CHAMPION trainer Nicky Henderson’s hopes for a first victory in the Grand National will next month rest with Yorkshire-owned Gold Present.
The staying steeplechaser is set to be Henderson’s only runner in this year’s Randox Health-sponsored race, which takes place on April 14.
Pulled up at this month’s Cheltenham Festival, Nico de Boinville’s mount runs in the yellow and purple hooped colours of Harrogate couple John and Barbara Cotton.
Cotton is a well-known figure on racecourses and much respected in Yorkshire’s business community – he is chairman of Mirfield bedding manufacturer John Cotton Group.
While Henderson was the Cheltenham Festival’s most successful trainer before being eclipsed by Ireland’s Willie Mullins this month, his Aintree record is modest.
His horses have been runner-up on two occasions – Zongalero (1979) and The Tsarevich (1987) – while he has also had a third (Classified 1986), fourth (Brown Windsor 1990) and two fifths (Classified 1985 and Liberthine 2007).
In fairness, Cheltenham is always the number one priority of the four-time champion trainer, who has yet to win the English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh National.
Yet Henderson’s Seven Barrows stable at Lambourn remains buoyed by this month’s Champion Hurdle win of Buveur D’Air and Champion Chase success of Altior.
And he says Gold Present is not without a chance after travelling well in last year’s Topham Chase over the National fences before falling at the 12th.
“The Grand National is definitely the plan with Gold Present,” said Henderson. “He is fine after Cheltenham and he had a trickle of blood from one nose, but he has not shown any more signs of that since.
“We’ve got plenty of time to target Aintree with him because of the longer gap between the meeting and the Cheltenham Festival.
“He has always been a brilliant jumper and he jumped so well at the Cheltenham Festival last year [finishing second in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase] and that was one of the reasons that we decided to run him over the Grand National fences in the Topham.
“He was running well in the Topham and it wasn’t really his fault or anybody else’s when he fell at the Canal Turn. I needed to find out how much he stayed, but we’re hopeful that he should be okay regarding the trip. You never really know until you try it.”
Meanwhile Middleham trainer Mark Johnston is double-handed in today’s £150,000 All-Weather Marathon Championship at Lingfield – the two-mile contest is one of a series of races to mark the conclusion of the 2017-18 winter campaign.
Watersmeet, the mount of Joe Fanning, is attempting to go one better than 12 months ago when beaten by Winning Story. The seven-year-old is the form horse going into the race, with victories at Wolverhampton, Lingfield and Kempton under his belt already in 2018.
However, stablemate Soldier In Action, who will be ridden by Adam Kirby, has to bounce back from a below-par effort at Chelmsford.
“Watersmeet is in great form and has had a really successful winter,” said Johnston’s son and assistant Charlie. “We could have shut up shop after he won the Fast-Track Qualifier at Wolverhampton, but those two races since at Lingfield and Kempton were penalty kicks for him and he won them both comfortably.
“He was second in the Marathon Championships last year and appears to be in as good a form as ever. I expect him to run a very big race. Soldier In Action is actually the highest-rated horse in the race, so on the figures and the pick of his form at Goodwood and Kempton last year he must have a good chance.”
Skipton-born William Haggas is hopeful Second Thought can win on All-Weather Finals Day for the second successive year.
He took the Three Year Old Final last year and is on track for the Sunbets Mile.
“We’re ready for the final,” said Haggas, who won a record-equalling fourth Lincoln Handicap when Addeybb surged clear at Doncaster’s season-open meeting last Saturday under James Doyle, who will partner Second Thought.
“He’s a useful horse on the all-weather – he’s a useful horse, full stop. We don’t think he’s just an all-weather horse and he’s back to form. I’m very happy with his condition and, granted a bit of luck, he’ll be competitive.”