WILLIE Mullins will rely upon Arctic Fire in the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle tomorrow after deciding against running Hurricane Fly.
The pair finished second and third respectively behind brilliant stable companion Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
Mullins had considered letting the duo lock horns once more in the feature race on day one of Aintree’s Grand National meeting, but has had a change of heart. He said: “I was just happier to run Arctic Fire on his own. Hurricane Fly will go to Punchestown.”
Arctic Fire stars in a seven-runner field and is joined on the trip from Ireland by the Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki, who won last year’s Champion Hurdle but was only fourth in this season’s renewal.
Rock On Ruby is a major threat for Harry Fry, having missed the Cheltenham Festival due to a late setback, while Nicky Henderson saddles Vaniteux and Volnay De Thaix. The Dan Skelton-trained Blue Heron and Melodic Rendezvous from Jeremy Scott’s yard complete the line-up.
Silviniaco Conti will face six rivals when he bids for back-to-back triumphs in tomorrow’s Betfred Bowl on Merseyside.
The nine-year-old disappointed when favourite for last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and champion trainer Paul Nicholls will be hoping his dual King George winner can get back to winning ways at Aintree, just as he did 12 months ago. The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Holywell was three places ahead of Silviniaco Conti when fourth in the Gold Cup and renews rivalry. He was a brilliant winner of the Mildmay Novices’ Chase over the course and distance last season.
Ma Filleule won over the Grand National fences in last year’s Topham Chase and is a major contender for Henderson off the back of finishing second in the Ryanair Chase.
Menorah is a course winner for Philip Hobbs and arrives at Aintree fresh, having been off the track since Boxing Day.
David Pipe’s Ballynagour, the Alan King-trained Smad Place and Vukovar from Warren Greatrex’s stable complete the field. Meanwhile, officials at the RSPCA would like to see the British Horseracing Authority and Aintree reduce the traditional field size of 40 for the Grand National, insisting fewer runners would help lower the welfare risk to both horse and jockey.
RSPCA equine consultant David Muir said: “In recent years the RSPCA has worked with the Aintree management and the British Horseracing Authority who have made a series of welcome changes including improvements to Becher’s Brook, the removal of the solid fence cores producing a more forgiving structure and the removal of several drop landings which in the past have shown to increase the risk factor.
“However, we’d still like to see a reduction of the field numbers remaining on the agenda due to the number of horses that do not remain in contention at the end of the race. Together with the occasional bunching issues, the number of loose horses when jockeys become unseated further increases risk factors to both horse and jockey.”
In response, the BHA pointed to reviews providing “no evidence” fewer runners would reduce the welfare risk.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS