Big Buck's to score Liverpool hat-trick
While 11 Irish-trained runners take their chance at Aintree on the first day of the Grand National meeting this afternoon, it's difficult to see the raiders picking up where they left off following last month's record-breaking rout at Cheltenham.
The opening three Grade Ones are dominated by short-priced favourites, with Carlito Brigante possibly the best Irish hope in the BGC Partners Liverpool Hurdle. However, Gordon Elliott's emphatic Cheltenham winner will have his work cut out against the twin towers of Big Buck's and Grands Crus.
When sluicing up in the Coral Cup, Carlito Brigante won off 142, which has since been raised to 160. Even if that rating is justified, he still has a stone to find with Big Buck's on official figures, so Davy Russell could struggle to return to the winner's enclosure on his first ride back after breaking a bone in his hand a fortnight ago.
Big Buck's is practically unopposable at this stage. Despite the World Hurdle not being run to suit at Cheltenham, the formidable stayer had the gears to see off Grands Crus, and he is expected to do likewise now to win this for a third year in a row.
Launchpad is the second of Gigginstown Stud's three runners on the card in the Grade One four-year-old hurdle. Dessie Hughes' Thurles winner is taking an even bigger step up than Carlito Brigante, having won impressively on his third start over hurdles at the same Thurles meeting at which Russell got injured.
He remains open to improvement, but Zarkandar and Grandouet, first and third respectively in the Triumph Hurdle, set the standard. With the runner-up Unaccompanied franking the form at The Curragh on Sunday, Zarkandar will be a warm order to reaffirm the authority he displayed up the hill at Cheltenham.
Nonetheless, the Azamour gelding is worth opposing at skimpy odds, as he was tapped for toe before turning in that day, and he may be vulnerable to the pacier Grandouet. Barry Geraghty's mount travelled like a winner until nearly the last hurdle at Prestbury Park, so the flatter course at Aintree is expected to suit.
In the day's feature, the Totesport Bowl, Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh may face a similar predicament with Denman as they do with Zarkandar. Just five take on the former Gold Cup winner following his heroic effort to be second to Long Run last month, but there are a number of reservations about him here.
Like Zarkandar, he kept on for pressure at Cheltenham, so the worry would be that Aintree may not test him enough. On his only previous run at the track, following an equally brave second to Kauto Star at Cheltenham in 2009, Denman was beaten when falling two out and it's possible that his recent exertions will have taken their toll.
Nacarat is the obvious alternative, but preference is for Punchestowns, another from the Barry Geraghty-Nicky Henderson axis. While the eight-year-old has failed to live up to expectations so far and wouldn't be a fraction of the horse Denman is at his best, Punchestowns could take advantage if Nacarat and Denman take each other on early.
In the Foxhunters' Chase over the National fences, Charlie Swan's former representative Offshore Account is fancied to make his experience tell.
Good enough to finish fourth off 135 in the William Hill Chase at Cheltenham 12 months ago, the 11-year-old has already been over the big fences twice and ran respectably when third on his first two starts in hunter chases for his new connections.
2.0 Big Buck's; 2.35 Grandouet (nap); 3.05 Punchestowns; 3.40 Offshore Account; 4.15 Mamlook; 4.50 Wishfull Thinking; 5.25 Orsippus