Racing: Aintree first day preview

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Holywell has an awful lot going for him in the Betfred Bowl, the keynote race on day one of the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival at Aintree.

Jonjo O’Neill has rather more grandiose ambitions this week as he readies Shutthefrontdoor for the main event, but the Jackdaws Castle handler can be trusted to have this one on top of his form.

The eight-year-old chaser can be a notoriously slow starter to a season, as was again evidenced this winter, but this is indisputably the right time to catch him.

Holywell simply comes alive in the spring, with a 10-length defeat of the excellent Don Cossack in the Mildmay over course and distance testament to that theory 12 months ago.

That victory also came on the back of a similarly accomplished triumph at the Cheltenham Festival.

He once again returns to Merseyside with reputation intact following a fine effort in the Gold Cup which was much better than many had originally thought.

With the testing ground undeniably against Holywell, he still managed to take fourth spot, which surely exceeded O’Neill’s expectations given how much rain Cheltenham had in the build-up to the Gold Cup.

It should be an entirely different scenario at Aintree, though, as the drying conditions can be considered a big boon for his chances of success.

More so, even, than last year’s winner Silviniaco Conti, whose trainer Paul Nicholls believes a sounder surface and a flatter track will help his inmate in the Bowl.

Though that argument is slightly flawed - he was won stacks of races in the mud - Silviniaco Conti is now clearly recognised as not being quite as effective at Cheltenham as anywhere else.

There is not much in it between the two juggernauts, but Holywell is a year younger and has had a less bruising campaign than the Nicholls horse, who was campaigned with laudable aggression during the winter.

Rock On Ruby can fend off a formidable Irish assault on the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle.

* Selections -

Aintree: 1.40 Josses Hill, 2.15 Hargam, 2.50 HOLYWELL (NAP), 3.25 Rock On Ruby, 4.05 On The Fringe, 4.40 Croco Bay, 5.15 Brother Brian.

Taunton: 2.30 Y A Bon, 3.05 Shot In The Dark, 3.40 Kitchapoly, 4.15 Stephen Hero, 4.50 Rayvin Black, 5.25 Cool Bob, 5.55 Unbuckled.

Chelmsford: 6.10 Ample, 6.40 Sbraase, 7.10 Martlet, 7.40 Arabian Oasis, 8.10 Born To Reign, 8.40 Jungle Bay, 9.10 Excelling Oscar.

Southwell: 2.05 Raise The Game, 2.40 Compton Mill, 3.15 Quadriga, 3.50 Teajaybe, 4.25 Rosenbaum, 5.00 Tarooq, 5.35 Pabusar.

Double: Holywell and Josses Hill.