Conti has the class to keep Lieutenant at arm's length
First Lieutenant returns to the scene of his finest hour when he bids for successive triumphs in the Betfred Bowl on a cracking spread at Aintree this afternoon.
On good ground 12 months ago, Mouse Morris' nine-year-old finally got the opportunity to strut his stuff, soaring to victory courtesy of some flamboyant leaps under Bryan Cooper. In the interim, he has again toiled on deeper going in marque events like the Lexus Chase and Hennessy Gold Cup.
The dry conditions on the Mildmay course undoubtedly played to First Lieutenant's strengths in 2013, but that is the only time that he has ever won over three miles.
With Morris continuing to shun Davy Russell's services, despite the champion jockey's renewed popularity with the Gigginstown Stud operation since Cooper got injured at Cheltenham, Barry Geraghty takes the ride.
Geraghty is riding so well that you couldn't discount the possibility of his getting First Lieutenant home, but, with more rain forecast to fall on ground already on the slow side, the first-time partnership looks opposable.
Tom Taaffe also saddles the Red Mills Chase winner Argocat in the prestigious Grade One, although it would be a surprise if he were to prove good enough.
The Ryanair Chase hero Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti are more likely winners, with slight preference for Silviniaco Conti. Dynaste excelled under Tom Scudamore around Prestbury Park last time and he was a ready winner at this festival a year ago, so he is sure to be a major player again.
However, Silviniaco Conti achieved more in defeat in the Gold Cup than Dynaste did in beating Hidden Cyclone in the Ryanair. Granted, Paul Nicholls' eight-year-old finished behind Dynaste at Haydock first time up, but he clearly came on a bundle for that outing at Kempton next time.
In light of the way Silviniaco Conti overhauled Cue Card in the King George, Noel Fehily rode him as if stamina wasn't an issue in the Gold Cup, kicking on with all of four fences to jump. He still led after the last before getting collared in that desperate finish by the tightly bunched first three.
Rather than Silviniaco Conti finding huge reserves at Kempton, though, Cue Card simply stopped. The consequent decision to ride him with an extra emphasis on stamina at Cheltenham backfired in such an extreme test, so he is the one to beat today if a slightly more refined technique is employed.
A year ago, having fallen at Cheltenham, Ruby Walsh rode a cautious race on Silviniaco Conti in this, when he stayed on for third. If Fehily adopts tactics somewhere in between that and what they opted for at Cheltenham, his classy mount should be good enough to secure this lucrative prize.
Fehily also gets the nod to take the Grade One juvenile hurdle on Harry Fry's Activial, though soft ground would give Guitar Pete a chance of improving on his Triumph Hurdle third for Dessie Hughes and Paul Carberry.
Willie Mullins' Diakali represents the raiders in the Aintree Hurdle.
Third to the Champion Hurdle victor Jezki at Fairyhouse in December, Diakali is certainly an interesting prospect under AP McCoy after a fine effort to be fourth under top-weight in the County Hurdle.
Still, this should be The New One's to lose following his luckless turn when third in the Champion Hurdle, as he was badly impeded by the early fall of Our Conor.
Runner-up in this as a novice last year, the Twiston-Davies' stable star should hardly come off the bridle, while Warne and Busty Brown are fancied as the best of the travelling contingent.
Brian Hamilton's Warne was fourth in the Foxhunters' Chase last year. He will be better for that now and he also has the assistance of the Aintree specialist Sam Waley-Cohen for a first time, with the subsequent Cheltenham winner Tammy's Hill a notable scalp of his at Fairyhouse last time.
Enda Bolger's Mossey Joe is a hot favourite for the amateur riders' heat, but his fencing might not be sufficiently clean even over the modified course. Busty Brown tackles the three-mile handicap hurdle for Noel Meade, with Jessica Harrington's Jetson another likely to figure prominently.
Still, Busty Brown is interesting on his handicap bow off 140 after a satisfactory return from injury at Leopardstown, as he had held his own in graded company as a novice early last season.
2.30 Silviniaco Conti (nap)
3.05 The New One
4.15 Claret Cloak
4.50 Oscar Whisky
5.25 Busty Brown
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