Five horses who bypassed Cheltenham to head to Aintree
With Aintree's spectacular three-day Grand National Festival set to take centre stage this week, we take a look at some horses who bypassed last month's Cheltenham Festival in order to head to Merseyside fresh.
Entry: Betway Bowl Chase, Thursday (14-1)
Paul Nicholls' star chaser is firmly in the autumn of his fine career and it is no surprise Cheltenham was not on his agenda, the 11-year-old having clearly demonstrated that it is not his cup of tea.
The two-time King George winner seems to have a soft spot for Aintree though, having won this race in 2014 and 2015, as well as the Mildmay Novices' Chase in 2012. While not at the level of Cue Card in terms of public affection, a bold showing would surely prove wildly popular with racegoers on Thursday.
Lough Derg Spirit
Entries: Crabbie's Top Novices' Hurdle, Friday (7-2); Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle, Saturday
This Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old gained quotes of around 20-1 for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle after he won the Supreme Scottish Trial Novices' Hurdle at Musselburgh in February but connections opted against lining up at the festival.
Lough Derg Spirit has won two of his three starts for Henderson and looks a promising prospect. With those wins coming at Kempton and Musselburgh, it would be no surprise if the similarly flat Aintree track proved to be to his liking.
Entry: JLT Melling Chase, Friday (10-1)
One of the stars of Kerry Lee's stable, Kylemore Lough came of age last spring when winning the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup Novices' Chase at Fairyhouse, so this is clearly a time of year he enjoys.
The eight-year-old has been off the track since January 28, missing not only Cheltenham but February's Ascot Chase, when he was withdrawn at the declaration stage.
Entries: Betway Aintree Hurdle, Thursday (12-1); Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle, Saturday (20-1)
It would be wrong to suggest missing Cheltenham was part of a grand plan with Identity Thief, with the Racing Post Arkle surely in Henry de Bromhead's mind when the seven-year-old made an encouraging start to his chasing career back in the autumn.
That feels a long time ago now, with his jumping looking to have let him down since, so he has been given the option of a return to hurdling. Sixth in last year's Champion Hurdle and beaten only two lengths by Nichols Canyon in the 2015 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, he clearly has the talent to revive his career.
Entry - Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle, Friday (25-1)
The Grand National always throws up a great story but if this mare could win Friday's Grade 1 contest it would surely be one of the great moments in modern Aintree history.
A winner of a Listed Novices' Hurdle at Doncaster last month, Lastbutnotleast looks a very handy prospect open to plenty of improvement.
And the story? She is trained by Donald McCain, was the final horse bought by his late father and Aintree legend Ginger and carries the colours made famous by his Grand National hero Red Rum for good measure.