Jospeh O’Brien is hoping Aintree’s flat track will help Banbridge handle the step up to an extended three miles as he bids for Grade One glory in the Cavani Menswear Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.
Banbridge kept on strongly at Cheltenham to win the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle last time under Mark McDonagh.
JJ Slevin, who partnered the six-year-old to success on his penultimate start at Navan, returns to the plate on Friday, with O’Brien’s runner top-rated on a mark of 143.
“Banbridge is well,” said O’Brien. “It’s an open enough race and on paper he looks to have a good shout. If he gets the trip he has every chance.
“I was surprised to see he was top rated in it, but we won’t complain. He’s not guaranteed to stay, he’s always a good traveller and he won a couple of races at two miles this year, but Aintree will give him a chance to stay.”
Ahoy Senor beat Bravemansgame in a high-class renewal last year and future chasing diamonds are certain to be unearthed again this year.
Sam Thomas feels Skytastic, who justified favouritism twice when going two-from-two over hurdles, could be one of them.
The six-year-old bypassed Cheltenham after scoring over and extended two miles and three furlongs Ascot and while his South Glamorgan handler knows he faces a step up in class, he believes Skytastic warrants his opportunity.
“It was a good performance on soft ground at Ascot,” said Thomas.
“He is a horse whom we hope stays the trip and we are excited to be having a crack at a Grade One with him.
“This will probably be his last run over hurdles before we go novice chasing with him next season.
“The race has cut up a little bit, but it is still going to be a very competitive race and we are looking forward to it going there fit and well.
“He has only had two runs to be judged on, so a mark of 134 seems fair. We’d like to think he will turn into a much better chaser.
“It will be lovely, safe ground and they don’t have much racing on it, so as a jockey, you just looked forward to riding up there because the ground is beautiful.”
Nicky Richards is no stranger to Aintree success, having been responsible for the likes of the high-class chaser Monet’s Garden and Grade One-winning hurdler Faasel.
He hopes Crystal Glory, who chased home Hillcrest in the Grade Two Prestige Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock in February, can continue on an upward curve.
“He has done nothing wrong,” said the Penrith handler. “I think he is a progressive, improving horse and I don’t think we have seen the best of him.
“I thought he ran a lovely race behind Hillcrest, really. He ran a grand race, got the trip well on not very nice ground.
“I think the better ground will suit him nicely, so we are looking forward to it.
“It is a Grade One race at Aintree and they are never easy, but it is great to be in there with an improving horse.”
Title-chasing Paul Nicholls, who sent out Bravemansgame to finish second last year, relies on Gelino Bello, who was twice runner-up to Blazing Khal at Cheltenham before Christmas.
He warmed up for this race with an impressive nine-length victory in an extended two and-a-half-mile novice hurdle at Newbury last month.
Green Book and Stag Horn, who both ran in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, lock horns again and there are four more last-time-out winners in the line-up.
One of those, Bowtogreatness, is co-owned by former Bournemouth, Tottenham and West Ham manager Harry Redknapp.
After two successive victories, at Ffos Las and Leicester, trainer Ben Pauling feels he is no back number stepping up in trip.
He said: “Bowtogreatness has done nothing wrong this year, but only in run-of-the-mill novice hurdles. He could not have been more impressive last time out.
“He was going to go to Cheltenham, but met with a setback – he knocked a joint.
“So we avoided Cheltenham and we come to a Grade One, and we are very much looking forward to seeing how he gets on.
“I’m hoping he will have a good each-way chance. He is in great order.”