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Punters like the look of Ucello as gamble on Irish raider gathers pace

Ucello Conti: set to tackle the Leinster National at Naas for Gordon Elliott
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He already trains the favourite but punters are piling into another of Gordon Elliott's runners for the Grand National in Ucello Conti, whose campaign is being geared around the big day on Merseyside.

Don Poli just shades The Last Samuri at the head of the betting for the £1 million Randox Health-sponsored extravaganza at Aintree on April 8. But after the weights were unveiled on Tuesday night, Ucello Conti has been heavily backed, with several firms cutting him into 20-1 (from 33).

Elliott, who is having a stellar season and is odds-on to wrestle the Irish trainers' title from Willie Mullins' grasp, has 14 entered in the Grand National, including 11 of the top 40 in the handicap.

However, punters wondering which of his big team to focus on were given a firm steer by Elliott, who identified a trio of candidates he is intent on running.

Elliott, who won the National with Silver Birch in 2007, said: "This has been the plan for Ucello Conti and he ran well in it last year [finished sixth behind Rule The World] and in the Becher Chase. He might have an entry at Cheltenham but I imagine he'll go straight to Aintree.

"I can't wait to run Cause Of Causes as the race is made for him. He goes on any ground but better ground suits him at his age. 

"Don Poli definitely runs. The race is made for him, so we're looking forward to running him. He'll go for the Gold Cup first."

Betway were among the firms to go 20-1 (from 33) about Ucello Conti, who was runner-up to Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup prospect Champagne West in the Thyestes Chase last time, and spokesman Alan Alger said: "Ucello Conti has been the most popular horse in the National betting since the weights were revealed.

"Katie Walsh was on stage adding to Gordon Elliott's positive comments and punters have taken note. The 33-1 available immediately after it was revealed he would carry 10st 7lb has vanished and he's now joint-third favourite at 20-1."

Talking about some some of his other entries, Elliott added: "Outlander won't run and may go for the Gold Cup, while until Empire Of Dirt ran in the Irish Gold Cup the other day I thought the National was the race for him, but we're leaning towards to the Gold Cup now. He's a doubtful runner. 

"Lord Scoundrel probably won't go as he's a bit young, but could next year – he's a National horse in the making. Clarcam, Roi Des Francs, Tiger Roll, A Toi Phil and The Game Changer won't run."

Grand National entries

Outlander has top weight of 11st 10lb, while Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli are third and fourth on the list at 11st 8lb and 11st 7lb.

Elliott's 14 entries is by far the biggest contingent from one trainer –Paul Nicholls is next with seven – but title rival Mullins has five to pick from and on Wednesday said: "We will be happy to go the National route with Alelchi Inois, while Pleasant Company is in good form and could go there too "

The National is also on the agenda for More Of That and Minella Rocco despite the Jonjo O'Neill-trained pair unseating in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday. Minella Rocco departed early but More Of That was running a huge race when parting ways with Mark Walsh at the last.

More Of That was another to interest punters on Wednesday as he was widely cut into 25-1 (from 33), and O'Neill, who saddled Don't Push It to win the National in 2010, said: "It was great to see him run with the zest we know he can.

"He travelled brilliantly, jumped great and I was delighted. I'm really excited about him. We can argue about the handicap all day, but I don't think that's his problem.

"He's got confidence after a wind operation, which is important, and Aintree's the plan, maybe with Cheltenham first. He's a proper horse and the best I've trained."

Nigel Twiston-Davies, like Elliott and O'Neill a previous National winner – twice in his case, with Bindaree (2002) and Earth Summit (1998) – is positive about the chances of last season's RSA winner Blaklion, whom his son Willy hopes to ride.

However, the jockey pointed out: "I need to ride a couple more winners over fences to be allowed under the rules to ride in the National. You need to have ten in all to take part, but my aim is to ride Blaklion."

This has been the plan for Ucello Conti and he ran well last year and in the Becher Chase