Denman in the frame for Ayr raid

DENMAN is “virtually certain” to run in next month’s Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr if conditions are deemed suitable.

Paul Nicholls’ former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, runner-up in the race earlier this month, has been allotted top weight of 11st 12lb for the April 17 showpiece.

Joint-owner Paul Barber admits a trip north of the border could now be a real possibility.

“I think Ayr is virtually certain if the ground is soft,” Barber told Press Association Sport.

“However, if the ground is fast, or even good, he will not be running. It has got to be on the soft side.

“Aintree has no chance and Punchestown has got some chance if the ground is right.

“Ayr would have as good a chance as anywhere, but it’s all on the ground – he might end up not running in any.

“At that time of year it can come up quick at Ayr and if it’s quick ground, he won’t be there.”

The second highest-rated contender, David Pipe’s Madison Du Berlais, would carry 10st 1lb, while other notable contenders from further down the handicap include Lucinda Russell’s Haydock Blue Square Gold Cup winner Silver By Nature.

Nicholls has five other entries, including Big Fella Thanks.

Lindsey Smith, Ayr marketing manager, said: “What a great boost it is for the Coral Scottish Grand National that Denman is amongst the entries.

“It underlines the standing the race has in the racing calendar and if Paul Nicholls does declare him it will create an unprecedented interest in the race.”

Sponsors Coral reacted to the surprising news by making Denman their 5-2 favourite for the Ayr marathon.

Spokesman David Stevens said: “Clearly if Denman were to run he would be a red-hot favourite.

“Although his presence would give us a very one-sided book, that would be more than compensated by the interest he would generate.”

Meanwhile Denman’s ex-partner Sam Thomas took an important step towards returning to racecourse action by riding out on Tuesday morning.

Luck has not been on Thomas’ side this season as despite forging a useful partnership with trainer Tom George, he suffered a hairline fracture of his upper back in a fall on the gallops at Paul Nicholls’ stable in early March.

The injury caused him to miss the Cheltenham Festival and while he is hoping to be back in time for the John Smith’s Grand National a week on Saturday, the jockey is taking things steady at this stage.

“I’m back riding – I tried for the first time this morning and it feels really good,” said Thomas.

“I’m taking it slowly and carefully and one step at a time – I don’t want to make any promises I can’t fulfil.

“Obviously I would love to get back as soon as possible and I will try to ride every day from now on.

“I have been seeing a specialist and hopefully it is all going to work out.”

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