NICKY HENDERSON fears soft ground will scupper his attempt to end his Crabbie’s Grand National jinx – and retain his trainers’ title.
After a season of setbacks to afflict horses like the sidelined steeplechasers Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig, Henderson needs one of his four runners – Triolo D’Alene, Hunt Ball, Shakalakaboomboom and Long Run – to win Saturday’s £1m showpiece if he is to overhaul his great rival Paul Nicholls who currently holds an advantage of £500,000.
But Henderson held a commanding lead over Nicholls in 2012 until the latter’s Neptune Collonges won the National by the shortest of short-heads from Jonjo O’Neill’s Sunnyhill Boy.
All four Henderson contenders completed their preparations with flying colours yesterday morning and deserve to take their chance.
Long Run will be bidding to become the first horse since L’Escargot in the 1970s to win the Gold Cup and a National while Triolo d’Alene won last year’s Topham over the Aintree fences before confirming his class in the Hennessy.
Hunt Ball, a Cheltenham Festival winner before being sold to a group of American racing enthusiasts, will be ridden by Malton-born Andrew Tinkler while Shakalaboomboom, a first runner in the race for David Bass, was ninth two years ago.
“I think it’s bound to be on the soft side, they’ll make it that way,” said Henderson.
“For Triolo, Hunt Ball and Shaka all three of them want good ground, but they are probably not going to get it.
“Long Run will cope with softer ground more than the others possibly. I accept they want to slow the ground down, but I hope not too much.
“They all finished their work this morning. They all schooled again. All went well and their prep is more or less finished.”
The champion trainer’s first runner in the race, Zongalero, finished second to Rubstic in 1979 while The Tsarevich was runner-up in 1987 – Maori Venture’s year.
Ominously, seven of Henderson’s 33 runners over the years have come to grief at the very first fence.
However Tony McCoy, who ended his National hoodoo on Don’t Push It in 2010, is unlikely to make a decision on his ride until the final declarations are made at 10am tomorrow.
The record-breaking champion jockey is poised to choose between Irish challengers Colbert Station and Double Seven, both of whom are owned by JP McManus.
But McManus’s racing manager, Frank Berry, disclosed that McCoy was expected to make up his mind “about half an hour before the jockeys have to be declared”.
Berry said: “Double Seven wouldn’t want a lot of rain. Colbert Station, any rain wouldn’t matter to him, he’d handle any ground which Double Seven wouldn’t.”
Meanwhile Kim Bailey, who won the Grand National with Mr Frisk 24 years ago, believes The Rainbow Hunter offers punters “unbelievably good value”.
The 10-year-old gelding unseated his jockey at the Canal Turn last season – he is the riderless horse that chased home Sue Smith’s Auroras Encore – but returns to Merseyside in fine spirits after claiming the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster. “He’s not a Mr Frisk. For a start he’s only 16 hands. He is very small, but he is agile and never made a semblance of a mistake last year. It wasn’t his fault the jockey got knocked off,” said Bailey.
“He was 50-1 last year, he’s 33-1 this year and I think that’s unbelievably good value. He’s got class and he’ll stay.”
Meanwhile bookmakers were reporting a flood of sport for Monbeg Dude whose owners include rugby player Mike Tindall – husband of Zara Phillips.
The former Welsh National winner, trained by Michael Scudamore, was trimmed from 14-1 to 10-1 by William Hill and is now vying with Teaforthree – last year’s third – for favouritism.
Spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: “We were expecting a move to back Monbeg Dude with his famous connections appealing to the public, but the heavyweight punters have also come in for him. We’ve seen an increase in the flow of money for the horse and also some significant wagers.”
As for Scudamore, he was non-plussed. “I couldn’t tell you where the money is coming from,” he said.
“He’s in the best shape we’ve ever had him, but this race more than any other is the one in which you need plenty of luck.