Arthur is just one of the National hopefuls on show as eyes divert to Aintree
It may not have escaped your attention the Cheltenham Festival is just around the corner – but on this particular Saturday we look forward to not the Gold Cup or Champion Hurdle but the greatest of all horseraces.
We are just five weeks away from the Randox Health Grand National, to which runners at Newbury, Kelso and Doncaster are all aiming to head after their latest assignments.
At this week's forfeit stage 100 horses were left in the National. No less than 13 of them are due to run on Saturday, including 2017 hero One For Arthur, who will be joined by fellow Aintree hopefuls Black Corton and Captain Redbeard in the Belhaven Brewery Premier Chase at Kelso.
Doncaster's 888Sport Grimthorpe Chase is a recognised trial but has this year attracted only one National entry in Looking Well, who has little chance of making the big-race line-up given his position of 93 in the entry order.
Much more obvious candidates are former National runner-up The Last Samuri and Abolitionist, both starters in Newbury's veterans' chase, which has attracted four other Aintree entries in Joe Farrell, Milansbar, Carole's Destrier and Ziga Boy.
Warriors Tale and Master Dee also put their credentials on the line at Newbury in the William Hill-backed Greatwood Gold Cup, while one of Ireland's aspirants, Mr Diablo, races at Navan.
Completing the menu are all-weather cards at Chelmsford and Lingfield, where the hat-trick-seeking Deep Intrigue is one of six three-year-olds vying for the Listed Ladbrokes Spring Cup.
Kelso is where the cash is this Saturday
Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani, fresh from scooping the Broadcast Sport Presenter of the Year prize at the British Sports Journalism Awards, will be on duty at Doncaster for ITV's main channel Saturday coverage.
Doncaster, however, is not the day's most richly endowed fixture. For both Doncaster and Newbury are looking up to their fellow ITV course Kelso, which is offering £163,011 in prize-money and staging a card that is full of cash but lacking in horses.
Only 37 runners were declared for the seven-race programme, which understandably left chief executive Jonathan Garratt "appalled", not least because ground conditions are described as good to soft, good in places.
Garratt has indicated the disappointing turnout will inevitably lead the racecourse to consider its future prize-money offering. At a time when trainers and owners are boycotting some Arena Racing Company contests over complaints about inadequate prize-money, that might present interesting food for thought.
Newland eyeing an Abolitionist boost
Abolitionist is fancied by many people to run a big race in the Randox Health Grand National but at the moment he is not even eligible to run in it. That should change at Newbury.
To participate in the Aintree spectacular a horse must have started at least once over fences during the current season prior to March 19. Abolitionist, last seen over fences finishing third in the 2017 Irish Grand National when based with Ellmarie Holden, is set to achieve that requirement in the nick of time.
The now 11-year-old made a successful winning debut for Richard Newland when running away with a handicap hurdle at Aintree in November. A return to that venue is very much on the mind of his trainer and also joint-owner John Provan, who combined with Newland to land the 2014 Grand National with another Irish acquisition, Pineau De Re.
Their latest challenger is a best-priced 33-1 shot for the £1 million showpiece but is currently only joint-55th in the order of entry on 10st 1lb.
"I'm hoping to see him finish in the first three or four, and that's certainly what we would want to see if he is going to be competitive at Aintree," said Newland.
"He has to have a run over fences and this is it. We would have run in the Ascot Chase if he hadn't got caught up in the six-month flu vaccination requirement but this is actually a more suitable race in terms of his chance of winning. We're definitely excited about his National prospects but he isn't guaranteed to get into the race. If he doesn't we could go to Ayr."
Red-hot Nicholls looks dangerous again
What happens at the Cheltenham Festival will have a huge bearing on the outcome of the British trainers' championship but there is plenty of money to be won before then – and Paul Nicholls is setting out his stall to grab lots of it.
The ten-time table-topper has been in spectacular form and enters the latest set of skirmishes having banked over £400,000 more than Nicky Henderson.
Nicholls is now trying to make this another stellar Saturday for Team Ditcheat, not at least at Kelso, where he is sending three horses on the long trip north in the search of handsome reward for his owners.
Black Corton will carry regular rider Bryony Frost in the £60,000 Premier Chase, while Getaway Trump lines up in the £50,000 Premier Hurdle under Harry Cobden, who also partners Oleg in the card's opening contest.
Nicholls will be similarly competitive at Newbury, where he fields three runners – Dolos, Warriors Tale and San Benedeto – in the £50,000 Greatwood Gold Cup, a handicap he has won a remarkable eight times in the last 12 years.
No hiding talent of RPR star Scroll
Khalid Abdullah has not exactly been short of superstar thoroughbreds in recent years, and we will find out this evening if the mighty owner-breeder has unearthed another to follow in the footsteps of Frankel, Arrogate and Enable.
The Hard Spun colt Hidden Scroll made a sensational debut at Gulfstream Park on January 26, making most of the running on the way to a 14-length rout that earned a 'wow' reaction from the stunned racecourse commentator and an exceptional first-time-out Racing Post Rating of 112.
Such was the manner of a victory posted in an extremely fast time, the Bill Mott-trained colt is already as short as 9-1 joint-second favourite for the Kentucky Derby and no bigger than Sky Bet's 14-1.
The next step on his journey takes place again at Gulfstream, this time upped in class for the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a recognised trial for the Run for the Roses.
If Hidden Scroll is indeed as good as he looked last time, his latest set of opponents will be running for nothing more than place dollars.
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