Johnson hopeful Wishfull can defy top weight in Old Roan

Richard Johnson is confident Wishfull Thinking is ready to run up to his best as he looks to defy top-weight in today’s Betfred Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree.

A winner over the course and distance during his brilliant novice campaign a couple of years ago, it has not been plain sailing for the 10-year-old since.

Philip Hobbs’ charge has so far failed to make it at the very highest level, but did enjoy a decent campaign last time around.

After filling the runner-up spot in the Old Roan 12 months ago, Wishfull Thinking claimed the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham and the Game Spirit at Newbury before finishing a distant third behind the brilliant Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

He makes his first appearance since the spring on his return to Merseyside this weekend and Johnson reports his mount to be in excellent shape.

Johnson said: “He seems in very good form at home. Philip couldn’t be happier with him.

“It’s not easy carrying top-weight in any race and particularly in a competitive race like this, but at the same time he seems really well and we know he’s capable of running up to his mark.

“He loves Aintree. He ran well in this race last year and has run well at the Grand National meeting a couple of times. Two and a half miles around there is perfect for him.

“Everything is in his favour. It’s just a question of whether there’s any improving horses in there that are better handicapped than him.”

Next in the weights is Colin Tizzard-trained veteran Oiseau De Nuit.

The 11-year-old won at the Grand National meeting in April and his trainer does not expect the two and a half miles he encounters on Saturday to be a problem.

Tizzard said: “He won first time out last year and I think on a track like this he should stay the two and a half miles all right. He wasn’t stopping when he won at Aintree in the spring over two miles – he ran right to the line.

“He’s on an all-time high mark now and he’s an 11-year-old, but he’s in good form and I think he deserves to take his chance.

“He’s run well every time he’s been to Aintree and I’m sure he’ll run his race, but it is awfully competitive. He’ll have to run up to his best to get involved.”

Trainer Steve Gollings has snapped up the services of Tony McCoy to ride Conquisto, but does have concerns about the likely testing conditions.

Gollings said: “He’s in great form. In previous seasons we’ve always had one or two maintenance issues but, touching wood, everything has gone very smoothly since he came back in.

“He has the most wonderful character and I’ve said to his owner, if I could afford to train him for nothing I would.

“He gets up in a morning and all he wants to do is do his work and please you. He always gives 100% and he’s a handicappers dream as you can set your watch by him. If he was a hand bigger he’d be a world beater.

“The only reservation I have about this weekend is the ground. In an ideal world, over two and a half miles we’d prefer decent ground, but where else do you go with him? There aren’t too many options.

“Other than the ground, there aren’t any other reservations as what you see is what you get. He wears his heart on his sleeve.”

Saint Are is running over a distance nearly two miles shorter than when he finished ninth in the Grand National in April, but trainer Tim Vaughan sees this race as an ideal starting point for the season.

Vaughan said: “He loves it around Aintree and obviously ran a blinder in the National. He’s been a superstar of a horse for us.

“The trip is going to be on the short side for him on Saturday and it’s a competitive race, but it’s a nice place to get him going again as we know he likes the track so much.

“He’s a stronger horse this season and we’ll see how we go, but it would be nice to think he could be back at Aintree in the spring for another go at the National.

“He is only a seven-year-old.”

Alan King’s admirable grey Walkon filled the runner-up spot three times last season, including when second over the National fences in the Topham Chase.

“Walkon, who ran a blinder when second in the Topham Trophy last April, heads back up to Aintree for his first run back in the Old Roan Chase, this time over the Mildmay fences,” the trainer told his website

“He did not win last winter but he finished his season in style and if all goes well, he could be aimed at the National this time around.”

An 11-runner field is completed by Edgardo Sol, Carrickboy, Astracad, Viva Colonia, Pure Faith and Mr Moonshine.

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