Entries for the JLT Melling Chase include star two-mile chaser Altior (4/5 with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival), winner of the G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.
Trainer Nicky Henderson, who has also entered L’Ami Serge and Top Notch, has yet to decide whether to step unbeaten chaser Altior up in trip at Aintree or wait until Punchestown or Sandown later in the month.
Ireland has a strong hand, with Min (Willie Mullins), runner-up to Altior at Cheltenham, and Balko Des Flos (Henry de Bromhead), winner of the G1 Ryanair Chase over two miles and five furlongs at the Cheltenham Festival.
Somerset trainer Paul Nicholls can choose between Politologue, fourth to Altior at Cheltenham, Frodon, fifth to Balko Des Flos in the Ryanair Chase, and Grand Annual winner Le Prezien.
The Yorkshire-trained Cloudy Dream (Ruth Jefferson), very consistent this season, has to make up some ground on Balko Des Flos, having finished third, beaten just over 12 lengths last month.
There are three further G1 contests on Ladies Day, all for novices, starting with the £100,000 Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle (2.20pm) over an extended two miles, in which the Henderson-trained four-year-old Apple’s Shakira is engaged after she finished fourth when favourite for the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle has attracted a very healthy 25-strong entry and the leading contenders also include Cheltenham Festival fifth Claimantakinforgan (Nicky Henderson), hat-trick seeking Global Citizen (Ben Pauling) and Cheltenham second Style De Garde (Nicky Henderson) while Dorset trainer Colin Tizzard has a talented trio to choose from – Slate House, Storm House and Vision Des Flos.
The £100,000 Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase (2.50pm, 14 entries) over three miles and a furlong sees another potential Henderson-trained favourite in Terrefort, who finished second in the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
But it will be no easy task with talented mares Mia’s Storm (Alan King) and Ms Parfois (|Anthony Honeyball), plus the Lizzie Kelly-ridden Coo Star Sivola, another Cheltenham Festival winner, and the Bryony Frost-partnered Black Corton potential opponents.
The £100,000 Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (4.40pm, 25 entries) over an extended three miles could be another to go the way of a Henderson-trained contender since he has a strong hand with unbeaten On The Blind Side, Cheltenham Festival second and third OK Corral and Santini, and Chef Des Obeaux.
Gloucestershire-based trainer Fergal O’Brien is hopeful of a good performance from Mystifiable (9st 9lb) if he gets run in the £140,000 G3 Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase (4.05pm, 2m 5f) over the Grand National fences, for which he is one of 44 entries going forward.
Mystifiable is 41 or 42 on the list at the moment depending on the latest handicap ratings issued on Tuesday, with a maximum field of 30 allowed to take part, though plenty of those remaining in the race have other options during the Randox Health Grand National Festival.
The 10-year-old son of Kayf Tara was a creditable fourth over course and distance in the 188Bet Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree in December on heavy ground behind Randox Health Grand National contender and fellow Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase entry Gas Line Boy (11st 3lb, 16/1).
Leading approaching the final fence, Mystifiable faded to finish 24 lengths behind the winner.
His first appearance since then came at Newbury on March 24, when he finished third over an extended two miles in a handicap chase.
Victorious three times over fences, at trips of two and half miles or over, O’Brien’s charge latest success came in a handicap chase at Perth nearly a year ago.
Mystifiable is a 33/1 chance with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National, for the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase.
O’Brien said: “Mystifiable is in good form at home and is set to run in the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase.
“He ran well at Newbury last time and he has come out of that race in good form. He has just got slightly outpaced over the shorter trip there, but back over this trip, he will be able to make use of his speed.
“He is progressing nicely and his fourth over the Grand National fences in December is good form.
“He proved that day that he liked conditions and we’re looking forward to running him back over the fences.
“We don’t school our horses over Grand National-type fences, but he jumps very well, so that isn’t an issue.
“He goes there with a good chance and we’ve been happy with him. Ground conditions will play a factor as he is a better horse in the spring on decent ground.
“He was fourth at Aintree on heavy ground, but we will just have to see what the weather does and how much rain they get at Liverpool.
“If he gets into the race, he should have a nice racing weight, so hopefully he will run well.”
Top-weight Shantou Flyer (11st 12lb, 16/1) is an intended runner in the £1-million Randox Health Grand National, with emerging star 17-year-old James Bowen in the saddle, on Saturday, April 14, with the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase or the £190,000 G1 Betway Bowl Chase (Grand National Thursday, April 12) only options if the ground is bottomless.
His defection would see the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase weights raised at least 5lb, bringing Mystifiable into the handicap proper.
Next in the weights is 11-year-old Devils Bride (11st 7lb, 40/1), trained in Ireland for Gigginstown House Stud by Henry de Bromhead, who has not run since October when tailed off in a handicap chase over the Mildmay course fences at Aintree.
Double Treasure (11st 5lb, 33/1), trained by Jamie Snowden for Arsenal FC chairman Sir Chips Keswick, is an intended runner and was put through his paces over the Grand National schooling fences in Lambourn earlier this week. The seven-year-old, who jumped well then, last appeared in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, but was unsuited by the soft ground and finished seventh. He won his previous four races.
O O Seven (11st 5lb, 10/1 favourite) represents trainer Nicky Henderson who has the best record of any trainer in the history of the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase, with five wins – Won’t Be Gone Long (1990), Liberthine (2006), Triolo D’Alene (2013), Ma Filleule (2014) and Rajdhani Express (2015). Eight-year-old O O Seven finished an excellent fourth in this race last year to the Ultragold (Colin Tizzard 10st 10lb, 20/1) and is 7lb better off.
The 12/1 second favourite for the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase with Betway is Theatre Territory (Warren Greatrex, 10st 1lb), owned by Cheltenham Racecourse chairman Robert Waley-Cohen, and the mount of his amateur-rider son Sam, who will be relieved if the weights do go up.
Eight-year-old Theatre Territory has been a model of consistency in five starts so far this season, with her best efforts coming when second to both Ms Parfois and Mister Whitaker in competitive handicap chases at Cheltenham in December and January respectively.
On her latest outing, she ran another game race to finish third in the G3 Betdaq Handicap Chase at Kempton Park on February 24, her first attempt over three miles.
Sam Waley-Cohen is the most successful current rider over the Grand National fences at Aintree, having enjoyed six victories, including three successes in the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase on Katarino (2005 & 2006) and Warne (2014). He has also registered two wins in the Randox Health Topham Chase aboard Liberthine (2006) and Rajdhani Express (2015). The closest he has come to winning the Randox Health Grand National in eight rides was in 2011 when he was runner-up on Oscar Time, owned by his father and trained in Ireland by Martin Lynch. The same horse went on to land the Randox Health Becher Chase over the Grand National course in 2014.
The other two races on Ladies Day are the opening G3 Alder Hey Children’s Charity Handicap Hurdle (1.45pm, 2m 4f) which has attracted 60 entries, while the final race is the G2 Weatherbys Private Bank National Hunt Flat Race (5.15pm, 2m 1f) with 33 entries.
Fergal O’Brien could be doubly represented in the £1-million Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, April 14, courtesy of Perfect Candidate (11st 2lb, 66/1) and Chase The Spud (10st 11lb, 50/1).
Perfect Candidate was the neck winner under top-weight at Cheltenham in the G3 BetVictor.com Handicap Chase over an extended three miles and three furlongs in November and finished fifth to Definitly Red on his latest outing in the G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at the same course in January.
O’Brien reported: “Perfect Candidate is in good form at home and he looks set to definitely take his chance in the Randox Health Grand National.
“He handles most ground and he has enjoyed another good season, highlighted by his victory at Cheltenham in November.
“He stays and is a sound jumper and whilst he hasn’t had the ideal preparation, everything has been good, touch wood, with him in the last couple of weeks.
“He was entered at the Cheltenham Festival in the Ultima Handicap Chase, but we didn’t go there and thankfully he has been well since.”
Chase The Spud was a six-length winner at Haydock on his first start of the season over an extended three miles and one furlong in November, but has been pulled up in two subsequent starts since, in the Welsh National at Chepstow in January and the Eider Chase at Newcastle over an extended four miles on February 24.
The Alflora gelding enjoyed the biggest success of his career last season in the 2017 Betfred Midlands National at Uttoxeter.
O’Brien continued: “The ground is very important for Chase The Spud, so we won’t make a decision on whether he runs in the Grand National until closer to the races.
“He is a horse who really enjoys soft ground, so we’ll have to wait on the weather before making a decision. Conditions seem to be soft up there currently, so we’ll see what happens in the next week or so.
“We’ll decide on jockeys closer to the race.”
THE RANDOX HEALTH GRAND NATIONAL FESTIVAL
Grand National Thursday – Thursday, April 12, 2018
Time Race Distance Prize Money
1.45pm Big Buck’s Celebration Manifesto Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m 4f £100,000
2.20pm Doom Bar Anniversary 4YO Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 1f £100,000
2.50pm Betway Bowl Chase (Grade 1) 3m 1f £190,000
3.25pm Betway Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 4f £250,000
4.05pm Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase (GNC) 2m 5f £45,000
4.40pm Red Rum Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m £90,000
5.15pm Goffs Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open NH Flat Race (Grade 2) 2m 1f £45,000
Ladies Day – Friday, April 13, 2018
Time Race Distance Prize Money
1.45pm Alder Hey Children’s Charity Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 4f £75,000
2.20pm Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m ½f £100,000
2.50pm Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 3m 1f £100,000
3.25pm JLT Melling Chase (Grade 1) 2m 4f £250,000
4.05pm Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase (Grade 3) GNC 2m 5f £140,000
4.40pm Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m ½f £100,000
5.15pm Weatherbys Private Bank Standard Open NH Flat Race (Grade 2) 2m 1f £45,000
Grand National Day – Saturday, April 14, 2018
Time Race Distance Prize Money
1.45pm Gaskells Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 3m ½f £75,000
2.25pm Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 4f £100,000
3.00pm Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m £100,000
3.40pm Betway Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f £75,000
4.20pm Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m ½f £180,000
5.15pm Randox Health Grand National (Grade 3) GNC 4m 2½f £1,000,000
6.20pm Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle (Conditional & Amateur Jockeys) 2m ½f £50,000
MEETING TOTAL £3,210,000