TIDAL BAY remains at the summit of the weights for the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, for which 65 horses are still in contention.
Paul Nicholls’ popular veteran, who used to be trained in County Durham under Howard Johnson, has had the great race as his conditional aim since finishing second in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February.
Tidal Bay, who unseated his rider in the 2011 Grand National, could be joined in the line-up by stablemates Rocky Creek, Hawkes Point and There’s No Panic, although the latter is not guaranteed to get a run.
Sunnyhillboy, the 2012 runner- up, Godsmejudge, Mossey Joe, Roi Du Mee, Bog Warrior, Same Difference, Katenko and Goulanes were the eight horses scratched at the confirmation stage.
Ante-post favourite Teaforthree, Monbeg Dude and the Nicky Hendersontrained quartet of Long Run, Triolo D’Alene, Hunt Ball and Shakalakaboomboom all stood their ground.
Ireland’s hopes of a first Grand National winner since 2007 are perhaps spearheaded by the Willie Mullins-trained Prince De Beauchene.
Stablemate Vesper Bell has also been left in, as have compatriots Double Seven and Colbert Station – the two possible JP McManus-owned options for Tony McCoy – Big Shu, Lion Na Bearnai and Last Time D’Albain.
County Wexford trainer Colm Murphy is convinced Quito De La Roque’s fortitude could stand him in good stead for a big run.
The Grade One-winning ten-year-old has had a disappointing season – he was pulled up on his last outing at Fairyhouse in February – but Murphy is not without optimism.
Quito De La Roque shaped encouragingly in two previous starts at Aintree, most significantly when he won the Mildmay Novices’ Chase in 2011.
Murphy said: ‘‘He’s going along nicely at home. He’s had his problems over the years but he’s a tough horse, which is obviously important in the National.
‘‘We’re very happy with him and his preparation has gone well.’’ Fergal O’Brien has provisionally recruited Paddy Brennan for Alvarado – should regular jockey Paul Moloney not be available.
With Moloney seemingly poised to get the leg-up aboard One In A Milan, trained by long-standing ally Evan Williams and currently the final horse certain to start, Brennan is in pole position.
Alvarado is a rather enigmatic individual, but he is not without ability and looked particularly impressive when victorious at Cheltenham in November.
He was, however, pulled up at the same track when last sighted on New Year’s Day.
O’Brien said: ‘‘Paddy Brennan will be on him if Paul can’t get off Evan’s horse.
‘‘There’s not been any problems since his last run.
‘‘All we’ve done is freshen him up at home with this mind.’’ The nine-year-old is owned by Angela and William Rucker, who have had a placed horse in the National for the last five years.
Fellow Gloucestershire trainer Hilary Parrott was heartened by Wayward Prince’s fluency over the mock Grand National fences which are situated in Lambourn.
The ten-year-old gelding gave Harry Topper an almighty run for his money in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November, but has since been unable to maintain that form.
Wayward Prince claimed the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree four years ago and will again be ridden by Jack Doyle.
Parrott said: ‘‘We went to Lambourn with him and he jumped some of the Nationaltype fences. That gave us quite a bit of encouragement.
‘‘Jack is coming over on Wednesday and we’ll give him another pop.
‘‘After that, we’ll sit down and work out a bit of a gameplan.
‘‘I guess the important thing is to keep him out of trouble and keep clear of the debris.’’ Sue Smith, who won the race last year with Auroras Encore, is this season likely to go to war with Mr Moonshine and Vintage Star.
Jonjo O’Neill has taken out Sunnyhillboy, but the Jackdaws Castle handler could still saddle Burton Port, Lost Glory, Twirling Magnet, Alfie Sherrin and Storm Survivor, although the latter pair both need horses to come out in order to take their chance.
Cross-country maestro Balthazar King is an intriguing entry for Minehead trainer Philip Hobbs, who might also be represented by Chance Du Roy.
The home challenge is boosted by the presence of Pineau De Re, The Rainbow Hunter, Welsh Grand National winner Mountainous and Walkon.
With Jason Maguire sidelined after suffering frightful injuries at Stratford earlier this month, Henry Brooke will again resume riding duties aboard Across The Bay.
The Donald McCain-trained ten-year-old, owned locally by the Scotch Piper syndicate, finished 14th under Brooke 12 months ago.
Veteran jockey Brian Harding has been called up for the potentially plum ride on the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Burton Port.
Runner-up in the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2010 and fourth in the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the classy ten-year-old joined O’Neill from Nicky Henderson at the start of this season. Although early results were not too inspiring, he ran with more zest when runner-up in a veterans’ chase at Newbury.