The seven-year-old leapt to the head of the betting for the two-mile Grade One with a brilliant display at Cheltenham in November under Richard Johnson – but returns with questions to answer after suffering an odds-on reverse in testing ground at Sandown the following month.
There will not be a dry eye in the house should Lalor prevail on the opening day of the Festival, with his previous trainer Richard Woollacott – Kayley’s late husband – having taken his own life in January of last year.
The horse then won a tear-jerking Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting. “We’d prefer it if the rain stayed away, but good to soft ground should be fine and if it is soft, then at least we’re getting fresh ground,” said the Devon-based handler.
Lalor’s chief rival at the top of the market is Glen Forsa who is trained by former footballer Mick Channon.
The mount of in-form Jonathan Burke, the gelding was rated just 114 when making a successful fencing debut over almost three miles at Chepstow in November.
However he then won impressively at Kempton over Christmas in the colours of Tim Radford before recording a dominant win over the highly-regarded Kalashnikov at Sandown last month.
“He’s turned out to be a star really. He had an injury 18 months ago which set us back a year, but he’s come back a lion,” said Channon who believes soft ground will suit.
“He’s got bags of speed and his jumping is immaculate. All of a sudden we’re going to Cheltenham for the Arkle and thinking we’ve got a good chance. He just jumped them into the ground at Sandown and I don’t think we’ve got much option now – we’ve got to go and give it a go.”
Amy Murphy feels a return to a left-handed track will be of benefit to Kalashnikov.