There were two hurdle races on the opening day and both returned good timefigures for all each was run in a contrasting manner. Anniversary Hurdle winner We Have A Dream missed Cheltenham but might even have beaten Irish duo Farclas and Mr Adjudicator in the Triumph on the evidence of his 144 timefigure here after being sent through to control the race from halfway. Stablemate and Triumph fourth Apple’s Shakira was a beaten favourite again and on the clock at least hasn’t yet lived up to her reputation – her best timefigure is only 131. L’Ami Serge had the best claims on time in the Aintree Hurdle courtesy of his second to Sam Spinner in the Long Walk at Ascot and made his stamina tell after the pace collapsed to post a 152 in seeing off the consistent Supasundae (149).
The Top Novices’ Hurdle went to Lalor on Friday – who had won the bumper here in 2017 – but the finish was a relatively slow one and a winning timefigure of just 117 suggests it was probably a weak renewal. Albert Bartlett third Santini won the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle after being ridden much closer to the pace than at Cheltenham, though a steady first circuit meant his winning timefigure was only 105. Despite his Cheltenham reverse he is entitled to be regarded as the best staying novice around, and along with Black Op will surely head the home challenge for the 2019 RSA Chase.
The feature event over hurdles on the final day, the Stayers Hurdle, went to Champion Hurdle fourth and former Fighting Fifth winner Identity Thief who was trying three miles for the first time. The relative test of speed – the winning timefigure was 142 – almost certainly played into his hands, but he looks another worthy addition to the growing bank of good-quality staying hurdlers. Wholestone (137) isn’t quite good enough to be winning at the spring Festivals, while Sam Spinner (127) once again puzzlingly wasn’t asked to adopt the tactics that had served him so well earlier in the season. The Mersey Novices’ Hurdle was won in dogged fashion by the aforementioned Black Op after his rider took him to the front to lift what wasn’t a strong gallop. He’s a slapdash jumper of hurdles but has the physique for chasing and will be even better at a strongly-run three miles in time.
The Manifesto Novices' Chase was won by suspect jumper Finian’s Oscar (144) who had finished well beaten at Cheltenham in the JLT and looked set for the same here only to end up winning going away. He’s only been tried once at three miles (pulled up over hurdles), but that would seem a more natural distance for him over fences; Brain Power failed to get round again but has already shown himself capable of a 159 timefigure and appeals as a live Champion Hurdle prospect next year if reverting to the smaller obstacles. With no Native River to contend with Might Bite gained consolation for his Gold Cup defeat with a ready win in the Betway Bowl, but he had far less on his plate on this occasion and a 156 timefigure is 8lb below the one he posted at Cheltenham.
From a timefigure point of view the best performance over fences on the second day came from Politologue (164) in a Melling Chase that saw him to much better advantage than runner-up Min (164) who looked the winner for the most part of the race. Longer term, however, the Mildmay winner Terrefort (155) might end up even higher. The step up to three miles suited him very well and he finished faster than might have been expected given the gallop, showing a smart turn of foot. The result also reflects very well on the runner-up Ms Parfois (145) who is a strong stayer, yet still came clear of the rest despite a drop back in trip. She has the profile of a serious Grand National contender in 2019.
Diego du Charmil (156) put himself forward as a potential candidate for the top two mile chases next season with a defeat of Petit Mouchoir (152) in the Maghull Novices’ Chase. The runner-up was a bit below his Arkle level (159), but all the same the winner’s effort paid a big compliment to Saint Calvados who beat him senseless in the Kingmaker (165) at Warwick, though ended up running as if amiss in the Arkle. Tiger Roll (136) continued the long recent run of Grand National winners running in the race for the first time when nosing out Pleasant Company (134) in a dramatic finish. The winner is likely to have to race off a BHA mark approaching 160 if he attempts back-to-back National wins, so whether he deserves his place at the head of the market for the 2019 renewal is debateable; at more than twice the price Ms Parfois currently makes far more appeal.