Though the Grand National is undoubtedly the headline act, next week’s Aintree meeting has plenty more to offer, with eye-catching renewals on each of the three days.
The Grade One Aintree Hurdle is run at 2m4f and never fails to deliver. Buveur D’Air was mightily impressive in winning last year, comfortably accounting for My Tent Or Yours and The New One.
Since its inception in 1976, the race has been won by some of the best hurdlers in the business. Dual Cheltenham Champion Hurdle hero, Comedy Of Errors, was a gutsy winner of the first running. The following year, Night Nurse and Monksfield dead-heated in an absolute epic. The pair were two of the all-time greats in a golden period for hurdling. Both went on to win the Champion Hurdle a couple of times apiece, with Monksfield returning to Liverpool to take the Aintree Hurdle three years in-a-row.
The wonderful Irish mare, Dawn Run, captured this race soon after landing the Champion Hurdle and a couple of years before her dramatic victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Morley Street became the most successful hurdler in the history of the event, winning four times from 1990 to 1993. He also landed the Champion Hurdle in 1991.
Another hurdling great, Istabraq, captured the Aintree Hurdle in 1999, though failed in a thriller 12- months earlier, when losing out in a prolonged duel to Pridwell, under an inspired ride from AP McCoy.
Al Eile was an Irish raider that loved both track and trip. Trained by John Queally, he achieved a trio of victories in 2005, 07 and 08. Oscar Whisky was similarly suited by the trip. Never quite quick enough to land a Champion Hurdle, he was at his best at two-and-a-half-miles. His two Aintree victories in 2011 and 2012 proved dramatic, as on both occasions he had to hold off a sustained threat from the Willie Mullins-trained Thousand Stars, each time hanging on by a neck.
In a race where horses regularly return to win again, it’s hard to envisage a Buveur D’Air defeat next Thursday.
Another Aintree highlight will be the Grade One Melling Chase. This is a personal favourite and has been won by Jump racing giants. Introduced in 1991, this wonderful race has gone to numerous Queen Mother Champion Chase winners. Remittance Man, Deep Sensation, Viking Flagship and Martha’s Son, all landed the big one at Cheltenham before capturing this.
But it was Moscow Flyer that won over the hearts of so many National Hunt racing fans. Hugely talented, he undoubtedly had his quirks. But from being sent over fences in 2001, until the end of his 2005 campaign, Jess Harrington’s chasing superstar was virtually unbeatable. He hit the floor on occasion, but whenever Barry Geraghty was able to retain the partnership, this formidable chaser swept all-comers aside.
Twice a winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, his win in the Tingle Creek of 2004 will live long in the memory. Then a 10-year-old, he proved himself ‘the daddy’ at two miles, when fighting off two top-class chasing youngsters in Azertyuiop and Well Chief. He travelled to Aintree to land the Melling Chase in 2004 and 2005.
Undeniably one of the most talented, Moscow Flyer dominated for years. But for a period from 2012 to the end of the 2013 campaign, Sprinter Sacre surely surpassed anything that had been previously achieved over fences.
Nicky Henderson’s chaser was poetry in motion. Seemingly created to jump a fence, Sprinter Sacre was as good a jumper as there’s ever been. Blessed with perfect physical attributes, he was a truly glorious sight leaping an obstacle. Destructive in the Queen Mother of 2013, he then went to Aintree and proved himself a class apart when defeating the wonderful Cue Card. Wishing to show him off to the Irish racing public, Nicky Henderson then sent Sprinter to Punchestown to win their Champion Chase. He was to return from a heart condition and famously win another Champion Chase at Cheltenham in 2016.
It would be lovely to see Henderson’s latest star, Altior, compete in the Melling Chase next week. This outstanding racehorse is building a reputation to rival the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Moscow Flyer. It would be fitting if he was to match their Aintree achievements.