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Nicholls v Henderson: Aintree teams analysed for trainers' title contenders

Buveur D'Air: represents Nicky Henderson in the Aintree Hurdle on Thursday
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With the end of the jumps season on the horizon, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson are readying their troops for the final stages of a battle that will see one crowned champion trainer. Nicholls currently sits atop the standings with prize-money totalling £2,901,585. Henderson is on £2,452,268.

With more than £3 million in prize-money up for grabs at this week's Randox Health Grand National meeting, it's a critical time in the title race. Here we pinpoint the key battlegrounds.

Thursday

2.20 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle
Total prize: £100,000
Winner: £56,130
Runner-up: £21,100 

With neither trainer represented in the meeting's opening race, this Grade 1 juvenile contest will be the first to carry trainers' title implications.

Henderson's JCB Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills looks sure to be towards the top end of the market and Adjali is primed to take his chance.

Christopher Wood – formerly trained by Michael Bell – is Nicholls' only contender but, if his two easy victories over hurdles are anything to go by, could be the one in the race with most latent ability still to be realised.

Verdict: Henderson has the edge 

2.50 Betway Bowl Chase
Total prize: £200,000
Winner: £112,260
Runner-up: £42,220

This looks a golden opportunity for Nicholls to land a major blow in the title race.

King George winner Clan Des Obeaux ran well for a long way in the Gold Cup and, now back on a flatter track, will be one of the trainer's leading fancies of the week.

Paul Nicholls: will send out King George winner Clan Des Obeaux

With last year's winner Might Bite a non-runner, Henderson has no runners so will be hoping another rival can prevent Clan Des Obeaux from gaining his second Grade 1 victory this season.

Verdict: a chance for Nicholls to press home the advantage 

3.25 Betway Aintree Hurdle
Total prize: £250,000
Winner: £140,325
Runner-up: £52,775

The big race on Thursday looks to be one in which Henderson can redress some of the balance.

Henderson, who runs Buveur D'Air, Verdana Blue and Brain Power, will have identified this as a race he can not only win but fill the placings too.

Leading the opposition to Henderson's three-pronged attack are Faugheen, Melon and Silver Streak.

Verdict: could be a key moment if Henderson is to make a title run

Friday

2.20 Betway Top Novices' Hurdle
Total prize: £100,000
Winner: £56,130
Runner-up: £21,100

Both trainers are set to have runners towards the head of the market.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Precious Cargo skipped Cheltenham and arrives at Aintree with a growing reputation following an excellent display on only his second hurdles start at Sandown last month. Mister Fisher, Epatante and Style De Vole are other possibles from Seven Barrows. 

Nicholls has only one possible runner, but Southfield Stone got the better of Angels Breath in the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices' Hurdle in February and has a real chance.

Verdict: both hold excellent claims 

2.50 Betway Mildmay Novices' Chase
Total prize: £100,000
Winner: £56,130
Runner-up: £21,110

RSA Chase winner Topofthegame was one of the most impressive winners at the Cheltenham Festival and gives Nicholls an excellent opportunity to stretch his lead.

Topofthegame: impressive at Cheltenham

Mr Whipped has been something of a tricky customer for Henderson to manage, but the six-year-old got off the mark over fences at Haydock last time and has always been highly regarded by connections.

Verdict: Topofthegame can prove key for Nicholls' bid

3.25 JLT Melling Chase
Total prize: £250,000
Winner: £140,325
Runner-up: £52,775

With Cyrname set to head to the Celebration Chase at Sandown, Nicholls' able deputy will be last year's Melling Chase winner and recent Champion Chase runner-up Politologue.

Henderson is likely to be represented by Top Notch, who needs to show he still possesses Grade 1 ability.

Verdict: Nicholls very much in the box seat

4.05 Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase
Total prize: £140,000
Winner: £78,582
Runner-up: £29,554

An exciting dash over the National fences, the Topham whets the appetite for the big one the following day.

The obvious choice would be the Henderson-trained Janika, who sits at the top of the market for the 2m5f test. The nine-year-old is making a habit of finishing runner-up but ran well at the festival behind Siruh Du Lac.

San Benedeto could be an interesting runner for Nicholls, with the Greatwood Gold Cup winner certain to be in prime shape after missing Cheltenham. 

Verdict: Janika to deliver a much-needed victory for Henderson

4.40 Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle
Total prize: £100,000
Winner: £56,130
Runner-up: £21,110 

The top staying novice hurdlers take centre stage in the penultimate race on day two and Ballymore runner-up Champ would look to hold leading claims for Henderson if running here instead of in the Mersey (2m4f) the following day.

Champ: one of this season's leading novice hurdlers

The Nicholls-trained Trevelyn's Corn was impressive on his return from a 103-day break at Wincanton last month, while Downtown Getaway, trained by Henderson, will arrive fresh after being off the track since winning at Ascot in January. 

Verdict: Trevelyn's Corn and Downtown Getaway are exciting prospects but victory for either would be a surprise. Champ the one to beat if running here.

Saturday 

2.25 Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle 
Total prize: £100,000
Winner: £56,130
Runner-up: £21,110

Many of the entries for the Sefton have also been given the option of running in the first big-money contest on day three.

However, the Henderson-trained Angels Breath, who finished seventh in the Supreme, has just the one entry at Aintree and is an intriguing prospect for this having once been all the rage in the Cheltenham ante-post market.

Nicholls could run Getaway Trump, who skipped the festival after finishing fourth when odds-on for the Grade 2 Premier Novices' Hurdle at Kelso.

Verdict: Henderson holds the stronger hand.

3.40 Ryanair Stayers Hurdle 
Total prize: £180,000
Winner: £101,034
Runner-up: £37,998

A valuable contest, yet one in which neither of the two championship protagonists hold leading claims. 

With Nicholls not represented, William Henry is the only possible runner who could have an influence on the title race. The Henderson-trained nine-year-old won the Coral Cup at the festival last month.

Verdict: race unlikely to have an impact on title race

5.15 Randox Health Grand National 
Total prize: £1 million
Winner: £500,000
Runner-up: £200,000

The critical race of the week.

Valtor was pulled up when last seen in the Cotswold Chase in January, but was purchased by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede with this race in mind and a bold bid would be no surprise. However, the Topham also remains a possible target.

The Nicholls-trained Warriors Tale won the Grand Sefton over the National fences in December but was pulled up in the National last season. He has yet to prove himself over this sort of extreme trip, but the ten-year-old's liking for the fences is an obvious plus.

Verdict: both horses of interest but place money more likely


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The Nicholls-trained Warriors Tale won the Grand Sefton over the National fences in December but was pulled up in the National last season
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