NICKY HENDERSON will cap off a season to remember if Premier Bond wins his Coral Scottish Grand National mission at Ayr today.
Victory for the horse – owned by Middleham Park Racing whose Beshabar, trained by Philip Hobbs, prevailed in 2011 – will see Henderson succeed his great rival Paul Nicholls as champion trainer.
Buoyed by Grade One successes at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals, in-form David Bass rides the horse on behalf of the syndicate based at Barton-upon-Humber.
Premier Bond has had just four starts over fences, the first of which was at Doncaster in December when he was second to his brilliant stablemate Might Bite who went on to win the RSA Chase at Cheltenham before franking the form on Merseyside earlier this month.
After having won at Catterick and Doncaster in January, the seven-year-old took a big step up to finish third to Domesday Book in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival.
“Novices have a great record in this race and he’s always threatened to be a horse that needed these elongated stamina-laden trips, even since we ran him in bumpers,” said Middleham Park’s Tom Palin.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been a long-term plan, but this race has been in the back of our minds for the best part of two years.
“It was just a case of how he took to chasing. He was bought to be a chaser and he’s clearly taken to chasing very well.
“He’s run very creditably in all of his novice chase starts and then we went to the Kim Muir, a race we won with Junior, and he performed very well.
“He’s not really done anything wrong all season and I wouldn’t swap him for just about anything in the race.
“He’s young, he’s unexposed. He’s not guaranteed to stay, but you’d have him as a short price to stay.”
Scottish trainer Sandy Thomson went close last year with Seeyouatmidnight, who was a close third behind Vicente, and relies upon Seldom Inn this time.
The nine-year-old will be ridden by Derek Fox, who attempts to follow up his victory on One For Arthur in the Grand National.
The last jockey to win both Nationals in the same season was North Yorkshire’s Graham Lee. Now a leading Flat rider, he supplemented his Aintree triumph on Amberleigh House in 2004 with victory on Grey Abbey at Ayr.
“He has his own way of jumping but if he gets a clear round I’d be hopeful of a big run,” said Thomson. “I think he’ll stay the trip.
“He’s by Double Trigger and has a stout pedigree. You never know until you try but I’ve always thought he was an out-and-out stayer.
“It would be brilliant if Derek could win. He came in and schooled him the other day. The schooling went to plan. This horse has his own way of doing things but Derek worked it out pretty quickly, so we were delighted what how it went.”
It’s been a whirlwind fortnight for County Sligo-born Fox, 24, who rode his first winner since the National when 50-1 outsider Jennys Melody won at Ayr yesterday.
Sue Smith is triple-handed with Vintage Clouds, Blakemount and Straidnahanna as she bids to win one of the few long distance handicap chases to elude her High Eldwick stable while Ryedale’s Mark Walford is represented by Trustan Times who has been a doughty performance in this race when trained by Tim Easterby.
Meanwhile Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson’s exciting two-mile novice chaser Cloudy Dream – runner-up in Grade Ones at both Cheltenham and Aintree – lines up in the Future Novices Champion Chase.
A race with a rich history, the Yorkshire horse’s opponents are headed by his Aintree nemesis Flying Angel in this fascinating rematch.