Connections of Monty’s Pass are expecting the 11-year-old to make a bold bid to repeat last year’s memorable victory in the Martell Cognac Grand National on Saturday.
Jimmy Mangan’s stable star has not won over fences since landing the biggest gamble in the history of the Aintree showpiece with an impressive 12-length call over Supreme Glory last April.
Monty’s Pass, who has warmed up for the Grand National with two outings over hurdles this year, will race off a mark 14lb higher on Saturday but Mangan said: “He’s in great form. I couldn’t ask for better. I’ve been very happy with his preparation.
“He ran well in Naas over two miles in a novice hurdle when David Casey rode him and David was pleased with him. He came home well so another two and a half miles and the big fences will be a big help.”
When asked if he thought Monty’s Pass could become the first horse since Red Rum in 1973 and 1974 to record back-to-back wins in the great race, Cork-based Mangan said: “It’s not impossible.
"He loves it over there. He’s been there twice. He was second in the Topham and he won last year.
"So all going well and a clear round he’ll run a big race.
“The good ground will also be a big help to him.”
Mangan is hoping current top weight First Gold is declared for the Grand National at tomorrow’s final declaration stage.
He said: “I’m hoping First Gold will stay in tomorrow, otherwise I’ll go up another 3lb.
“He left for Aintree this afternoon. He’s a good, clean-winded horse and will just have a light canter once he gets to Aintree.
“He’s as fit as he’s ever going to be and we are hoping he will do it again.”
Martin Pipe has booked Andrew Thornton for 2002 attheraces Gold Cup winner Bounce Back, with Tony McCoy confirmed for Jurancon, Jimmy McCarthy for Blowing Wind and Danny Howard on Puntal.
Declaring his Cheltenham Festival winner Maximize as “doubtful”, Pipe said: “We have yet to sort out jockeys for Lord Atterbury and Akarus, while Iznogoud is also entered for Friday’s Topham Trophy and we have not made our mind up which route he takes.”
Pipe was delighted to secure the services of Thornton, who finished fourth on St Mellion Fairway in the race six years ago, while another jockey pleased to get a ride was Noel Fehily, who has been snapped up by Mouse Morris for the mount on Alcapone.
Morris said: “I tried for Paul Flynn and Jason Maguire, but both have to go to Hereford, so we had to think again. Noel is a good horseman and I’m pleased to have got him.”
The Grand National has so far eluded McCoy, and success on Jurancon would erase all the pain that he has suffered this season.
McCoy, appearing on ITV’s ‘Des and Mel’ lunchtime show, is still feeling the after effects of his horrific pre-Cheltenham fall.
He said: “My lip, nose and the top of my cheek are still numb, but I am sure that I’ll feel the excitement should the impossible happen and the 3lb rise in the weights means that I won’t have to sweat.”
The going remains good on the Grand National course with no significant rain expected until tomorrow night.
Clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch said: “Only minimal rain is expected during the day on Thursday, but weather expert John Kettley tells us that Thursday night into Friday morning remains the peak rain period, with the possibility of between four and five millimetres hitting the racecourse.”
Tulloch is considering selective watering on the Grand National course.
He said: “The ground is good all over, though it is drying out a bit in one or two places, and, therefore, we might put the sprinklers on later today.
“Hopefully that will be it for the watering because the four or five millimetres of rain that we are promised for Thursday night into Friday morning ought to do the job for us.”
Grand National outsider Royal Atalza pleased connections this morning as the ex-French gelding completed his preparation for the big race.
The grey’s Newmarket-based trainer Conrad Allen said: “He moved well and he’s looking bright and happy, so there are no problems.
“He just did a mile canter on the Cambridge Road Polytrack this morning and that’s more or less it for him.
“The Jockey Club have very kindly built some Aintree-style fences – a four foot, a four foot eight and a five foot – here and he’s schooled very well over those. He’s jumped the equivalent of 18 Aintree look-alike fences.
“He’s well used to big obstacles because he’s jumped over all those different types of obstacles you get at Auteuil. He is normally a very good jumper.”
Royal Atalza was bought by flamboyant owner Terry Ramsden specifically to be aimed at the Grand National but was pulled up on his only start over British fences at Ascot in January.
“He hit the first quite hard and then he hit another one,” explained Allen.
“We thought he’d want really soft ground coming from France. All his form was on soft and heavy but it was very gluey (at Ascot) and he got very tired.
“He likes to have his own way a little bit and he couldn’t get away from them. They were top-class horses and he was in a Grade One race and it found him out a little bit. He is better off in a handicap.”
Royal Atalza has had two outings on the Flat since his Ascot run, winning at Wolverhampton in February before finishing unplaced at Southwell later that month.
Allen added: “He’s a very good mover and on all-round form the good ground would be a concern but not from what we’ve seen from him at home.”
Paul Moloney will ride Royal Atalza, who is a top-priced 66-1 chance for the Grand National, at Aintree.
British bookmakers Coral have trimmed Takagi to 20-1 from 25-1 for Saturday’s £600,000 (€898,000) contest after the Edward O’Grady-trained gelding was the subject of decent support today.
“The Irish challenge may have been weakened by the loss of Timbera, but punters clearly believe Takagi has a major chance of taking the prize back across the Irish Sea,” commented Coral’s David Stevens.
Hedgehunter remains 8-1 favourite with Coral, ahead of Jurancon and the well-backed Clan Royal.