'Balko' can see off Min in Melling duel
The headline act on day two of Aintree's Grand National meeting is just that as Irish duo Balko Des Flos and Min collide in the Melling Chase (3.25).
Quality rules quantity with a select Grade One field of six but it looks an intriguing duel between Willie Mullins' Champion Chase second Min and Henry de Bromhead's Ryanair Chase hero Balko Des Flos.
Min seemed to have Altior's number coming to the second last at Cheltenham only for Nicky Henderson's brilliant chaser to battle gamely in a gruelling contest.
It was in stark contrast to Balko Des Flos, which travelled effortlessly before galloping all over Un De Sceaux and while there's little to separate the pair, preference is for De Bromhead's charge. If it comes to freshness, Davy Russell's mount had a much easier time of it and the trip and better conditions will all play to his strengths.
A flat track is likely to suit Politologue but it's hard to see the seven-year-old make up 16 lengths on Min, while another Paul Nicholls runner Le Prezien, winner of the Grand Annual, is likely to be found out stepping up significantly in grade.
The preceding Grade One Mildmay Novices' Chase (2.50) has a sole Irish raider in Noel Meade's Snow Falcon, which missed Cheltenham on veterinary advice before unseating in the Irish National and this contest has serious depth.
Seán Flanagan's mount may find the going tough with Bryony Frost likely to set another searching gallop on the front-running Black Corton, which is again a live contender.
There is strong Cheltenham form with Ultima Handicap Chase winner Coo Star Sivola, National Hunt Cup second Ms Parfois for Anthony Honeyball and Colin Tizzard's RSA Chase third Elegant Escape all present but Terrefort may prove best.
With Henderson's Seven Barrows yard in outstanding form, the JLT second will bed a tough nut to crack under the red-hot Daryl Jacob.
Jacob carried Simon Munir and Isaac Souede's colours to success aboard We Have A Dream and L'Ami Serge yesterday and Terrefort will appreciate much better ground to help him to go one better today.
You have to go back to Christy Roche's Joe Mac in 1999 for the last Irish winner of the Grade One Top Novices' Hurdle (2.20) and while triple-handed with Jessica Harrington's Impact Factor and De Bromhead's pair of Mind's Eye and Ornua, the wait may go on.
Henderson has won five of the last nine runnings and Style De Garde is respected along with Colin Tizzard's Vision Des Flos - the mount of Robbie Power - but preference is for Ben Pauling's Global Citizen, which turned a Kempton Grade Two into a procession in February and has been laid out for this. He looks the classiest horse in the field under Jacob.
The Wexford jockey rides Mullins' Polidam in the Topham Handicap Chase (4.05) but it's another race which has not been kind with the Shane Donohoe-trained Cregg House (2005) the last Irish horse to prevail.
Mouse Morris' Rogue Angel, Elliott's Clarcam, De Bromhead's Devils Pride and Dot Love's Newsworthy all take their chance but the spoils may go the way of Ian Williams' Ballyalton, which can build on a fine Cheltenham fourth in the Plate to score for another Wexford pilot Tom O'Brien.
Joseph O'Brien's Tower Bridge is the sole overseas representative in the Grade One Sefton Novices' Hurdle (4.40) but faces a stiff task under Irish National-winning jockey JJ Slevin with Fergal O'Brien's Poetic Rhythm the selection.
O'Brien also runs former Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov in the opening handicap hurdle (1.45) - Thomas Mullins also saddles Grand Partner and James Nash runs Massini's Trap - but his form has tailed off in the past two years while Charles Byrnes' Thosedaysaregone faces a stiff task in the concluding Grade Two Bumper (5.15) against the Nicholls hotpot Danny Kirwan.