PHIL Kirby is in no rush to decide whether to let Top Ville Ben bid for glory in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.
The progressive horse – placed in a Grade One novice chase at last year’s National meeting – was an impressive winner of the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day under Tommy Dowson.
But the bold-jumping eight-year-old seemingly had his limitations exposed when a distant third behind Santini and Bristol De Mai in last month’s Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
That defeat prompted Catterick-based Kirby to scratch his charge from the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup and he will now be prepared for the Grand National meeting on Merseyside.
However, whether he runs in the world’s most famous steeplechase, or the Betway Bowl two days earlier, has yet to be decided between the trainer and ever enthusiastic members of the Harbour Rose Partnership who own the chaser.
Kirby said: “He’ll go straight to Aintree now and he’ll either run in the National or the Bowl. I’ll school him over some National fences, see how he takes to them and then decide which way we’re going to go.
“I just thought it made sense to sit out Cheltenham. Realistically he’s not going to win a Gold Cup, but he might have a chance of getting a bit closer at Aintree, whichever race he runs in.”
Top Ville Ben was handed 11st 2lb for the Grand National when the weights were unveiled on Tuesday and Kirby feels the handicapper could have been more lenient.
Only eight horses, including dual winner Tiger Roll, were handed a stiffer task and Kirby added: “I don’t think he has helped us, to be honest.
“It is what it is, but he’s left us where we are (on a mark of 162), whereas other horses have had a bit of help and had their marks lowered, or compressed, as people keep saying.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now and we’ll school over some National fences and go from there.”
While Top Ville Ben will not be in action at the Cheltenham Festival, Kirby’s stable star Lady Buttons remains very much on course.
The 15-times winner retains entries in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Mares’ Hurdle – and Kirby plans to make a late call on which race she will contest.
“We won’t make a decision on which race she runs in until much closer to the time,” he added. “We’ll see what everyone else is doing before we decide which race to go for.”
Meanwhile Elegant Escape heads a field of 11 runners declared for the Unibet Grand National Trial at Haydock.
Colin Tizzard’s charge has failed to get his head in front since landing the 2018 Welsh Grand National, but has contested some top-class races – including the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He could only finish sixth when defending his crown at Chepstow in late December, but is a leading contender for this weekend’s three-and-a-half-mile feature on Merseyside.
Paul Nicholls relies on Yala Enki, who claimed this prize two years ago when trained by Venetia Williams. Lucinda Russell’s 2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur warms up for another tilt at the Aintree spectacular.
Other hopefuls include Sue Smith’s Vintage Clouds who was a wide-margin winner of the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock just last month under stable jockey Danny Cook.
However, with Cook due to ride Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red in the National, he will be replaced aboard Vintage Clouds by Leighton Aspell who has two Grand National wins to his name.
He partnered Pineau De Re to victory in 2014 before winning the following year’s renewal on Many Clouds who, like Vintage Clouds, is owned by Trevor Hemmings.
He has given his blessing to Vintage Clouds being aimed at the National despite the horse falling at the first fence in last year’s renewal – and then failing to take to Aintree’s unique fences in the Becher Chase back in December.