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Grand National - Racing: Opening Day Preview

The second of Britain's major spring jumps racing festivals takes place next week as Aintree stages their Grand National Festival.

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.

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 one of the Grand National Festival.

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Aintree bursts into life

Day one of the Grand National Festival at Aintree certainly doesn't stand on ceremony as the meeting begins with four straight Grade 1 contests.

Kick-starting the action will be the Manifesto Novices' Chase over two-and-a-half-miles on Thursday.

Since it was introduced in 2009, this intermediate contest has produced some quality winners, with the likes of Menorah, Uxizandre, Finian's Oscar, Kalashnikov and - most recently - Protektorat bagging the prize.

Dan Skelton's 2021 winner of course went on to big things this season in open company, including finishing 'best of the British' when third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup recently.

Paul Nicholls will be hoping 7/2 Pic D'orhy can get him off to a flyer, while Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore bid for more Aintree success with 4/1 chance Gin On Lime. Arkle fourth War Lord is 10/3 to score as he steps up in distance for Colin Tizzard.

Juveniles on centre stage

Race two on day one is the Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices' Hurdle over two-miles-and-a-furlong.

This race is a logical stopping point for horses that have previously contested the Triumph Hurdle in Cheltenham, with Nicky Henderson's Pentland Hills in 2019 the most recent to bag both major prizes.

Vauban was an impressive winner in the Cotswolds last month for trainer Willie Mullins, but he has skipped this race, and that form will instead be represented by third home Pied Piper, 10/11 to score now for Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell.

There is a Cheltenham Festival winner in the line-up, with improving Fred Winter scorer Brazil 9/4 to score for Padraig Roache now, while another runner in the JP McManus silks, Petit Tonnerre, is 10/1 and unbeaten in three hurdles starts.

Nicholls' record strong in Aintree Bowl

The Grade 1 Aintree Bowl is a three-and-a-quarter-mile test of stamina around the Merseyside track and Britain's champion trainer Paul Nicholls could do with extending his excellent recent record in the race.

The Ditcheat supremo is facing a real challenge from old foe Henderson for his crown, while the mooted Mullins assault is also bubbling underneath the surface.

Nicholls has won this race three times since 2014, with Silviniaco Conti securing back-to-back successes in 2014/15 before dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux obliged 12 months ago. He's 11/2 to retain his crown.

Though winless in two starts this season, Clan Des Obeaux could be aimed at this race again and Nicholls' hopes of clinging on to his trainers' title would gain a real shot in the arm if the £250,000 top prize can be bagged.

Protektorat finihed third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup for Dan and Harry Skelton and is unbeaten at Aintree. They grey is 3/1 to win here, while Irish Gold Cup winner Conflated is 9/2 and Kemboy, winner of this in 2019, is trading at 5/1 for Mullins.

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Irish boast strong record in Aintree Hurdle

With the Champion Hurdle over two-miles and the Stayers' Hurdle over three-miles at Cheltenham in March, the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle over two-and-a-half-miles offers that little something different in comparison to the two Championship contests in the Cotswolds.

For that reason, this £250,000 prize is often a race specifically targeted for horses not quite at home in either of those Cheltenham races the previous month.

It's a contest in which the Irish have done well in recently, with four of the last six winners crossing the Irish Sea as the likes of Jessica Harrington (twice), Mullins and Denise Foster snared the big prize.

Henderson has four wins and the Seven Barrows trainer needs one more to equal Toby Balding's record. He relies on last month's Champion Hurdle second Epatante, at 15/8, though the mare must prove her stamina if she's to uphold form with 2/1 Zanahiyr, just a length behind at Cheltenham over the shorter trip last month.

Foxhunters' has produced epic drama

The Randox Foxhunters' Open Hunters' Chase is the first of Aintree's amateur riders' event and has been coming to the fore in recent times by producing some memorable outcomes.

In 2013, Tartan Snow landed a 100/1 stunner for trainer Stuart Coltherd, while the legendary On The Fringe came and grabbed back-to-back wins for iconic Irish trainer Enda Bolger in 2016/16.

In 2019, Top Wood and Tabitha Worsley wrestled victory from the jaws of defeat after it seemed Burning Ambition and Derek O'Connor had come to deny them after the jumping was completed.

Last time around, it was another shock as 66/1 Cousin Pascal made the best of his way home despite traffic woes late on to bag the Foxhunters'. He's trading at 11/1 to retain his crown, while class act Jett is 5/2 to score for Sam and Robert Waley-Cohen.

Memories of Red Rum stirred

Red Rum's legacy has been brought back into focus in recent times since Tiger Roll bridged a long gap back to his halcyon days by emulating him with successive Grand National wins in 2018 and 2019.

Donald McCain's charge is the original Aintree legend, however, and the Grade 3 Red Rum Handicap Chase is run as the penultimate race on day one of the Aintree Grand National Festival as a fitting memory to the three-time National winner.

Former Grand Annual winner Sky Pirate, at 18/1, represents Jonjo O'Neill, while Sam Thomas' 15/2 chance Before Midnight and Thyme White at 16/1 for Paul Nicholls are solid contenders.

Mares round the afternoon off

Day one concludes with the Nickel Coin Mares' Standard Open NH Flat Race, a Grade 2 bumper.

The race is of course named after mare Nickel Coin - the 1951 Grand National winner. No mare in the 71 years since has managed to bag the big race, with Magic Of Light for Harrington going close behind Tiger Roll when he won his second in 2019.

This year's renewal could garner plenty interest for the mares, as Snow Leopardess is amongst the top fancies at 14/1 for trainer Charlie Longsdon.

Already a mother, she's a grey, too, and could be amongst the most popular contenders next Saturday come post-time in the National.

Thursday's finale is a classy affair with Willie Mullins' Ashroe Diamond at 9/2 and the aptly-named Rosy Redrum at 7/2 amongst the leading candidates.

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