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Balnaslow can get Ulster's Aintree challenge off to a flyer

By Ron McKnight

Ulster handlers are doubly represented in today's Aintree Foxhunters with Graham McKeever's Balnaslow heading the market.

Derrylin trainer David Christie took his representative Eddies Miracle to the Curragh on Friday to school over the replica Aintree-style fences and all went well with big-race jockey and current All-Ireland champion point to point rider Barry O'Neill in the saddle.

Christie said: "He's a good jumper and took to the fences like a duck to water."

Eddies Miracle is owned by Down Royal committee member Ray Nicholas with the horse having won six points and a hunter chase at the Maze on St Patrick's Day.

Balnaslow, trained by McKeever at Templepatrick, will again have multiple Irish champion rider Derek O'Connor on board.

Balnaslow ran on strongly in the closing stages of the Cheltenham Foxhunters to fill seventh and had an excellent campaign last season winning the Champion Hunter Chase at the Punchestown Festival while also finishing runner-up in the Horse and Hound Cup at Stratford having only been denied by three lengths at Cheltenham and a narrow runner-up in today's feature for amateur riders.

The ex Willie Mullins-trained horse has won two point to points as well as five races on the course proper and is owned by the executors of the late Peggy Hagan.

McKeever said: "It's been a very hard season to get the horses right between snow, rain and wet ground.

"He ran a smashing race at Cheltenham and Derek excelled on him. He's been round Aintree and was runner-up in the race last year. I'm hoping for a big run this time again."

Definitely Red, formerly trained at Downpatrick by Brian Hamilton, has proved an outstanding purchase by his current connections and offers alternative each way value to last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite in the Betway Bowl. Definitely Red is a course and distance winner.

Tony Martin believes luck will be a crucial factor in determining how Anibale Fly performs in the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday. The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old disputes favouritism.

Martin said: "If he gets his own little bit of luck, he could run a really good race."

AINTREE: 1.45 Rene's Girl, 2.20 Et Moi Alors, 2.50 BRISTOL DE MAI (NAP), 3.25 Supasundae, 4.05 Balnaslow, 4.40 Bun Doran, 5.15 Duhallow Gesture.

CHELMSFORD: 5.45 Lady Prancealot, 6.15 Fieldsman, 6.45 Commander Han, 7.15 Duke Of Bronte, 7.45 Zac Brown, 8.15 Raffle King, 8.45 River Glades.

LIMERICK: 2.00 Tell Me Annie, 2.35 Last Minute Man, 3.10 Internal Transfer, 3.45 Isodon, 4.20 Kemboy, 4.55 Bold Sky, 5.30 Mary B, 6.00 Deal With It.

SOUTHWELL: 1.55 Gleaming Sun, 2.30 Raaqyah, 3.00 Hollander, 3.35 Crosse Fire, 4.15 Lady Joanna Vassa, 4.50 Sunhill Lad, 5.25 Robbian.

TAUNTON: 2.10 Cropley, 2.40 Blu Cavalier, 3.15 Luckime, 3.55 Exmoor Mist, 4.30 Canelie, 5.05 Fly West, 5.35 Miss Rocher.

DOUBLE: Bristol De Mai and Supasundae.

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