Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has won nearly every major prize going in National Hunt racing but the John Smith’s Grand National has eluded him thus far. With ten of the 102 horses entered in this year’s race being in the care of the Ditcheat handler, Nicholls couldn’t be giving a clearer signal he wants to add the Aintree marathon to his CV as soon as possible, writes Elliot Slater.
With the first entry stage of February 2 having passed, most of the leading candidates for the Liverpool spectacular were present on the list, although horses such as The Package, Mon Mome, and Black Apalachi were absent due to a variety of training setbacks. Nicholls’ ten entries include last week’s tremendously impressive Cheltenham winner Neptunes Collonges, a horse with plenty of class who finished third in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Denman and Kauto Star. Punters who want to put a Grand National free bet on a Nicholls’ horse look spoilt for choice at this stage.
The John Hales-owned grey is not the only smart performer that Nicholls is considering letting loose at Aintree as he has also entered the Grade 1 winner What A friend, last year’s Argento Chase winner Taranis, a talented horse who has proved difficult to keep sound for very long, the smart handicapper The Tother One, as well as leading ante-post fancy Niche Market, and last year’s ninth-placed Tricky Trickster. Gullible Gordon, Just Amazing, Meanus Dandy and Ornais make up the Nicholls team.
The one horse who is notable by his absence from the list is the former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and dual Hennessy gold Cup winner Denman, who had been under consideration for the race. Connections appear to have decided that they will concentrate their attention on the Cheltenham Gold Cup and then doubtless take things as they come after that, with the Betfair Bowl at Aintree or event the Irish Grand National as possible late season targets for Paul Barber’s tremendous performer.