2pts win Many Clouds @11/4, Aintree 14:15

It’s quality over quantity as just four go to post in this three-mile listed contest.

Last season’s Hennessy, Betbright Chase and Grand National winner Many Clouds returns after making hard work of his seasonal debut behind Cue Card in the Charley Hall at Wetherby.

The long-term target remains a repeat bid at the National, where he’s already destined to carry top-weight and will surely be given no slack by the handicapper before April. We can expect him to run his race, and he should have improved since Wetherby.

In opposition is Willie Mullins’s RSA Chase winner Don Poli, who makes his seasonal bow in a bid to take the first step in justifying his prominence in the Gold Cup ante-post market.

I’d be concerned he’ll need the run – a view echoed by connections – though his class could see him home. As an odds-on favourite he makes no appeal whatsoever and is readily taken on.

Last year’s Charley Hall winner Menorah takes his chance but doesn’t make the short-short-list. He needs better ground and is up against it.

Paul Nicholls saddles Southfield Theatre, who he described as embarrassingly fat on seasonal debut when well behind Coneygree at Sandown. He’s “got stuck into him since” and claims he’s “20 kilos lighter now”.

We can expect a much-improved horse this time round, and that he receives a handy 5lbs from Many Clouds and Menorah only enhances his chances. The ground is a concern, though, and the 13/2 best price at the time of writing just isn’t quite enough to tempt me.

Many Clouds on the other hand might be a snip at 11/4 with a run under his belt, course form and being proven on soft ground. As such, he’s backed with confidence.

2pts win Many Clouds @11/4 or best morning price, Aintree 14:15

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