The 2m 4f Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle (15:25) is one of the highlights of the Grand National Festival’s opening day this Thursday. Nine go on Merseyside and Buveur D’Air, who won this two years ago, is out to restore his reputation.
Nicky Henderson’s JP McManus owned eight-year-old took a crashing fall in the back straight when bidding to land a Champion Hurdle hat-trick last month.
Buveur D’Air can prove himself no worse for that tumble, however, by gaining some compensation here. Official figures have him 8lb and upwards clear of the field.
As the nearest horse on paper to him is Faugheen, who is three years older than him, that makes Buveur D’Air a worthy even-money favourite with Coral to win this race again.
If there is one chink in his armour, then it may be that this multiple Grade 1 winner has been beaten on good ground this season, so rain is a plus.
Popular veteran Faugheen ran a fine third in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and it’s a case of the further the better for him these days.
Trainer Willie Mullins and owners Rich and Susannah Ricci landed this race three years ago with wonder mare Annie Power.
A drop back in trip for Faugheen is interesting, but aged 11 he may be lacking the foot to win over this distance.
There’s always the danger of sentiment when backing public horses like him and >he’s 7/1 with BetVictor to roll back the years in this.
Melon and Supasundae have something to prove
Mullins also sends Melon over and he is stepping up in trip. While this may be what the seven-year-old needs, he was massively outpaced on soft ground in the Champion Hurdle by surprise winner Espoir D’Allen and only just held on for second.
Melon simply doesn’t win many races – a maiden and the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle in 11 starts since joining Mullins. That run in the Champion Hurdle may have taken its toll so, despite odds of 6/1 with Betfair, he looks best avoided.
The Irish could have sent Benie Des Dieux, but Mullins had concerns over the ground. Gordon Elliott, meanwhile, scratched Samcro and Apple’s Jade from appearing at Aintree, so the only other Emerald Isle representative is last year’s runner-up Supasundae.
While Faugheen ran to form in the Stayers at Cheltenham, Jessica Harrington;s charge disappointed for the first time in Grade 1 company there when only seventh.
Dropping down from 3m to this might be the optimum trip for Supasundae, though, who won the Coral Cup at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
As with Buveur D’Air, some rain to ensure ground is on the softer side is an advantage for the nine-year-old.
It may be worth forgiving Supasundae a bad run at the Festival for they are few and far between and, at 10/1 with William Hill, he looks each-way value.
He is consistent in a way that Melon isn’t, but both do have something to prove on Merseyside. Supasundae has finished second twice over hurdles at Aintree, losing by a length to Yanworth in the 2017 Liverpool Hurdle before being bested by L’Ami Serge in this 12 months ago.
Verdana Blue and Brain Power go again
Henderson has two others in the race besides Buveur D’Air. Getting a 7lb sex allowance all-round is the mare Verdana Blue, who bested her lauded stable companion in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
This hadn’t been talked of as on the seven-year-old’s agenda with the All-Weather Finals marathon on Good Friday mooted.
The ground went against Verdana Blue in the Champion Hurdle but, if there isn’t too much rain, then connections should feel confident of another big run here.
Buveur D’Air did make a mistake three out at Kempton which may have helped her get up close home and score by a short-head. Verdana Blue is thus another with place prospects at 20/1 with Paddy Power – if the rain keeps away.
Brain Power completes the Henderson trained trio in this and a flat track like Aintree has always suited him better than the undulations of Cheltenham.
He won what in truth was a weak renewal of the Grade 2 International Hurdle at the home of jumps racing when back over the smaller obstacles. Brain Power hasn’t really taken to chasing, and was pulled up in the Champion Hurdle.
That makes him hard to fancy despite a big top price of 33/1. This demands more than the International, but less than the Champion Hurdle. Brain Power simply hasn’t been reliable as a betting proposition for some time though.
Remainder have big step up to make
Ch’tibello landed the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in style last time out, but this is pitching him in at the deep end.
Trainer Dan Skelton has a great recent record in that Festival handicap and, while this eight-year-old deserves to take his chance off the back of a fine run in it, he’ll have to make great strides to get competitive here.
If this doesn’t sound too unkind, third place in the Champion Hurdle flattered Silver Streak. Evan Williams’ grey gelding was returned at 80/1, so it’s clear plenty of other horses flopped on the grand stage.
Silver Streak is only a six-year-old, however, and thus open to the most progress in this field. He’s also been reasonably consistent since landing the Grade 3 Swinton Handicap at Haydock last May.
Now up in trip, he only has a neck to find on Melon and, at 16/1 with Ladbrokes, Silver Streak is another to consider each-way. This may stretch his stamina and it is that which he needs to prove here.
That leaves Summerville Boy, who makes his comeback after 110 days on the sidelines. Something has been amiss with Tom George’s 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero in two below par efforts earlier in the season.
With his best form on soft and even heavy ground, bar the heavens opening, it’s hard to see Summerville Boy having a say here.
He was beaten over 20 lengths by Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and then in the International by Brain Power.
OpenOdds’ 2019 Aintree Hurdle shortlist
✮✮✮✮✮ Buveur D’Air
It really is hard to look past the favourite, granted a clear round, in this renewal of the Aintree Hurdle.