Jim Beaumont and Douglas Pryde have already seen their blue and yellow colours carried to Grand National glory by the Sue and Harvey Smith-trained Auroras Encore.
They are hoping to replicate that famous 2013 success with their latest acquisition Portrait King, who is an intriguing contender in tomorrow’s Betfred Becher Chase over Aintree’s National fences.
Irish-trained Portrait King, 10, captured the Eider Chase at Newcastle in 2012 and fell three out in this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National when trained by Maurice Phelan.
He joined the yard of trainer Patrick Griffin over the summer, but was pulled up on his reappearance in a handicap chase at Bangor last month. He will be ridden by Derek Fox, who is regarded as one of the best up-and-coming horsemen in the North since teaming up with former champion jockey Peter Scudamore and his partner, Lucinda Russell.
Assistant trainer James Griffin said: “Portrait King has improved for the run at Bangor when nothing went right. If he reproduces his Grand National performance on ground that he should love, we would be quietly confident of a prominent showing.
“He has won an Eider and the Grand National Trial at Punchestown. He wants a real test of stamina on testing ground and there are not too many of those races around.
“Bangor was always a stepping stone to the Becher. I ride him every day and he has definitely improved. Johnny Burke has ridden him and was delighted and Adrian Heskin schooled him the other day over the Grand National fences at the Curragh and loved him.
“We have got the cheekpieces back on, with Derek Fox claiming 3lb, and I would be disappointed if he is not in contention with four to jump. Derek’s style is to drop out and hunt around, which is what we want to do.
“The owners have already got Maggio with us, who goes for the Crabbie’s Grand National, and the aim is to get Portrait King up in the ratings as well.”
The field is headed by last season’s Midlands National winner Goonyella, who came to grief at the first fence in the 2014 Becher Chase.
The 17 declared runners include No Planning for the aforementioned Smith stable which was in double-winning form at Market Rasen yesterday, and the likes of 2014 National winner Pineau De Re.
The New One will head straight to Kempton for the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day after he suffered a minor setback.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies had hoped to run the seven-year-old in the StanJames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday week – a race he has won for the last two seasons – but he had an issue with a corn.
“It was nothing, really, he just had a corn,” said Twiston-Davies. “Unfortunately, it just means that we missed a week and he won’t be ready in time for Cheltenham.”
Nicky Henderson pointed to the prospect of better ground leading to Josses Hill going for the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown tomorrow rather than the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon 24 hours later.
Josses Hill was a top-class novice over hurdles, finishing second to Vautour in the 2014 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and looked sure to take high rank over fences.
He never quite convinced with his jumping technique last season, despite finishing third in the Arkle behind Un De Sceaux, but in the absence of Willie Mullins’s trailblazer connections have decided to let him take his chance.
“We ummed and ahhed and ummed and ahhed about Josses, but it just looks like the ground is going to be better at Sandown,” said Henderson.
Nico de Boinville rides Josses Hill while Henderson also saddles Simonsig who reverts back to larger obstacles after a comeback run over hurdles at Aintree.