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Aintree horse racing tips: Jake Russell previews a selection of the big races on day one at the Aintree Festival


Our racing pundit/writer Jake Russell has offered his insights into the best betting value on the opening day of the Aintree Festival

By @ Jake Russell

1.45pm - Grade 1 Close Brothers Manifesto Novices Chase

The main thing to note heading into the Grand National Festival this week is that it is only four weeks since the Cheltenham Festival, so for a horse it is always a difficult task to complete any Cheltenham and Aintree double, especially for a novice. However, I feel there could be a little exception here with Grey Dawning, trained by Dan Skelton, who won this contest with Protektorat back in 2021. 

The 2m3f trip on a much flatter track is another slight concern for Grey Dawning on Thursday, but the manner in which he has improved at a very high rate over fences this season would suggest he is good enough to land this, and might not have stopped improving. 

His record currently reads 3 wins and a 2nd in 5 attempts over larger obstacles this season, with a Grade 2 victory at Warwick to his name, as well as the Grade 1 Turners Novices Chase at the Festival last time out. 

I stated that day that he is quickly becoming a firm favourite of mine, just because of his running style - he just does everything so easily, wins and then heads off back home, doing nothing flashy in the slightest, but still getting it done in style. Also, the added fact that he is a grey who loves to jump boldly over his fences will always catch the eye of us racing fans. 

Harry Skelton rode him to perfection last time, keeping him alongside Ginny's Destiny all the way around, knowing that horse likes to go off in front so not wanting to give the Paul Nicholls runner too much rope early on. Then he pounced as they went around the home turn, pulling clear in the closing stages to win by 2 lengths in the end, and finish a further 8 or so lengths ahead of Djelo in 3rd. 

That was a great performance, and although he ran at the Festival just 28 days ago, he doesn't seem to be the type that will be adversely affected by that. Just the five runners head to post,and I fully expect to see this lovely grey land back-to-back Grade 1's and another big festival race. 

  • Selection - Grey Dawning (1/1)

2.20pm - Grade 1 Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle

Favourite backers could get off to a great start to the Aintree Festival this week, as we have two pretty short-priced runners for the first two events on the card. There is an obvious risk to backing Sir Gino here, due to the fact there has been a well-documented issue with the Nicky Henderson runners this season, especially over the Cheltenham Festival period, where he pulled out all of their main runners, so Sir Gino does have that and a 75 day break to overcome here. 

However, that might play to his strengths, given the fact a few of his rivals in this did run at the Festival last month, so he might have the freshness edge over them come Thursday, which can be a good thing for these younger, less experienced horses. 

Sir Gino's main rival Kalif Du Berlais was a very game winner of the Adonis Hurdle, but did not look that pleasing to the eye in the end as he only just scraped home by a little under a length. I think he is one for the future as he definitely looks like he wants further in trip, but Paul Nicholls does very well at this meeting, and he did bypass the Cheltenham Festival for this. 

Ultimately, Sir Gino is the highest rated in the field, and looked a potential superstar when landing the Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham back in January, blitzing the field by 10 lengths, and looking like a real class act in the making. 

He is a very lightly raced sort with just the two runs over hurdles for current connections, a 14-length win on UK debut at Kempton before that 10-length demolition job at Cheltenham 75 days or so ago, so a combined 24 lengths for just two runs this season. 

People might try and over-complicate this due to the issues at the Henderson yard this season, especially over the last few weeks, but from what I have heard this week from Nicky Henderson himself is that he is bouncing at home and all systems are a go for this week, so hopefully he can justify all the hype and land this contest in style before going into open company next season and maybe being a Champion Hurdle horse. 

That might leave a headache for Hendo considering he also has Constitution Hill to (hopefully) come back next season. There will be plenty of eyes on Sir Gino come Thursday, so hopefully he can put in a superstar performance and make amends for the unfortunate Cheltenham Festival miss.

  • Selection - Sir Gino (10/11)

2.55pm - Grade 1 William Hill Bowl Chase

Gerri Colombe is certainly the most interesting runner in this contest, fresh off his Gold Cup 2nd last time out, that might put a few off as it was only 27 days ago, but he showed in his novice chase season that the Cheltenham and Aintree Festival break is enough time for him. He came 2nd in the Brown Advisory before going on to land the Mildmay Chase just a few weeks later last season during his Novice campaign. 

The Gordon Elliott runner was only 3½ lengths behind Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup last time, and did finish a further 9 lengths clear of 3rd place in the end, so he is certainly the young pretender of the field for the third Grade 1 on the card at Aintree on Thursday. 

But could this contest come a little too soon after a pretty gruelling Gold Cup run last time? With that in mind, I am siding with a horse who did miss the Cheltenham Festival, and although it was down to an unsatisfactory scope, Shishkin has already shown this season that a disrupted plan does not affect him, given the fact he almost won the King George with no prep run beforehand. 

It's fair to say this season has not gone to plan in the slightest for Nicky Henderson's star chaser, refusing to run for his prep run at Ascot for the King George, before going on to then unfortunately unseat his rider in the King George itself, when arguably looking the winner. 

He did land the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury before going on to the Gold Cup last month, but was unfortunately pulled out with the Seven Barrows Festival mishap due to a dirty scope. Given all of Hendo's superstars missed the Cheltenham Festival, that could set them in good stead for Aintree week, as they will all arrive fresh and ready to go, so it could be the stroke of luck that the yard very much need. 

Shishkin is the highest rated runner in the field, and although he is becoming a bit of an enigma in his older age, I think conditions will very much suit him here, and arguably suit him more than the rest of the field. He landed this contest last season, wearing down Ahoy Senor late on in the day after looking beaten at one stage, rallying well and forging clear to win by a little under 2 lengths, winning at the first attempt over the 3-mile trip.

I still think there is plenty more wins to come from Henderson's star chaser, and given all the mishaps that he and Nicky have endured this season, it would be fantastic for this horse to end the season with a 1 next to his form, especially in a very decent Grade 1 contest against a very good rival in Gerri Colombe. 

Nicky Henderson stated earlier in the week via At The Races that Nico De Boinville did his last piece of work on Shishkin recently, and he stated he was in fine fettle. Fantastic news for all racing fans to hear before Aintree kicks off on Thursday.        

  • Selection - Shishkin (3/1) 

3.30pm - Grade 1 William Hill Aintree Hurdle

The fourth and final Grade 1 on the card, this is by far the trickiest one to decipher in my opinion and looks like it could be heading the way of the Irish. 

Bob Olinger has looked back to his very best this season, so huge credit has to go to Henry De Bromhead for getting his Festival winner back winning this season. He has landed two Grade 2's this season at Navan and Cheltenham, before going on to come 2nd behind State Man in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time. Henry decided to bypass the Cheltenham Festival with Bob Olinger, so that could very much set him up nicely here on Thursday. 

However, with that in mind, Impaire Et Passe also missed the Festival at Cheltenham last month, in favour of heading for this contest at Aintree. The double green owned horse was a pretty formidable novice hurdler last season, beating Gaelic Warrior in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham, before going on to then land the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in April last year by a little under 8 lengths. 

He has not looked as formidable this season and did lose his unbeaten streak over hurdles on his first run this year when beaten by Teahupoo in the Hatton's Grace, although that form has taken an almighty boost as Teahupoo has since landed the Stayers’ Hurdle. Impaire Et Passe was only a length behind Teahupoo that day, and has since finished 2nd behind recent Champion Hurdle winner State Man in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle, before going on to come 3rd in the Irish Champion Hurdle behind State Man and Bob Olinger, beaten by 10 lengths in the end. 

The Willie Mullins horse clearly wasn't at his best last time, and given the fact he has been beaten by a Stayers’ Hurdle and Champion Hurdle winner this season, I think he is entitled to land a contest of this nature on Thursday. 

Bob Olinger is a worthy opponent here, but I just think if we get Impaire Et Passe back to his very best, he will prove to be far too good for the rest of these. Coming back off a 67-day break here, he will be fresh and ready to go and try to land his first Grade 1 of the season in Liverpool on Thursday.     

  • Selection - Impaire Et Passe (15/8)

5.15pm - Grade 2 Goffs Nickel Coin Mares Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race 

This is usually a contest in which the Brits do well, but it is an Irish-trained runner that I very much like the look of here in the shape of Baby Kate for Willie Mullins, who did land this contest with Ashroe Diamond back in 2022. 

His runner Baby Kate has not been seen since landing a Listed bumper at Cheltenham back in November, so she does have a 145-day break to overcome here, which could be a slight concern given she will take on race-fit rivals here, although the manner in which she won that bumper would suggest there is plenty more to come from this filly. 

There was talk that they might take her hurdling for the rest of the season, as she was entered up in the Mares Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month, but it looks as if connections will potentially give her one last run on the level before hopefully going over hurdles next season. 

One thing to note, Baby Kate was also entered up in the Champion Bumper, but did not run in the end. She has won both of her bumper runs so far, which includes a length win at Ballinrobe on debut in August, before going on to blitz clear in a Listed contest at Cheltenham in November, forging clear up the Hill to win by an easy 4 lengths in the end, and the form of that race has been franked with some next-time winners in behind her that day. 

The one main factor for me here is the fact Patrick Mullins has decided to stick with her, having ridden her on debut at Ballinrobe where he gave her the perfect winning ride, so the thinking is he knows this filly and will do the same at Aintree on Thursday. 

This is a huge step up in class, and she would have needed to improve tremendously since that last run, but the manner of that win last time will suggest she is an exciting horse for the future. I very much think she could be far too good for the rest of these mares, and she is a horse I have become a bit of a fan of since seeing her win that listed bumper contest at Cheltenham last time (she was one of my ante-post selection for the Champion Bumper, so that shows how much of a fan I am of her).

  • Selection - Baby Kate (3/1) 

 All prices are from Planet Sport Bet and are subject to change

 All previews and tips provided by @ Jake Russell

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