SUNNYHILL Boy, beaten by a nose 12 months ago in the closest-ever finish of the John Smith’s Grand National, has been given the all-clear to attempt to go one better this time around.
Jonjo O’Neill’s horse has been given a clean bill of health after he was ruled out of the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup – his intended Aintree prep race – on the morning of the big race following a bad scope.
However, his problems are now behind him, with owner JP McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry giving the 10-year-old the all-clear to line up in Liverpool.
He said: “Sunnyhill Boy scoped clean recently so it’s now all systems go for Aintree.”
Sunnyhill Boy, a 16-1 chance, is a possible mount for 17-time champion jockey AP McCoy, who landed the National in 2010 for the same connections with Don’t Push It.
It also compensates the O’Neill yard for the fact that Alfie Sherrin will not line up in the Irish National on Monday following his exertions at Cheltenham.
Meanwhile, the Willie Mullins-trained On His Own is the clear favourite for Aintree’s marathon after stablemate Prince De Beauchene was ruled out because of a stress fracture in his ilium.
Both horses are owned by Graham Wylie and it will be a major surprise if Ruby Walsh, already a two-time National winner, does not ride On His Own, with Paul Townend on the Mullins-trained Quel Esprit.
Both Coral and Betfred have cut On His Own to 7-1 favourite following the news about Prince De Beauchene.
Seabass and Cappa Bleu, second and third in the market, have also been shortened in the betting along with several others.
Betfred spokesman Andrew Griffiths said: “Prince De Beauchene had been a leading Grand National fancy ever since missing last year’s renewal and was one of the best backed horses in the market.
“The news of his injury leaves Ruby Walsh all set to partner On His Own so we’ve cut him to 7-1. He ticks all the boxes and his odds could tumble further.”
Denis O’Regan has been snapped up by trainer Tom George for the ride on Big Fella Thanks in the National.
The Irish-born jockey has yet to win the Aintree spectacular but he went close when second on the Dessie Hughes-trained Black Apalachi behind Don’t Push It in 2010.
Big Fella Thanks, formerly trained by Ferdy Murphy in North Yorkshire, has finished fourth, sixth and seventh in three Nationals – but doubts persist about the horse’s stamina.
O’Regan, who finished third in the Champion Hurdle on John Quinn’s Countrywide Flame, replaces Paddy Brennan in the saddle, due to his suspension.
Danny Cook, stable jockey to Malton trainer Brian Ellison, enjoyed a landmark day at Wetherby yesterday courtesy of a double on Discovery Bay and Scottish National prospect Neptune Equester.
He has now equalled the 25 winners that he rode in the 2009-10 season, a feat made all the more remarkable because he missed the opening months of this campaign with a badly shattered kneecap.