NORTH YORKSHIRE trainer Phil Kirby will saddle his first Randox Health Grand National runner tomorrow after owner Darren Yates completed the purchase of former Grade One winner Don Poli.
The ambitious Yates, and his wife Annaley, paid £170,000 for the Irish challenger after Blaklion – a recent purchase for £360,000 – was ruled out of the race last week following an injury setback.
Previously trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins, and Gordon Elliott more recently, the Don Poli deal was completed last night at Aintree.
The eight-time winner, who has not won since December 2015, was being kept at stables at the Merseyside track where Catterick-based Kirby is overseeing final preparations.
It is expected leading amateur rider Patrick Mullins, who had been previously booked to ride the 10-year-old, will partner the 10-year-old.
Yates, a north west businessman who has always dreamed of owning a National horse, told The Yorkshire Post that he only bid for Don Poli, previously owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, at an auction when it started raining heavily at Aintree on the first day of the prestigious meeting.
“I had spoken to Gordon Elliott who said he (Don Poli) was an intended runner.
“The horse has some fantastic back form, but he hasn’t had his ground for two or three years,” said Yates.
“I didn’t want to go much more than £100,000 or £120,000 but I then found out that the leading trainer Paul Nicholls, and his owner Andy Stewart, were bidding too.
“When they are the under-bidder, it makes you feel a lot better. He’s a very in and out horse who wants soft ground.
“There’s always a story in the National and something quirky – let’s hope it is this.”
Yates also had more encouraging news of Blaklion who was fourth in the 2017 National when trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies. “The vet says he’s not finished. He will have some box rest and be back next season,” he added.
The developments completed a whirlwind day for Kirby after his stable star Lady Buttons, owned by Keith and Jayne Sivills, finished second to the impressive Moon Over Germany in the Red Rum Chase.
Given the Yorkshire mare, ridden by Tommy Dowson was conceding 10lb to the winner, it was a notable run from Lady Buttons who was running for the sixth time this season.
Jockey Danny Cook, who rides the well-fancied Vintage Clouds in the National for Bingley trainer Sue Smith, was none the worse after a heavy first fence fall from Cracking Find.
Vintage Clouds was third in last season’s Scottish National to the Rebecca Curtis-trained Joe Farrell who just made the cut for the £1m race after Irish challenger Pairofbrowneyes was withdrawn.
In other developments, Mall Dini’s subsequent defection last night meant the 100-1 chance Just A Par, trained at Cartmel by Jimmy Moffatt, was added to the field. Aidan Coleman takes the ride.
Meanwhile two-time National-winning jockey Ruby Walsh has opted to ride Rathvinden in a race headed by defneding champion Tiger Roll.
Malton trainer Ruth Jefferson hopes Aintree’s rain-softened ground will suit the enigmatic Waiting Patiently in today’s feature JLT Melling Chase. Injury, and a frustrating wait for favourable conditions, means the former Grade One winner has raced just twice this season.