Last year’s winner Tiger Roll heads 81 hopefuls standing their ground for the Randox Health Grand National following the latest acceptance stage.
Gordon Elliott’s remarkable nine-year-old shortened as favourite for the Aintree spectacular on April 6 after taking the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase for the second year running at Cheltenham last week.
Tiger Roll is currently set to carry 11st 1lb, just 2lb more than last year as he bids to become the first horse since Red Rum in 1974 to win back-to-back Nationals.
Pleasant Company, who was only beaten a head by Tiger Roll last spring, is one of seven left in by Willie Mullins, who has a team that also includes Rathvinden and Pairofbrowneyes.
The top two in the handicap, Bristol De Mai and Anibale Fly, remain on course after finishing third and second respectively in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
David Pipe, who saddled Comply Or Die to Grand National glory in 2008, is triple-handed with Ramses De Teillee, Daklondike and Vieux Lion Rouge.
“All three of them would prefer the ground on the softer side,” he said.
“Vieux Lion Rouge and Ramses will run, all being well, but I’m not sure about Daklondike. He’s talented but quirky and he would need it soft, whereas the other two would be fine on good to soft.
“We were not sure if he (Ramses) was going to get the trip in the Welsh National, but he got it well and he ran very well at Haydock.
“While he’s only seven, he’s been to the Festival, the Welsh National and the Grand National Trial and doesn’t seem to be fazed by anything.
“I don’t know if he’ll get the Grand National trip, but you can say that about a lot of horses.
“He’s not schooled over the National fences yet, we’ll school him next week over them, along with Vieux Lion Rouge.”
He went on: “Vieux Lion Rouge disappointed us last time, but we’ve since treated him for ulcers and he now seems to be in good form.
“He seems to light up for the occasion in the National – he seems to lap up the atmosphere. For some it’s a negative, but it’s definitely not a negative for Vieux Lion Rouge.”
Anthony Honeyball is another trainer with more than once chance, being able to call on Midlands National runner-up Ms Parfois and stablemate Regal Encore, who was eighth in the National in 2017 but had to miss Aintree last year.
The Dorset trainer, whose yard was hit by a virus earlier in the season, said of Ms Parfois: “We are technically 7lb well in. If it was five weeks off it would be better, but it is three weeks off, so it will be tough.
“For me, the Midlands National was very much her number one target. For her to run like that having come through what we have, she did very well, as she hadn’t run since December 1.
“Just from two out she did get very tired, but she did keep on and we just got beat. She does seem to have come out of it all right, so now the only question mark is the ground and that is the only reason why she wouldn’t run.
“We’ve looked at everything with the vet and we are happy to run, as long as it is something around soft. You just wouldn’t want good to soft, good, just lovely ground. If it was good to soft, with a bit of rain around, you would probably have a go then.
“It will be her last run of the season, so if the ground is right it will are inclined to take our chance bearing in mind we have done the background work.”
He added of Regal Encore: “I think he did need his last run (at Ascot last month) badly because of the stop-start season we’ve had with him. He did blow up in that race, but Richie (McClernon) was delighted with him.
“He had ridden him at Aintree (in December) when we were under a bit of a cloud and he just didn’t fire at all. He was so slow, although admittedly it was over hurdles.
“He was beaten a long way, he did come home, as his class got him home, but he struggled. We checked him out with the others and we could tell things weren’t right that day.
“He ran a really nice race at Ascot. He looks in great order.”
Elegant Escape was the most notable of 16 withdrawals. The Welsh Grand National winner, trained by Colin Tizzard, was sixth in the Gold Cup.
Tizzard has also taken out Royal Vacation, leaving dual Topham Chase winner Ultragold as the stable’s only representative.
Other horses removed from the race were Edwulf, Black Corton, American, Traffic Fluide, Sizing Codelco, Total Recall, Master Dee, The Last Samuri, Some Neck, Give Me A Copper, Willie Boy, Ballyhill, Ballydine and Back To The Thatch.
Woods Well, Ned Stark and Van Gogh Du Granit are also out as they are not qualified to run.
The next acceptance stage is five-days before the race, on April 1.
Meanwhile, Ladbrokes reported continued support for Tiger Roll.
The firm’s Nicola McGeady said: “After winning the Grand National last year, Tiger Roll was installed at 16-1 to do the double. He was cut to 12-1 after winning the Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle and then 6-1 after the Cross Country.
“Today he was still being backed at 5-1 so we’ve had to take action and slash his price further to 4-1. No price seems too short for what could be the shortest-priced favourite in Grand National history.”