Willie Mullins intends to enter his Champion Hurdle big guns at the Aintree Grand National meeting.
Faugheen led home a dream one-two-three for the all-conquering Irish champion trainer at Cheltenham last month, with Arctic Fire in second and dual winner Hurricane Fly far from disgraced in third.
All three will get entries in the Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles, as will Annie Power, who had the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy when crashing out at the final flight.
Mullins said: “All our Champion Hurdle horses will be entered in the Aintree Hurdle, along with Annie Power, who has been in good form since Cheltenham.
“Boston Bob will probably go the Melling Chase, while I have entered a few in the Topham.”
He added: “I hope to have a bigger than normal team for the Crabbie’s Grand National Festival but have only one left in the Grand National, Ballycasey. I think the spring ground will be better for him and his breeding suggests he will stay the trip. I am looking forward to running him there.”
Meanwhile Tony McCoy pointed to Jonjo O’Neill’s record with staying chasers as he outlined a “very good chance” for Shutthefrontdoor in the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree on April 11. McCoy will be having a record 20th and final ride in the world’s most famous steeplechase and appears most likely to partner the ante-post favourite Shutthefrontdoor, although he could opt for Cheltenham Festival winner Cause Of Causes, who is trained by Gordon Elliott.
Last year’s Irish National hero Shutthefrontdoor took part in a leisurely stroll around Southwell on Tuesday, jumping a few fences in the process under McCoy, and connections expressed their satisfaction with the exercise afterwards.
McCoy, who won the National on the O’Neill-trained Don’t Push It in 2010, said: “The Grand National is the most famous horse race in the world and to be able to take part each year is very exciting.
“It was one of the greatest moments of my racing career to win the Grand National on Don’t Push It. I had 14 attempts before Don’t Push It came along. Jonjo had him in unbelievable form and to win the Grand National for Noreen and JP McManus was amazing. It is a day I will never forget – I felt a lot of fulfilment.
“We have Shutthefrontdoor and the Cheltenham winner Cause Of Causes – they are two I am most likely to have to choose from.
“Shutthefrontdoor won the Irish National and has not run since winning at Carlisle in November. If you look through the form book, the Carlisle race and the Irish National were not particularly strong, but he is trained by Jonjo O’Neill who has an unbelievably good record in training horses for staying chases. If I am on Shutthefrontdoor, he has a very good chance.
“I am sorry for all the failures I have had in the Grand National over the years and this will be the last time I let anybody down but hopefully I will go out on a high and shut the front door behind me!”
Bookmakers, however, reckon Rocky Creek “could well challenge for favouritism” on the big day.
Following the latest forfeit stage in which 74 possibles were left for the great race, Coral reported support for the BetBright Chase winner, who is likely to form part of a six-strong raid from Paul Nicholls.
While many have assumed Shutthefrontdoor was guaranteed to go off favourite, Rocky Creek is just two points bigger in the betting at 10-1. An easy scorer at Kempton after the weights came out, he is effectively 9lb well-in to cap a fabulous season for Nicholls and jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.
The champion trainer’s squad also includes Sam Winner, Unioniste, Rebel Rebellion, Mon Parrain and possibly Benvolio.
Rocky Creek is owned by Andy Stewart and the family of the late David Johnson.
Stewart said: “Everyone at home has been very happy with him since Kempton.
“It was a good performance last time, he’s well-in for the National and we’re very much looking forward to it.
“It’s very hard to compare races. Big Buck’s winning his 18th successive race was special. The Gold Cup is the blue riband, so it would be fantastic to win that, but I wouldn’t mind winning the Grand National.
“The National is a very famous race watched by 600 million people. My Will was 8-1 to win the race for me (2009) and ran very well to finish third behind Mon Mome and Comply Or Die.
“We’ll go there and enjoy the day and it will just be a shame my great friend David Johnson won’t be there to enjoy it with us.
“If the horse were to win, I think I would probably go down to the local pub in Ditcheat and enjoy a pint with Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies.”
Coral’s Simon Clare said: “Rocky Creek continues to be the best-backed horse in the Grand National field with ante-post punters and he could well challenge for favouritism in the next few days.
“However, AP McCoy will have a huge bearing on the shape of the market when he makes his decision on which horse to ride in his last ever Grand National. If McCoy chooses Shutthefrontdoor he could easily halve in price to 4-1, while should he instead choose Cause of Causes then that horse’s price of 20-1 would disappear in the blink of an eye down to single figures.”
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