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Grand National - Racing: Ladies Day Preview

The second of Britain's major spring jumps racing festivals takes place next week as Aintree stages its Grand National Festival, with Friday set to be Ladies Day.

The Merseyside track hosts three days of top-class National Hunt action, starting on Thursday 7th April and concluding on Saturday 9th April with the Grand National itself.

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You can catch all the action from Aintree on our Sports Live Streaming platform and here we take a look at what to expect on day two of the Grand National Festival.

Four more from the top

Just like on the opening day, Aintree's Grand National Festival boasts a quartet of Grade 1 races on Friday.

The 20 Years Together, Alder Hey & Aintree Handicap Hurdle (13:45) opens the second day of racing at the Grand National Festival. It is run over two-and-a-half-miles and is open to horses aged four years and older and carries Grade 3 status.

Tronador scored in 2021 for Jack Kennedy and trainer Denise Foster. The 2022 Arkle winner, Edwardstone, was third for Alan King in the final run of his season over hurdles.

Dan Skelton's Langer Dan was brought down at the second flight in last month's Martin Pipe at Cheltenham and is 3/1 to gain compensation here. The likes of Highway One O Two at 16/1 for Chris Gordon and impressive mare Speech Bubble at 6/1 for Noel Williams will be hoping to thwart him.

Top novices' on show

The first Grade 1 on Friday is the Top Novices' Hurdle (14:20), run over two-miles-and-half-a-furlong. Whilst this is a prestigious contest for leading novice hurdlers, Browne's Gazette in 1984 was the most recent winner to bag this prize after winning Cheltenham's Supreme the previous month.

Trainer Nicky Henderson swerved this race with Constitution Hill, though the Seven Barrows supremo fires Jonbon, second in the Cotswolds, at this target. Henderson won this race five times in seven years from 2010, his most recent success in 2016 via Buveur D'air and Jonbon is 1/1 to score.

Last year's winner Belfast Banter was completing a Cheltenham/Aintree double of his own, having previously won the County Hurdle.

Mildmay target for up-and-coming chasers

The Mildmay Novices' Chase is a Grade 1 that takes place over two-miles-and-one-furlong, with a total of 19 fences to be jumped, and is the ultimate Aintree test for up-and-coming young chasers.

Chantry House took the prize in 2021 for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville, backing up his victory in the Marsh Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival a month earlier. He was in the midst of a proper scrap with Espoir De Romay before Kim Bailey's runner came down when leading at the second last fence. That allowed Chantry House to cruise home, with more than 30-lengths back to Shan Blue in second spot.

This Grade 1 has been dominated in recent times by British trainers, with every winner since Colm Murphy's Quito De La Roque in 2011 sent out by the home team. Other recent victors include Native River (2016), Might Bite (2017) and Lostintranslation (2019).

This year's contest has just four runners but is a mouthwatering affair. Cheltenham Festival scorer L'homme Presse is 11/8 for Venetia Williams, as he stares down unbeaten chaser Bravemansgame at 11/8 for Paul Nicholls and Ahoy Senor, 11/2 to avenge last month's Cotswolds defeat behind L'homme Presse and a Grade 1 novice hurdle winner here last year.

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Fakir to return for Melling defence

The feature race on day two is the Grade 1 Melling Chase over two-and-a-half-miles and it will be headlined by last year's winner Fakir D'oudairies for trainer Joseph O'Brien, 5/4 to retain his crown now.

The JP McManus-owned Fakir D'oudairies was much too strong in this race last year and, after winning at Ascot in February, connections decided to swerve a Ryanair Chase rematch with Allaho in Cheltenham last month, opting instead to keep the seven-year-old fresh for this target. Victory on Friday would see Fakir D'oudairies emulating the likes of Viking Flagship, Moscow Flyer and Voy Por Ustedes in becoming the sixth horse to win the Melling Chase twice.

Britain's heavyweight training duo Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls share the record with three successes each in this contest. Henderson took it most recently with Sprinter Sacre in 2013, while Nicholls' third win came via Politologue in 2018.

However, Irish trainers are bidding to win the Melling Chase for a fifth time in eight renewals, with Boston Bob, Don Cossack and Min all scoring in recent times before Fakir D'oudairies triumphed 12 months ago.

Nicholls' Hitman is 11/1 and could have more to offer at this distance, while Funambule Sivola was second in last month's Champion Chase and trades at 7/1 here for Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch.

Famous fences into play

Next up on day two is the Topham Chase, a handicap over two-miles-and-five-furlongs over the famous Grand National fences – a first look at the spruce-clad obstacles during this meeting.

Nicky Henderson, Colin Tizzard and Willie Mullins account for seven of the previous eight winners, while Peter Bowen's Always Waining had completed a hat-trick of Topham wins before that from 2010-2012.

Last year's race went to Livelovelaugh in the hands of top amateur rider Patrick Mullins under a very canny front-running ride.

Royal Rendezvous is 10/1 for Mullins and Paul Townend here, while Senior Citizen, third last year, is 12/1 for trainer Alan King and rider Adrian Heskin in the McNeill Family silks.

Sefton completes Grade 1 quartet

Friday afternoon's final Grade 1 race is the Sefton Novices' Hurdle, a thorough test of stamina over three-miles-and-one-furlong.

Nicky Henderson holds the record for wins with four - Rustle (1988), Beat That (2014), Santini (2018) and Champ (2019).

Other recent winners of the Sefton include Thistlecrack in 2015, Ballyoptic in 2016 and The World's End in 2017.

This is another contest dominated in recent times by British trainers, as you must go all the way back to Asian Maze in 2005 for Tom Mullins to find an Irish-trained winner.

The most recent horse to complete the Albert Bartlett/Sefton double was At Fishers Cross for Rebecca Curtis in 2013. Ahoy Senor won in 2021 at odds of 66/1, though his form this season as a chaser suggests he had no right to be such a rank outsider given the ability he possesses.

Winner of the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham last month, Banbridge is 5/2 to make the step in Grade 1 company a winning one, while Sam Thomas' unbeaten Skytastic is 6/1 and could have more to give rising in trip/class.

Amateur riders complete Friday

Ladies Day at Aintree concludes with the Lydiate Handicap Hurdle over two-miles-and-one-furlong, a contest for Conditional Jockeys' And Amateur Riders' only.

Rowland Ward took the prize in 2021 for trainer Stuart Edmunds and rider Charlie Hammond, travelling smoothly into the race and doing just enough to foil well-supported joint-favourite Camprond for Philip Hobbs and Ben Jones.

The race has attracted a big field of runners as the top amateurs get their chance to shine on the Aintree stage and the likes of Whizz Kidd at 7/2 for Dr Richard Newland and Cillin Leonard look set to join Olly Murphy's 7/1 Washington near the head of the market.

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