Lion shows his heart to move to head of Aintree market
Haydock: Betfred Grand National Trial (Grade 3 handicap chase) 3m4½f, 5yo+
Even his keenest supporters might hesitate to liken him to the Lord Almighty, but David Pipe can clearly do a good job of creating order out of chaos.
He and Vieux Lion Rouge certainly allowed punters and bookmakers to see the light in the muddled market for the Randox Health Grand National.
Ante-post betting had been all over the place since the weights for Aintree were unveiled on Tuesday night, with a variety of favourites and every leading prospect available at 20-1 somewhere on Saturday morning.
Not any more. It doesn't take a Joe Coral or a William Hill to work out what should be at the top of the betting when one of the 109 entries has run in the race, has won over the Aintree fences and has shown he is probably better than BHA handicapper Phil Smith rates him by landing the Betfred Grand National Trial itself.
Step forward Vieux Lion Rouge, who took the Becher Chase last December and is now a best-priced 16-1 – and as short as 10-1 with a couple of firms – after returning to Merseyside and battling to a three-and-a-quarter-length defeat of fellow National entry Blaklion.
"He ground it out really well," said Pipe. "They didn't hang about and hopefully that bodes well for Aintree.
"The ground has dried out a fair bit today and that was a concern; they went off very quick and in his younger years he wasn't the best finisher. Now he's a bit more laid-back and he saves a bit for the end."
Vieux Lion Rouge finished seventh behind Rule The World in the National last year but Tom Scudamore is convinced that effort has made all the difference.
"He has been a different horse since last year," the jockey said. "He went to Liverpool and it made him. He went back and won the Becher, putting in a foot-perfect round, and again today he was foot-perfect.
"Last year he wasn't really finishing his races. He was a novice in the National and he was a bit of a playboy. Now he's the finished article."
Nether bookmakers nor punters will have another chance to assess the favourite before April 8.
"He had a big break between the Becher and here, and he'll have another break and go straight to Aintree," Pipe said.
"There's always a worry about the fences but he's got some good experience there and he probably jumps those fences better than park fences."
But Pipe knows there is plenty that can go wrong in the seven weeks before the National and said: "It's nice to be favourite but I just want to get him there."
A bullish Nigel Twiston-Davies is full of hope Blaklion can turn the tables at Aintree, where his chaser will be 3lb better off with the winner.
"We'll win the National and forget about being second today," the trainer said. "He's had a long time off and that should put him spot on for Aintree.
"He was much more like his old self. His jumping was spot on at almost every fence and even when he was tired he put himself right, and that's what you need for Aintree."