VICTORY for Vicente would cap a season like no other for North Yorkshire jump jockey Brian Hughes.
He has a career-best 138 winners to his name, second only to reigning champion Richard Johnson in the title race.
Hughes was seen to great effect on Thursday when he won the Red Rum Chase aboard Double W’s for Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson who was overcome with emotion as he battles ill-health.
Yet, while 31-year-old Hughes will still be rueing the second-place finishes on Jefferson’s Cloudy Dream and Mount Mews in Grade One contests earlier this week, it is his insatiable work ethic – and encyclopaedic knowledge of the form book – that sees him team up with champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
The winner of last season’s Scottish National, Vicente was recently purchased by the octogenarian Trevor Hemmings whose white, yellow and green colours have been carried to Aintree glory by three different horses – Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and the ill-fated Many Clouds.
And, just like Sue and Harvey Smith’s Auroras Encore who triumphed in 2013 on a sun-soaked day, Vicente is a horse who will relish the forecast good ground under warming skies.
“He is not a horse I have ridden much. I sat on him at Paul Nichols yard and schooled him. He seemed to go well,” said Hughes who has failed to complete the National course in five previous attempts. “He is a Scottish National winner, he has a nice weight and will like this ground.”
Yet Nicholls is bullish about Vicente’s chances. “He always comes good this time of year,” he said. “He’s always been off in his coat all winter. He was the same a year ago and came good at Ayr in the Scottish National.”
Vicente is one of five runners for Nicholls as he bids to overhaul arch-rival Nicky Henderson in the race to be champion trainer in this Aintree sub-plot, a task made more difficult by the latter’s one-two in yesterday’s feature Melling Chase with stablemates Might Bite and Whisper.
Bookmakers forecast that £225m will be gambled on the National, with Yorkshire-trained Definitly Red’s presence at the top of the market anticipated to inflate this figure because of supporters of prominent football teams who play in this colour.
The race will see Katie Walsh attempt to become the first female jockey to win the £1m race after she was passed fit to ride the Nicholls-trained Wonderful Charm.
The leading amateur – third in the 2012 National aboard Seabass – was taken to hospital on Thursday with a suspected broken arm after a fall. However the injury proved to be no worse than bruising.
Another of the Nicholls quintet, Just A Par, will be ridden by Harry Cobden. One of three teenagers competing in the race, the 18-year-old had the perfect prep by winning the Topham Chase over the National fences on 50-1 outsider Ultragold for Colin Tizzard. The trainer was completing a 4,334-1 treble following the Grade One wins of Pingshou and Fox Norton for Barnsley-born mining tycoon Alan Potts.