JOCKEY David Bass believes The Last Samuri – one of the most “honest” horses in racing – could finally win this year’s Randox Health Grand National at the third attempt.
The staying chaser invariably saves his best for Aintree and is one of 105 entries for the world’s most iconic race which will be staged on April 14.
Runner-up in 2016 when denied by Rule The World in the closing stages, the Kim Bailey-trained horse was a gutsy 16th to One For Arthur last year when burdened with top weight.
However, The Last Samuri’s task in April could, believes Bass, be more manageable if the weights are headed by the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Blaklion, winner of December’s Becher Chase, and Grade One-winning stablemate Bristol De Mai, the classiest horse in the field.
After all, The Last Samuri was only narrowly beaten by Bristol De Mai when finishing fourth in last Saturday’s Cotswold Chase – a race won by Malton trainer Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red – and could complete his Aintree preparations in next month’s Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster.
The Last Samuri won the corresponding contest in 2016 and the subsequent hike in the handicap has prevented this equine warrior from winning again despite a string of gallant runs in defeat.
A brave second to the aforementioned Blaklion in the Becher Chase, Bass is optimistic following Saturday’s performance behind the Danny Cook-ridden Definitly Red who who is a genuine Cheltenham Gold Cup contender because of the Cotswold Chase’s relentless pace.
“I was very pleased with the run,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “The race went how I thought it would – the leaders would go too quick and he would just try and latch onto the leading group going down the hill and running on at the end.
“It’s exactly how it worked out – I think Definitly Red is a good each-way chance for the Gold Cup – and to get within half a length of a dual Grade One winner (Bristol de Mai) was a really good run.
“He’s proved that he loves Aintree. If Bristol De Mai runs, and Blaklion has more weight, we might have more of a chance. It’s not his fault he hasn’t won for two years. He’s handicapped to the hilt, but he’s so honest. He doesn’t give up. He’s too honest.”
Former jockey Jason Maguire, racing manager for owners Paul and Clare Rooney, echoed the comments of Bass. “We were still delighted with his run and he stayed on really well. It was a great prep run for the Grand National. He might go to Doncaster for the Grimthorpe,” he said.
Though the aforementioned Definitly Red holds a National entry, the Gold Cup is the priority – and the Grade One Betfred Bowl, Aintree’s Grade One three-mile chase, is another possibility.
The only other Yorkshire entries hail from the in-form yard of Bingley trainer Sue Smith, and her husband Harvey, who won the 2013 renewal with Auroras Encore.
Their triumvirate are headed by Vintage Clouds who was fourth in last month’s Welsh Grand National after being hampered at a vital stage of the Chepstow marathon.
Owned by Trevor Hemmings who has three National wins to his name, Vintage Clouds holds an entry in Saturday’s Grade Two Towton Novices Chase at Wetherby.
Also in the frame is Delusionofgrandeur who could feature in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh this weekend. He’s owned by McGoldrick Racing, a syndicate set up by Leeds owner Richard Longley whose colours were carried to Cheltenham glory a decade ago by Mister McGoldrick.
I Just Know, the winner of last month’s North Yorkshire National at Catterick, also features for owner Margaret Scholey whose husband Ray died last week. Their chances of making the 40-runner cut will become clearer when the National weights are published on February 13.