Racing / Grand National Countsown: Character looks built for Aintree test

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THE BIG, bad fences of Aintree come into play for the first time this year with the running of the John Hughes Memorial Chase, which has been a specific target for one of the runners since as long ago as November, writes Richard Edmondson.

That was when Welknown Character, one of two horses in this afternoon's race (Western Legend is the other) trained by the former jump jockey Paul Nicholls, beat the well- fancied Belmount Captain in an Ascot handicap. 'I've trained him for this Aintree race ever since that Ascot win,' Nicholls said yesterday.

After winning first time out this season at Wincanton, WELKNOWN CHARACTER (nap 3.45) established even better form lines at the same course by finishing runner-up to both Country Member and The Illywhacker. The 11-year-old's progress was then impeded when the virus struck, but this did not diminish him on the evidence of another Wincanton second, to Smartie Express, three weeks ago.

'That was the perfect prep race for Aintree,' Nicholls said. 'I've told Mick Fitzgerald, my stable jockey, to ride him but my other runner, Western Legend (the mount of Mark Dwyer), could run just as good a race.

'I was disappointed when this one was beaten at Fakenham recently, but that is a tight track. It's a job to say which is my main contender at Aintree, but if pushed I'd have to say Welknown Character.'