Saturday 20 January 2018

Blaklion primed to give Twiston-Davies a third National

Nigel Twiston-Davies
Nigel Twiston-Davies

Johnny Ward

Nigel Twiston-Davies is seeking to win the Grand National for the third time and in Blaklion he may have the artillery.

Forty runners will charge to the first and the noise of the crowd will reflect that this remains a special nations-stopping race.

It was so special in the minds of Blaklion's connections that they decided that the Gold Cup at Cheltenham was not going to be on his agenda, as it may have harmed his prospects of winning the National.

He started this season, his first as a senior chaser, with a solid run and he backed that up with a fifth-place finish in the Hennessy. Native River, the winner, was an extremely well-treated horse on the day.

Though Blaklion is not the tallest horse to ever jump a fence, he is better than efficient and he has an excellent attitude.

Likely if he can hang on in there coming to the last three fences, he should have more stamina than most of the pursuers.

Twiston-Davies' previous two victories in the race came in 1998 with Earth Summit and four years later with Bindaree. It is arguable that neither had the class of Blaklion, which was such a game winner of the RSA Chase last season. As a Grade One winner, a rating of 152 may underestimate.

The Irish account for a dozen of the 40 runners and Gordon Elliott three of those in Ucello Conti, Roi Des Francs and Cause Of Causes, all of which have a chance of sorts.

It is now ten years since the stable's sensational arrival on the big day when Silver Birch won the race and Ucello Conti could provide the Co Meath trainer with what is unlikely to be his last National win.

The Martaline-bred was pretty well-held in the race last year but there were positives in that run too and all the more when a close fourth in the Becher behind Vieux Lion Rouge in December.

Last year's winning connections, Gigginstown and Mouse Morris, combine with both Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses.

The last-named is ridden by Mark Enright, has the talent to out-run his price and what a story it would be for Enright to win the race shortly after becoming a father.

Gas Line Boy at around 66/1 has a squeak but preference for a fourth selection is for Pleasant Company, about which Patrick Mullins is quite sweet (see his column on Page 14). He appeals as the right type for this assignment jumping-wise and has Ruby Walsh's assistance.

Sponsor Michael O'Leary has no runner in the Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle, a reflection that Gigginstown has few in this category.

Yanworth looks a good thing if he gets the trip and the chances are he probably will, connections pretty confident on that score.

The ground was deemed too lively for Unowhatimeanharry so, in the end, Barry Geraghty had no choice to make.

While Yanworth was underwhelming in the Champion Hurdle, he plugged on all the way to the line and his stamina can probably just about last it out in a pretty winnable edition.

It is one of three Grade Ones, the Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle the first of them.

This can tell us the true quality of the exciting Finian's Oscar, which comes here fresh after being forced out of Cheltenham, but narrow preference is for Messire Des Obeaux, which was an honourable third there to Willoughby Court in a Neptune dominated by the British runners.

Charbel looks the one in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase, his effort in the Arkle so laudable despite a late fall, but San Benedeto is value at around 8/1 for Paul Nicholls, who looks to have little chance of retaining his title just now. This six-year-old ought to run a big race.

The Listed Betway Handicap Chase allows Starchitect to stretch out in distance and he has pressing claims for David Pipe.

Grand National Top Four

1 Blaklion

2 Ucello Conti

3 Thunder And Roses

4 Pleasant Company

Other Aintree Selections

1.45: Joe Farrell

2.25: Messire Des Obeaux

3.00: San Benedeto

3.40: Starchitect

4.20: Yanworth

6.15: Chesterfield

Irish Independent

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