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Aintree Hurdle Fancy

Twelve months ago in this column Solwhit was a confident tip for the Dick Francis Aintree Hurdle – 2.50 – on Grand National day, and the Irish-trained hurdler duly obliged at 13-2 for trainer Charles Byrnes. One year on and the Irish challenge is exceptionally weak for this valuable prize and the contest seems sure to stay this side of the Irish Sea.

The place to look for the winner of this Grade 1 feature has to be the Champion Hurdle where Khyber Kym, Zaynar and Celestial Halo finished runner-up, third and fourth respectively in the season’s top hurdle race. I fancy this time around that Zaynar can come out on top now that he has the chance to race over an extra half a mile on decent ground.

His trainer Nicky Henderson has been in fantastic form at Aintree, putting some of his other colleagues to shame and I reckon Zaynar rates the meeting’s best bet for the Seven Barrows team. He ran probably his best ever race to finish third to stablemate Binocular in the Champion Hurdle where he suggested strongly that he would flourish when sent back over this longer trip.

Indeed Zaynar has already won twice over this sort of distance at Ascot and Cheltenham earlier in the season and returned to this kind of trip once more he can end his fine season on a winning note. Of his other two main rivals, I am not so sure whether this longer test will suit Khyber Kym and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies turned Imperial Commander out to run really badly on Thursday and I wonder whether Khyber Kym will suffer the same fate.

Celestial Halo is tough but predictable and he should go well here but flopped badly in the same race a year ago and may lack the change of pace shown by Zaynar. There are almost as many tips as runners in this year’s wide-open Grand National and if you are serious about betting then this is not a race to get too involved with. The days of being confident enough to back a Hedgehunter or Numbersixvalverde on the nose have long gone and I cannot summon much enthusiasm for this year’s renewal.