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5 to Watch: Grand National Festival

A quintet of stars for you to look out for ahead of the Grand National Festival in April

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Harry Skelton riding My Drogo (left) race clear to win The Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle during the December Racing Weekend at Ascot Racecourse.

Start your engines; for the first time in two years, we can look forward to the Aintree Grand National.

Following last year’s cancellation due to the ongoing global pandemic, we were unable to witness Tiger Roll take his chance at emulating Merseyside great Red Rum, in winning three National’s.

And while the focus will be very much on Saturday’s feature event across the three-day card, there’s some cracking action ahead in the wake of the recent Cheltenham Festival.

Some rivals will reoppose, others will bypass, but there are few who took the chance to miss National Hunt’s greatest stage at Prestbury Park in favour of a trip to Liverpool post-Easter. Sadly, contests in the north-west will be held behind-closed-doors, similar to that of its Gloucestershire counterparts, but let’s hope this is the only time, right?

One For Arthur wins the 2017 Grand National at Aintree
Aintree will host the Grand National Festival for the first time in 2019 after last season’s renewal was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic

Get the early lowdown on our top 5 contenders to watch out for in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton in just over two weeks’ time.

My Drogo | Trainer: Dan Skelton

Undefeated hurdler My Drogo will stake his claim to be the best British two-mile novice over timber on Merseyside after the home brigade disappointed behind the Irish in the Supreme.

The son of Milan finished second in a bumper at Cheltenham on debut but hasn’t put a foot wrong since, scoring at Newbury on his first run over obstacles.

watch: my drogo maintained his perfect start over obstacles at kelso earlier this month [credit: racing tv]

He beat subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory with relative ease in the Supreme Trial at Ascot before a bloodless win at Kelso next time out at the start of March.

The Skelton duo of Harry and Dan have been in tremendous form this campaign and ran their Irish counterparts as close as any other domestic partnership at the Cheltenham Festival.

Nube Negra ran a corker to finish second in the Champion Chase, while there were placed efforts for the likes of Roksana, Elle Est Belle and Langer Dan.

And that form will likely boost the hopes of the Warwickshire yard as they head north of the M6 with confidence in their new-found stable-star.

Eileendover | Trainer: Pam Sly

A Listed scorer at Market Rasen in January, many were calling for a Festival bow for Pam Sly’s Eileendover following a sea of destructive performances.

The Canford Cliffs daughter, still only four years of age, rattled home by 29 lengths on debut at Huntingdon in November before another on-the-bridle victory at Wetherby a month later.

She saw off her toughest field to date in Lincolnshire on her last start, albeit in receipt of 7lbs, but the form has been well franked since.

Eileendover
Will Eileendover’s unbeaten record remain in tact at the Grand National Festival?

Her handler was tempted by the challenge of heading to Cheltenham, but ultimately bypassed after concerns over her fitness.

The undulations of Prestbury Park may have cast serious question marks over her ability to handle a stiffer track and test, and the slightly flatter option on the Melling Road has clearly taken preference.

Monmiral | Trainer: Paul Nicholls

‘Undefeated’ is a phrase used a lot in this feature and that remains the same here.

A French recruit to Ditcheat, Monmiral exacted his potential with a punishing win over Gary Moore’s Nassalam at fellow Merseyside track, Haydock Park.

The runner-up had been given a mark of 142 by the British handicapper but was well and truly put in his place by Paul Nicholls’ charge, who’s planned had been outlined well in advance.

Aintree was always the aim for the Somerset juvenile, who remains unbeaten in his five starts to date, claiming that his owners “had no interest” in the Triumph due to aspirations of heading over fences next season.

Paul Nicholls couldn’t land a Cheltenham Festival winner but could have a superstar on his hands heading to Aintree

Fellow Nicholls representatives Clan Des Obeaux and Frodon ran in the Grade One event on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival previously, but it will be the Grand National equivalent where we next see the four-year-old.

Buveur D’Air | Trainer: Nicky Henderson

A date with destiny for a third Champion Hurdle was not to be for the two-time winner, but Aintree has been a happy hunting ground in the past for Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air.

A dual Grade One winner at the course, a step back up in trip in the Aintree Hurdle appears the obvious route for the JP McManus-owned gelding.

He has suffered defeats in three of his last four starts, but can be forgiven for his reappearance at Haydock having suffered a long-winded 14-month lay-off from the track.

Britain Horse Racing - Grand National Festival - Aintree Racecourse - 6/4/17 Barry Geraghty on Buveur D'air wins the 3.25 Betway Aintree Hurdle Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Can Buveur D’Air land his first win since December 2018 next month?

The winner of that race has gone onto disappoint next time so he perhaps has a small point to prove, but is high-class all the same and his record in north Liverpool is solid.

It is likely that the majority of racing fans will be cheering the 10-year-old home past the post from the comfort of their living rooms on the opening day of the Grand National Festival.

Brewin’upastorm | Trainer: Olly Murphy

Another who’s chances were guessed to fare better in April rather than March, Olly Murphy’s stable-star Brewin’upastorm saw off McFabulous fairly snuggly in the National Spirit at Fontwell in February.

This was after his top-weight smash up of a handicap field at Taunton and it’s proving to be a masterstroke from his young trainer to switch from fences back down to timber.

A former Ballymore fourth, it seemed destined that he would encounter a life over fences after comfortable victories at the start of last season.

National Hunt racing trainer Olly Murphy
A second Grade One success as a trainer lies in wait for Warwickshire’s Olly Murphy

But an unseat in the Arkle before failing to beat a rival in two starts in open company proved the final straw for the chief of Warren Chase.

It’s all looking a bit better now, though.

The eight-year-old finished second in a Grade One novice here two years ago and he now appears set to face the aforementioned Buveur D’Air in a mouthwatering encounter.

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