Junior’s National prep to start with run over hurdles

John Smith’s Grand National favourite Junior is likely to have his first run of the season at Newbury on Friday as he builds up to the greatest race of them all.

David Pipe’s charge has been allotted 11st 2lb as he attempts to add the April 14 spectacular to wins at Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival.

Pipe has purposefully not run him this season to protect his handicap mark, but holds several entries later this week – with a run over three miles over hurdles at Newbury being favoured at present.

“We knew Junior was going to get around the 11st mark, it’s a nice weight and we just have to try and get him there in one piece now,” said Pipe.

“He won the Kim Muir very easily – probably too easily as he went up a lot (19lb) in the handicap.

“After that the long-term plan was to come for the National and he’s had a nice, long break.

“Everything has been geared towards the National, with probably a run over hurdles to start with and then fences.

“I think we’re probably leaning towards Newbury on Friday.

Pipe also has Massini’s Maguire (10st 11lb), Swing Bill (10st 3lb) and The Package (10st 2lb).

All roads lead back to Aintree for Ballabriggs, with trainer Donald McCain believing last year’s John Smith’s Grand National winner is capable of lugging 11st 9lb to glory once again.

Not seen in public since his commanding victory last April, Ballabriggs starts his preparation in earnest this weekend with a racecourse gallop at Haydock.

Assessing Ballabriggs, McCain added: “He’s grand and we gave him a really long break after last year’s race.

“We were supposed to give him a racecourse gallop at Bangor until it was called off, and he will now go for a gallop at Haydock this weekend.

“He has not got a lot of mileage on the clock and he’s late-maturing, big, strong horse. If any horse is the right shape to carry that amount of weight, it’s him.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has never won the National, and this year his two possibles are Neptune Collonges (11st 6lb) and Niche Market (10st 4lb).

“Neptune is too consistent for his own good and he would seem to have plenty of weight to me, but he did run well in a Scottish National with a big weight so he is used to it,” said Nicholls.

“Niche Market will get in and would appear to have a lovely weight.”

Calgary Bay appears to have benefited from Henrietta Knight’s resurgence, but he will have to shoulder 11st 6lb.

“I’d like to run him. The horse is very well and the weight is OK as he’s a big, big horse,” she said.

“He didn’t get any further than fence four last year but that’s not because he disregarded the fence, he just jumped it too well.

Irish Grand National winners have a good recent record and Organisedconfusion (10st 8lb) is the latest to follow that route for Arthur Moore.

He said: “We hope to run at Leopardstown on Sunday fortnight or the following week at Naas.

“If all goes well, we’ll head on to Aintree.”

Willie Mullins has a huge team entered, including Sunday’s Hennessy winner Quel Esprit (11st 7lb) and two Graham Wylie-owned horses – On His Own (10st 11lb) and Prince De Beauchene (10st 6lb).

“The plan is for Quel Esprit to go for the Gold Cup. He’s really got it right this year and I wouldn’t have any problem with him going to Aintree,” said Mullins.

“On His Own definitely goes there, while Prince De Beauchene has a lovely weight and would have a chance.”

Nicky Henderson has never won the race but has aimed Shakalakaboomboom (10st 12lb) at it all season.

“Shakalakaboomboom is definitely an intended runner. He has done everything right and I think he has the right sort of profile as he stays and jumps. He has to have good ground,” said Henderson.

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