Pic D’Orhy primed to defend Melling Chase crown

Last year’s winner Pic D’Orhy, Ryanair Chase hero Protektorat and Cheltenham Festival absentee Jonbon are among 13 entries for the My Pension Expert Melling Chase at Aintree on Friday.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Pic D’Orhy was a decisive winner of the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One 12 months ago and has deliberately been saved for the defence of his crown since claiming the notable scalp of L’Homme Presse in the Ascot Chase in February.

Dan Skelton, who is challenging his former mentor for the champion trainer title this season, entered Protektorat for Thursday’s Aintree Bowl over three miles but has also given him the option of sticking to a shorter distance the following day.

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Jonbon did not run at the Cheltenham Festival
Jonbon did not run at the Cheltenham Festival (John Walton/PA)

Nicky Henderson’s crack two miler Jonbon sidestepped the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham during what was a tough week for the Seven Barrows team and will therefore be fresher than some on what will be his first attempt at this trip.

The Willie Mullins-trained Easy Game, Joseph O’Brien’s Banbridge, Gordon Elliott’s pair of Ash Tree Meadow and Conflated and the Henry de Bromhead-trained duo of Envoi Allen and Jungle Boogie are all possible challengers from Ireland.

Elixir De Nutz (Joe Tizzard), Funambule Sivola (Venetia Williams), Minella Drama (Donald McCain) and Thunder Rock (Olly Murphy) are the other contenders.

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Slade Steel is the potential star attraction in the Trustatrader Top Novices’ Hurdle.

De Bromhead’s charge is one of 21 contenders for the Grade One contest and part of a formidable Irish contingent that also includes Elliott’s mare Brighterdaysahead and Supreme second Mystical Power, who leads a five-strong Mullins squad.

Caldwell Potter, bought for €740,000 out of Elliott’s yard for an ownership group which includes Sir Alex Ferguson, is pencilled in to make his debut for Nicholls in the same race, while Cheltenham Festival heroine Golden Ace (Jeremy Scott) and unbeaten mare Dysart Enos (Fergal O’Brien) also feature.

The opening Huyton Asphalt Franny Blennerhassett Memorial Mildmay Novices’ Chase is similarly strong, with Grey Dawning (Skelton), Corbetts Cross (Emmet Mullins), Inothewayurthinkin (Gavin Cromwell) and Chianti Classico (Kim Bailey) all potentially bidding to follow up Cheltenham Festival success.

The fourth and final Grade One on the card is the Cavani Sartorial Menswear Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, which features the Albert Bartlett one-two of Stellar Story (Elliott) and The Jukebox Man (Ben Pauling).

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