hurdle and the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle.
The £100,000 G1 Big Buck’s Celebration Manifesto Novices’ Chase starts the day off with a bang and is named after two of the greatest horses to ever race at Aintree.
Ultra-competitive handicap action comes courtesy of the two-mile G3 Red Rum Handicap Chase which commemorates the legendary three-time Grand National winner Red Rum.
Stars of the future can be found in the concluding race, the G2 Goffs Nickel Coin Mares’ Bumper, which is the richest mares’ bumper at £45,000 run in the UK. Its title derives from the last mare to win the Grand National, the 1951 heroine Nickel Coin.
First staged as a Listed contest in 2013, the Goffs Nickel Coin Mares’ Bumper has rapidly established its place in the expanding British programme for mares and was upgraded to G2 status in 2016.
To sum up, Grand National Thursday is a day to savour, with racing of the highest class, led by four G1 contests plus a G2 race, a G3 event and the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase over the Grand National course.
The evolving success of Grand National Thursday – A Day for Champions – is demonstrated by its growing popularity. During the 1980s, the attendance was below the 10,000 mark but has risen substantially, with the crowd figure now around 35,000.
Grand National Thursday on April 12, 2018 includes a Champions of Merseyside dimension, with a number of sporting champions involved in celebrating the best of Merseyside sport at all levels and all ages.
Aintree’s Preview Night returns on Wednesday, April 11 and features among other the 2015 Grand National winning trainer, Oliver Sherwood, and the most successful female jockey in the Grand National, Katie Walsh.