CARL Llewellyn, assistant trainer to Nigel Twiston-Davies, is hopeful of a good performance from joint-favourite Blaklion (11st 9lb) in the £1-million Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on Saturday. Sixty three entries remain for the world’s greatest and richest chase, staged over four and a quarter miles and 30 fences following Monday’s five-day confirmation stage. Blaklion, the 10/1 joint favourite along with Total Recall (Willie Mullins, 11st 4lb) and Tiger Roll (Gordon Elliott, 10st 12lb), with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National, was fourth in the 2017 renewal behind One For Arthur. The nine-year-old son of Kayf Tara was second under top-weight on his latest start in the Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase on heavy ground at Haydock Park on February 17, and has since had a wind operation.
Successful over the Grand National fences earlier this season by nine lengths in the G3 Randox Health Becher Chase (3m 2f) on heavy ground, Blaklion, who has been compared to Red Rum, attempts to provide Twiston-Davies with a third winner in the Aintree showpiece following the victories of Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002).
Llewellyn, who partnered Twiston-Davies’ Earth Summit to victory in the 1998 Grand National, said: “Blaklion is in great form – we couldn’t be happier with him. He had a little wind operation after his latest run at Haydock and had a quiet time for about 10 days after that.
“He hasn’t missed a day’s work and we couldn’t be happier with his physical condition – he looks really well. Some very good horses were pulled up at Haydock last time on ground that was very deep and holding. Blaklion had a lot of weight and I thought he ran a big race despite people picking holes in him because he got tired. I wouldn’t let that performance at Haydock put me off him. He was impressive in the Becher Chase earlier this season. His jumping was superb and very accurate – he won as he liked. If he can be in that sort of form and jump as well as that, then hopefully he will have a good chance.”
Blaklion could be joined by stablemates
Regarding the ground, Llewellyn said: “There’s a big difference between recent heavy rain which makes the ground wet but easier to get through than gluey ground. He can get through wet ground as long as it is not deep and holding. I’ve got no worries about his stamina not lasting out this year. I think he jumped and pulled his way to the front too early in last year’s Grand National and we will learn from that. He used too much energy from the fourth last to the final fence. If Sam [Twiston-Davies, jockey] holds on to him for a lot longer in this year’s race, then we would be hopeful of a big run.”
Gloucestershire handler Twiston-Davies is also hoping to run Double Ross (10st 5lb, 100/1), Splash Of Ginge (10st, 66/1) and Cogry (10st, 100/1), although it is doubtful as to whether the last two will get in the final field of 40, plus four reserves, revealed on Thursday morning.
Llwellyn continued: “Double Ross has come out of Cheltenham well and we’re happy with him. He was running well in the 2016 Grand National when the saddle slipped (pulled up 26th fence) and looked to be taking to the track. He was jumping and travelling very well at the time. Who knows what would have happened, but it was pleasing to see the way he was running in the race before the saddle slipped.
“He is getting older, but he’s in good form. Plenty of older horses have done well in this race, and he loves heavy ground, so he has that going for him. He is normally a very good jumper and he could run a lovely race. We were very pleased with his run at Cheltenham last time [fourth, Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase] and he doesn’t seem to be going downhill in terms of ability as he is getting older.
“Splash Of Ginge would love the ground if enough horses came out. There’s a possibility he could get in if a lot of horses are taken out of the race due to the ground as I can’t believe all of them will like this ground – he will love it. He ran well at Cheltenham last time and he jumped great. He is an out and out stayer who will relish conditions.
“Cogry is a thorough stayer as well. He had jumping problems a couple of years ago, but he seems to be over those now and he’s much more secure in his jumping. We’ve entered him in the race as all he does is stay and we’ll wait and see as to whether he gets in.”
A maximum of 40 runners can line up at 5.15pm on Saturday, April 14 for the 2018 Randox Health Grand National. The final declaration stage is at 10.00am on Thursday, April 12. The declared runners, plus a maximum of four reserves, will be known shortly after this time. Reserves come into the race if there are any withdrawals among the 40 declared runners prior to 1.00pm on Friday, April 13. The 2018 Randox Health Grand National Festival at Aintree runs from Thursday, April 12 to Saturday, April 14.