The Aintree Grand National is starting to loom large on the horizon with Cheltenham done and dusted, but what is catching the attention for the Merseyside marathon on April 14.
The well touted One For Arthur got the job done for Scotland a year ago, leaving the favourite Blaklion to finish fourth.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge is set to return for another bite at Aintree and is again jostling for favouritism at 11/1 in the countdown.
Blaklion has done very little wrong in between times, running out an impressive winner of the Becher Chase at Aintree in December having been backed to do so and then finding only Yala Enki too strong in a National Trial at Haydock.
The nine-year-old has solid credentials and is likely to shorten a couple of points in the betting between now and Grand National Day.
Cheltenham also offered us some clues, and some worrying moments in equal measure.
Last year’s National second Cause Of Causes was expected to take all the beating in the Cross County Chase but he rarely travelled with enthusiasm and was soon beaten under Jamie Codd. Can Gordon Elliott revitalise the 16/1 chance in time for Aintree once more?
Of course, Elliott won’t be left shorthanded if he misses out at is was stablemate Tiger Roll that ran out a convincing winner of that particular race in the Cotswolds.
There are few more noble performers than the gutsy Tiger Roll. He didn’t run well in last year’s Irish National behind Our Duke (pulled up) but this test could be more to his liking and it is no shock to find him trading at 14/1 following his latest Cheltenham Festival success.
Minella Rocco, second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last term, hasn’t enjoyed the best of seasons and was forced to miss the Blue Ribband this time around on account of the soft ground.
Jonjo O’Neill is confident that the 16/1 chance will enjoy the Aintree challenge, though he is waiting for better ground and will be on weather watch.
Rathvinden could represent Willie Mullins in the race, having impressed everyone with his win in the four-miler at Cheltenham.
Cheltenham was a salute to ‘girl power’ in the saddle, with no less than four lady riders winning races at the Festival.
Could this be the year we see the first female jockey winning the world’s greatest steeplechase?
Katie Walsh, third on 2010 on Seabass, is set to partner 50/1 shot Baie Des Iles while Bryony Frost – one of the stories of the season in British jumps racing – will take the ride on 40/1 shot Milansbar, a horse trainer Neil King believes is made for the Aintree challenge.
It would be dangerous to discount either come April 14.
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