ever enthusiastic trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies was quick to correct himself after the diminutive Blaklion roared to victory in the Becher Chase over Aintree’s Grand National fences.
“He’s got this Red Rum-type of way of getting over the fences – he’s small but very agile and accurate,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “I’m sorry to use his name but he reminds me of Red Rum, although he’s got a lot do to be anything like him.”
Yet, while it’s very unlikely that another horse will ever match Red Rum’s three wins and two second-place finishes in the Grand National, a point that the trainer did later acknowledge, Twiston-Davies still believes the comparison is a legitimate one.
Like the late Ginger McCain’s horse of a lifetime, Blaklion is very nimble, and economical, at the Aintree fences. He looked the winner in last year’s race after jockey Noel Fehily made a bold bid for glory, ultimately finishing fourth to One For Arthur.
However, while Red Rum thrived at Aintree, Blaklion has more than a touch of class. He followed up his win in Wetherby’s Grade Two Towton Novices Chase in 2016 with victory in the Grade One RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival under Ryan Hatch who remains on the sidelines with a career-threatening injury.
Blaklion, who runs in the colours of Grade One-winning hurdler The New One, could not have been more impressive when finishing second to stablemate Bristol De Mai in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase before recording a foot perfect win in the Becher Chase after a protracted battle with Aintree specialist The Last Samuri.
Already ante-post favourite for this year’s renewal of the world’s greatest steeplechase, Blaklion heads the field for today’s Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock when he will have to concede weight to his eight rivals.
“He’s flying and we’re looking forward to it,” said Twiston-Davies, whose son Sam replaces Becher Chase hero Gavin Sheehan in the saddle. “I think it makes more sense at the moment to go to Haydock, rather than the Cheltenham Gold Cup, as there is a good space between that race and Aintree.”
Yet Twiston-Davies, who saddled the first of his two National winners 20 years ago when the mudlark Earth Summit prevailed, already has his sights set on Aintree after Blaklion was allocated a competitive 11st 6lb by the handicapper.
“We have the Becher Chase in the bag with Blaklion already this season. We will ride Blaklion differently this year in the National,” said the trainer as he reflected on the outcome of the 2016 race,
“Stamina is not a particular worry – I think he was beaten eight lengths in the race last year. No blame on Noel (Fehily) last year – he kicked on a mile from home – maybe if we don’t kick on a mile from home this year we can make up that ground.
“Blaklion is also still in the Gold Cup, which is tempting, but we will probably not go Cheltenham. I am not ruling it out, we will just have to see what happens. I have done some research looking at the weights. Red Rum used to win with top-weight and there are quite a few over the years who have won with big weights, including Neptune Collonges and Many Clouds in recent years.
“I don’t know whether it sounds a bit silly but Blaklion reminds me of Red Rum. He is small and very neat over his fences. When you watch the way he has twice jumped around Aintree, he doesn’t seem to make a mistake and is very agile. He seems a clever little horse.
“He doesn’t really compare to my previous National winners. I would say Blaklion is more of natural than those two – Earth Summit was a good old slogger while Bindaree (2002 winner) was a very, very talented horse who didn’t have to try that hard.”
As for today’s race, North Yorkshire-based jockey Danny Cook is looking forward to The Dutchman running a big race, and confirming his National credentials, for trainer Colin Tizzard.
The in-form Cook, still buoyed by Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Definitly Red’s victory in the Cotswold Chase last month, used to ride the horse when it was trained in the Scottish Borders by Sandy Thomson.
Cook is relishing the opportunity to renew the partnership on The Dutchman who won last month’s Peer Marsh Chase at Haydock under teenager Harry Cobden, who is required to ride at Wincanton today for Paul Nicholls.
“I’m delighted to be riding him again,” said Cook. “I won a novice hurdle at Wetherby on him, beating a good horses of Philip Hobbs called No Comment and he went on to finish second to Le Prezien in the Grade Two at Kelso, so I have some good form on him.
“Those races were over two and two-and-a-quarter miles, but he was always a stayer, so I’m looking forward to riding him over a longer trip over fences.”
Cook hopes the fact The Dutchman receives almost a stone from Blaklion will swing the balance of power in his favour at the end of this three-and-a-half mile marathon on heavy ground.
“He’s got good form at the track, having won the Peter Marsh, and seems to handle heavy ground well,” he added. “He has a nice racing weight on his back (10st 13lb) and hopefully he won’t be far away.”