Grand National now firmly fixed in Phil Kirby’s sights with Blaklion

AIMING HIGH: Blaklion and Ryan Hatch, second from right, on their way to winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in 2016. Picture: David Davies/PA.
AIMING HIGH: Blaklion and Ryan Hatch, second from right, on their way to winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in 2016. Picture: David Davies/PA.
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Phil Kirby has his sights firmly set on a crack at the Randox Health Grand National with Blaklion after confirming he will be switching to his Richmond yard.

The 10-year-old has been trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies for each of his 30 outings under Rules, posting landmark efforts when winning the 2016 RSA Chase at Cheltenham and the 2017 Becher Chase at Aintree.

Blaklion finished fourth in the 2017 Grand National, but he got no further than the first fence last year when he was brought down.

A return to Aintree is uppermost in Kirby’s mind and he will be sporting the colours of owner Darren Yates after a deal was agreed yesterday.

Kirby said: “He’s been bought by an existing owner, Darren Yates, who is trying to build a nice team to go to the nice races and have some good days racing – and obviously this horse is a great start.

“It’s very exciting to have a horse like him join the yard as the aim for us is to get the better horses and in turn go for the better races.

Date: 17th December 2018.'Phil Kirby as his racing stables in East Appleton, Richmond.

Date: 17th December 2018.'Phil Kirby as his racing stables in East Appleton, Richmond.

“The main aim is definitely to run in the Grand National, but we’ll have to see where we go in between. Nigel Twiston-Davies knows the horse much better than me so I’m hoping he will give me a hand and tell me where he would have gone with him.

“We’re really looking forward to him joining the team.”

Blaklion is a general 50-1 shot for the National on April 6.

Altior might not be quite the “showman” Sprinter Sacre was, but Nicky Henderson is feeling the weight of expectation as his superstar two-miler prepares for the defence of his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase crown.

The main aim is definitely to run in the Grand National, but we’ll have to see where we go in between. Nigel Twiston-Davies knows the horse much better than me so I’m hoping he will give me a hand and tell me where he would have gone with him.

Phil Kirby

Un De Sceaux is the only horse to have got within touching distance of the nine-year-old in three starts this term, finishing four lengths adrift after pushing him all the way in testing conditions in the Tingle Creek back in December.

Henderson’s ace subsequently secured a bloodless success in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas before cantering to victory in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot and now stands one victory adrift of equalling the record for successive wins over jumps set by Big Buck’s.

The Seven Barrows maestro remembers the pressure that went with the Sprinter Sacre years and equates the current situation with Altior to those glory days.

Henderson said: “He is all good and has been very good so far and has not put a foot wrong. He is coming in nice and fresh. He looks super and everything is going well.

“He will work on Tuesday. He will have a couple of schools as he enjoys it.

“You are always nervous about him, as you are back in the Sprinter Sacre situation and I can tell you how horrible it was then.

“It is the same factor – anything bar a good performance won’t do. It’s a fait accompli, but there are lots of fences and lots of people there still trying to take us on.

“Min is there and we have beaten him several times. Yes, he has been round there and done it before.

“It would be disappointing if it did go wrong, but you have to prepare for the fact it has to go wrong one day.

“It can’t go on forever. I know (Australian mare) Winx can, but she is different.

“She is amazing.

“You have a very good horse picking up Grade Ones and Twos, but he hasn’t been meeting a great deal of opposition.

“We did discuss the King George and if everything does go right this season we will probably branch out and do something different next season.

“He is not quite the showman that Sprinter was, but he is a very good-looking horse.

“Altior is a proper machine in work in that he gets on with it. He has got tremendous pace and, touch wood, his jumping is pretty accurate and he has got a lot of gears.

“If he was a Flat horse,he would be a very good mile-and-a-quarter or mile-and-a-half horse.”

Paul Nicholls has three of 16 remaining entries in the 888Sport Handicap Chase at Kempton.

The former champion trainer dominated last weekend with an across-the-cards eight-timer, highlighted by Cyrname in the Betfair Ascot Chase, but has resisted any temptation to run that Grade One winner again under a penalty on Saturday.

Instead for Nicholls, in the same Johnny de la Hey colours, is Adrien Du Pont – a winner at the track over Christmas – Modus and Romain De Senam.

Nicky Henderson has the current top weight Janika and Rather Be still involved after yesterday’s confirmations.

Nick Gifford’s Glen Rocco was second to Arkle hope Glen Forsa on Boxing Day and a 23-length winner next time out, both times at this track, and will aim to defy a 13lb rise.

Double Shuffle may represent Tom George – who has a good record in the race thanks to dual winner Nacarat – while Venetia Williams has left in Saturday’s Ascot winner Calipto, Belami Des Pictons and Didero Vallis.

Talkischeap, Flying Angel, Catamaran Du Seuil, Walt, Duke Des Champs and Ange Des Malberaux complete the list.