Rathlin’s progress pleases Morris

A trip to Aintree is one of several options open to Rathlin, who has delighted trainer Mouse Morris by finally showing his true ability over fences.

The seven-year-old was a promising novice hurdler for Philip Rothwell last season, finishing sixth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but looked a shadow of himself when Morris sent him over fences earlier in the campaign.

But having now won three on the bounce, including Sunday’s Grade Two Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase without coming off the bridle, his future looks bright again.

“He’s really got the hang of it now,” said Morris.

“We’ve got no great plans for him – I didn’t even enter him for Cheltenham. He might go to Liverpool, or there’s Fairyhouse (Powers Gold Cup), and there’s Punchestown in the mix, too.

“There’s no pressure from the owners (Gigginstown House Stud) to run him anywhere, but there never is from Eddie and Michael (O’Leary) – they’re very good and leave it up to the trainers.

“I’m glad this lad has come good as he was a promising hurdler but was disappointing on his first couple of starts for me.

“The difference is he’s learned to settle – he was running himself into the ground too early before.”

Chicago Grey will head straight for the John Smith’s Grand National after delighting connections in his final run before the Aintree spectacular.

The nine-year-old made eye-catching late progress to take second place behind leading Ryanair Chase fancy Rubi Light over two and a half miles in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park earlier this month.

Chicago Grey will bypass next month’s Cheltenham Festival, where he won the four-mile National Hunt Chase last season, and be prepared for the National on April 14.

His trainer Gordon Elliott knows what it takes to win the big race on Merseyside, having tasted glory with Silver Birch in 2007, although no grey has been successful since Nicolaus Silver in 1961.

“He’s good and will go straight to the Grand National now,” said the Co Meath handler.

“We were very happy with his run at Gowran. The two and a half miles was way too short for him.”

Chicago Grey, who has been given 10st 13lb in the National, is a top-priced 25-1.

Meanwhile, Lion Na Bearnai could take up one of his two entries at Cheltenham after winning the Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan.

The Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National is the 10-year-old’s main objective, but trainer Tom Gibney has not ruled out a run at the Festival.

“It was a surprise he won at Navan, but he’s a tough competitor and his experience in long-distance handicaps has clearly stood him in good stead,” said the Co Meath handler.

“Our plan since he finished second in the Porterstown at Fairyhouse last year was the Irish National, and I don’t suppose he’d have any problems getting in now after that.

“I’ve also stuck him in what was the William Hill (JLT Speciality Handicap Chase) and the Kim Muir, but we’ll have to see.

“If he’s bouncing, I’d have to have a look at coming over.

“I’m a small trainer with five horses and to have a horse at his age who is clearly still progressing is unbelievable.”

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