Just for a moment, all eyes are trained on Aintree instead of the Cheltenham Festival with the publication of the John Smith's Grand National entries.
For all the safety tweaks to the race, it remains the most famous in the calendar, and connections of the 84 entered are now officially under orders to start dreaming – no one more so than owners Graham and Andrea Wylie, whose beige-and-black silks will be carried by the ante-post joint-favourites, Prince de Beauchene and On His Own (both trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins, both a best-price 16-1), as well perhaps as the classy Tidal Bay if Cheltenham exertions don't take too much of a toll.
Prince de Beauchene would have started favourite last year had he not suffered a hairline fracture to a hip a fortnight before the big day. On His Own did run at Aintree and was travelling as well as any when falling at Becher's Brook second time round.
Neptune Collonges, who finally filled the one big gap in trainer Paul Nicholls' CV when beating Sunnyhillboy by a nostril in a breathtaking finish last year, is now retired, but the runner-up will try again (best-price 25-1), along with the third and fourth, Seabass (20-1) and Cappa Bleu (25-1).
Nicholls still has plenty to go to war with. Join Together (20-1) and Tidal Bay (25-1) will be among the leading fancies on the day, 6 April, while Harry The Viking and What A Friend, both part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, have decent claims.
Donald McCain's Ballabriggs, the 2011 winner and sixth last April, will attempt to become the first since Red Rum (trained by his father, Ginger) to win the race more than once, but the omens aren't good. It is an astonishing, though perhaps telling, fact that no Grand National winner has gone on to win another chase of any description under Rules since the 2002 hero Bindaree added the Welsh National the following year.
Meanwhile, the current wet spell continues to disrupt the programme. Sandown has contingency plans to stage an all-chase card on Saturday should the hurdles course be unfit, and will make a decision on it this afternoon. One of the races in danger of being lost is a Champion Hurdle trial, for which Darlan, Grandouet and Rock On Ruby have all been entered.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Marmalade Man (3.20 Towcester) Has shown a degree of promise in two bumpers and can spring a surprise on his hurdles debut in conditions he should relish.
Bury Parade (1.40 Wincanton)
Where the money's going
Raz De Maree, subject of an upbeat bulletin from his trainer, Dessie Hughes, has been clipped to 16-1 for the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.Reuse content