Highland Lodge targets National

Highland Lodge and Henry Brooke jump the final fence as they win the Betfred Becher Chase.
Highland Lodge and Henry Brooke jump the final fence as they win the Betfred Becher Chase.
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DEFEAT appears to be out of the equation when Jimmy Moffatt’s Highland Lodge lines up in next month’s Randox Grand National.

After narrowly missing the cut for last year’s race, the Lake District trainer is clearly determined to make up for lost time.

His horse won the 2015 Becher Chase over Aintree’s iconic fences before being collared on the line by the fast finishing Vieux Lion Rouge in last December’s renewal.

The mount of Middleham jockey Henry Brooke who has struck up a superb rapport with the lightly-raced horse, Moffatt’s enthusiasm is infectious.

“He is a definite runner. It is hard to knock his last two runs at Aintree. We are very hopeful,” he said.

“He is a big fine horse and obviously has an engine as well and has taken a liking to this place.

“He is stronger again this year and we believe the best way to run him is to keep him fresh. Henry Brooke loves to ride up near the front and this horse is very uncomplicated and likes to be up there.

“I am expecting him to win – you have got to have belief in what you are doing.

“We try and find a value horse at the sales, we cannot compete with the big owners and trainers. It is a dream and hopefully will come to fruition.”

Meanwhile, David Pipe is hopeful Vieux Lion Rouge can 
replicate Comply Or Die’s win of 2008.

His staying chaser also won last month’s Grand National Trial at Haydock to frank the form.

“I don’t think the ground will be too much concern for him over the Grand National trip. He seems to like the fences and Tom Scudamore is very much looking forward to the ride,” said Pipe.

“Comply Or Die gave us some great memories and we would love to do it again.”

With Jonjo O’Neill’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Minella Rocco an absentee, Vieux Lion Rouge is favourite with many bookmakers.

From a Yorkshire perspective, Malton trainer Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red is guaranteed a run and will be a leading player if 
he adapts to Aintree’s unique fences.

There’s no reason that he will not following a successful schooling session over makeshift National obstacles yesterday under big-race jockey Danny Cook.

There’s also an outside chance High Eldwick’s Sue Smith – victorious in 2013 with Auroras Encore – could have an unexpected runner courtesy of Straidnahanna who has risen to a provisional 54th in the entries for South Yorkshire owners Ray and Margaret Scholey.

With Ted Walsh’s Foxrock, ninth in the handicap, likely to run in the Irish Grand National, it increases the likelihood of some unexpected runners making the cut following yesterday’s post-Cheltenham withdrawals and 2016 winning owner Michael O’Leary pulling out many of his horses in a row over handicapping.

Meanwhile, Nico de Boinville believes a loss of concentration was to blame for Might Bite’s wayward performance in last week’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite seemingly had the race won jumping the last, but he then veered across the track and almost pulled himself up to a walk before regaining his momentum when stablemate Whisper laid down a last-gasp challenge.

De Boinville’s mount eventually won by a nose, but the rider felt Might Bite’s performance compared favourably with his 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Coneygree.

The jockey told his 32 Red blog: “Obviously, a lot of people have focused on what happened after the last but he actually tried to pull himself up going past the stands with a lap to go.

“He gave himself a breather there, a good breather, and I had to ask him to go on again after the water jump. He kicked on again in a manner very similar to Coneygree and he absolutely winged the second-last.

“I saw the same stride at the last but he lost concentration – he had one eye on the entrance –and put down on me. Some have suggested he emptied out on the run-in but to do what he did – to basically go from a standing start to galloping again in such a short space of time – is definitely not the sign of a tired horse. We have a horse of immense potential to look forward to now.”

The in-form combination of High Eldwick trainer Sue Smith and jockey Danny Cook enjoyed a double at Wetherby courtesy of Delusionofgrandeur and Swing Hard.