THE Aintree Grand National meeting begins on Thursday. Our racing man Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) gives us his four best bets.
Aintree 13:40 | Channel 4
We begin with a two and a half mile novice chase where six line up. Four of them ran in the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham and they look like the four to concentrate on. Josses Hill finished best of them in third position, and I fancy him to confirm this form in the opener.
Josses Hill has had four starts over fences winning only one of these. This doesn't scream out Grade 1 winning form, especially when all bar one of his rivals bring more winning chase form to the table, but don't let this put you off.
Always highly regarded at Seven Barrows by Nicky Henderson, Josses Hill has been campaigned exclusively at Grade 1 or Grade 2 level since winning his maiden hurdle, only dropping out to win a novice chase.
He's been taken along slowly this season culminating in a good third in the Arkle. Last season he came second in the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham before winning the Aintree equivalent and I expect him to follow the same route this season.
Vibrato Voltat looks the obvious danger after finishing five lengths behind the selection at Cheltenham, but he didn't shape like the step up in trip would suit here.
Clarcam and Three Kingdoms will both enjoy the smaller fields and less break neck pace in the race here but I don't expect any of them to reverse the Cheltenham form.
Aintree 14:15 | Channel 4
Cast your mind back to Friday 13th March. It's the final day of the Cheltenham Festival and finally the rain has arrived. Great news for Coneygree, it possibly won him the Gold cup, but horrible news for Hargam.
Nicky Henderson told us pre race the change of conditions would seriously jeopardise the chances of Hargam, and bearing this in mind he ran a mighty race to finish third behind the highly talented Peace and Co. As soon as that race finished I almost instantly thought to myself Hargam will hack up at Aintree.
Four weeks later and Aintree is upon us and nothing at all has changed. The ground is officially described as good to soft, but in this field, and on this much easier track I would still be prepared to back Hargam on heavy ground.
He made his hurdling debut in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham coming second against the much more experienced Golden Doyen, before returning a month later to beat the reliable Karezak.
He took a trip up north to win the Scottish Triumph Hurdle at Musselburgh fairly effortlessly and this is the best form on offer in this field. He's a horse of immense potential and he reminds me a lot of another ex Henderson/McManus star in Binocular. He too failed at Cheltenham before winning at Aintree then going on to win a Champion Hurdle.
Now whether Hargam ever reaches those heights I don't know, but I see him as a horse of huge potential and a horse to follow next season. He is my bet of the meeting and the evens available on Wednesday afternoon was great value. 4/5 is still a very fair price and I cannot see him getting beat.
For those of you who don't like short prices Devilment, the Triumph hurdle fourth is another who will improve for the better ground and easier track and I make him the danger. He represents each way value at 8/1.
Aintree 14:50 | Channel 4
This is a tricky race. A 3 mile 1 furlong chase won last year by Silvinaico Conte who lines up again this year. He was the star of the staying chase division pre Cheltenham only to disappoint at Prestbury Park for the third time.
If you take away his Cheltenham form he is definitely the horse to beat, but he comes up against two rivals who also won at the meeting last season and another who arrives fresh having missed Cheltenham for this.
When I first looked at this race I thought Silvinaco Conte would win this. Everyone I have spoken to has forgiven his Cheltenham flop and see him as a banker. Granted his King George form is the best on offer in the race, but his Gold Cup run was alarmingly bad.
In his previous two attempts at the Gold Cup he fell when in contention in 2013, and last year when he jumped the last in the lead before being run out of it close home ending up fourth.
This year he was toiling four out and came home a well beaten seventh. The Gold Cup this year was a gruelling encounter and I'm not convinced Silvinaco will be at his devastating best on Thursday.
Holywell is the favourite for this race having came fourth in the Gold Cup in March. He won the 3 mile novice chase at Aintree last season impressively, and after a disappointing start to his campaign he looks back to his best.
I believe he has the ability to beat Silvinaco Conte, but as mentioned earlier the Gold Cup this season was a real war of attrition and I'm avoiding both of these tomorrow.
Ma Filleule looked like a future star winning the Topham Chase last season and again after a slow start to this campaign looked like a top class horse when chasing home Uxizandre in the Ryanair at Cheltenham. I believe she will improve again from that, but she has never won over three miles so I can't have her in this.
This leaves me with Menorah. He started this season with victory in the Charlie Hall before coming second to Silvinaco Conte in the Betfair chase. He then ran his standard poor race in the King George, and that is where we last seen him.
He was put away after that race to be kept fresh for Aintree, and I believe that has put him in pole position for this race. He has won twice before in April and as the only horse in this race trained with this in mind I can see him running a huge race at 8/1. I will be backing him each way for this.
Aintree 15:25 | Channel 4
The market tells us there are three horses to concentrate on in this race, and the market is right. Jezki, Arctic Fire and Rock on Ruby are all top class hurdlers and set up an intriguing clash here.
Ex Champion Hurdle winner Jezki has finished behind Arctic Fire in his last two races, in the Irish and English Champion Hurdles, but there is very little between the two.
Jezki has won on his only attempt at this trip whereas Arctic Fire has never been this far before. His stamina, even though he finishes his races well over two miles has to be taken on trust and I'm not convinced.
At the prices I'd take Jezki to reverse the form of their last two meetings with the step up in trip more likely to suit him than Arctic Fire, but I think they both face a stiff task to beat the former champion hurdler Rock on Ruby.
After a disappointing novice chase campaign Rock on Ruby reverted back to hurdles for this race last season where he came second to The New One going down by a head. He started this season in the Elite Hurdle over two miles where he ran a huge race giving weight to younger horses.
After that he stepped up in distance and ran in two two mile and a half Grade 2 hurdles at Cheltenham winning both readily. I tipped Rock On Ruby to win the World Hurdle at Cheltenham in my ante post column, and unfortunately due to a slight setback he missed the festival, but that could be a blessing in disguise.
Whether he stays three miles we don't know, but we know beyond reasonable doubt he stays two and a half miles, and I see this guaranteed stamina as the difference between him and his two main rivals. I plan to win back my ante post losses on Thursday and I recommend you follow me in at 100/30.
Aintree 13:40 – Josses Hill to win (13/8 Coral)
Aintree 14:15 – Hargam to win (4/5 BetBright)
Aintree 14:15 – Devilment each way (9/1 BetVictor)
Aintree 14:50 – Menorah each way (8/1 BetVictor)
Aintree 15:25 – Rock On Ruby to win (Paddy Power)
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