WEST END ROCKER (4.15) arrives at Aintree a fresh horse and is a must for any John Smith’s Grand National shortlist. Alan King’s big hope was unluckily brought down at Becher’s Brook 12 months ago but returned to the track last December to win the Betfred Becher Chase over 3m 2f on testing ground. He pulled 22 lengths clear of runner-up Niche Market, a fair Liverpool yardstick given his solid fifth place in last year’s Grand National, and West End Rocker’s connections have resisted the temptation to run him in the interim.
JP McManus’ Gold Cup hero Synchronised is actually 7lb well in here but endured a hard race at Cheltenham and his jumping has never been flawless. Synchronised won the 2011 Welsh National on testing ground but runner-up Giles Cross is 5lb better off here. Giles Cross’ prominent style of running should ensure he misses any possible carnage in behind and rain would boost his prospects.
Killyglen was still in with a shout last year before exiting at the fourth last and races off a 5lb lower mark. Black Apalachi is in the veteran stage of a fine career but a repeat of his terrific effort in the 2010 Grand National, when chasing home Don’t Push It on good ground, gives him solid each-way prospects at a big price.
1 WEST END ROCKER
2 GILES CROSS
4 BLACK APALACHI
On the support card, ROCK ON RUBY (2.50) is fancied to further enhance his status in the John Smith’s Aintree Hurdle. He was given a well-judged ride when landing the Champion Hurdle, sitting just off a strong pace, and similar tactics can pay dividends over this longer 2m 4f trip. Stablemate Zarkandar is the one I fear most.
PAINTBALL (5.05), a winner on the Flat for William Muir, has taken well to hurdles. The winner of the Imperial Cup at Sandown, he eschewed the chance of picking up a fat bonus at the Cheltenham Festival to wait instead for this competitive handicap hurdle. Tom Cannon takes off 3lb.
Another horse to bypass Cheltenham was John Ferguson’s dual bumper scorer POPULATION (5.35). His trainer, better known perhaps as long-standing bloodstock agent to Sheikh Mohammed, has replaced usual partner Jack Quinlan with 16-times champion jockey Tony McCoy.
On an interesting Lingfield card, fast-improving FORGOTTEN HERO (3.05) can add to his mightily impressive course and distance victory three weeks ago. Despite pulling hard, the High Chaparral colt quickened decisively in the home straight and he should have the measure of Talwar, who was at his best in the early part of last season before his form tailed off.
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