Richie McLernon got within a nose of winning the Randox Health Grand National when he was denied aboard Sunnyhillboy by Neptune Collonges back in 2012, but he can finally go one better when getting the leg up on Regal Encore at 33/1.
The 10-year-old, trained by Anthony Honeyball, has had a lovely Grand National prep, starting a year ago when he hunted round for eighth in the big race, never looking like getting involved but gaining essential experience of the famous fences.
Now he’s been around before I’d expect him to be ridden more prominently and, despite his form reaching a new level this season, he’s allowed to race off the same mark of 150 as last year.
Left on that number after a superb third place in the Ladbrokes Trophy (gets a 9lb pull for a nine-length defeat by Total Recall, one of the favourites for this), Regal Encore was pulled up at Ascot just before Christmas but bounced back to winning form at the same track just after the National weights were published.
That win over old rival Minella Daddy showed that he’d improved in the past year, that he’s in the form of his life and that he has no issues with testing ground. It also means he’s 4lb well-in for the National and he looks to have the right mixture of talent and being on the right side of the handicapper.
Second in the Champion Bumper in the first part of his career, he had a profile of a horse that might be considered a disappointment considering his early promise, but he looks to finally be in a place where he can land the biggest of pots.
Tip: Regal Encore (33/1)
Thomas Patrick should keep trainer Tom Lacey’s hot streak going. He’s had 13 winners since the start of March and banged in the winner of the first here yesterday.
His Thomas Patrick is a horse I like a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win something like the Welsh National next season and his stamina will come in handy today.
I was really impressed with him when winning at Newbury last month and he seems to be improving fast.
Tip: Thomas Patrick (3/1)
In the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase, last year’s winner Ultragold could go very close once again.
Colin Tizzard’s chaser seems to come alive over the Grand National fences and confirmed the point when chasing home Gas Line Boy, again over the course and distance, in the Grand Sefton Chase in early December.
While well beaten in two starts at Cheltenham since, Ultragold is nowhere near as effective these days on ‘park’ courses and will undoubtedly have been primed for this repeat bid.
Theatre Territory, a very consistent mare this season who possibly didn’t quite get home over three miles at Kempton last time behind Master Dee, looks one of the main dangers under Sam Waley Cohen who boasts an excellent record on this course.
Meanwhile, Highland Lodge is another for whom Aintree lights a candle but Jimmy Moffatt’s veteran, who has won and been placed in three Becher Chases (3m2f), might find this shorter trip on the sharp side.
Tip: Ultragold (12/1)
Visually, there is no doubt that one of the best performances at the Cheltenham Festival was Balko Des Flo’s win in the Ryanair Chase. He cantered through the race and dismissed Un De Sceaux in style.
He is taken to deny another Willie Mullins-trained star in Min in the JLT Melling Chase on day two of the Grand National Festival at Aintree.
Balko Des Flos has taken some big steps forward on his last two starts and was an excellent second to Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase over three miles at Leopardstown in December.
But that Ryanair win was at an extra level and gained over a similar trip to today’s big race (which is actually a furlong shorter) and that seems to be ideal for the Henry De Bromhead-trained gelding.
Min was no match for Altior in the Champion Chase (Politologue held) and is one of the best two-milers around. He has tackled this trip once before when easily landing short odds at Gowran Park on his reappearance. He will be no pushover and a fine duel is in prospect.
Tip: Balko Des Flos (2/1)
Second in this race last year behind Double W’s with the re-opposing Bun Doran (now 3lb worse off) nearly four lengths away in third, Nicky Henderson’s charge seems to come good in the spring and followed that effort with two excellent seconds on consecutive days at Ayr.
Down 7lb in the ratings this season (and off a 3lb lower mark in this race), Theinval signalled a return to form at Cheltenham last month when fourth to Le Prezien in the Grand Annual despite being hampered four out and is fancied to turn the tables on the bold-jumping runner-up Gino Trail on slightly better terms.
Moreover, he seems to like Aintree having won a competitive handicap hurdle at this meeting in 2015.
The David Pipe-trained King’s Socks looks an interesting rival dropping back in trip after finishing fifth to The Storyteller at Cheltenham where he travelled strongly up to the second last on only his second start in this country.
The six-year-old is potentially well handicapped on his second to Arkle winner Footpad over hurdles at Auteuil in June, 2016 even if a little flattered that day.
Tip: Theinval (6/1)