McCoy makes winning start to final Aintree Festival

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) The Aintree Festival got underway with a winner for Tony McCoy, a return to form for Silviniaco Conti and a statement of intent from a jockey seeking to become the first female to win the Grand National Steeplechase on Saturday.

Appearing at Aintree for the final time before retirement, McCoy eased to victory on Jezki in the Aintree Hurdle - the marquee race of the opening day - after closest challenger Arctic Fire had a heavy fall at the final fence.

Arctic Fire had just taken the lead and was traveling well under Ruby Walsh, who also fell in the day's first race. Walsh skipped his last ride of the day because of a dead leg, two days before the headline event of the meeting - the Grand National.

''Whether we'd have won or not, I don't know,'' McCoy said. ''My only plan was to follow Ruby and try and get him from the last.''

Jezki, a 3-1 shot, passed the post with 13 lengths in hand over Rock On Ruby, who was hampered by Arctic Fire's fall.

Silviniaco Conti made up for his disappointing run in last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup, where he finished seventh after starting as favorite, by holding on in a tight finish to win the Betfred Bowl Steeplechase for a second straight year.

It was a second win of the day for trainer Paul Nicholls, after All Yours won the Juvenile Hurdle.

Nina Carberry will be the only female jockey in the Grand National and she warmed up for that race by cruising over the same fearsome fences that will be used on Saturday to win the Fox Hunters' Chase riding On The Fringe, a 5-2 favorite.

It was a rough race, with only 16 of 29 starters making it round the course, but Carberry didn't encounter any problems.

''I was just a passenger, he was loving it,'' Carberry said of On The Fringe. ''He travelled like a dream.''

Carberry will ride First Lieutenant in the Grand National, a race previously won by her father Tommy and brother Paul.

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