13:20 Aintree

Dan Skelton has for quite some time now been seen as the king of the handicap hurdles – especially at the spring festivals – and WEST BALBOA (best price 7-2), winner of this corresponding race last year, has had the sort of preparation to justify taking a relatively short price. 

Arriving here 12 months ago with arguably the best form courtesy of his smooth success in the Lanzarote Hurdle, the eight-year-old duly justified heavy market support and she didn’t have to wait too long this season to add to her tally at the Merseyside venue when taking the scalp of the smart Brewin’ Upastorm.

Expertly handled with a view to returning to the scene of her two best career efforts, she very much caught the eye with the way she finished off his race at Kempton last time out and with seemingly everything in her favour, only bad luck in running can stop her going very close. 

WEST BALBOA – 1-point win @ 7-2

13:55 Aintree

JIMMY DE SEUIL (best price 9-2) proved no match for stable mate Ballyburn in the Gallagher’s Hurdle at Cheltenham but it’s not every day of the week he’s going to bump into an animal of that quality and if he can run to a level like what he achieved a month ago, Willie Mullins’ gelding should prove the one to beat.

Sent off one of the outsiders of the seven-strong field in the opener on day two at the festival, the son of Galiway travelled as well as most of his more fancied rivals throughout the 2m4f journey and although he couldn’t live with the eventual winner from the last, he kept on well enough to finish an honourable runner-up. 

Time figure-wise, his performance catapulted his stature among his piers to an al-time high and with today’s sharper track seen as a better option for him rather than the more galloping nature of Punchestown (acted well around Thurles), he might prove the one who has the more basis speed at the business end. 

JIMMY DE SEUIL – 1-point each-way @ 9-2

16:00 Aintree

A strong-looking renewal of the world’s greatest race, indicative of the fact we have a Grade 2 Cheltenham winner in the shape of Limerick Lace languishing at number 25 on the card and, on what is likely to be sticky ground, this should still prove to be the ultimate test for all concerned.

Having already nailed my colours to the mast with PANDA BOY and MAHLER MISSION several weeks ago (see article here), there seems no obvious reason to turn my back on them at this stage, all that can be hoped for now is that both receive a trouble-free passage throughout the 4m2f journey. 

For a complete guide to the Grand National runners and riders, click here.

The former harbours many similar qualities to Martin Brassil’s previous winner Numbersixvalverde, being well versed to running in big-field handicaps, and his effort in this season’s Paddy Power Chase lent itself to the view he has a big pot in his locker at some stage in his career.

Not the first time he’s acquitted himself with credit in a long-distance chase and it’s worth pointing out he was also third in the same race at Leopardstown the previous campaign. 

Going on to run a blinder when fifth in in a quality renewal of the Irish Grand National, he has all the hallmarks of many previous winers of this race and with connections using a similar path to the one Numbersixvalverde trod many years ago at Leopardstown over hurdles last time, his preparation couldn’t have gone any smoother.

PANDA BOY – 1-point win @ 12-1 (Advised 26/03)

Mahler Mission is another who has a profile to suggest he should go well in his biggest test so far to date and he is also worth a few quid to back up that view. 

A lightly-raced second season novice – a category which has produced many previous winners of this great race – the son of Mahler has already proven his suitability to a race of this nature with his performance at Newbury when last seen and if it wasn’t for the revitalised and ill-fated Datsalrightgino, he would have beaten a field of top-class handicap chasers with a bit to spare. 

Unlucky to capsize at the notorious second from home in last season’s National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham when nicely clear of Gaillard Du Mesnil - who went on to run an honourable race at Aintree - connections have interestingly been steadfast in wanting to keep the eight-year-old fresh for his date with destiny.

Even though that policy hasn’t always been the most fruitful approach in recent times, trust in his shrewd handler to do all the necessary work at home is good enough for this writer. 

Of the rest, we know I Am Maximus has the stamina for the demands of the National but whether his jumping holds up under the test is open to debate, while Vanillier will need to be ridden a good deal closer to the pace if he is to go one place better than last year. 

Shrewd owner Paul Byrne sold Noble Yeats on the eve of his victory in the great race two years ago and in the shape of Mr Incredible, his famous sky-blue colours could easily don the famous turf. Still in contention and going well when unseating rider after the Canal Turn second time around last year, his effort in the Midlands National recently should put him spot on for a solid repeat bid. 

Given the form of the Skelton yard, you’d be a brave man to rule out Galia Des Liteaux with any degree of conviction and her run in the Warwick Classic two runs ago proved she has the stomach for the test today’s contest will provide. 

MAHLER MISSION – 1-point win @ 16-1 (Advised 26/03)

17:00 Aintree

A race that should be run at a very strong pace with the likes of Found A Fifty, Etalon, Hercule De Seuil and Matata in the line-up and with that likely scenario in mind, both MASTER CHEWY (best price 11-1) and DJELO (best price 12-1) can benefit from taking a step back from the early bun-fight for the lead. 

The former just got touched off by his old rival over today’s C&D back in November but since then, he’s gone on to beat the smart Nickle Back in a strongly run renewal of the Wayward Lad at Kempton and he may have gone close to picking up the pieces behind Gaelic Warrior in the Arkle last time but for tipping up two out. 

Still going well at the time, he looked to have plenty more to give and using that effort as a guide, there’s simply no way he should be trading at the price he is currently back around a track that clearly plays into his strengths. 

MASTER CHEWY – 1-point each-way @ 11-1

The latter arrives here following a gallant effort in the Turners Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham and, like the Arkle at the same meeting, the form has stood the test over the first two days (Iroko, Grey Dawning and Ginny’s Destiny all ran well).

Apart from being knocked over at the first at Lingfield three starts ago, Venetia Williams’ inmate has been a reliable conveyance since joining the chasing ranks and with a perfect 2-2 record around today’s track, there’s every reason to feel upbeat about him adding to that impressive tally. 

DJELO – 1-point each-way @ 12-1

17:35 Aintree

A completely different pool of horses to the one who contested the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham but despite the complex nature of all the various form lines, MA SHANTOU (best price 8-1) and CASTLE IVERS (best price 9-1) have shown enough ability in their respective victories to warrant an interest. 

The former was well touted prior to his debut at Huntingdon, and he didn’t disappoint, travelling strongly throughout before exhibiting a smart turn of foot. Clocking a good time in the process, a likely sound pace here should suit, and he looks a nice prospect for the future whatever the outcome.

MA SHANTOU – ½ point each-way @ 8-1

The latter also shown similar traits when scoring with loads in hand at Wetherby last time out and it would be a surprise if he wasn’t involved in some way, shape or form given his high cruising speed. 

CASTLE IVERS – ½ point each-way @ 9-1