The long march from the car park to the stand was into a ferocious wind. Now this is something thing that can be overplayed, but with Aintree's long straight it struck me that front runners may struggle and the hold-up horses would thrive. How that prophecy would come true on this day...
It was clear as early as the opening novice hurdle that some jocks wanted cover - none more so than McCoy who held onto the very likeable newcomer Champagne Present until as late as possible. But, having the front pair covered at the last, he hadn't reckoned on complete rag Chicoria to come even later and just get home at 33/1.
The winner was the smallest and least attractive of the field. Mr Burgees set the benchmark and can be marked up a pound or two for forcing the pace from the top of the straight and only giving best at the last.
Favourite Vintage Vinny (tall, leggy) jumped very novicey at times and but for that may have won - he'll make amends before long though. The Last Euro completed the field, he was very green in the prelims even getting loose at one stage. It was all bit much for him but a tall, strapping youngster - his time will come.
The appearance of Martin Pipe and Chester Barnes spoke loud and clear for the chances of Unanimite in the four-runner juvenile, who was backed off the boards to make it two from two.
However, this stamina test and some sloppy hurdling found him out as Starchitect stayed on dourly to grind it out close home. McCain's horse is a big strong horse but didn't please in appearance, like many of his trainer's at the moment lacking any spark beforehand.
This form may not amount to much as it stands, but I rate Starchitect a potential improver as the season progresses especially when McCain's string gets over whatever is ailing them, and when stamina is at a premium (think Cheltenham.)
After getting that one wrong it was time to regroup, and I couldn't split the two market leaders in the next in Distime and Baileys Concerto. The former looked trained to the minute for this first run in 10 months while the latter has been in great form and I felt he won at Perth last time with plenty in hand.
I couldn't split them, although the market did and went 7/4, 7/2. I was left kicking my decision not to get involved as Baileys Concerto was played late to win as he liked. However, I had to get against Classic Move in the place market. He looked a frail sort at Carlisle and my opinion didn't change here. He certainly jumped with more aplomb but I felt he went wrong after a catastrophic blunder down the back even though Maguire persevered for another fence. Sadly he returned in the horse ambulance.
I also traded against Ashes House who looked in need of the run and wasn't particularly fluent at the walk. But Rebecca Curtis's are running out of their skins and time may show he had an impossible task giving weight to the front two. Don't be surprised if he delivers over the next couple of weeks.
Cobajayisland stripped fitter for his Hexham outing and there are more races to be won with him if he tidies up his fencing, as he wasn't beaten a million miles.
The next looked quite a riddle but we managed to sort them out beforehand. It came down to whether Parsnip Pete, a winner at the National meeting, was ready for this pipe-opener. And the verdict was an emphatic 'yes'. He looked in superb fettle and with doubts over the rest we simply had to step in despite some late market weakness.
The P Nicholls' Valco De Touzaine is bred to stay further and the way he settled he should now be stepped up, and he'll come on a ton for the run. He doesn't look straight-forward however, with a dropped noseband and a ring bit to go with the hood.
The move for Dunowen Point was puzzling given that he has regressed sharply and continues to shape like he has a problem, while Nikos Extra was on great terms with himself and was almost certainly the biggest danger to the favourite, so it was surprising that he refused to race.
|Upswing: A deeply attractive horse who can rate much higher|
Everything was in place for a massive run and thankfully there was Upswing to hold the market up for us. O'Neill's six-year-old is a mighty fine looking prospect who will surely take higher rank, and I was tempted to save on the beast, but his form is a little patchy and he refused to settle for McCoy here.
Geraghty did the right thing in letting the race develop in front of him and then did remarkably well to keep the partnership intact when the pair got their wires crossed at the last. The race was already over as a contest by then though, with the race on for the places.
Runner-up Uncle Jimmy was surprisingly outpaced at one stage and he looks the type to continue to improve and can certainly win again, while eventual fourth Saffron Wells was a big eye-catcher. Neil King's youngster will come on for the run so much so that I was surprised to see him competitive at the second-last.
He was run out of it under a fairly sympathetic ride and although not looking particularly well-treated can perform to a high level this season. Deadly Sting and Rolling Maul went at it far too soon in this and paid the price late on.
The 2m 4f handicap chase had a potential blot in the shape of Lamool. The beast had apparently been rated 145 in France and yet had won a little race off 114 at Ludlow in the spring. He still looked thrown in off an 8lb higher mark and what do you know, he was ready to dance for this season's opener.
I'd priced this race up the night before and put him no bigger than 7/2 so we had to get stuck into the 6/1 that was still available as they were leaving the paddock.
The feature of this race was that there was so much pace in there, which would surely set it up for a 'closer'. Benefit Cut looked pretty darn fit for his return and won the race for the lead, jumping really well, while heavily-backed King Of The Wolds got a nice tow into it.
However, the latter - even when winning last term - has consistently failed to finish his races off and although he is a lovely, big horse he clearly has some kind of problem that is stopping him dead when pressure is applied. Although M Jefferson's horses are not firing he looked pretty well so there are no excuses on that front.
I didn't think either of the greys, Shadrack and Our Mick, were fit, while I was happy to oppose Supreme Asset on account of the trainer and the balance of his form. Dineur does not really have the size for fences (even though he has a great strike rate) and has not returned in any form and I wasn't about to back the other two.
It was one of those days where everything fell into place as Lamool galloped and jumped them silly - the only problem now being that the handicapper will take a very dim view of this.
The bumper will throw up countless winners and it shouldn't have come as any surprise that Curtis enhanced her outstanding recent stats by taking it with the tall, nice looking Globalisation, who nevertheless is a backward sort who could be very useful given time.
Great Try is a big leggy sort who Nicholls said would improve for the run and it certainly looked that way, while Echo Springs looks a magnificent specimen and was probably asked to do too much too soon here. The penalty also probably held him back.
So, after a successful day at least we leave Aintree with some better memories, and move into Sedgefield and the big Wetherby meeting this week with momentum.