The 11-year-old’s trainer Donald McCain has pinpointed Kelso’s Premier Chase on March 3 as Ballabriggs’ last run before his April 14 date at Aintree, as it was ahead of his 2011 National triumph under Jason Maguire.
But Haydock’s Rendlesham Hurdle could precede that if McCain feels two runs are necessary for Ballabriggs to be at his absolute peak as he tries to become only the eighth horse in history to win the National on more than one occasion.
“We are just at the stage when he’s starting fast work again. We know him well, he’s very exciting and of course the National is the biggest day of the year for us,” said McCain.
“Ballabriggs is the most gorgeous old-fashioned chaser you could possibly wish for, and we were lucky to find a route we could plan by going back to hurdling last season.
“He’d strained a ligament in his back and was off for 12 months, he was very sore and it stopped him.
“But now he’s rated 150 over hurdles and is a 160-rated chaser so there’s not many races you can go for. Ideally though, I would prefer two runs before he goes back to Aintree.”
McCain insists Kelso’s extended two-mile-six-furlong contest is of paramount importance.
He added: “We ran Cloudy Lane in it and Balla finished second in the race last season. Going back there is Plan A and that will be his final run before the National.”
The gelding carried 11st to his superb victory over Oscar Time last year and McCain realises he will probably be lumbered with second top weight for his repeat bid should Synchronised be entered.
He said: “I would be fine with Ballabriggs being top weight.”
Altogether McCain will enter four horses in this year’s race, including Weird Al, who is to tackle the Cheltenham Gold Cup first.
Wymott could also represent McCain and Hemmings while Fabalu will also be entered and McCain said: “He’s a promising horse but would need to improve in order to get in.”