Anibale Fly bids to bring his Cheltenham Gold Cup class to bear as a major contender in the Randox Health Grand National.
Tony Martin’s nine-year-old leads the opposition to his contemporary and clear favourite Tiger Roll in Saturday’s edition of racing’s annual showpiece at Aintree.
Anibale Fly arrives on the back of his second successive mighty Gold Cup run, second to Al Boum Photo last month after his third to Native River 12 months previously.
Twelve months ago, he had a slightly longer recovery period before raising his game again to finish fourth to Tiger Roll in the National.
Martin, however, is highly encouraged by Anibale Fly’s post-Cheltenham condition this time, too.
“He has come out of the Gold Cup unbelievably well,” he said.
“I thought the three weeks’ gap might be a bit tight – but he’s in really good form.”
Martin was delighted with Anibale Fly’s Gold Cup performance – and is banking on a less troubled passage through than on his previous attempt.
“He ran a cracker at Cheltenham and stayed on really well after the last,” added the County Meath trainer.
“He was hampered early on in the National last year, and ended up going quite wide. Hopefully he’ll get a clear run this time.”
Anibale Fly is one of three runners for leading owner JP McManus – who bids for his second National triumph after memorably providing Sir Anthony McCoy with his first on Don’t Push It in 2010.
The McManus colours are also carried by Regal Encore and Minella Rocco.
Frank Berry, the owner’s racing manager, said: “Anibale Fly won’t mind the rain-softened ground. He’ll be fine on it.
“He’ in good form and Tony (Martin) is happy with him. We’re just hoping for a bit of luck.
“Regal Encore doesn’t like it too soft, but I think he’ll handle it quite well.
“Minella Rocco wouldn’t be mad about the ground – he’d like a bit of drying ground.
“We’ll see how we get on.”
Willie Mullins has a formidable four-strong team as he bids to add to the National success of Hedgehunter in 2005.
Despite being able to call on last year’s runner-up Pleasant Colony, the Closutton maestro’s first string appears to be Bobbyjo Chase winner Rathvinden, the chosen mount of Ruby Walsh.
Mullins said: “Ruby has picked Rathvinden and he is going well at home. I’m very happy with him.
“He is here fit and well and we have been waiting all season for this race.
“He has been given a light campaign as he has been geared towards this.”
Sue Smith has high hopes for the well-backed Vintage Clouds – another to perform with great credit as a Festival runner-up, in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
“Vintage Clouds has come out of Cheltenham in good form,” said Smith, won triumphed in 2013 with Auroras Encore.
“He took that race really well, and he had just come back from a small wind op – so we were absolutely delighted with him. He jumped great and we couldn’t have asked for more.”
David Pipe – also a National winner courtesy of 2008 hero Comply Or Die – has two chances, with Ramses De Teillee and Aintree veteran Vieux Lion Rouge representing his Devon yard.
He said of the former: “We’ve liked him since day one when John (White) and Ann (Underhill) bought him.
“He probably disappointed us a bit to start with over hurdles – but since he’s gone over fences he’s lived up to what we thought he might be.”
Ramses De Teillee, only seven, has proved himself a dour stayer with back-to-back runner-up spots this season in Chepstow’s Welsh Grand National and then Haydock’s Grand National Trial.
Pipe added: “He ran very well at Haydock. That race might have fallen apart a bit, and he was left in front four out, but it’s a long way up that home straight.
“I think the owners were thinking about the (National) next year, but he’s 5lb well-in.
“He seems to stay well and has got a high cruising speed, which are two positives.”
Vieux Lion Rouge has given less cause for optimism of late.
“We found the ulcers after the last run at Haydock,” said Pipe.
“The time before we ran him in the Welsh National and put a pair of blinkers on him, just to try and light him up. It lit him up all right, and he just did too much.”
“It’s fair to say he has come up short stamina-wise (in the National), but he’s got a great track record and has dropped down the weights and is now another year older.”
Anthony Honeyball has had to deal with the disappointment of Ms Parfois’ late defection because of injury.
But he still has the aforementioned Regal Encore back for more after his eighth in the race two years ago.
“He has got the class,” said the Dorset trainer.
“He will hit a flat spot, but he will come home strong after that.”
Multiple champion trainer Nicky Henderson has yet to win the great race, and this year relies on Valtor, second in the weights to Anibale Fly.
The 10-year-old who arrived at Seven Barrows just this season after a fine career in France.
Valtor made an impressive British debut when he belied his odds off 33-1 to win at Ascot before Christmas – in the process, however, earning a hike in the ratings.
But Henderson admits Valtor does not, on paper, represent the most obvious chance he has had of breaking his National duck.
“It’s a little bit hopeful – but you have got to be hopeful when you get to Grand Nationals,” he said in his Unibet blog.
“We have been hopeful for 40 years, and we are not getting any closer!
“I hate going there and not having a runner in it – but if you haven’t got a horse for it, you can’t just invent one.”