Colin Tizzard started the Randox Health Grand National Festival with a bang and now he is eyeing a first success in the world’s greatest steeplechase with The Dutchman.
Last year the Dorset handler ended the three-day extravaganza on Merseyside as leading trainer with five winners. He had three in three days at Aintree Racecourse in 2016.
And after Finian’s Oscar grabbed the opener of the Aintree meeting, the Big Buck’s Celebration Manifesto Novices’ Chase, it appears he has picked up where he left off.
Having also won a first Cheltenham Gold Cup with the superb Native River at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, he will bid to become the first trainer to win both races in the same season since Fred Rimell in 1976 (Royal Frolic – Gold Cup; Rag Trade – National).
The Dutchman is a best-priced 33-1 on Betfair, having won the Grade Two Peter Marsh Chase at Aintree’s sister track at Haydock in January on only his third start since joining Tizzard’s stable, having previously been trained in Scotland by Sandy Thomson.
He was pulled up in a gruelling Betfred Grand National Trial in testing conditions back at Haydock in February.
But he has been given time to recover and having been tested over some Grand National-style fences at fellow trainer David Pipe’s Pond House stables, Tizzard’s believes he is ready for the Aintree challenge.
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He said: “It has gone real good, he is in good form. He went down to David Pipe’s (stable, to work over Grand National-style fences). We needed to tick all the boxes. The fences are made up of spruce and it has done him no harm to have a day away. A morning away and he is in good form. He went flat out and the boys, (assistant trainer and son) Joe (Tizzard), David Pipe and (jockey) Harry (Cobden) were having a bit of fun.”
He said: “I think he has got a chance. It is a very big handicap nowadays. The fences are more horse friendly and he is there to win it. But it is still a hard race to win. To get round is an an achievement. So if he gets round and he hasn’t got any issues with him we will be pleased.
“He is a wonderful horse. He will love the ground, he is a strong stayer. He didn’t like the heavy ground last time. It was very heavy but he has come out of that great. So we are hopeful.”
Tizzard continues to have success at the biggest meetings and at Aintree in particular and is looking forward to keeping that going on the final two days on Merseyside.
He said: “We had a great meeting last year – I couldn’t believe it. It has been a brilliant start and hopefully it can continue.”
Just one horse was withdrawn at the 48-hour declaration stage on Thursday, the Nicky Henderson-trained Gold Present.
The soft ground at Aintree was the reason behind the withdrawal and he will instead head to Ayr for the Scottish Grand National a week on Saturday.
Henderson said: “It wouldn’t be fair to Gold Present to run on that ground. He would hate it. He will head to Scotland.”
His withdrawal meant that Noel Meade’s Road To Riches just sneaked into the race at the bottom of the 40-runner field.
The four reserves in order are Thunder And Roses, Delusionofgrandeur, Walk In The Mill and Vintage Clouds.
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If any of the top 40 are taken out before the cut-off of 1pm on Friday, they will be replaced by a reserve with former Irish Grand National Thunder And Roses – from the Mouse Morris stable – the first reserve.
The Last Samuri is all set for a third crack at the Grand National and trainer Kim Bailey believes he is just as good as when he finished second to Rule The World two years ago. Although he concedes he has a lot of weight this time as he is carrying 3lb off top weight on 11st7lb.
Now a 10-year-old The Last Samuri finished his third fellow Grand National hopeful Tiger Roll in the Cross Country at Cheltenham last time and is a best-priced 18-1 with William Hill.
Bailey, who won the Grand National with Mr Frisk in 1990, said: “I’m very happy with his preparation and I thought he ran a fantastic race in the Cross Country.
“He’s as good as he was two years ago, but unfortunately he’s carrying nearly a stone more than he was then, which makes it difficult.”
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Minella Rocco, runner-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year, will shoulder top weight of 11st10lb in the Grand National under Noel Fehily.
The eight-year-old is a best-priced 20-1 with William Hill.
Blaklion is one of two runners for Nigel Twiston-Davies after he finished fourth in last year’s race and he will be joined by stablemate Double Ross.
Gordon Elliott will aim to cap an great season with Tiger Roll, Ucello Conti and the 13-year-old Bless The Wings his three as he bids to win the National for a second time 11 years on from Silver Birch’s success.
Bless The Wings is not the only teenager in the race as fellow 13-year-old Raz De Maree will try to add to the Welsh National win in January when he was ridden by James Bowen.
This time Bowen rides Shantou Flyer for Richard Hobson and his owner Southport solicitor Carl Hinchy, while his elder brother Sean will be on Warriors Tale for Paul Nicholls, who also runs the Trevor Hemmings-owned Vicente.
Total Recall, Gold Cup third Anibale Fly, Seeyouatmidnight and Baie Des Iles, for the husband-and-wife team of Ross O’Sullivan and Katie Walsh, are other fancied runners.
Bryony Frost will ride in the National for the first time when she is reunited with Milansbar, on whom she won the Classic Chase at Warwick in January. Frost’s father Jimmy won the National aboard Little Polveir in 1989.
A third female rider, Rachael Blackmore, will also ride over the Aintree fences for the first time aboard the Mouse Morris-trained Alpha Des Obeaux.