Patrick Mullins: Dad can spring a 'Pleasant' surprise
I am one of the unlucky ones - I have no ride in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree today - but I will be present in Liverpool, hopefully to welcome 16/1 chance Pleasant Company into the winners' enclosure for my father Willie.
We declared Sabremont too but he did not make the cut and all our eggs are in the basket of Malcolm Denmark's charge, which has the assistance of Ruby Walsh, whose record in the race speaks for his genius. Ruby has won the race twice (2000, 2005), finished second once (2006), third once (2009) and fourth twice (2001, 2002).
Pleasant Company has a lovely weight of 10st 12lb. We think, being by Presenting, he will cope with the nice ground at Aintree. His stamina is certainly proven as far as the 3m1f over which he won at Punchestown, when given a masterclass from Ruby.
Hopefully he will stay. He only has had six runs over fences, which probably rates a slight concern, but we must remember that he was able to win a big handicap chase as a novice at the Punchestown Festival.
He is a quick learner. He worked here well last week and we are very happy with him. I give him a big each-way shout.
Our previous National hero Hedgehunter won the Bobbyjo Chase, as did Pleasant Company. He may lack the class of Hedgehunter but their profiles are similar: they both ran in the National Hunt Chase as a novice.
On pedigree, there are certainly positives, as Pleasant Company is from the family of Comply Or Die. It will be ten years next year since he won the National for David Pipe, the late owner David Johnson and Timmy Murphy.
What of the opposition? My cousin David Mullins is bidding for back-to-back victories in the National and I give his mount, the Henry de Bromhead-handled Stellar Notion, more than a sporting chance.
He is in the right hands for sure and he is nicely in at the weights too. He has improved under Henry, running nice races in the Munster National and Paddy Power; he has knocked on the door in those competitive handicaps and David is quite sweet on him. The 33/1 about him is a huge price.
I could see last year's runner-up, The Last Samuri, make the frame. That he has more on at the weights is no help but horses that run well in this race tend to do so again. He ran a proper blinder last year and should be bang there again.
I also give Causes Of Causes some claims. He is an exceptional horse. While a little disappointing in the race two years ago, he was only seven then.
Jamie Codd, his rider, is riding out of his skin and the Cheltenham cross-country hero will give Jamie quite a spin. Jamie and I are coming to the end of a protracted battle for the amateur title in Ireland and it will go to the wire.
I am going to take on Finian's Oscar in the Grade One Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle (2.25), for all that there is no getting away from his promise and his trainer, Colin Tizzard, was in sensational form yesterday.
I am not totally convinced by him though I certainly would not object to having him! It's very difficult for a horse to go from winning a point-to-point in the autumn, which he did when he was still housed in Ireland, to winning an Aintree Grade One that same season.
I don't know how good the Tolworth form is, his victory over Capitaine looking a little suspect to me, and I would argue that the form shown by the Alan King-trained Messire Des Obeaux is stronger. I am going to take a chance on him coming out on top, with Finian's Oscar having had an interrupted preparation.
There is no great competitive edge to the Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase (3.00). I rode Charbel to two bumper wins some time ago when he was trained by Tom Mullins. Back then and now he had an awful lot of ability, an awful lot of speed.
He was going to get beaten by the brilliant Altior in the Arkle at Cheltenham even if he had survived two out as far as I am concerned but he was going to make him work and he should gain compensation here.
I am not surprised by how good this horse has become, given the class and speed he showed in Ireland. He has always had the toe that makes me wonder should he be ridden more for speed.
Though they have gotten fantastic results riding him the way they do, I always felt that the son of Iffraaj was better held up.
Perhaps Politologue can chase him home. The race lacks depth and his run behind Yorkhill should be good enough to get him somewhat involved.
We were not really tempted to run a horse in the Grade One Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle as we are concentrating on the Punchestown Festival, which we prioritised.
Yanworth has the most class of all of these and there is no real young, up-and-coming horse in the race. The Champion Hurdle was probably just that bit quick for him but if you go back 12 months, his run in the Neptune when second to our own Yorkhill suggests that he stays well.
I am surprised even that Yanworth is not odds-on. I think he is value at odds-against.
Snow Falcon is a good horse but he has been found out at this level. Supasundae is improving for Jessica Harrington and he could definitely give Yanworth a race, with Ballyoptic, a novice winner last year, also given some respect - but Yanworth's form is head and shoulders above the others.
In the undercard, take Starchitect to score in the 3.40, the Betway Handicap Chase. The David Pipe runner was something of an eye-taker at Cheltenham where it is arguable that experience possibly caught him out. He will be wiser here now he steps up in yardage.
In the opening Gaskells Handicap Hurdle (1.45), go with the class of Holywell. This horse beat the much-missed Don Cossack and was second to the brilliant Solwhit at previous Aintree festivals.
Holywell is down to a very workable mark and, while out of form, Jonjo O'Neill is a master at winning handicaps and keeping older horses sweet.
They conclude with the Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle and 6.15 and I advise that you go with the Gavin Cromwell-trained Highland Fling, a son of Country Reel which is improving all the time. This one has a light weight and his ally Brien Kane is a jockey with a good head; in this race that's worth a lot.
There may be a sore head or two tomorrow morning in Closutton if he does it but Pleasant Company has the attributes to win the big one. Here's hoping but if he wins, I am sure all the Mullins team will be the most Pleasant of Company this evening!
GRAND NATIONAL TOP FOUR
1 Pleasant Company
2 Stellar Notion
3 The Last Samuri 4 Cause Of Causes
2.25: Messire Des Obeaux
6.15: Highland Fling
Going into last night's action at Wexford, my father Willie trailed Gordon Elliott by over €343,380 in the race for the trainers' title and that gives a startling indication of the challenge he faces.
That he is going for his tenth successive title is not lost on him and he certainly has not given up. Winning three Grade Two races at Fairyhouse last Sunday was special - and we appreciate it all the more now.
Willie has a chance of beating Gordon, just a chance, and Sunday made it a better chance. No doubt the BoyleSports Irish National on Monday week will be key but we will be approaching Punchestown with a big team.
Douvan is in good shape but obviously missing the rest of the season; apart from him, all the top Cheltenham horses came out of that Festival in nice shape. Min is looking unlikely to make it later this month but Annie Power is in good health.
If Annie Power continues to make the progress that she has been making, she has every chance of running at Punchestown. That would be something to look forward to.