Nicky Henderson’s quest to win the Grand National will go on for another year at least after his remaining entry in this year’s race came out at the overnight stage on Thursday, but he will have high hopes of a seventh win over the National fences at the Festival meeting when Mister Coffey (4.05) goes to post for Friday’s Topham Trophy.
This race has been a trickier puzzle for punters than the National in recent seasons, with no winning favourite since 2008, but Mister Coffey has obvious claims after a luckless run in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir at Cheltenham last month.
The seven-year-old was badly hampered at the second fence, giving away plenty of ground before launching a strong challenge from off the pace in a race when most of the principals were prominent throughout.
Friday’s race is over a much shorter trip but Mister Coffey had enough speed to finish second in a Grade One over two-and-a-half miles in February and has more scope for improvement than most of his rivals.
Aintree 2.20: Jonbon’s unbeaten record succumbed to one of the great Festival performances of recent decades when he finished 22 lengths behind his stable companion, Constitution Hill, at Cheltenham last month. It is difficult to believe Willie Mullins’s El Fabiolo has been hiding a similar talent in his three low-key starts so Henderson’s runner should have little trouble adding a Grade One hurdle to his record before heading over fences next season.
Aintree 2.55: A small field for this Grade One novice chase but all four runners have a top-level win to their name and the top three in the betting are closely matched on form. L’Homme Presse was three-and-a-half lengths in front of Ahoy Senor at Cheltenham, but likely favourite Bravemansgame was a late scratch there after the ground went against him and has a chance to set the record straight now. Paul Nicholls’s seven-year-old has not put a foot wrong this season and should arguably be favourite, rather than the narrow second-choice, on the balance of his form.
Aintree 3.30: Fakir D’Oudairies was backed down to favouritism for this race last year and duly put up a career-best performance to land his first Grade One in Britain. This looks like a slightly weaker renewal and Joseph O’Brien’s chaser will take all the beating. He arrived on the back of a close second in the Ryanair 12 months ago but skipped the Festival this time around and proved at Clonmel in November he can produce his best form after a break.
Aintree 4.40: Skytastic’s stamina needs to be taken on trust but he found plenty to extend his unbeaten record on heavy ground at Ascot in February and is an interesting bet at around 6-1 to cap a breakthrough season for Sam Thomas with a first Grade One win.