Paul Nicholls believes Vicente has a “massive chance” of becoming the first horse in over a century to win three consecutive renewals of the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr today.
Couvrefeu II is the only horse to have achieved the feat between 1911-13. Southern Hero struck gold on three occasions in the 1930s and Queen’s Taste did the same in the 1950s, but neither horse managed to win three on the bounce.
Vicente has failed to complete on his two most recent outings and was pulled up when last seen at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, connections sidestepped the Grand National at Aintree in favour of a potentially historic hat-trick bid at Ayr.
And with the ground turning in his favour, Nicholls is in confident mood.
“He’s fine. He went up to Aintree last week as we were thinking of running him but the ground went against him,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“It’s amazing what a difference a week makes with the sun shining now, and the more it dries, the better it will be for him.
“We shouldn’t have run him at Cheltenham, to be honest. He never jumps well on soft ground in a big field, but he’s a different animal on good ground — we’ve seen that at Ayr the last two years.”
He added: “He’s a bit higher in the weights this year and because of the ground he’s had a pretty ordinary season, though he did run well at Cheltenham first time up and if he’d jumped well that day he’d probably have won.
Nicholls has a second string to his bow in Silsol.
“We also run Silsol, who is not without a chance. He ran well in the Welsh National and Midlands National,” he said.
Vicente is one half of a formidable twin assault for leading owner Trevor Hemmings along with the Sue Smith-trained Vintage Clouds.
The latter was fourth reserve for the Grand National last Saturday and connections were left frustrated after he failed to make the cut.
Mick Meagher, the owner’s racing manager, said: “Every hour it stays dry is a bonus for Vicente. He’s only 4lb higher than last year and he was competitive first time out this season off a mark like this.
“With a bit of luck he might be involved again.
“Vintage Clouds goes on any ground, but it was frustrating to miss last week with him.
“Sue says he’s in great form and he’s run well all season. He was fourth in the Welsh National, so should stay, and his jumping has improved.”
Gordon Elliott relies upon Fagan in a bid to complete a remarkable Grand National hat-trick this spring.
The title-chasing trainer landed a first Irish Grand National with General Principle on Easter Monday before Tiger Roll provided him with a second success in the National at Aintree last weekend.
Fagan appears to have strong claims, having been off the track since chasing home leading staying novice Black Corton at Cheltenham in October. Elliott said: “He’s in good form and the better the ground the better chance he’ll have.”
Davy Russell, aboard Tiger Roll on Merseyside, takes the ride.
The veteran rider gave up his rides at Fairyhouse on Thursday evening due to feeling unwell, but said: “I think I’ve just had a touch of flu or a chest infection or something. I should be fine for Saturday.
“He (Fagan) is a little bit inexperienced but hopefully he’ll run a nice race.”
Russell’s compatriot Robbie Power has his first ride in the Scottish National aboard Colin Tizzard’s Sizing Tennessee, who was last seen finishing third in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.
He said: “He ran a cracking race in the four-miler on ground that was softer than ideal for him. Maybe he didn’t quite get up the hill at Cheltenham, but Ayr is a flatter track and hopefully on better ground he’s got a live chance.
“I’ve never ridden in the Scottish National, but I’d never ridden in the Gold Cup (which he won aboard Sizing John) until last year either, so hopefully it’s a lucky omen.”
Other leading hopes in a 30-strong field include Neil Mulholland’s Doing Fine, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ballyoptic and Nicky Henderson’s pair of Gold Present and Beware The Bear.
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