DAVID Pipe is hoping Vieux Lion Rouge can confirm his credentials for the Randox Health Grand National when he returns to action at Haydock today.
The eight-year-old was seventh in the Aintree spectacular last season when ridden by North Yorkshire’s James Reveley.
However, he showed he could be an even bigger force this time round when collaring Highland Lodge close to home to claim the Becher Chase over the famous obstacles at Aintree in December thanks to an inspired Tom Scudamore ride.
Pipe has kept this horse under wraps since then and is now ready to unleash him in the Betfred Grand National Trial.
“Obviously the National is the plan and this is a good stepping stone to Aintree, so he should like everything and seems in good form at home,” he said.
“We waited to run him until after the weights for the National had been announced and this will probably be his last run and then straight to Aintree.
“He has not always been the strongest finisher of his races, but he is a lot stronger this year and he really ground it out in the Becher, so we hope he can do the same in the National. He jumps National fences better than park fences.”
Other trainers are also using this race as a platform for the Grand National.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is keen to see if Blaklion – winner of last season’s Towton Novices Chase at Wetherby – has what it takes to be a serious force for the big one in April.
“He is very different to our two previous winners (Earth Summit and Bindaree), but he is small, nimble and a really good jumper,” said Twiston-Davies whose son Willie will be in the saddle. “Red Rum wasn’t big and this lad is clever over his fences.”
Meanwhile, Colin Tizzard reports Cue Card in tip-top shape as the admirable 11-year-old bids to win the Betfair Ascot Chase for a second time.
Though Cue Card is dropping back in trip, Tizzard believes it is an ideal prep race for next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“It’s a race we’ve always planned on going to. He’s favourite and it’s a lovely race for him,” he said.
“He’s been pretty effective over two-miles-five all his life. It doesn’t hold any fears and I’m looking forward to running him. Everything’s gone fine. Paddy (Brennan) came in and schooled him this week.
“We’ve taken him out of the Ryanair as we didn’t want to think about it. We’re going for this and then the Gold Cup, all being well.”
Cue Card’s rivals include Irish Cavalier who won Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase last October when Tizzard’s charge was a disappointing third.
However, Irish Cavalier, ridden by Jonathan Moore and trained by Rebecca Curtis, has failed to live up to this form in two subsequent starts and the soft going will not help.
“Irish Cavalier is better on good ground, but I didn’t want to leave him from the beginning of December to Cheltenham with no run,” said Curtis. “He may handle it, but I don’t think he’ll be at his best on that ground.”