IF Paul Nicholls trains the Grand National winner, it will not be the first time that the race has saved the champion trainer’s season, writes Tom Richmond.
The narrow victory of Neptune Collonges in 2012 by the shortest of short-heads was sufficient for him to retain his title after Nicky Henderson threatened to end his strangehold.
Now Nicholls, who wears his heart on the proverbial sleeve, might need one of his six runners to prevail to repel the challenge of Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins.
The most intriguing of the Nicholls sextet is two-time King George winner Silviniaco Conti. “I have always thought that Conti would be a National prospect and he is very much in the mould of Neptune Collonges, maybe a little more classy,” said Nicholls.
“He’s been given a chance by the handicapper. You’ve got to be excited about his chance and he is our main hope. Unioniste wasn’t quite right last year and lost his confidence jumping. We’ve got that back, he won well at Kelso and ran well behind Many Clouds the other day.
“If he could be anywhere near them jumping the third-last, he’ll definitely gallop all the way to the line. He’s definitely got a chance.
“Wonderful Charm loves good ground and there was no point wasting our time running him during the winter. Just A Par stays well and, as long as the ground is not too bad and he gets jumping, he is not without a chance.
“Rocky Creek has been disappointing. He seems to run his best race first time up. If he was back to his very best, he’d have a chance, but there is a big question mark in my mind.”
Black Thunder is Nicholls’ sixth hopeful, and will be ridden by top amateur Sam Waley-Cohen after being sold at the sales to a syndicate that includes the jockey’s father Robert.