IT is testimony to the Randox Health Grand National meeting’s increased prestige that so many headline acts from the Cheltenham Festival will be heading to Merseyside over the next three days.
Yet the biggest name of all on day one is a horse that did not prevail in the Cotswolds last month – Colin Tizzard’s ever-popular veteran steeplechaser Cue Card who is, once again, on a redemption mission.
Just like 12 months ago, Cue Card arrives on Merseyside on the back of a fall at the third-last fence in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
However, the evergreen Cue Card is giving Tizzard the right signs ahead of the defence of his crown in the Grade One feature over three miles and a furlong.
“He’s coming here exactly the same as happened in the Gold Cup last year,” said the trainer. “He’s the highest-rated horse in the race. His rating is quite a bit higher than any other horse. He should run a big race. If he’s anywhere near his best he’ll be fine.”
Jockey Paddy Brennan was delighted with a schooling session earlier this week aboard the former Charlie Hall Chase winner, who is now a venerable 11 years of age.
“I schooled him last Thursday, and the feel he gave me there just sums the horse up. He is a legend,” he said.
“By Gold Cup standards we hacked around, and went very slow early on, but I was keen not to make as much use of him as I did in the King George when I tried to stick it up to Thistlecrack.
“I wanted him to be finishing his race at Cheltenham. As a result I got stuck behind horses and wasn’t ideally positioned, and he fell. Sometimes you can’t do right from wrong. But he is the class horse of the race and you under-estimate him at your peril. An on-song Cue Card will be too good for these. Let’s hope he is.”
The Irish challenge is headed by Empire Of Dirt who was left with too much to do in Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase by jockey Bryan Cooper.
Meanwhile, Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air aims to emulate Annie Power 12 months ago by following up in the Betway Aintree Hurdle.
The last horse to do the double before Willie Mullins’s great mare was Istabraq in 1999 who, just like Buveur D’Air, was owned by JP McManus.
Buveur D’Air has never raced over two and a half miles before, but he has not tasted defeat since finishing third to stablemate Altior in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He is long odds-on to maintain his unbeaten run.
He will be joined by another Nicky Henderson-trained stable companion, the admirable My Tent Or Yours, who finished second in the Champion Hurdle.
There appear to be very few negatives ahead of Defi Du Seuil’s appearance in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle after the horse cruised to victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle under champion jockey Richard Johnson.
Of the Yorkshire runners, Malcolm Jefferson’s Cloudy Dream – second in the Arkle to Altior – has Top Notch to beat in the Grade One novice chase.
“He’s in great nick, he came out of Cheltenham in great form, he really did,” said the Malton handler. “Top Notch will be tough to beat, but you could say that he had a harder race than us at Cheltenham. I just know our lad is in great nick, he might even have improved for Cheltenham, because he certainly hasn’t gone backwards.”
Meanwhile, Northallerton pig farmer Peter Atkinson’s Irish Roe, unplaced at Cheltenham, lines up in the Bumper.