Grand plan for Mullins pair as Wylie targets Aintree
CHELTENHAM might be foremost in most punters' mind but the Aintree Grand National remains the one jumping fixture that can command more attention than the Festival extravaganza.
And the big race at Liverpool over the big fences is very much in the news as one leading Willie Mullins fancy is reported to be on target for the Aintree spectacular, which will have a new type of fence this year.
Owned by Graham Wylie, On His Own was the gamble of the race last year and was still going great guns when he fell on the second circuit at Becher's Brook.
Although he has since been sidelined by injury, Coral were forced to cut him to 14/1 clear ante-post favourite (from 20s).
"He was injured when he fell at Becher's in the National last year but he is back in full training and is coming along nicely," said Wylie.
"Hopefully he will be out somewhere in the next three or four weeks and we'll look forward to going back to Aintree with him as well."
Wylie is keeping his fingers crossed On His Own's stablemate Prince De Beauchene will this year get his shot at Aintree glory.
He was ante-post favourite for last year's renewal until injury intervened, but appeared to have lost none of his sparkle when making a winning return to action over hurdles at Limerick last month.
"He was very good at Limerick the other day. He looked very impressive," said Wylie.
"His main target is obviously the Grand National and he could have another run over hurdles before the weights come out."
If they do get to Liverpool in April, Wylie's charges will encounter a new type of Grand National fence.
Subject of much discussion in the last two years and under greater scrutiny from animal welfare groups than ever, the 'new' obstacles are to be constructed around birch and plastic cores rather than traditional wooden stakes in an effort to make them safer.
Outwardly the fences will seem no different in height, width or appearance.
However, after trials at the Becher meeting in December when the last two fences were constructed with an easy-fix plastic centre and two ditches with a core of birch under their familiar layers of green spruce, this unquestionably kinder construction will be rolled out around the course in time for this year's renewal.
Construction of this year's Aintree fences begins as early as next month. Until now the fences have been constructed around a framework of wooden stakes hammered into the ground.
It is those stakes rattling against each other, when hit by horses, which gives the fences their familiar rat-a-tat-tat sound, more like the noise made when a horse hits a hurdle than a normal fence.
Having been at the back of the field on the second circuit of a National, I can vouch that, denuded of their covering of spruce, these fearsome stakes greet you with a smile about as welcoming as that of a Great White shark.
If not directly responsible for fatal injuries they will, over the years, have given vets plenty of needlework practice.
This should be a big step forward for the safety of the race and not an alteration for the sake of being seen to be doing something – as I fear moving the start forward by 100 yards is. (© Daily Telegraph, London)