Drussell is out to make Grade
Shane Donohoe's hat-trick seeking Drussell leads a five-strong Irish challenge on the first day of a quality-laden Aintree Grand National meeting.
Four winners from last month's Cheltenham Festival, including the Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander, turn out at the Liverpool venue this afternoon, with Drussell pitched into Grade One company for a first time in the Matalan Anniversary Novices' Hurdle.
Having shown marked improvement to record impressive victories at Fairyhouse and Ayr on its last two starts, the four-year-old is entitled to this step up in class.
That said, Drussell has plenty more to find if he is to land a first Irish success in the two-mile contest since Al Eile triumphed in 2004, as the quality of opposition in the 11-runner field is of the highest order.
Likely to head the market is Ruby Walsh's mount Sanctuaire but Notus De La Tour will be a formidable opponent off seven-pound better terms with the favourite, while Me Voici and Super Kenny are also likely to make their presence felt.
Preference, though, is for Barizan, Evan Williams' game Triumph Hurdle runner-up.
The day's other two Grade Ones go uncontested by Irish-trained horses, though Leopardstown's Lexus Chase winner What A Friend tackles Imperial Commander in the Totesport Bowl. Despite his undoubted talent, Imperial Commander has never been as potent away from Cheltenham. With that in mind, he can be opposed at odds-on.
Nacarat, on a track that suits his front-running style, represents a genuine threat to the champion under Tony McCoy; Caruthers and Calgary Bay, fourth and sixth respectively in the Gold Cup, maybe less so. Having been put away especially for this since accounting for the subsequent Hennessy winner Joncol at Leopardstown, What A Friend gets the nod to oblige.
The BGC Partners Liverpool Hurdle gets proceedings under way and Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh are again to the fore, with the dual World Hurdle winner Big Buck's seeking to complete a double double, having also taken this a year ago.
In the John Smith's Fox Hunters' Chase, run over the Grand National fences, Nedzer's Return and Having A Cut hold strong claims for the travelling party. Gordon Elliot's Nedzer's Return has won two hunters' chases in emphatic fashion of late, while Having A Cut has had his season tailored around this.
Baby Run sets the standard if he takes to the fences. But Having A Cut was a good third last year, and that tilts the balance his way.
The Totepool Manifesto Novices' Chase is the final graded race on the card with Somersby to just shade it from The Nightingale.