Zarkander can return with a bang at Aintree

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We’ve teamed up with BetVictor and Charlie McCann to preview the day’s racing.

Wonderful jumping ground forecast at Aintree this afternoon for a magnificent seven-race card. The 2m Conditions Hurdle sees the return of Zarkandar (2.40) who has been off the track since finishing third to Un Temps Pour Tout in a Grade 1 over an extended three miles on ground described as very soft.

The winner, who was a chase winner at the Festival back in March, is in the field again today but this intermediate 2m 4f trip might suit the Paul Nicholls nine-year-old more than David Pipe’s charge.

The selection has a history of going well fresh and with the Nicholls yard in such great form I hope the nine-year-old can still show his younger rivals a clean pair of hooves.

Baileys Concerto is beginning to look very well handicapped and I still have nightmares about him breezing past Distime as if the latter was standing still here a couple of years ago. That said his best form is on genuinely good ground and my two against the field are Orbasa and On Tour (3.10) with marginal preference for the latter.

The selection has an excellent record fresh but doesn’t seem to hold his form in the second half of the season. Trainer Evan Williams is trying to address that imbalance and I hope that doesn’t mean he is not ready for this afternoon, but on his day he is very talented and conditions look ideal.

The 2m Chase is a cracker and there is plenty of pace in the race; anything at Aintree that runs in the famous green and yellow colours of Trevor Hemmings is respected and Katachenko must go close having won the Red Rum at the National meeting from only a 5lbs lower mark last time. I’m going to take a chance on the race-fit Raven’s Tower (3.45) who will have the race run to suit and is just 1lb lower than winning at Huntingdon 12 months ago. Trainer Ben Pauling’s horses have made a slow start to the season but they are knocking on the door.

Few horses have impressed me this season as much as the Tom George Chepstow bumper winner Sumkindofking and I hope to see Cruiseaweigh (4.15) go one better than when second to a subsequent hurdle winner of Paul Nicholls at Wincanton back in the spring. There are any number of dangers in what looks a very hot race but with the stable in such good form it is Cruiseaweigh for me.

At Wincanton, only four go to post for the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase but it is an absolute corker with all four runners having won their last two starts. Master Dee and Shantou Village are bold jumping front-runners, Virgilio was electric, but possibly a bit low at some of his fences, at Newton Abbot but the vote goes to the four-year-old Frodon (1.35).

The selection is currently 37th in the list for next weekend’s BetVictor Gold Cup and is 14/1 with the sponsors but will pick up a 5lbs penalty if he wins and that would give him a much better chance of making the 20-runner field this time next week.

No four-year-old has ever run in the BetVictor Gold Cup, only eligible from 2006, over the years but I think this is a very good animal whose jumping has been sensational in two chases to date. You couldn’t discard any of the four runners but it is Frodon who is the recommendation.

Harry Cobden takes off a valuable 3lbs off the back of Zubayr (2.10) and he can give the champion trainer another winner. The selection was very impressive when winning over C&D back in April and ran a very good race when subsequently third at Auteuil.

The Badger Ales is the big betting race of the day over jumps and Neil Mulholland saddles three including The Young Master who finished first in this corresponding race two years ago but was subsequently disqualified as it later transpired he wasn’t actually qualified to run in the race!

I like the look of Fingerontheswitch (2.50) another Mulholland inmate who carries just 10st. The selection will appreciate an end-to-end gallop and I thought he was just getting competitive when coming down in an amateur riders’ contest at Cheltenham last month. He is 8/1 at BetVictor and that looks a fair each way shout.

At Kelso, Imjoeking (2.55) caught a tartar over C&D last time from a 1lbs lower mark and can go one better for Lucinda Russell as long as the ground remains no worse than good to soft.

Sandown stage their first jumps card of the season tomorrow and Braavos (12.30) is surely better than he showed at Chepstow on his reappearance when going out like a light in a better race than todays.

Dark Flame (1.05) might go under the radar for Richard Rowe in the Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase; the selection has the stamp of a chaser but will have to improve for the transition to the larger obstacles if he is to score in a decent contest with many of the big yards represented.

Court By Surprise (3.25) was backed as if a bold show was expected at Chepstow on his reappearance and it is possible that he is much better going right-handed these days. He has been dropped 3lbs for that effort and is now 9lbs lower than when last successful in the aforementioned Badger Ales Chase.

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