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Grand National Friday preview: Hitman aims to prevent Fakir hat-trick in Melling Chase

The middle afternoon of the Grand National Festival at Aintree on Friday brings four Grade 1 contests, along with the famous Topham Handicap Chase over the big fences.

The top-level action includes the Mildmay Novices' Chase (1.45), the Melling Chase (3.30) and the Sefton Novices' Hurdle (4.40) - three of Aintree's staples. 

Irish raider Fakir D'oudairies bids for a hat-trick in the Melling Chase and we're taking a race-by-race look ahead to Friday's action at Aintree.

Follow all the action via the bet365 Sports Live Streaming Service as the countdown intensifies to the Grand National itself on Saturday afternoon at Aintree.

1.45 - Air Charter Service Mildmay Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m1f)

Galia Des Liteaux (7/1) won the Hampton Novices' Chase at Warwick in January on testing ground for the Skeltons, beating Complete Unknown (6/1) by some 13-lengths from the Paul Nicholls team.

The runner-up scored decisively at Kempton last time over shorter, while the overall form of that Warwick race is strong, but the mare has ground to make with both Gerri Colombe (10/11) and Bronn (10/3) based on last month's Brown Advisory at the Cheltenham Festival.

They finished second and third there for Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins respectively, with the former just failing to peg back The Real Whacker in what was his only defeat so far over fences.

Connections will be confident he can make amends as Davy Russell takes over on board in what will be his final Aintree Festival. 

2.20 - Handicap Hurdle (Premier Handicap, 2m4f)

Lots of these re-oppose having clashed in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham last month. They include third home Camprond (7/1) for Philip Hobbs, sixth-placed Captain Conby (12/1) for Eamon Sheehy, seventh placed Good Risk At All (10/1) for Sam Thomas and eighth placed Nells Son (20/1) for Nicky Richards.

Off Your Rocco (20/1) was behind them in the Cotswolds, but is off bottom weight for Gordon Elliot here, while No Ordinary Joe (10/1) and Buddy One (9/1) were second and third in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February and have claims on that form.

Top-weight Jason The Militant (40/1) contested last month's Champion Hurdle on second start for Phil Kirby and has been eased by the assessor now, while Tritonic (25/1) prepped for this by finishing fifth in last month's bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso and is rated 2lb lower now for Alan King.

2.55 - Poundland Top Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

A really competitive Grade 1 novice is in prospect with 14 runners declared and most of Britain and Ireland's top stables represented - though not Willie Mullins for once.

Gordon Elliott's Found A Fifty (7/2) leads the raiding party instead after his slender second in a Grade 2 at Naas in February, while Henry De Bromhead's Inthepocket (4/1) was fourth in the Supreme at Cheltenham last month. 

The Paul Nicholls-trained Tahmuras (11/1) has to rebound after fading in that same contest 31 days ago, while Strong Leader (12/1) was just ahead of him for Olly Murphy in the Cotswolds.

Luccia (9/2) was only fourth in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle last time, Nicky Henderson will hope she can bounce back, while the likes of Rubaud, Matata and Hullnback are noted rising in class. 

3.30 - Melling Chase (Grade 1, 2m4f)

Fakir D'oudairies (9/4) looks to complete a hat-trick of wins in this contest and is very much a specialist over this intermediate trip, though perhaps signs have been present this season that Joseph O'Brien's charge isn't as good as in previous times.

Fellow raider French Dynamite (8/1) was a decent fifth in the Ryanair at Cheltenham last month for Mouse Morris, while there's plenty depth to the home challenge.

Paul Nicholls saddles both Pic D'Orhy (9/4) and Hitman (5/1) with Harry Cobden preferring the former, while the likes of Fugitif (9/1), Millers Banks (10/1) and Minella Drama (20/1) need to raise their games in this company.

Hitman was second in this race a year ago, third in the Ryanair last month in the Cotswolds and could be a major player for Britain's champion trainer, despite the stable jockey seemingly overlooking him.

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4.05 - Topham Handicap Chase (Premier Handicap, 2m5f)

They go over the National fences once more in the Topham and a full field of 30 runners have been declared for this daunting test.

Haut En Couleurs (12/1) ran a blinder last month at Cheltenham under a big weight and must carry the burden again for Paul Townend here, while Willie Mullins also saddles former Irish National winner Burrows Saint (14/1), the mount of Patrick Mullins, and Fan De Blues (25/1) with Daryl Jacob on board. 

Final Orders (12/1) saw his winning sequence stopped at five in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham, but Gavin Cromwell's charge ran with credit and has no worries upped in distance again now.

Ashtown Lad (9/1) for Dan and Harry Skelton joins Sam Thomas' Al Dancer (10/1) and the Paul Nicholls-trained Il Ridoto (10/1) amongst the possible leading UK-based contenders in what looks like a fiendish puzzle.

4.40 - Sefton Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m½f)

A thorough staying test for these leading novice hurdlers and one in which supporters of Absolute Notions (7/2) will be expecting the Gordon Elliott-trained inmate to build on his Dublin Racing Festival second behind Good Land in February.

A line through Sandor Clegane leaves him closely matched with last month's Albert Bartlett winner Stay Away Fay, who is 3/1 to complete this major spring double for Nicholls/Cobden team.

Apple Away (10/1) and Weveallbeencaught (33/1) for Lucinda Russell and Nigel Twiston-Davies have some merit on their best form, while exciting duo Maximilian (11/2) for Donald McCain and Iroko (5/1) for Oliver Greenall & Josh Guerriero add a dash of intrigue to Friday's final Grade 1 on Merseyside.

5.15 - Abersoch Land And Sea Handicap Hurdle (Conditional Jockeys And Amateur Riders, 2m1f)

Another ultra-competitive handicap rounds off proceedings on day two, this time for Conditional Jockeys And Amateur Riders.

The Tony Martin-trained Nibiru (6/1) has been enjoying a useful season and just about heads the market, with the Ted Walsh-trained Gaoth Chuil (13/2) on his heels after winning last time at Leopardstown and squeezing in here off bottom weight.

Jamie Codd rides leading UK contender Go Dante (7/1) for Olly Murphy, while Dan Skelton has Knickerbockerglory (9/1) in contention and the Joe Tizzard-trained JPR One (10/1) is also interesting in what will be a tough finale for punters at Aintree.

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