Paul Nicholls: My early plans for the three days of Aintree
Rock On Ruby comes home to win the Champion Hurdle - will it be more big race glory at Aintree?
"I think it is fair to say that we aren’t waving the white flag and conceding the title to Nicky just yet!"
Some of the biggest names from Paul's Ditcheat yard are set for Aintree. Here are his current plans for the Grand National meeting...
My possible Aintree team had an easy fortnight after Cheltenham, but we are beginning to step them up in their work now.
When I say they were given an easy time, we obviously still kept them active. But this would just involve walking one day, cantering the next, in the first week, then a canter every day in the second week and we gave them some half-speed work last Saturday.
However, this week, we will really step it up and see how the horses respond. Then we will start to firm up our Aintree plans.
But it looks like we will be going to Aintree with both a strong and fresh team, for various reasons, with everything to play for in the trainers' title.
Neptune Collonges is my only runner in the Grand National. From what I have seen there isn't a great deal of rain forecast for Liverpool in the next 10 days, but Neptune will be fine as long as the ground isn't quick.
Yes, it was heavy when he was just touched off the in Grand National Trial at Haydock in February but he goes well enough on good ground, is a Grade 1 winner, jumps well, and last year's Argento winner isn't at all badly treated off a mark of 157.
I suspect Ruby may ride one of Willie's in the race and, if he does, Daryl Jacob will take the mount on Neptune. But let's see; there is no point getting ahead of ourselves.
As I said earlier, nothing is set in stone for any of the Aintree team until they have done a decent workout at home, but obviously I have pretty firm plans in my head.
Big Buck's spearheads my Aintree team in the three miler and I must say he looks amazing at the moment. He could be joined by Poungach and Celestial Halo.
The current plan is to run both our Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby and Zarkandar in the Aintree Hurdle.
Betting never concerns me but I am told that Rock On Ruby is 9-4 favourite with some bookmakers for this race but available at over [6.0] on Betfair. It will be an incredibly hot race for sure - with the likes of Oscar Whisky, Thousand Stars, Oscars Well and Overturn likely to be in opposition from other stables - but perhaps Betfair punters are reading too much into his Aintree disappointment last season. Yes, his Aintree run last season is a possible cause for concern but, against that, he is a bigger and stronger horse this year and clearly much improved.
As everyone saw at Cheltenham, Zarkandar probably needs 2m4f now and he looks in good form too. He is no second string.
Elsewhere, we have Prospect Wells for the 2m novice, and Pearl Swan and Dodging Bullets for the juvenile. Pearl Swan could go for the 2m4f race, though; I haven't decided.
Al Ferof and Cristal Bonus, who came back with an abscess on his whither after Cheltenham, are possibles for the 2m4f novice chase, but the latter would need the ground on the easy side to run. Silviniaco Conti, who bypassed Cheltenham, goes for the three miler.
Sanctuaire could take on Sprinter Sacre in the two miler - it would be some sight to see those two tearing off in front - but we could bypass Aintree and go straight to the Celebration at Sandown with him, in which case Toubab would take his place in the race.
Elsewhere, we have Poquelin and Kauto Stone in the Melling Chase - both are fresh horses for different reasons after Cheltenham - and Tidal Bay and What A Friend for the Betfred Bowl, a race the latter won in 2010.
Throw in the likes Ted Spread, and Mon Parrain in the Topham and Gwanako in the Foxhunters', and I think it is fair to say that we aren't waving the white flag and conceding the title to Nicky just yet!
But Nicky has an unbelievably strong team going to Aintree too, so I dare say that we will both let the horses do the talking for us during the meeting and let the title take care of itself.
Aintree will probably decide its destination but don't forget the Ayr meeting has some valuable races too - as does Cheltenham and Sandown - and we have Harry The Viking pencilled in for the Scottish Grand National.
Let's just hope we get some rain soon though, to make everyone's life a little easier.'.$sign_up['title'].''; } } ?>