Tom Lee's Grand National Festival Tips: Day 1 - Cue Card Can Bounce Back In Betfred Bowl

Three great days spark into life at Aintree this afternoon, with seven races to welcome in the party atmosphere of the Grand National meeting.

Another 5mm of rain overnight in a windy Liverpool means the ground is now Good to Soft (Soft in places) on the Mildmay course, while further ease means it's officially Soft (Goods to Soft in places) on both the National and Hurdles courses.

That's just one factor in a compelling day's sport, alongside trying to second guess which horses who ran at Cheltenham might not be fully recovered from those exertions, plus the continuing power struggle between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins for the UK Trainers' title.

Nicholls tops the charts with a current prize money figure of £1,974,092, but the Irish master trainer is breathing down his neck and has assembled a daunting looking team, including day one big guns Djakadam, Don Poli, Nichols Canyon and superstar mare Annie Power.

One race even Mullins can't win though is the opener, with no representative from his stable among the eight declarations for the Grade 1 Merseyrail Manifesto Novices' Chase (1.40pm).

The Irish are represented by Douvan's sparring partner, Sizing John, who was second to the Mullins' ace in the Arkle last month, as well as the Jessica Harrington-trained Rock The World.

Both have valid claims, but at a nice price I'm sweet on the chances of the Philip Hobbs inmate Garde La Victoire.

Travelling like a possible winner when crashing out of the JLT Novices' Chase at the Festival, in which the re-opposing L'Ami Serge was third, he didn't have the hardest race that day and may be able to resume his winning sequence.

The Hobbs yard won this race in both 2011 and 2012, while Champion Jockey-elect Richard Johnson would love to get off to a winning start and consign memories of a winless Cheltenham to the dustbin.

Later in the day, Hobbs and Johnson have realistic claims of a first and last race double, teaming up with talented Copper Kay in the Grade 2 Mares' bumper.

Specifically targeted at this race, she's facing red hot opposition today but nonetheless looks a tempting each way wager.

The most valuable purse of the day is the feature Grade 1 Bowl, worth £150,000 and run over three miles and a furlong at 2.50pm.

Mullins is launching two of his biggest names back into the fray with Gold Cup second and third Djakadam and Don Poli, but anyone frustrated by Cue Card's departure three out in that race could have their curiosity sated this afternoon...

Debate has raged since March 18th about whether he would have won at Cheltenham had he remained on his feet, but back at a venue where his form figures read 1222, he can atone for that disappointment by winning the feature.

As with Garde La Victoire in the opener there's always an element of risk in backing a horse who fell last time out, but if Colin Tizzard is happy to let him take his chance then I'm happy to try and get my Cheltenham stake back with interest.

We'll never know if he'd have had too much in the tank to fend off Don Cossack that day, but he was certainly improving into the race and looking a major threat.

He may well have too much tactical speed for either of the Mullins' pair. 

Last but very definitely not least, the day's nap is Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle (2.15pm).

Detroit City, Katchit and Zarkandar have all completed the Cheltenham/Aintree double in the last decade, and this fella looks ripe to add to that sequence.

An authoritative scorer at the Festival, when seeing off the re-opposing duo Apple's Jade and Footpad, he can confirm his superiority.

Good luck!


Thursday's best bets at Aintree:

1.40 - Merseyrail Manifesto Novices' Chase - 4 Garde La Victoire (win)

2.15 - Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle - 5 Ivanovich Gorbatov (win)

2.50 - Betfred Bowl - 1 Cue Card (win)

5.15 - Goffs Nickel Coin Mares' Standard Open NH Flat Race - 5 Copper Kay (each way)