By Dylan Jenear ValueChecker
Grand National Favourite Ballabriggs to Carry 11st
The countdown to this year’s John Smith’s Grand National began in earnest on Tuesday (February 15) when the weights for the world’s most famous steeplechase were published. Last year’s hero Don’t Push It and Neptune Collonges, one of 10 entries by champion trainer Paul Nicholls, head the weights with 11st 10lb, while ante-post favourite Ballabriggs is set to carry 11st.
The last-named, trainer by Donald McCain, son of Ginger who sent Red Rum out to win this Aintree spectacular an unprecedented three times, tasted success in this Merseyside marathon himself when Amberleigh House landed the 2004 renewal. In Ballabriggs, winner of his last five starts, including the Kim Muir at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, the Cheshire-based handler has a very strong contender indeed.
Raiders from across the pond boast a cracking record in the National and the strongest representative from the Emerald Isle in terms of position in the betting is the Willie Mullins-trained The Midnight Club, who is generally a 20-1 chance, albeit Oscar Time (10st 9lb) and Bluesea Cracker (10st 4lb) are other Irish contenders also prominent in the ante-post market.
The Midnight Club, who has been allotted 10st 13lb, made up into a smart novice chaser last term, finishing third in the Jewson at the Cheltenham Festival and filled the same spot behind Kempes in a Grade 1 at the big Punchestown meeting. The 10-year-old ran a cracking race on his sole start so far this term when runner-up to Siegemaster in the valuable Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January and shapes as though he will be suited by a stiff test of stamina.
It will be interesting to see how things pan out where Don’t Push It is concerned. The gelding’s victory in 2010 was the catalyst to 13-time champion jockey Tony McCoy finally winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, an award he should have already won in the opinion of many. Don’t Push It has failed to sparkle in a couple of spins over hurdles this season, but he is clearly being primed for a repeat bid at this 4m 4f extravaganza.
However, AP could have something of a conundrum leading up to the race, as Don’t Push It’s trainer-owner combination, Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus, also have Can’t Buy Time (10st 4lb), French import Quolibet (10st 8lb) and Synchronised (11st 6lb), who McCoy steered to glory in the Welsh equivalent of this race at Chepstow in November, entered for Aintree. Blue Square have opened a book on which one McCoy will ride; they go 4-7 that he will stay faithful to Don’t Push It, 2-1 that he will partner Synchronised, while it’s 7-1 that he will be aboard an alternative McManus-owned winner.
Niche Market was pulled up in this race last year, but was clearly way below his best. The Presenting gelding looked for all the world as though he was coming right back to his best when fifth of 18 to Diamond Harry when sent off at 40-1 for the Hennessy at Newbury in November, and will be able to race off a 7lb lower mark in the National.
Nicholls has indicated that Niche Market will have a prep race in a 2m 4f handicap at Newbury on March 5. That trip is inadequate for the selection, so anything he achieves there will be a bonus, and I’m expecting him to run a big race at Aintree, as he jumps for fun, stays all day and if, as expected, the surface is sound in Liverpool on April 9, that will be ideal.
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