Richard Johnson is set to ride either It Takes Time or Therealbandit in the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday week.
Trainer Martin Pipe has secured Johnson’s services for whichever of the two runners stable jockey Timmy Murphy chooses not to ride.
“Richard will be riding for Mr Pipe, that is correct,” said Johnson’s agent Dave Roberts.
Murphy rode It Takes Time to finish fourth behind Hedgehunter in last year’s National while Johnson was aboard when he filled the same place behind Garvivonnian in the totesport Becher Chase last November.
It Takes Time and Therealbandit are both 33-1 shots with Ladbrokes for the four-and-a-half-mile marathon.
Hedgehunter is on course to defend his Aintree title although trainer Willie Mullins believes the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up is a “very short price”.
After finishing a gallant second to War Of Attrition in the blue riband, the 10-year-old was slashed in the ante-post lists and is the general 5-1 joint favourite alongside Clan Royal.
However, following his 14-length call over Royal Auclair in the National last year, Mullins’ charge has been saddled with joint top weight of 11st 12lb.
“He is in very good form but he is a very short price for a horse who has to carry all of that weight,” said Mullins. “Statistics and history would be against him but he is in good order.
“He has a lot of weight and I hope he runs well but it is certainly a very short price.”
Hedgehunter took a tired fall at the final fence when still in contention in the 2004 National and critics have suggested a slow early pace in last year’s race allowed him to get home.
“I wouldn’t have thought there would be a problem with his stamina and the further he goes the better he goes, “ he told At The Races.
“I would have thought last year that the last two miles were slower than the first two as I think they slowed it down when Clan Royal was carried out.”
Hedgehunter was the only one of Mullins’ power-packed stable that performed with real distinction at the Festival, and the trainer continued: “I said before the race last year that Hedgehunter is at his best when he looks like he needs a break.
“This year he certainly wouldn’t take the sight out of your eye in the parade ring before a race and with the way some of mine ran at Cheltenham, I was quite worried.
“He didn’t do anything wrong before the race – he ate up and drank and did all the things that you would expect a horse travelling to do and I couldn’t find an excuse not to run him and he probably ran the best race of his life.
“All year we had been looking at the Gold Cup and National and you are not going to win a Gold Cup unless you run in it.
“We were happy to go for the Gold Cup if everything was right, which it was, except for a few of our horses running disappointingly at Cheltenham.
“The handicapper has put him up to 166 now, which is the biggest rating he has ever had, and I think it was a fantastic run.”
Aintree clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch is expecting little change in the ground conditions over the weekend despite the unsettled weather forecast.
The going on the Grand National course is good to soft, soft in places, while the Mildmay and Hurdles tracks are described as good to soft.
“We had five or six millimetres the night before last and just over a millimetre last night. We’ve had a nice, breezy, drying day today so there has been no change to the going,” said Tulloch.
“We could do with a couple of millimetres each day to maintain what we have.
“The weather is unsettled and it should stay like that right the way through the weekend. There is a 70-80% chance of us getting two or three millimetres of rain and a 20% chance of us getting more than that.
“That’s what we’re expecting up to the beginning of next week but the forecasters can’t say beyond that.
“We’re putting the finishing touches to the National fences and it’s all looking fantastic. The grass has started to kick in and we’ve got some good growth on the course.”