Ballabriggs and Jason Maguire win the 2011 Grand National PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Ballabriggs switched on for big National run
BALLABRIGGS is no forlorn hope to win a second John Smith's Grand National at the age of 12, his trainer Donald McCain suggested on Tuesday.
The 2011 winner is being primed for a third National tilt having finished sixth to Neptune Collonges last year and, on his most recent run, a close third in Kelso's Listed Premier Chase on March 2.
A 25-1 shot for the National, Ballabriggs would become the first horse to regain his crown since Red Rum, who was trained by McCain's late father Ginger, in 1977.
"Ballabriggs has come back from Kelso in tremendous nick," McCain said. "It is like someone has flicked a switch. The Kelso race fits in nicely before the Grand National."
McCain hopes to have three of the 40 runners in the Grand National at Aintree on April 6. Lining up alongside Ballabriggs will be Weird Al and Across The Bay.
McCain added: "I am running out of plans with Weird Al. He does not stand or like much racing. We have kept him fresh and we will go there as fresh as we can.
"He looked great this morning and was running a nice enough race last year when he fell at the fourth last.
"Across The Bay won a Grade 2 hurdle last time and is an excellent performer - it is a question of whether he takes to the course but he seems fairly handicapped.
"I was brought up to miss Cheltenham - there is no point leaving the Grand National at Cheltenham so none of my four ran there last week."
The fourth of the group, Cloudy Lane, is being aimed at the John Smith's Fox Hunters' on the first day of the meeting, the trainer said.
"He has been left in the National just in case Ballabriggs does not get there - both are owned by Trevor Hemmings, who is a huge supporter of the race," McCain added.
Hemmings has been named as one of five entrants to the John Smith's Grand National Legends Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Red Rum and Ginger McCain, Bob Champion, Sir Peter O'Sullevan and Jenny Pitman.
The other newcomers named on Tuesday were Ruby Walsh, Golden Miller, Richard Pitman and Dick Francis CBE.
Walsh's sister Katie made history last year with the highest-placed finish for a woman rider when third on Seabass and the combination are well fancied once more. Betfred trimmed Seabass to 10-1 joint-second favourite (from 12) on Tuesday behind 8-1 favourite On His Own.
Also cut in price were Welsh National runner up Teaforthree, now 16-1 (from 18), and McCain's Across The Bay who is 33-1 (from 40).
A total of 57 contenders remain in the National, for which 2011 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander is top weight although not yet a certain starter.
Aintree's going was on the soft side on Tuesday. Andrew Tulloch, regional head of racing and clerk of the course at Aintree, said: "The ground is on the easy side at the moment - soft and good to soft. It has been a hard winter, with plenty of snow and maybe more to come this week.
"We would love the temperatures to warm up. The soil temperature is about 5.5C, while last year the soil temperature at this time was 9.5C.
"We will always water if we have to so as to make sure we are on the easy side of good."