Day two at the Aintree Festival features another packed card of terrific action, including a big-field handicap over those National fences. Our editor has selections in all seven races below.
Solwara One (1.45 Alder Hey & Aintree Handicap Hurdle)
The last winner of this race to have properly competed at the Cheltenham Festival (Rather Be had been brought down at the second in his Festival race in 2017) was Clondaw Kaempfer in 2014. It may be worth looking for those who avoided the hustle and bustle provided at Prestbury Park.
The dice are thrown on SOLWARA ONE for Neil Mulholland, for whom this season has been an immense disappointment. However, given how much was expected, there have been reasonable excuses for things having gone south.
Beginning at the end of last season, he was sixth in this race off a 4lb higher mark. He went novice chasing and looked in with a shout of challenging Pic D’Orhy, albeit in receipt of 13lb, on his chase debut. However, that seemed to knock his confidence and he fell again at Doncaster before unseating back over hurdles at Wincanton.
For all he was well out the back at Kempton last time, he did at least get round and that may well have been a confidence-boosting, educational ride by Sam Twiston-Davies. The eight-year-old is certainly well treated if the spark has been reignited.
El Fabiolo (2.20 Top Novices’ Hurdle)
Three of the last five winners of this Grade 1 have emerged from down the field in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Jonbon’s second to the unstoppable Constitution Hill was far from a disgrace.
However, the way that race was run would certainly concern you as to how much it may have taken out of Douvan’s brother. Similarly, EL FABIOLO was quite highly-rated before being absent from that Cheltenham contest and his freshness makes him appeal more.
Recruited by Willie Mullins from France in November, he won very comfortable on his debut at Tramore on New Year’s Day. The runner-up, a stablemate of his, won on his next start to frank the form in some style.
For a fair chunk of the Cheltenham build-up, El Fabiolo was Mullins’ second in the Supreme market behind Dysart Dynamo. There would be a few questions for him to answer on decent ground, but there looks to be a fair chance he is very useful.
Bravemansgame (2.55 Mildmay Novices’ Chase)
Had the clash occurred on good-to-soft ground at Cheltenham, L’Homme Presse would have been preferred.
However, there are enough doubts about both his participation and whether he can maintain his form after winning a soft ground edition of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham last month. He is clearly very high class and it is difficult to pass him over, but BRAVEMANSGAME’s late absence from that contest means he is coming here fighting fit and fresh.
He is very similar to Venetia Williams’ charge as a prodigiously talented jumper of a fence. Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old is slightly more flashy at times, but still saves most of his energy by being economical from A to B. So far, that has stood him in tremendous stead over fences.
He was beaten by Ahoy Senor over hurdles at this meeting last year, but looks a different horse over the larger obstacles. This is a proper race, but may well mark him as staying chaser to be very wary of next season.
Captain Guinness (3.30 Marsh Chase)
Fakir D’oudairies won this readily a year ago, but there is just a sense that he has not quite been at his very best for the majority of this season.
He won readily on his reappearance, but though he could not have been expected to seriously challenge Allaho at Thurles in January, he had the advantage of race fitness over a large part of the John Durkan field at Punchestown in December. Yet, he could finish only fourth.
Moreover, though he is possibly slightly better on good ground, he looked sluggish for most of the Grade 1 Ascot Chase before grinding out the win. That form is far from spectacular and he is worth taking on at the prices. With Funambule Sivola and Sceau Royal questionable stayers even at this track, preference is for the other Irish runner in CAPTAIN GUINNESS.
Campaigned exclusively at around 2m for his entire career under rules, he has only faded once at that trip, when pushing far too hard in Shishkin’s Arkle in 2021. Last time out at Naas, he saw out the finish very well, suggesting this trip could easily be within range. The runner-up boosted that form no end next time out and he is good value here.
Royal Rendezvous (4.05 Topham Handicap Chase)
The mere fact ROYAL RENDEZVOUS runs here is enough to suggest he can go very well on his debut over these fences.
Willie Mullins has won the last two runnings of this race, with both Cadmium and Livelovelaugh winning very easily. He clearly excels at preparing a horse for this race, so while Royal Rendezvous had Grade 1 options, he is given a chance in this off a rating of 161.
That mark is extremely challenging, but both aforementioned stablemates ran clear career bests in this race when winning their respective renewals. There is also no clear standout in terms of an unexposed or well-treated type up against him.
Mister Coffey could be that horse, but he has really struggled to win, so fellow Irish raider Foxy Jacks might represent the biggest threat.
Gelino Bello (4.40 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle)
Winners of the Martin Pipe regularly make into useful horses, but Banbridge is possibly too well found in the market here.
It did not look like a vintage renewal of that Cheltenham contest and Paul Nicholls has clearly targeted this meeting with GELINO BELLO. He was behind antepost Albert Bartlett favourite Blazing Khal twice at Cheltenham earlier in the year, but may well have improved.
He was a decent fourth off a mark of 138 in the Lanzarote Hurdle before winning easily back in novice company the time after that. Moreover in the Grade 2 Bristol Novices’ Hurdle in December, he had eventual Albert Bartlett fourth Ballygriffincottage in behind him.
His form book looks very solid on the whole and the combination of track, trip and ground may just be ideal for him here.
Whizz Kid (5.15 Park Palace Ponies Handicap Hurdle)
Dr Richard Newland did not hide the level at which he believed WHIZZ KID could perform. His debut came in Constitution Hill’s Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.
Naturally, the former useful flat performer on the continent found that way beyond him, but it spoke to his potential. Next time out at Catterick, he won by 27 lengths, after having also had wind surgery.
Despite the weakness of that field leading to questions about the form, he proved that was no fluke, backing it up under a penalty at Ludlow on much quicker ground last month. He took his time to put that to bed at prohibitive odds, but kept on right to the finish. It also proved his versatility going wise.
His opening mark is a very competitive one and Cillin Leonard’s 5lb claim is another added bonus. He should be right in the mix.