Hughes has Grand designs with duo right on track
Dessie Hughes is praying luck will be on his side when Vic Venturi and Black Apalachi go for glory in the John Smith's Grand National.
The Kildare trainer's duo completed their public preparation for Aintree by finishing first and second in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday.
Both horses have won the Becher Chase over the National fences, with Saturday's scorer Vic Venturi successful in November and Black Apalachi 12 months earlier before unseating his rider at Becher's on the second circuit when leading in the big one.
"They are both perfect this morning and on track for Aintree," said Hughes. "They ran to the pound. Black Apalachi was giving him 5lbs and was beaten eight lengths -- there's not much between them.
"Black Apalachi's last run before the National last year was when he won the Bobbyjo. We'll just keep them ticking over. I didn't have a horse for the Grand National for 30 years, now I've got two."
Hughes has not given too much thought yet to jockey bookings. Roger Loughran rode Black Apalachi on Saturday while Denis O'Regan has been in the saddle for the horse's last two runs at Aintree.
Paddy Flood was aboard Vic Venturi on Saturday and won the Becher on him.
"It's a bit early to be thinking about jockey plans. We'll just have to wait and see," added Hughes.
Edward O'Grady's Alaivan is Paddy Power's 5/1 joint-favourite for the Triumph Hurdle following his breathless success in the Winning Fair Juvenile Hurdle.
Sent off the 4/6 favourite, Andrew McNamara was content to sit way off the pace, but he moved through the field on the bridle to win by 17 lengths from Loch Long.
"Alaivan disappointed us at Christmas but was obviously beaten by a very good horse (Carlito Brigante)," O'Grady said. "However, I think today's win, and his debut win, were better performances than his Christmas run and his jumping has improved too.
"Last Wednesday was actually the first day Alaivan really pleased me in a gallop since I got him and hopefully he can build on this."
Noel Meade's Empire Theatre (13/2) bounced back to winning form in the maiden hurdle. Davy Condon, deputising for the injured Paul Carberry, oozed confidence on the King's Theatre gelding.
"Empire Theatre would prefer slightly better ground and wants three miles. He'll go handicapping now," said Meade.
Nedzer's Return collected the John McCarthy Memorial Hunters Chase, while Willie Mullins landed a double through Dorset Square (9/4 favourite) in the handicap hurdle and impressive bumper winner Day Of A Lifetime (2/5 favourite).
The latter is now an 8/1 chance (from 20s) for Cheltenham honours next month.
"Day Of A Lifetime showed me what he had been showing me at home and he'll go to Cheltenham," Mullins said. "Ground is no problem for him but he'd prefer a better surface."