After a fine opening day to the Crabbies Grand National meeting, with sensational victories by stars Cue Card and Annie Power, as well as the juvenile performance of the season from Apple’s Jade, punters are treated to a highly competitive and classy second day. The feature race over the National fences on Ladies Day sees thirty runners tackle the Topham Chase, a frenetic 2m 5f handicap with a stylish honour roll.
The previous three runnings have been claimed by Nicky Henderson – with Rajdhani Express, Ma Filleule and Triolo D’Alene – and the Seven Barrows handler saddles Cocktails At Dawn in a bid for a fourth successive victory. The eight year old picked up back-to-back victories on good ground over this trip before struggling upped in class on slower ground behind Annacotty at Cheltenham. Not seen since, Cocktails At Dawn must be respected for Nicky Henderson despite the ground being against him.
The formidable partnership of Hobbs and Johnson team up again, with current favourite Village Vic looking to bounce back from disappointment in the Ryanair Chase. The nine year old boasts a 50% strike rate over fences, and built up a fine sequence throughout the autumn, including two competitive Cheltenham handicap, and has proven himself versatile after winning on all types of ground. Although sitting toward the head of the handicap, the son of Old Vic will find this assignment far easier than Vautour in the Ryanair.
Following the final declarations for the Crabbies Grand National, Bishops Road was agonizingly left first reserve for the Aintree showpiece. Two from two since joining rookie trainer Kerry Lee, Bishops Road produced a career best when taking the Haydock Grand National Trial. Ironically, the National Trial winner is not guaranteed a place in the showpiece. If there are no withdrawals by 1pm tomorrow, Kerry Lee’s charge will take his chance over the shorter distance in the Topham Chase. Bishops Road looked a thorough stayer when powering through the atrocious conditions at Haydock and looked set to relish a marathon test. That said, having claimed a race over shorter at Sandown this season, the son of Heron Island has proven to be versatile and equally as effective at this trip.
Willie Mullins has already claimed Aintree glory this year, with Apple’s Jade and Annie Power, and saddles Turban in hope of claiming victory his first Topham for fourteen years. Travelling strongly in last years renewal, Turban came to grief three out when mounting a challenge to the leaders. Mullins bids for redemption with a horse that was originally entered in the Grand National. However, Turban has shown previously that a marathon test is not to his liking and his best form is over this trip. With a clear round and reproduction of last years form, Turban can challenge for honors. However this Mullins inmate is not the choice of Ruby Walsh, who has elected to ride Punchestown Festival winner Blood Cotil. The Ricci runner needs to bounce back from a poor effort over hurdles in the Coral Cup, but has superior chase form and if taking to the task can prove competitive. His Irish counterpart Gordon Elliot has, too, completed successful raids of England this season and has recent Irish National runner Killer Crow lined up. The Presenting gelding was outstayed by several rivals and will be much more at home over this trip, a distance at which he has been victorious over.
Plenty of horses with previous form over these fences return for another crack at the prize, included last years second Fairy Rath. Nick Gifford’s inmate was ten lengths behind the victor that day, but can race off the same mark as last year and has continued his fine form this season with a victory over a slightly inadequate trip at Sandown. The concern with Fairy Rath is that he was recently tailed off and pulled up two out after racing prominently, but if returning to form he can be a player.
A half-brother to the classy More Of That, Eastlake is back for another crack at the Topham Chase. Pulled up last year, Eastlake was third off a 4lb higher mark the previous year and put in a much better effort last time out in the Grand Annual after being largely out of form this season. The ride of Barry Geraghty has never won at this distance but shapes as if a step up in trip could be needed these days.
Dare To Endeavour ran well over the National fences when producing a fine second in the Becher Chase, but has disappointed since and joins a number of rivals with something to prove coming into this task. Ruben Cotter now races off 6lb lower than when fifth in this last year, but this lightly raced ten year old disappointed connections with his recent below-par effort at Kempton and arrived in much better form last year.
Grand old servant Mr Moonshine has been seen to effect over these fences, having completed in the National itself when not lasting the trip and finishing a close up third in a Becher Chase. After a poor end to last season, Sue Smith’s veteran bounced back with a big-priced victory at Haydock in soft conditions and proved he still retained form with a five length third at Carlisle last month which may just have put the twelve year old spot on for one last crack at the Aintree fences. At a bigger price, he can run a solid race.
Second to Ma Filleule two years ago, Benny’s Mist returns to enhance his fine Aintree record. Venetia Williams’ ten year old claimed this year’s Grand Sefton, having been placed third in it before, and has proved to be in fine form since with two solid placed efforts in high class handicaps at both Ascot and Newbury. With regular jockey Liam Treadwell unfortunately ruled out with injury, Aidan Coleman picks up a great ride aboard a horse seeking to take his career earnings over the £100,000 mark. Still a double figure price, Benny’s Mist represents cracking value and could easily be the winner of this highly competitive highlight of day two.
Elsewhere on the card, racegoers are treated to scintillating Ryanair winner Vautour in the Melling Chase, and another potential Mullins star in Limini. She is seeking to supplement her Mares Novice Hurdle victory when taking on the boys in the Top Novices’ Hurdle. The card is completed by the Champion Bumper which sees the first three from the Cheltenham equivalent lock horns once more.