National hope Last Samuri off to Town Moor

GRAND National runner-up The Last Samuri will once again warm up for the Aintree marathon at Doncaster, trainer Kim Bailey has confirmed.

The Last Samuri, ridden by David Bass, clears a fence on its way to winning the BetBright Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster in March (Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire).

The staying steeplechaser won last season’s Grimthorpe Chase on Town Moor under David Bass before being overhauled, agonisingly, by Rule The World on the National’s heartstopping run-in.

An eyecatching third to the Tom Scudamore-ridden Vieux Lion Rouge and Highland Lodge in Saturday’s Becher Chase over Aintree’s fences despite being burdened with top weight, Bailey says Paul and Clare Rooney’s horse will not race before next year’s Grimthorpe on March 5.

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“I was really impressed with him and it was a wonderful race to watch. He is only 15.3 hands and 11st 12lb was a real anchor,” said the trainer, who saddled Mr Frisk to win the 1990 National in a course record time.

“I’ve never seen a horse jump those fences as well as he does. He has been there twice now and hasn’t touched a fence. He jumps those fences better than he jumps ordinary ones

“He won’t run again until the Grimthorpe. That will be his prep race for the National.”

With 2015 National hero Many Clouds, the ante-post favourite for next year’s big race, also winning at Aintree on Saturday, Bailey believes the presence of Oliver Sherwood’s stable star – and inevitable top weight – will be to The Last Samuri’s advantage for jump racing’s ultimate test.

He added: “With Many Clouds being in the race (National) we will be six or seven pounds lower than him so it means we won’t be carrying top weight. Every pound off will make a big difference.”

As for Highland Lodge, who came within a short head of becoming the first horse to win successive renewals of the Becher Chase, Cartmel trainer Jimmy Moffatt says the horse will not race again before the National and that he is confident that his stable star’s handicap mark will be sufficient to make the 40-runner cut.

The fantastic front-runner was ridden by Henry Brooke exactly eight weeks after the Middleham jockey was left in a coma following a fall at Hexham, which saw his prone body kicked by a pursuing horse.

While Brooke, 26, rues hitting the front too soon, and providing a target for the fast finishing Vieux Lion Rouge and The Last Samuri, he believes his horse has the stamina for the National and will ride Highland Lodge slightly more conservatively in the big race.

After idling in front, he said his mount rallied when challenged and would have snatched back the lead if the race had been two yards further.

This view was shared by the ever enthusiastic Moffatt who highlighted additional positives to take from the run and how Aintree brings out the best in the lightly-raced horse.

“The time of the Becher Chase was 18 seconds faster than last year. I think it was an improved run,” he enthused. “I think he’ll go up a few pounds now and there’s the Aintree factor as well, so I think he’ll get in the National.

“In two Becher Chases he’s not made one mistake. I think he’s a horse that goes well fresh. I think less is more with this horse. We can get him fit enough at home.

“Our gallop is seven furlongs long and rises 302 feet from the bottom to the top, so it’s a real pull up the gallop.

“I’m learning about this horse all the time and know much more than I did when I first got him just a few weeks before the Becher last year.”

Not content with 31 winners in November, in-form North Yorkshire jump jockey Brian Hughes completed a treble at Ayr courtesy of Daytripper, Titian Boy and Marlee Massie.

David Pipe’s Group winning hurdler Champers On Ice, subsequently third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, is due to make his novice chase debut at Uttoxeter under jockey Tom Scudamore.