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Flemenstar the value option in Melling

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Ben Crawford parts company with Paddy Mourne at the Chair during the Fox
Hunters’ Chase at Aintree

Ben Crawford parts company with Paddy Mourne at the Chair during the Fox Hunters’ Chase at Aintree

Ben Crawford parts company with Paddy Mourne at the Chair during the Fox Hunters’ Chase at Aintree

The cut and thrust of a Melling Chase run in glorious Liverpool sunshine has long been one of jump racing's most absorbing spectacles, and this afternoon's edition is a real gem.

After Sprinter Sacre's latest rout in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, Barry Geraghty's mount is certainly beginning to look a shade invincible.

On the other hand, he did little more than many expected of him there by annihilating the veteran Sizing Europe.

Aintree's John Smith's-sponsored Grade One will be a more comprehensive test for Nicky Henderson's superstar, quite possibly the sternest he has faced over fences.

First up, apart from the quality of the opposition, the two-and-a-half-mile trip is uncharted territory.

Sprinter Sacre's racing style, predicated by a frightening cruising speed, is that of an archetypal two-miler. Moreover, apart from when he was third to Al Ferof in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, his only other defeat came on his one previous try at this trip in 2010.

As a more mature competitor now, he probably will get home. Indeed, he may not really even need to if he proves as superior to today's rivals as he has been to all others of late.

Last year's hero Finian's Rainbow has a squeak on this decent surface but, having slammed First Lieutenant in the Ryanair, Cue Card has better credentials over today's intermediate distance in light of yesterday's coup for Mouse Morris' horse. The Tizzard family's pride and joy was no match for Sprinter Sacre in the 2012 Arkle, but these are his optimum conditions.

That said, his fencing isn't the cleanest, which will be a significant negative over Aintree's upright obstacles. In contrast, Flemenstar is a superlative jumper.

Peter Casey's exuberant eight-year-old was ill-suited by the restraining tactics employed on his two assignments over three miles at Leopardstown, and ultimately did brilliantly to run as well as he did in defeat both times.

However, his imposing triumph over Sir Des Champs at Punchestown in December is an irrefutable testament to his potency over this journey.

If you ignore his two outings over further, he would be looked upon as a far more equal rival to Sprinter Sacre than odds of 6/1 imply.

With that in mind, Flemenstar is the value option to emerge on top under Andrew Lynch in what promises to be an utterly pulsating encounter.

In the day's other Grade One, the Sefton Novices' Hurdle over three miles, the JP McManus-owned At Fishers Cross is out to stretch his winning run to six for AP McCoy and Rebecca Curtis.

Successful in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, he is a redoubtable sort that will be hard to beat, but might be worth opposing at odds-on with Charles Byrnes' Our Vinnie.

Brought down early on in the same Prestbury Park contest, Paul Townend's mount will relish the long straight here. Noel Meade's precocious Road To Riches also represents the raiders in this, but, on his first start since December, he has it all to do on unsuitably dry ground.

Potent

The potent McManus-McCoy axis should get the day off to a good start with My Tent Or Yours in the two-mile Grade Two novices' hurdle. Outfought by Champagne Fever up the hill at Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson's flashy sort will be more at home on this level track.

Dynaste is also fancied to atone for being turned over at short odds last month over a more favourable three-mile trip in the Mildmay Novices' Chase, while Last Time D'Albain gets the nod for Laois-based handler Liam Cusack in the Topham.

Alan King's Walkon has a first try at the National fences here, but Cusack's nine-year-old has some tip-top chasing form.

Third to National-bound Colbert Station at Leopardstown last time, he gets in today off a nice racing weight of 10st 12lb. Under man of the moment Bryan Cooper, he could go very close.

Irish Independent