Grand National rivals on course for Aintree duel

Charlie Hall Chase winner Definitly Red is set to reappear at Aintree on Saturday.
Charlie Hall Chase winner Definitly Red is set to reappear at Aintree on Saturday.
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MALTON trainer Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red is on track to face former Grand National hero One For Arthur in Aintree’s Many Clouds Chase on Saturday.

The pair last raced in the 2017 National when Definitly Red was an early casualty in a race famously won by the Lucinda Russell-trained One For Arthur.

One For Arthur has not raced since the 2017 Grand National.

One For Arthur has not raced since the 2017 Grand National.

Yet, while Russell’s history-maker has not raced since his Aintree heroics more than 18 months ago because of injury, Ellison’s stable star has been progressing up the steeplechase ratings.

Victorious in the Many Clouds Chase last year, Danny Cook’s mount then won the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham before finishing sixth in the Gold Cup on unsuitably tacky ground.

Last month, the nine-year-old became the first Yorkshire-trained winner of Wetherby’s feature Charlie Hall Chase in more than 30 years.

A dramatic race at the West Yorkshire track saw Double 
Shuffle fall at the first fence and Tom George’s stayer has also been entered in Aintree’s race that celebrates Many Clouds who won the 2015 National before 
suffering a fatal heart attack at Cheltenham the following January moments after an emotional win.

Former Wetherby winner Kalashnikov, the mount of Jack Quinlan, is now joint favourite for the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival.

Former Wetherby winner Kalashnikov, the mount of Jack Quinlan, is now joint favourite for the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival.

Meanwhile, Don Poli heads 28 horses still in contention for the Randox Health Becher Chase over the National fences on the same day.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned nine-year-old struck three times at Grade One level when trained by Willie Mullins, including the RSA Chase at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.

He joined Gordon Elliott two seasons ago and while he failed to fire on his first start for his new trainer at Down Royal, he bounced back to finish second in the Christmas Chase and third in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Don Poli could return from a 664-day absence and tackle the Grand National fences for the first time in this weekend’s feature event on Merseyside, but would carry top-weight of 11st 12lb.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has last year’s winner Blaklion and the well-fancied Ballyoptic in the mix, as well as Go Conquer and Calett Mad.

Other contenders include 2016 Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri who could make his debut for Harry Fry after leaving Kim Bailey’s yard.

Top prospect Kalashnikov – who came to prominence with victories at Wetherby and Doncaster – maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a near faultless display at Plumpton.

After making a successful chasing debut at Warwick, last year’s Betfair Hurdle winner had little trouble adding to that win under jockey Jack Quinlan.

Easing into the lead heading out of the back straight for the second time, the favourite eventually cruised home a convincing 18-length winner to qualify for a £60,000 bonus should he go on and triumph at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The five-year-old, owned by trainer Amy Murphy’s father Paul, is now joint-favourite for the Arkle Trophy at next year’s Cheltenham Festival.

“That was fantastic, and I’m absolutely delighted – not that I watched a lot of it, but it sounded very good. Jack was ecstatic coming in,” said the trainer.

Murphy hopes all roads will lead to Cheltenham in March, of course, but has identified other targets en route – starting with Kempton over Christmas.

“He will all being well go to Kempton for the Wayward Lad (December 27) – then either Doncaster, or Warwick. You are looking at two more runs before Cheltenham.

“Dad has never seen him win, so we have got that superstition out of the way. Nothing would give me more pleasure than giving him a Festival winner.”