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Paul Nicholls: The views on my Grand National day runners at Aintree and Chepstow

Saphir Du Rheu is Paul's leading hope in Saturday's Grand National
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It promises to be a hectic day for Paul Nicholls at Aintree as he saddles five runners in the Grand National. Here are the Betfair Ambassador's exclusive thoughts on all his afternoon runners including his two at Chepstow...


"Vicente worked well at Wincanton last week and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him bounce back here on his first run in the colours of his new owner Trevor Hemmings who has a great record in the race."

- Paul Nicholls on Vicente in the Grand National

Aintree 13:45 - Zarkandar

Has been a brilliant trail-blazer for the yard down the years and the fire still burns brightly as he showed when winning a Grade 2 race at Haydock in February.

But he is not as good as in his prime and with the handicapper showing a little bit of leniency it makes sense to run him here with Stan Sheppard taking off a handy 5lbs.

While you could argue he is well handicapped on his best form it is never quite so easy as it seems when horses like him are on the way down from their peak.


Aintree 14:25 - Brio Conti

Has come on in leaps and bounds recently and was put up 10lbs by the handicapper for winning impressively over two miles, five furlongs at a Kempton three weeks ago where he travelled with eye-catching ease.

Now rated 145 he is a late maturer who fully deserves a crack at this Grade 1 novice hurdle. Is he good enough to beat these? I honestly don't know but what I can say is that he is improving, will love the ground and the track and will make a lovely chaser next season.


Aintree 15:00 - Politologue

I've been itching to drop him back to two miles and this is my chance in a race that is not the strongest for a Grade 1 novice chase though in an ideal world I'd prefer softer ground for him at this shorter trip.

Politologue has been extremely consistent this season again travelled and jumped well at Cheltenham last time and was bang there at two miles before keeping on at the one pace to finish fourth behind Yorkhill.

He has plenty of speed and hopefully can make his jumping count over this shorter trip.


Aintree 15:00 - San Benedeto

Has been a tremendous flag-bearer for the yard this season, winning five times over fences and progressing to the point that he won readily at Ascot last Sunday off a career high mark of 150.

He is in the form of his life at the moment, conditions will suit, he has bags of experience over fences and this is just about his last chance to run as a novice.

San Bendeto latest win puts him right in the mix here and while it is a bit of a punt turning him out again so quickly he didn't have a hard race at Ascot and has just been ticking over at home since then.


Aintree 16:20 - Aux Ptits Soins

Hasn't been in quite the same form following complicated surgery in 2016 for a persistent sinus problem and we decided to switch him back to hurdles after a disappointing run at Doncaster in January where his jumping let him down.

He then stayed on well to finish second to Zarkandar at Haydock in February when his hurdling was also far from fluent. Although nothing came to light I suspect he wasn't quite right that day so we decided to sidestep Cheltenham and keep him fresh for this.

Aux Ptits Soins is as well as I've had him for some time and while we've done plenty of schooling with him he does need to sharpen up his jumping.


Aintree 16:20 - Ptit Zig

It was a toss of a coin whether Sam Twiston-Davies rode this one or Aux Ptits Soins. In the end it made sense for him to stay on Ptit Zig as he has won a French Champion hurdle on him while Sean Bowen was successful on Aux Ptits Soins earlier this season.

Ptit Zig is a horse who always runs well fresh and is coming here off the back of a little break after a busy time earlier in the season. He is in great shape and galloped well at Wincanton the other day.


Aintree Grand National - 17:15


Saphir Du Rheu

Comes here in sparkling form after a career best in finishing a close fifth in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and is now officially 6lbs well in after that fine run. It was a perfect trial for the National though there is always the worry that this might come a little too soon after a hard race only 22 days ago.

Stamina should not be an issue as he was keeping on at the end of the Gold Cup and has finished second in a World Hurdle at Cheltenham.

While it's true Saphir Du Rheu has taken his time to get the hang of fences and has been a bit frustrating he looks very professional now and he was the automatic choice of Sam Twiston-Davies from my five runners. A big, strong, classy grey horse he has a good chance in an open race.


Wonderful Charm

Has had his issues all through his career, most notably with his breathing, but has found a new lease of life this season switched to hunter chases. He won his first two starts with his head in his chest and finished full of running when just failing to catch stable mate Pacha du Polder in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham.

The handicapper dropped him 11lbs for that performance but unfortunately he has to run off his old mark so he is 11lbs wrong in the National. You'd have to say that strictly on ratings he faces a huge task.

But his owners wanted him to run here, he's come out of Cheltenham bouncing and the key to him is the good ground he looks sure to get.

Wonderful Charm has been trained for the National all season and I am hopeful of a good run with his jockey Katie Walsh happily okay after her fall on Thursday.


Le Mercurey

Has shown top-class form this season, finishing just behind the former National winner Many Clouds at Aintree in December on unfavourable terms and then giving the Gold Cup third Native River a run for his money at Newbury in February.

I am still kicking myself for running him at Kelso five weeks ago on ground that was much too testing. Even so he looked sure to win until floundering in the mud on the long run-in.

Le Mercurey gives every sign that he is fine now, is a sound jumper, will relish the flat track at Aintree and better ground and has plenty of experience for a seven-year-old.

While racing anoraks bang on about horses of his age having a shocking record in the National I always enjoy the challenge of trying to defy trends from the past. In my view statistics are there for breaking.


Vicente

Looks amazing at the moment with his coat shining with vitality and good health. Vicente gained his biggest success a year ago in the Scottish National on decent ground at Ayr and he has been ticking over in the winter running in testing conditions that don't suit him one bit.

He is a real Spring horse and with a nice bit of sun on his back over the past couple of weeks he looks to have turned inside out and is full of life.

Vicente worked well at Wincanton last week and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him bounce back here on his first run in the colours of his new owner Trevor Hemmings who has a great record in the race.


Just A Par

I'm delighted he is staying in the yard after being bought by Richard Thompson at the Aintree sale on Thursday evening. He will now run in the National in his colours and on his best form on drying ground could give him plenty to shout about.

Just A Par is a strong stayer who won the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown two years ago and came tantalisingly close to completing the double last April. Soft ground was totally against him in last year's National and conditions are much more in his favour this time.

He bounced back with a ready success in a veterans chase at Newbury five weeks ago and should give Harry Cobden a great spin in his first Grand National.


***


Chepstow 16:05 - Boa Island

Has been waiting for the good ground that makes such a difference to so many of my horses.

He has progressed nicely this season, has run well at Chepstow before, is better going left handed and looks to have a decent chance with his usual jockey Jack Sherwood claiming a useful 3lbs.


Chepstow 18:05 - Mont Des Avaloirs

If I win the Grand National I might not have come down to earth in time to watch this one run at Chepstow at the end of a hectic day!

Mont Des Avaloirs is a lovely big horse who is a full brother to Le Prezien and has been going nicely at home with a couple of my other bumper horses.

You never know quite what you are taking on in these races but whatever he achieves in this he is one for the future.


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