McCain plans triple National assault

Trainer Donald McCain is hoping to be triple-handed in the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on April 6.

McCain landed the race with Ballabriggs two years ago and he is one of four still engaged for the Cheshire handler at this stage.

Weird Al and Across The Bay, who both had a spin at Aintree on yesterday morning, are also intended runners at this stage although McCain has a different plan in mind with Cloudy Lane, who would struggle to get a run anyway off a weight of just 9st 10lb.

McCain said: “Cloudy Lane is aiming at the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ on the first day of the meeting and has been left in the John Smith’s Grand National just in case Ballabriggs does not get there – both are owned by Trevor Hemmings who is a huge supporter of the race.

“I was brought up to miss Cheltenham – there is no point leaving the Grand National at Cheltenham so none of my four ran there last week.

“I am running out of plans with Weird Al. He does not stand or like much racing. We have kept him fresh and we will go there as fresh as we can.

“He looked great this morning and was running a nice enough race last year when he fell at the fourth last.

“Ballabriggs has come back from Kelso in tremendous nick. It is like someone has flicked a switch. The Kelso race fits in nicely before the Grand National.

“Across The Bay won a Grade Two hurdle last time and is an excellent performer - it is a question of whether he takes to the course but he seems fairly handicapped.”

Last year’s Irish National hero Lion Na Bearnai faces a race against time to be fit for Aintree.

Trainer Tom Gibney has had no end of problems with his 11-year-old since his famous victory at Fairyhouse last Easter, and his participation remains in some doubt.

Gibney has targeted the Aintree version this season but one thing after another has hampered him and he has only run once, in the Hennessy at Newbury on December 1.

Gibney, speaking at a press day at his yard yesterday morning to launch this year’s Irish National meeting, said: “He’s good, he’s still heading for Aintree just about, but things have not gone to plan and he’s missed a lot of time.

“He’s done a couple of bits of work recently and is coming together, but whether we get there I don’t know.

“It’s been little things, mine were sick in October and we thought he was OK for the Hennessy but it turned out he wasn’t so then he needed more time off.

“Then he had trouble with a hind leg, it gives him trouble once a year every year, it’s a weak spot. That was before the Bobbyjo which was supposed to be his prep race and then there was a bit of ringworm in the yard. He’s had everything bar the plague.

“He’s not fully fit and it hasn’t been perfect. He’s a very fit horse naturally, but I’d say at the minute it’s 50-50 whether he makes Aintree.”

Colm Murphy decided against running Quito De La Roque but a trip to Merseyside could still be on the cards. Murphy said: “The weights are going to go up and he would end up with nearly top-weight.

He’ll probably run in the (Betfred) Bowl on the Thursday of Aintree instead.”

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