Gold Cup pair have Grand ambitions
CHELTENHAM Gold Cup form will be rigorously tested in next month's Aintree Grand National, with both What A Friend and Tidal Bay confirmed for the big race.
The Paul Nicholls-trained What A Friend -- part-owned by Alex Ferguson -- finished fourth behind Long Run, while Howard Johnson's Tidal Bay was a few lengths back in sixth.
Nicholls has confirmed that What A Friend will run and that Wexford jockey Daryl Jacob will again be in the saddle. "I'm delighted to keep the ride and I thought he ran a cracking race in the Gold Cup," said Jacob. "He stayed on really well, jumped really well and I got a great ride off him."
Despite finishing behind the Nicholls horse at Cheltenham, Tidal Bay will carry 3lb more but Johnson remains optimistic. "He has come out of Cheltenham grand and goes to Liverpool," said the veteran trainer.
"He doesn't over-exert himself and is bouncing. It was a bit lively for him at Cheltenham and if they had had a bit more rain, he might have finished fourth."
Last year's winner Don't Push It heads the 74 remaining entries for the April 9 showpiece. Jonjo O'Neill's 11-year-old gave Tony McCoy an emotional first success in the world's most famous steeplechase last year, but will be forced to concede weight all round to his rivals this time.
The ante-post favourite is the Willie Mullins-trained The Midnight Club, while Oscar Time will bid to give Robert and Sam Waley-Cohen a huge double following last week's Gold Cup success of Long Run.
Big Fella Thanks -- fourth last year when trained by Nicholls -- enjoyed a gentle canter alongside the course at an Aintree press day, joined by stablemate Watch My Back.
The horse's current trainer, Ferdy Murphy, is thrilled with the condition of the track and feels his charge is better equipped to handle the four-and-a-half-mile trip this season.
"He's strengthened up a lot more this year and his two prep runs went according to plan. I think he would have a very good chance," said Murphy.
"We will ride him more conservatively this year. To be fair to Barry (Geraghty), he was thrust into the race after Ruby (Walsh) got injured and the horse ran with the choke out a little bit.
"Hopefully we'll ride him the same way Graham (Lee) did when he won on Amberleigh House -- that is to hunt away and leave it late."
Senior handicapper Phil Smith burnt the midnight oil framing the weights for the great race but believes other factors will come into play.
He said: "There are seven or eight 'well in' at the weights, including Silver By Nature, Quinz, Arbor Supreme, What A Friend and In Compliance.
"That said, over the last seven years there's only been one horse which has been well in that has won the race, which is Comply Or Die. Luck in running is just as important as having a few pounds in hand of handicapper."
Clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch says watering will be considered if dry conditions persist, with projections at good to soft on the National course.
Meanwhile, Paul Nolan has yet to decide on the next plan of attack for his Cheltenham Jewson Novices' Chase hero Noble Prince.
"We have a few decisions to make now about what race we go for. We could stick to two and a half (miles) in the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse, or we could go for the two-mile novice or the three-mile novice at Punchestown," he said.
Doctors are to examine the results of an MRI scan before deciding the next course of action for jockey Rodi Greene.
Greene displaced a bone in his neck and is unable to fully manoeuvre his right arm after being unseated in a bad fall at Lingfield on Monday.
The 41-year-old remains in a special care unit at East Surrey Hospital in Redhill, although he may be moved to St George's Hospital in Tooting if doctors feel an operation is required.