Paul Nicholls: The verdict on my dozen runners on Aintree Grand National day
Paul Nicholls is in for an extremely busy day at Aintree as he saddles 12 runners in total and four in the big race of the day, the Grand National. Here the Betfair Ambassador talks exclusively about all of his Saturday runners including his sole chance at Chepstow...
"Rocky Creek looks really well handicapped now and I resisted the temptation to run him in the Gold Cup so that he would be fresh for the challenge here. He has been giving me all the right signals at home and sparkled in a racecourse gallop 10 days ago. He must have a great chance."
Aintree 13:30 - Two Runners
As de Mee
It took me a while to get the hang of this horse but he has got better and better as we've got to know him. I've been thrilled by the progress he has made through the season and he travelled like a legend last time at Sandown on his way to a highly impressive success in the EBF Final. He has done nothing but improve and has more than earned a crack at this Grade 1 race.
It is a step up on what he has achieved but as we saw with All Yours on Thursday when horses are progressive anything is possible. He is not without a chance here and will go chasing next season.
Port Melon - NON-RUNNER
Port Melon had been taking on smart company all season before winning at the start of this month at Taunton despite idling badly in front after the last hurdle. He wasn't blowing at all afterwards!
He's fully entitled to take his chance here on the back of several promising runs over hurdles. But like all the horses Graham Roach owns he is a chaser in the making and could even run in a beginner's chase at Newton Abbot a week into the new season before going on his summer holidays.
Aintree 14:05 - Two Runners
Won very well at Ascot last month on his outing since a trip to Auteuil in November. He's a horse who will be suited by this trip of two miles and decent ground at Aintree. My options are a bit limited with him as I can't run him in a handicap until he has had one more run. We might be pitching a little high here as he has to improve on what he has done so far.
Has been running well all season. He was second to Josses Hill at Doncaster in January, giving weight to the winner before a narrow defeat at the same track later that month. Ruby Walsh felt he idled in front there so we are hoping the cheek pieces he wears now will help him concentrate.
This is a much more open race now that Un De Sceaux doesn't run and Solar Impulse is definitely in with a shout on a course that should play to his strengths.
Aintree 14:50 - Zarkandar
I thought he did brilliantly to finish third in the World Hurdle after he and Noel Fehily were almost on the floor after a really bad mistake at the second last. He had travelled so well up to that point.
Although I gave Zarkandar an entry in Thursday's Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles this race has always been the plan as we know he stays three miles well and appreciates racing on a flat track. I'm also encouraged that our Cheltenham runners have been performing so well at the Grand National meeting so far.
I am full of hope that Zarkandar can gain compensation here for his misfortune at Cheltenham. Further ahead he has an entry at Punchestown and is likely to be running at Auteuil this summer.
Aintree 15:25 - Wonderful Charm
I was surprised and delighted to see that this race had cut up to only 10 runners. Wonderful Charm has to carry top weight but that hasn't stopped quite a few of our better horses winning decent handicaps this season. He has been troubled by breathing issues over the years but on his day he's a smart chaser.
He's been running against classy horses all season and I feel that both the decent ground and flat track will be in his favour this time. He definitely has a chance on his best form.
Aintree 16:15 - Four Runners
I've run dozens of horses in the Grand National down the years and still have only one winner, Neptune Collonges, in 2012 to show for it!
You can never be too confident in this race above all but I could not he happier with the preparation of my quartet over the past few weeks.
I've had the National in mind for Rocky Creek from the moment he ran so well in the race a year ago on the back of an interrupted preparation caused by a bad bout of ringworm which forced him to miss the Gold Cup. He took to the Aintree fences brilliantly that day and sailed along up there with the leaders until fading on the run in.
There were other occasions in the past when Rocky travelled strongly through his races without quite finishing them off. But he is a different horse this season since an operation in the summer to sort out his breathing. It's true he failed to fire in the Hennessy Gold Cup when he seemed to resent wearing a tongue tie. But he bounced back with a mighty winning run at Kempton in February when it looked as though he could have gone round again.
Crucially that came after the National weights came out. So he looks really well handicapped now and I resisted the temptation to run him in the Gold Cup so that he would be fresh for the challenge here. He has been giving me all the right signals at home and sparkled in a racecourse gallop 10 days ago. He must have a great chance.
Unioniste is a big player too on the strength of his victory in the mud at Sandown two months ago. He then ran a very good National trial in finishing third at Newbury to Coneygree. He was giving weight that day to the winner who certainly franked the form in the Gold Cup.
Unioniste was staying on strongly at Newbury and I've no doubt that he will relish the extreme distance of the Grand National.
It's fair to say that I wish Unioniste had not shown his hand before the National weights were framed. The handicapper reacted as I feared after his Sandown win so his task looks tougher as a result. But hopefully it is a good omen that Unioniste runs off the same mark and weight as Neptune Collonges did three years.
Some people seem concerned that he is too young at seven to win the National but for me his age is not a consideration. He has bags of experience, won over fences at Auteuil aged three and then added The Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham aged four.
The ground might be a bit more lively than ideal but if he can get into a rhythm, jumping soundly, then he will have a big shout.
In contrast to my two leading fancies my other two have it to do. Although Rebel Rebellion has won over the National fences he has yet to record a victory over three miles so stamina has to be a concern. He's progressed all season and booked his ticket for the National with his latest success at Newbury.
I'm hopeful that he will give 17-year-old Sean Bowen an exciting first ride in the National. Sean has made a big impact this season and gets on so well with this horse who is a bit of a character and pretty good on his day.
Mon Parrain has had his share of training problems and ran very well over the National fences in the Topham a couple of years ago when he looked sure to win before weakening dramatically on the run in.
Aintree 17:10 - Dormello Mo
Runs here with a 5lbs penalty for winning on Sunday at Plumpton where he did remarkably well to recover after a mistake at the last flight all but cost him the race.
Had he winged the hurdle he would have won tidily. I don't normally turn out horses again so quickly but Dormello Mo seems fine at home and is still relatively fresh after an operation in mid winter to sort out his breathing.
Aintree 17:40 - Lifeboat Mona
Ran really well in finishing third at Sandown in a strongly contested Mares race ridden by my daughter Megan. She felt Lifeboat Mona would prefer better ground and a flat track so this is a logical target.
A 5lbs penalty for winning a Listed bumper at Huntingon does not help, but she travelled like the winner for most of the race at Sandown and is definitely in with a shout here.
Chepstow 15:05 - Sin Bin
Looked very promising when winning two bumpers for us early in his career but has become disappointing and is still a maiden over hurdles and fences. A small field should help and he will appreciate the faster ground on a galloping track.
Sin Bin's jockey Conor O'Farrell rides out at Ditcheat so it is good to give him his first chance for us.