Lucinda Russell is excited to see her Grand National hero One For Arthur return to Aintree in the Randox Health Becher Chase.
It is more than two and a half years since the 10-year-old became only the second Scottish-trained winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase, with injury restricting him to just four subsequent starts.
After missing the entirety of the following campaign, One For Arthur did not make the best of starts to last season – unseating his rider in the Many Clouds Chase on this card 12 months ago and again on his next appearance at Haydock.
However, he proved he is no back number when finishing sixth behind Tiger Roll in his second bid for National glory in April – and Russell was thrilled with his recent comeback effort when fourth at Kelso.
“He’s all set for Saturday. He’s schooled well and he’s in great form,” said the Kinross-based trainer.
“I was delighted with the run at Kelso and I’ve been very happy with him since.
“We know he likes the track, obviously. The trip is probably a little bit on the short side for him – but if he can run a good, solid race and we can look forward to coming back to Aintree in the spring, we’ll be happy.”
One For Arthur returns to Merseyside just a pound higher than when claiming National glory.
Russell added: “It’s hard to know if he’s as good as he was then, but he hasn’t had much racing in between times and he’s got a lovely weight on Saturday (11st 2lb), so fingers crossed.”
One For Arthur features in a field of 18 runners, with the betting headed by the Warren Greatrex-trained Mulcahys Hill.
The seven-year-old got the better of subsequent winner Wholestone in a novice chase at Cheltenham in October, and is tackling the Grand National fences for the first time on the advice of jockey Adrian Heskin.
Greatrex said: “His form has been nicely franked by Wholestone.
“Adrian came and jumped him over a National fence on Thursday. It’s an interesting race for him – it was Adrian who thought it would be right up his street.
“Touch wood he’s a good jumper, and it’s the sort of track that will suit him and keep him interested. Off a nice weight (10st 11lb), and he’s fairly unexposed, it’s exciting to have a horse nearly favourite for a race like this.”
There are two previous winners in the field in David Pipe’s 2016 scorer Vieux Lion Rouge and last year’s victor Walk In The Mill.
The latter was fourth in the Grand National in the spring, but was pulled up on his return to action at Wincanton last month.
“He’s in good form, but it’s difficult to be positive,” said trainer Robert Walford.
“We know he likes the track, but I don’t know if they’re going to get the rain he needs.
“We’re putting a pair of cheek-pieces on him, because we just think they might help the jockey (James Best) a little bit.”
The weights are headed by Gordon Elliott’s Irish challenger Alpha Des Obeaux – last seen finishing third in a Grade One at Down Royal – and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Charlie Hall winner Ballyoptic.
Next on the list is Brian Ellison’s stable star Definitly Red, who won the Many Clouds Chase last season, but is this year being sent back over the National fences for the first time since being pulled up behind One For Arthur in 2017.
Ellison said: “He’s getting murdered with penalties in the graded conditions races – if we’d run in the Many Clouds we’d have had to give 6lb to a Gold Cup winner (Native River) and a Gold Cup second (Might Bite), so we didn’t fancy that.
“We’re thinking he’s a National horse. He was running well in it a couple of years ago when he was nearly brought down.
“He’s a class horse, he’s in rude health and he schooled well during the week, so we’re hopeful.”
Leading Irish amateur Jamie Codd is no stranger to success over these fences and returns to partner Le Breuil for Ben Pauling.
The combination landed the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but the gelding has something to prove after being pulled up on his return over hurdles at Wetherby.
“When he ran badly at Wetherby, all mine were running badly, so I hope we’ve righted that wrong,” said Pauling.
“Before that he had his big day at Cheltenham, and it’s great Jamie is coming over to ride him again.
“The Grand National is the big aim, so it will be nice for him to get a sighter of the fences. We haven’t schooled over them, because the morning we planned to they were actually frozen, but I don’t think it will be a problem – he is a brilliant jumper.”