Politologue has 16 lengths to make up on MIN based on their Queen Mother Champion Chase exertions and, although the grey should get closer, he will need this flat track and first-time hood to spark serious improvement if he is to beat Willie Mullins’ charge. The selection only found the classy Altior too good last time out, and did travel like the winner for much of the way before being outpaced by Nicky Henderson’s charge down the home straight. Balko Des Flos won the Ryanair Chase last month in devastating fashion, although that race did seem to fall apart somewhat and Un De Sceaux (second) looked a lucky winner at Fairyhouse last time out when barely confirming the form. Cloudy Dream could launch a late place bid, but the remainder have plenty to find in this sort of company.
Tip: Balko Des Flos (1/1)
Terrefort only found one too good in the JLT at Cheltenham last time and that form gives this five-year-old a big shout. The step up in trip should not be a problem, especially on a flat track, while soft ground is also not a negative for him. Elegant Escape is a likable type who rarely runs a bad race and that includes his third-placed finish in the RSA latest. The worry is that the selection may have too much speed for him at this track. Others to consider are Coo Star Sivola, Snow Falcon and Mia’s Storm.
Tip: Terrefort (7/1)
Bentelimar makes plenty of appeal at 14/1 in the Red Rum Handicap Chase (16.40).
Charlie Longsdon’s horse usually runs over two-and-a-half miles but the closest he came to victory this season was when he got within three lengths of Gino Trail over two miles at Cheltenham in December.
He was short of room at a crucial stage that day but stayed on well and a strongly-run two miles will bring his stamina into play.
With four or five front-runners in the line-up this looks likely to be run at a good clip and he gets a 10lb pull at the weights with Gino Trail plus a small pull with Bun Doran on that Cheltenham running.
Both of those rivals are much shorter in the market but Bentelimar looks slightly underestimated. First-time cheekpieces look a good idea as well and Charlie Longsdon has a good record when applying the sheepskin (16 winners from 94 runners at 17 per cent).
That’s a pretty healthy strike-rate and even though he’s come in for support on Wednesday afternoon (was 20s earlier), the general 14/1 still looks worth getting on side.
Tip: Bentelimar (14/1)
The Betway Aintree Hurdle at 3.25 could be perfect for 2017 Coral Cup winner Supasundae, but I’m not sure he’s a horse to trust at short odds at the top level. He’s run in eight Grade Ones, winning just the once, and that was in a weak Irish Champion Hurdle against a fading Faugheen.
This race doesn’t look the strongest of races for a Grade One, either, even though numbers are up following the defection of Buveur D’Air, with veterans The New One and My Tent Or Yours filling positions two and three in the market.
With that in mind there is the potential for a shock and, at 33/1, Diakali is the one that could cause an upset.
A close-up third in this race behind The New One as a five-year-old in 2014 when trained by Willie Mullins, Diakali has been hard to train and has only raced six times since, but on two of those occasions he has shown that the old fire burns brightly.
After a 398-day break he won a Grade Three at Tipperary by 10 lengths in the July of 2015, while he won a Fairyhouse conditions hurdle by 20 lengths this time last year when he was last seen.
On his very best form he has as good a chance as any in this race and that he’s performed after a long break before bodes well, too.
The new owner and trainer combination of Nick Peacock and Gary Moore is also interesting. They have enjoyed success at this meeting before with Ubak, twice, so for Moore to pitch him in here when he had the handicap option later in the week could be significant.
In a renewal that looks more open than the market suggests, there’s certainly enough about Diakali to have a bet at prices around 25/1 and upwards.
Tip: Diakali (25/1)
It’s a Paul Nicholls horse that catches the eye this year with the unexposed and talented Clan des Obeaux available at 14/1.
Still only six-years-old, Nicholls has refrained from running this horse over three miles until now but it could unlock some serious improvement judging by the best of his efforts over trips around two-and-a-half miles.
He looked a horse of some potential over fences when he won a traditionally strong novice chase at Newbury on his second chase start, while he gave Vintage Clouds 7lb and a sound beating in a graduation chase at Haydock in late November.
Those wins, the most impressive of his career, came on flat, left-handed tracks and with that in mind Aintree could be perfect for him, while he won’t mind the softer conditions on this season’s evidence.
The last time he was seen, at Cheltenham in December’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, he ran a blinder off top weight in second, shaping like a stayer after being outpaced early on.
Nicholls reports he threw a splint earlier in the year which meant he missed Cheltenham, but that could be a blessing in disguise as he comes in here a fresh horse after 117 days off the track. Judging by his seasonal reappearance at Kempton, he’s perfectly capable of going well after a break.
Tip: Clan des Obeaux (14/1)