Twiston-Davies: I'll be absolutely gutted if Blaklion doesn't perform
Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m4f97y | 5yo+ | ITV4
It may be 12 years since a winner of this went on to figure prominently in the National itself, but a combination of decent ground and a classy line-up makes this a race entirely worthy of its name.
Blaklion will hope he can follow the examples of Native River and Bristol De Mai in forcing his way into the Gold Cup picture off the back of a big weight-carrying performance in a major handicap.
Vieux Lion Rouge has already shown his aptitude for Aintree when getting the better of Highland Lodge in the Becher Chase last November. He finished seventh to Rule The World on his first attempt at the National last year.
Scottish National winner Vicente – whose trainer Paul Nicholls landed the 2012 Grand National with Neptune Collonges after fielding him to be a close second in this race – would be extremely unlucky not to get a run at Aintree as he is number 50 in the weights.
Sue Smith has hit the bar a number of times since The Last Fling won this in 2000. She has two strong challengers here in Wakanda and Vintage Clouds, who was running a big race here in the Peter Marsh when coming down three out.
Southern raiders repelled
While the market is dominated by runners from the big southern yards of Nigel Twiston-Davies, Paul Nicholls, David Pipe and Philip Hobbs, this is a race in which luck has been a stranger for all of them in the last decade. Those four yards have saddled 33 runners in the ten most recent editions for a total of no wins and just six placed efforts.
What they say
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Blaklion
He’s been great since Wetherby and I’ve wanted to run him, but we haven’t been able to in case he went up the handicap for the National. He's nicely weighted for that. We’re expecting a big run and I'll be absolutely gutted if he doesn’t run really well.
Sue Smith, trainer of Wakanda and Vintage Clouds
They go in good form and are trying a new trip. Wakanda has a lot of weight and is only a small horse. Vintage Clouds was running a big race last time and was probably caught out by a lack of experience. They could both run big races.
Venetia Williams, trainer of Houblon Des Obeaux
He's been going well since we stepped him up in trip but he missed a little bit of work after his last run. Hopefully he'll be able to do his best in a very competitive race.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Vicente
He's not without a chance if the ground keeps drying as he always comes good in the spring. The going has been too soft for him at Chepstow and Doncaster. He's heading to Aintree, which has been his target all season.
David Pipe, trainer of Vieux Lion Rouge
This has been the plan with a view to the National and he schooled well during the week. He seems to be in good form and I think the ground will help him.
Philip Hobbs, trainer of Kruzhlinin
I hope the trip could be a positive as he stays very well. Although he has won at Kempton I think going left-handed will help him.
Richard Ryan, assistant to Ian Williams, trainer of Gas Line Boy
The plan is to go for the Grand National but it is tight as to whether he'll get in. He's working well and should go close.
Sam Drinkwater, trainer of Tour Des Champs
I looked at the programme book before he went to Cheltenham and thought that if he ran well there, this would be the next step. We have stuck by that and he's been in really good form. He's gone up by 8lb, so it's going to be tough, but he's in exceptional form.
Tim Vaughan, trainer of Aqalim
He's a little quirky and trying a longer trip. We've put a visor on to see if that helps him travel as he's been dropping himself out before staying on late. You can't be sure with him. He has been highly tried and if he can latch on early he should stay forever.
Warren Greatrex, trainer of Warrantor
He'll like the trip, the flat track and has no weight on his back. Ideally, he'd have liked it softer but he's in good form and running well.