After the drama of Cheltenham Festival, the attention of the National Hunt campaign turns to the Grand National. One For Arthur will not be competing at the event, leaving the door open for a new champion to enter the winners’ enclosure at Aintree.
Colin Tizzard was the triumphant party in the major race at Cheltenham as Native River won the Gold Cup. However, two of the leading trainers of the National Hunt circuit, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Willie Mullings, will aim to hit back at the National and end their respective droughts.
It has been 15 years since Twiston-Davies produced a winner in the Grand National. Binaree was the last of his charges to triumph, which came back in 2002. However, he has a fine chance to end his losing streak, with Blaklion considered the leading contender to win the crown.
As of 22nd March, the bay gelding has odds of 10/1 with Betway to secure the win, although he will face tough competition to get over the line as Mullins also bids to end his wait for the National. Total Recall underwhelmed in the Gold Cup but could be the one to challenge Blaklion and win the race for the first time in 12 years for Mullins.
Twiston-Davies’ charge was considered the favourite for the National last season, despite finishing second in the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock Park in his last outing before the race. Blaklion appeared to be on course for a challenge in the final stages of the race after moving second after the 24th fence, but he lacked the pace to beat out One For Arthur, finishing in fourth place.
He returned to action for the start of the new campaign at the Charlie Hall Chase. The bay gelding faced off against his stable-mate Bristol De Mai, and the two horses duelled for the win down the stretch. However, it was Bristol De Mai and jockey Daryl Jacob that came out on top, securing the victory by half-a-length.
Blaklion returned to his peak form with a brilliant run at the Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree in December. Gavin Sheehan had his charge at the back of the field in the early stages of the contest but was gradually able to shift through the gears, moving second behind Highland Lodge two fences out. He surged down the stretch and was able to canter to victory by nine lengths, highlighting his speed in the final furlong.
Tough conditions hampered almost all of the competitors in the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock Park in February. Only three horses managed to complete the race, with Yala Enki managing to battle his way to victory by an overwhelming margin, although Blaklion emerged with second place. It will still take a fine performance from jockey and the nine-year-old to pull off the victory for Twiston-Davies.
The Irish horse passed into the hands of Mullins at the start of the 2017/18 National Hunt campaign. In his first race under his new trainer, Total Recall put forward a fine performance to secure victory at the Munster National Handicap Chase, winning the race by seven lengths.
Due to the result, the bay gelding was considered the leading contender for the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase. As Ruby Walsh was sidelined due to injury, Paul Townsend took the reins and was able to guide the eight-year-old to victory, although he was pushed all the way by Whisper. The two horses battled down the final furlong, but Total Recall was able to defeat his rival by a nose.
Mullins’ charge entered the William Fry Handicap Hurdle with momentum and, with Townend once again in the saddle, he made a steady start to the race. The Irish horse upped the ante from the fifth fence and was able to see out the victory with relative ease, finishing three lengths ahead of Oscar Knight.
Total Recall was entered into the Gold Cup, despite Mullins lining up the National for his charge. However, he and the rest of the field were blown away by the performances of Native River and Might Bite. The Irish horse fell three fences from the end of the meet after labouring, although he was able to get spring back up, much to the relief of his trainer. Mullins will be hopeful that his charge’s performance in the Gold Cup will not affect a potential charge for the National.