Grand National: The latest news and views from Aintree

 

Jonjo O'Neill is confident his Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Synchronised is
in the form of his life as he bids to follow up in Saturday's John
Smith's Grand National.

With Golden Miller the last horse to complete the double in the same season all the way back in 1934, the history books suggest Synchronised is up against it.

However, the nine-year-old is in a different mould to many who have tried, as a horse who has proven the sternest of stamina tests are to his liking by winning the Welsh and Midland Nationals.

Indeed, even his trainer admits he has always viewed his charge as more of a National horse than a Gold Cup horse and just because he landed the blue riband last month, he has no real reason to change his opinion.

"He came right in time for the Gold Cup and he just seems really well. If he had been third, fourth or fifth in the Gold Cup, everyone would have been saying the National was the right race for him," said O'Neill.

"We'd have loved to have put him in a glass case and just hugged and kissed him forever but he's a racehorse and this is the race that suits him."

O'Neill never won the world's most famous steeplechase during his illustrious riding career, but has already won it as a trainer as Don't Push It gave Tony McCoy that elusive first National triumph two years ago.

Top-weight Synchronised has a history of taking his races hard but his trainer could not believe how well the gelding was the morning after his Gold Cup victory.

"He just came out of the race so good. He came out of his box the next day better than ever and he's the best horse in the race on Saturday," O'Neill added.

"He's a sensible horse and as long as he doesn't start diving at his fences and taking too much out of himself, hopefully he'll get into a rhythm. The fellow on top (McCoy) might help a bit, too."

Should Synchronised not come up with the goods, it will not necessarily end O'Neill's National hopes, as he also saddles Kim Muir winner Sunnyhillboy and outsider Arbor Supreme.

"Sunnyhillboy is in great form and he's like Synchronised in that you just hope he gets into a rhythm," said O'Neill.

"He took longer to learn how to jump but we think he stays and he was staying on in the Irish National last year. He came out of Cheltenham well."

Asked which of his trio he would ride, O'Neill concluded: "I'd ride the Gold Cup winner.

"He has a lot of weight but good horses can give weight away and if everything goes right he'll be very close. The other one (Sunnyhillboy) will hopefully run a blinder, too."

Coral's Simon Clare is anticipating a nationwide gamble on Synchronised to give British bookmakers their worst ever Grand National result.

Clare said: "He may start shorter than 5-1 which would make him the shortest priced favourite since 1975.

"The colour will drain out of every bookmaker's face, followed by all the money in their satchels, if Synchronised wins the Grand National."

Donald McCain's Ballabriggs bids to become the first back-to-back winner since the legendary Red Rum, who was, of course, trained by his late father Ginger McCain.

Ginger was on hand to see the National celebrations 12 months ago, and there would clearly be no more poignant or emotional winner if Ballabriggs can do it again.

"I don't see any reason at all why he shouldn't go there and run his race again," said the trainer.

"He's got more weight to carry, but he's a big, strong horse and if he takes to the place the same as he did last year, then he's going to be thereabouts."

McCain has a second string to his bow in the form of the talented Weird Al.

"He burst a blood vessel at Cheltenham and that's not the first time it's happened," McCain continued.

"He gives me the impression of a horse that could take to Aintree. If he did he has a touch of class."

David Pipe saddles Junior and Swing Bill.

The former is bidding to record a remarkable treble by winning at Royal Ascot, the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National.

Pipe said: "This has been the plan since he won the Kim Muir last year and we've had a good preparation. The ground will be fine and if you get a bit of luck in running, you never know.

"He's a horse who takes his races well and he's streetwise. Hopefully, he can get in a nice rhythm.

"There's rules and there's horses that break the rules, and this could be one of them.

"Swing Bill is an outsider, but he has got form over the fences and was fifth in the Topham last year."

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has yet to win the race but has high hopes for Neptune Collonges.

"He's slipped under the radar a little bit and there's no pressure with him, but he's a classy horse and has run well twice this year, so he could run really tidy," said Nicholls.

Alan King's West End Rocker was brought down jumping Becher's Brook first time a year ago, but won the Becher Chase over these fences in November.

"I haven't had many National runners, but I think this is the strongest challenge we've ever come with," said King.

"He's done plenty of work and he's good fresh, so fingers crossed."

Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins saddled Hedgehunter to win in 2005.

In the absence of injured ante-post favourite Prince De Beauchene, he saddles the Ruby Walsh-ridden On His Own, The Midnight Club and Quiscover Fontaine.

"On His Own is a huge, long-striding horse and he'll like this drying ground," said Mullins.

"He's been working well, he'd been working well alongside Prince De Beauchene all the time.

"The Midnight Club made a bad mistake at the third fence here last year and it just upset him for the rest of the race, but he still finished sixth.

"If he gets into a rhythm early on, I don't think the trip will be any trouble to him.

"Quiscover Fontaine ran a terrific race in the Irish Grand National last year and we haven't run him over fences since, but he's done plenty of schooling."

PA

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