Always Waining (near) has become a favourite over the National fencesPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Always Waining in strong Topham entry
HISTORY-MAKER Always Waining could bid for a fourth consecutive victory in the John Smith's Topham Chase after appearing among 54 entries for the April 5 race over the National fences.
Trained by Peter Bowen, who also won the 2m5f contest in 2007 with Dunbrody Millar, Always Waining last year became the first horse in the race's 63-year history to win the handicap for a third time.
The 12-year-old also remained in contention for the following day's Grand National having featured in the big race's latest acceptors on Tuesday.
Connections appear to be keeping their options open, although Bowen hinted after Always Waining's Doncaster run last month that the National, for which his chaser is a general 50-1 chance, is the preferred target.
Also in Wednesday's entry are last year's Topham second and third, Chance Du Roy and Fistral Beach, whose trainer Paul Nicholls has four other possibles including the unexposed Pacha Du Polder.
Walkon and Nadiya De La Vega, who were second and third in the valuable Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, could run for trainers Alan King and Nicky Henderson respectively.
Trainer Tim Vaughan is targeting the race with Tartak, a past winner of the Manifesto Novices' Chase at the meeting and a staying-on third in the last week's Byrne Group Plate.
"Tartak had a stretch and canter yesterday morning and he seems in great old nick," said Vaughan. "If we can get him in the John Smith's Topham Chase, he will definitely run."
Tim Vaughan: "Tartak seems to be in the form of his life"PICTURE: David Dew
"That seems to be his trip and if we get some drying ground, you never know because he seems to be in the form of his life.
"He has been running on predominantly the wrong ground all winter and in fairness to him, when he got his ground at Cheltenham last week, he ran an absolute blinder. If he took that forward to Aintree, I would like to think he would have a sensible chance.
Last season's winner Cloudy Lane, Vic Venturi and Cottage Oak are among 35 entries for the John Smith's Fox Hunters' Chase at Aintree on April 4.
Warne, trained in Northern Ireland by Brian Hamilton, has been in good form this season, having won over a similar trip at Fairyhouse last month in impressive fashion by five and a half lengths.
Hamilton said: "The plan is to run Warne in the John Smith's Fox Hunters' Chase. He has been in very good form since his win at Fairyhouse and we decided straight after to let him take his chance at Aintree.
"The reason we did not go to Cheltenham with him is because three miles, two and a half furlongs is too far for him. He is quite trip dependent and that is why we planned to go to Aintree - we never even thought about going to Cheltenham."