Mahler Mission could make John McConnell’s dreams come true when the trainer ends his long wait to saddle a Randox Grand National runner at Aintree.

The County Meath handler sent out the ill-fated Fennor Cross to score during the Grand National meeting on Merseyside 12 months ago, but he is still to field a contender in the world’s most famous steeplechase.

McConnell’s Some Neck came agonisingly close to making the final line-up when first reserve in 2021, while 23-year-old jockey Ben Harvey also missed out on a first taste of the famous spruce on that occasion and is fulfilling Aintree ambitions a few years later than anticipated.

“If we get there it will be our first runner, so it will be a big day for us all,” said McConnell.

“We’re not going to change anything that’s not broken so Ben will ride him. Mahler Mission looks like he has the right kind of profile for it, so it will be exciting.

“It will probably be our biggest day, we’ve had a nice bit of success, but if we could pull this off it will be a huge moment in both our careers.

“He’s probably the best horse I’ve had and in terms of rating he is anyway. I do think we haven’t yet seen the best of him and for sure he is definitely one of our stars.”

McConnell has already fulfilled many of his goals in life, with Seddon’s success at Cheltenham last year sealing the ambition of a Festival winner, while big-race success in both codes is enough to keep any trainer content with their lot.

However, the Grand National is a different beast and like many who have come before, it is a race McConnell craves to add to his growing roll of honour.

“Like Cheltenham, winning this race is another childhood dream and it doesn’t get much bigger than the Grand National,” continued McConnell.

“To potentially have a runner with a chance is huge. I have always loved the National and it would mean an awful lot to me (if he could win) and in regards my team, they do all the hard work, so for everyone involved it would be massive for them.”

The Rockview Stables handler admits to wondering what it could be like to lift the Grand National trophy aloft in Liverpool, but is taking a relaxed approach across the Irish Sea as he prepares to saddle his most important runner to date.

“If you don’t dream about it then you are probably in the wrong game,” said McConnell.

“But I’m pretty relaxed about it, even though it’s a big thing. I’m really relaxed for some reason and what will be will be.

“I’m going to set out to enjoy it rather than stress about it and hopefully it all works out, it would be a dream come true.”

Mahler Mission has long been a standout performer of McConnell’s Stamullen operation and right from his days over hurdles was making successful trips to the UK.

Victories over timber in the Grade Two River Don and in a Perth Listed event highlighted Mahler Mission’s capabilities, but it wasn’t until his novice chasing days and a stellar effort at the Cheltenham Festival in the National Hunt Chase that Grand National dreams were truly ignited.

On that occasion the eight-year-old had built up a commanding lead in the staying novice contest before crashing out two from home. But McConnell had seen enough to start thinking of Aintree the following season.

“I suppose when he ran so well in the National Hunt Chase last year it was steering us this way a little bit and he backed it up with some good runs this year,” continued McConnell.

“When you get to the rating he has, there are not a lot of places you can go anyway and it is such a good pot as well for the National, it is certainly worth having a crack at.

“We would love to have a bit of luck on our side and it would be great to be competitive, but the main thing is he comes back in one piece.”

If Mahler Mission’s novice chase campaign planted a Grand National seed in McConnel’s head, then his two performances so far this season have only reaffirmed Aintree ambitions.

Second to a resurgent Thunder Rock at Carlisle on reappearance, he then marched on to Newbury where he combatted a less than ideal build-up to the Coral Gold Cup and losing two front shoes during the race, to finish a highly commendable runner-up.

The wet winter means Mahler Mission has been safely tucked away in his box since that Berkshire raid, but McConnell has no concerns about the long lay-off for his frequent traveller as the day that has been keeping his team dreaming through the last few months fast approaches.

McConnell added: “He travelled like a class horse in the race at Newbury and the winner got a great ride and probably ground it out. We probably had a bit of an interrupted preparation going into the race, so we were delighted with the run and we hope he can come forward again.

“I’ve no real worries about him not running since and I can get him fit at home. He’s had a racecourse gallop and I’m not too worried.

“He travels no problem and is a very relaxed horse. We’re very happy with him at home and at the minute we’re firmly on course anyway.

“No one really knows how he will get on (at Aintree) until he goes and does it. But he’s a very mentally tough horse, so you would be hopeful he will take to the fences well. After that I suppose it will all be about staying out of trouble and that’s more luck than anything. You would be very hopeful he would be OK in regard to the fences.

“This is why you go through the winters in the freezing weather, to get to these days and if we’re lucky enough to capture it, then it would be a dream come true for everyone.”

It is hard to mention the Grand National without the name McCain following close behind and 20 years ago the race’s most famous family wrote their name into the Aintree record books for a fourth time thanks to Amberleigh House.

Ginger McCain was arguably the man who helped shape the destiny of the world’s most great steeplechase, with his charismatic personality and masterful handling of the great Red Rum breathing life into the marathon event at a time when many questioned its existence.

McCain had already tasted National glory on three occasions with the legendary Red Rum by the time Amberleigh House set about trying to conquer Aintree, but it had been over 30 years since the horse that had defined the Southport handler’s training career had first etched his name onto the Grand National’s roll of honour.

The McCain family of course had heard every tale possible about Red Rum, but Amberleigh House – who was very much a part of the family and had a love of Aintree befitting of a firm McCain favourite – would cement his decorated trainer’s legacy and give Ginger’s son Donald just a glimpse of how the halcyon days of Red Rum may have been.

“I remember everything about that day and we were all very involved with Amberleigh,” said Donald McCain.

“I rode him out every day and my wife looked after him every day.

“It was great for dad because everyone called him a one-horse trainer. He was never bothered by it because he would say ‘what a great job I made of that one’.

“We had one good horse in the yard at the time and a lot of time and investment went into him and it meant an awful lot to all of us. We made the best job of him we could.”

Amberleigh House would be one of Ginger McCain’s final runners in the Grand National before he passed the baton over to son Donald in 2006 and although the younger McCain would go on to win the Grand National himself with Ballabriggs in 2011, it is still that 2004 triumph that sticks in the forefront of his memory.

He added: “It was quite surreal and it was literally from the elbow where it all happened so it wasn’t a very long period of time, but it was just very, very special.

“For us as a family, we grew up around a retired Red Rum but weren’t around when he was winning and to get to feel a bit of that was very special and to this day it would be the best day I’ve had in racing, even better than the day I won it with Ballabriggs.

“There was a McCain way but that is probably gone now to be honest. We knew what an Aintree horse was and how to get one ready for Aintree and train them for that one day. But things have changed so far now that I don’t think that even comes into it the same now.”

Amberleigh House competed round the famous fences on 11 occasions failing to complete only twice – when brought down in his first crack at the big race in 2001 and when pulled-up on his final start before retirement in 2006.

He was ridden for the majority of those assignments by Graham Lee, the crack jump jockey turned Flat pilot who formed a dynamic partnership with the foot-perfect stayer.

The 20-year anniversary of the duo’s finest hour comes poignantly at a time when Lee is recovering from the life-changing injuries suffered in a fall at Newcastle last November and there is little doubt about Lee’s importance to the Amberleigh House story.

“Graham was a very high-class jump jockey and what has happened to him is very sad,” continued McCain.

“We all think about him all the time and he managed to carve a second career on the Flat, but he was a very good jump jockey, one of the best around.

“He was a big part of Amberleigh House and they were made for each other, they were a pleasure to watch together the pair of them.”

With Amberleigh House and Lee’s biggest day still to come, it was the pair’s defeat at the hands of Clan Royal in that season’s Becher Chase that proved instrumental to Grand National glory, helping shape riding plans for the big race itself a few months later.

“I think losing that Becher Chase won us the National and I think Graham would say the same,” said McCain.

“He got beat a short head in the Becher Chase that season by Clan Royal and it was the shortest of short heads.

“If you looked at Clan Royal he was twice as big as old Amberleigh and we were distraught to be honest. They were ding dong from the top of the straight and the two of them came clear and it was a fantastic finish.

“To be honest losing that I think helped us win a Grand National as I had a good talk with Graham and we decided Amberleigh only had one little burst of acceleration in him and there was a general consensus that sounds cocky now, but don’t hit the front until the elbow.

“If you watched Graham a few years later he tried to do the same on a horse of Ferdy Murphy’s who just didn’t stay. He arrived at the last with a chance on Big Fella Thanks in Ballabriggs’ year and tried to do a very similar thing with him.”

It was Becher adversary Clan Royal that was sent off the 10-1 co-favourite for the 2004 Grand National with Amberleigh House 16-1 in the market.

Jonjo O’Neill’s charge looked to be in the process of obliging favourite-backers when jumping to the lead two out, with Amberleigh House still having plenty to do among those still attempting to complete the course.

A repeat of the previous year’s third seemed the best Amberleigh House could hope for, but the complexion of the contest was about to change, with Clan Royal and Martin Pipe’s Lord Atterbury running out of steam and Lee executing the McCain plan to perfection as Amberleigh House and his trademark white noseband closed the gap on the lung-busting run to the line.

“I think he was fourth from the back of the Canal Turn and you’re looking behind to see if something was going to come and do him for fourth and then I just thought at the second-last he was staying on but just took two more strides to jump it,” explained McCain.

“If he had jumped it two strides sooner I would have thought we had a real chance and then Hedgehunter fell at the last and I thought ‘we’re going to be third again in the Grand National’.

“Then halfway up the run-in everything changed, it was the most amazing day.

“There was only one man who would ever know how confident he was and that was Graham himself. But it was a case of we didn’t want to get there too soon and the one thing I can imagine is he would have been getting the most wonderful ride off him, as you will never see another horse jump Aintree better than Amberleigh House – and I mean the old Aintree, not the one we’re on about now.”

It was a case of third-time lucky for Amberleigh House and a National win that McCain thought had maybe passed the horse by after his gallant third to Monty’s Pass 12 months prior to his glorious afternoon on Merseyside.

However, the pint-sized National hero would keep coming back for more of the famous spruce, never letting his side down when faced with the challenge of the National fences.

“The year before he was third in the race he was very tired afterwards, he was absolutely drunk and we had to take him away out of the winner’s enclosure,” said McCain.

“You kind of wondered if that was his chance of winning the Grand National gone. He didn’t know where he was for about 20 minutes so it is to his credit he came back and he just loved the place.

“He was just the most amazing little horse and Amberleigh was so good to jump round there, he was as good as you ever see. You never really didn’t expect him to get round which was a fairly big thing at the old Aintree. He was only 15’2 and half an inch but as good a jumper as you would ever see – he was just so good round there.”

Hopes of any turf racing taking place in Britain on Saturday hinge on a second precautionary inspection at Uttoxeter at 7.30am.

Friday’s jumps cards at Fontwell, Wetherby and Wexford all fell victim to the persistent wet spell, while Saturday’s card at Stratford and Kelso’s Premier Raceday were also abandoned due to waterlogging.

Officials at Uttoxeter staged an initial inspection at 2pm on Friday to assess the latest state of play and while standing water remains in some areas, the track was described as raceable, prompting the team to announce a further check for raceday morning.

A statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, read: “Following our precautionary inspection at 2pm, the track is currently raceable with no rain since 7.30am.

“We are optimistic that we will be able to race tomorrow, however, due to variable forecasts, we will be holding another precautionary inspection at 7:30am.”

Saturday’s Curragh meeting, due to feature the Group Three Tote.ie Alleged Stakes, is also subject to a 7.30am inspection.

Brendan Sheridan, the IHRB clerk of the course at the Curragh, said on Friday morning: “Following a further 6.5mm of rain overnight, the Curragh remains heavy and fit for racing. Having spoken with Met Éireann this morning, there is the possibility of a further 8-11mm of rain between now and 5.35pm tomorrow.

“However, we are also faced with the prospect of Storm Kathleen which has the potential to bring high gusts of wind through tomorrow. On the basis of the forecast for further rain, we will have a 7.30am inspection on Saturday morning to assess if the track remains fit for racing.

“Should the track remain fit for racing at that point, we will continue to monitor the situation and consult with Met Éireann in relation to the high winds.”

Saturday’s racing programme is completed by all-weather cards at Chelmsford and Kempton and the disruption looks likely to continue, with Downpatrick’s Sunday meeting hinging on a 7.30am check.

Tuesday’s Flat meeting at Navan has already been cancelled, while Hexham’s jumps card on the same day also looks in serious doubt, with officials calling an inspection for 7.30am on Sunday.

Harry Charlton could land his first major success since taking over the Beckhampton licence when Sleeping Lion bids for his second victory in Kempton’s Virgin Bet Queen’s Prize Handicap.

The Sunbury regular got his hands on the staying handicap on his debut for the Charlton team in 2021 before returning to finish fifth last season and the nine-year-old’s last three appearances have all come on the all-weather at this venue.

Three of the experienced stayer’s five career victories have been at Kempton and his handler believes local knowledge can see him thereabouts once again in the £45,000 contest.

“He’s not really a horse for undulating tracks and he doesn’t like soft ground so we quite often come back to Kempton,” said Charlton, who has taken over solely after a spell alongside his father, Roger.

“He’s in good form and he always runs well there, it just looks quite competitive I thought.

“I think if he runs his usual kind of race, he will be thereabouts, whether he is improving, it’s hard to say at that age, but he’s very consistent and very enthusiastic. He’s a pleasure to have around.”

James Owen is another handler who could establish himself as a leading player on the Flat this season and his impressive Catterick hurdles winner Sweet Fantasy changes tack in search of this valuable prize.

“The plan was to go to Musselburgh for the big handicap last weekend and she was declared to run but unfortunately it was called off and we have come here with her,” said Owen.

“I would rather run her on the grass but she works very well on the all-weather and has some back-form on the all-weather.

“I think the step up in trip will massively help her and she looked a very solid stayer for me over hurdles.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do on the Flat for us and I think there is more to come from what she has shown at home. Hopefully she can do it on the track as well.

“It’s nice that Aidan (Keeley) can ride them both (also partners Cannon Rock in the Rosebery Handicap). I think he is riding really well and he claims a massive 3lb and is a very good rider. He’s helping me out massively at home, so it’s nice to be able to repay him.”

James Fanshawe’s Novel Legend was a regular in the top staying contests last season and finished the year competing in the Group One Prix Royal-Oak in France.

He will carry top weight, while Andrew Balding’s Spirit Mixer is 1lb lower than when chasing home star stayer Trueshan in the 2022 Northumberland Plate and is sure to be sharper for his Lingfield return from a long 328-day absence last month.

Ian Williams’ Aqwaam landed the victory he had been threatening at Lingfield on Good Friday and will go in search of his second win in the space of eight days off a 4lb higher rating.

“He ran very well at Lingfield last time and 4lb doesn’t look too extreme against what he has achieved, so we would be hopeful of another decent run,” said Williams.

“It’s always good to pick up a decent prize, so it would be good to see him run well again.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Broadway Boy is ready for his Aintree assignment after missing out on the Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old began his debut season over fences in September, winning at the first time of asking and then impressing with a trio of good runs at Prestbury Park.

He finished second to Flooring Porter over three miles and half a furlong in October before returning to the Cotswolds to win a Listed contest over the same trip and a valuable handicap over three miles and two.

The gelding was subsequently a distant third in the Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick but was still a popular pick ahead of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Festival in March.

An unsatisfactory scope ruled him out of the race two days before he was due to line up, but the bay has fared well since and is preparing to run in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at the Grand National meeting.

“He’s very well, he did a bit of work on Tuesday and all being well he’s headed for Aintree,” said Willy Twiston-Davies, assistant to his father.

“His last two trach washes have been spotless and he’s in very good form, it’s all systems go.

“He’ll go for the three-mile Grade One novice.”

The Twiston-Davies team have a nice prospect in Clap Of Thunder, a four-year-old Mount Nelson gelding with four bumper runs under his belt.

He was most recently seen in the Tattersalls Ireland George Mernagh Memorial Sales Bumper at Fairyhouse on March 31, competing among a field of 14 horses, including some expensive purchases.

Under conditional amateur Toby McCain-Mitchell, Clap Of Thunder raced at the head of the field and though he was eventually outdone by an impressive winner in Willie Mullins’ Kopek Des Bordes, the third-placed horse was nine lengths behind him and the rest of the runners were even further strung out.

The bay is owned by his trainer and will go through the sales ring in search of a new home, though the family are naturally keen for him to return to the yard for them to train for fresh connections.

“That was brilliant, we were really, really pleased with him,” said Twiston-Davies.

“He bumped into a very good horse and I imagine that will be him done for the season.

“He is for sale and he will go to the sales, but we’d like to keep him in the yard if we could.

“He’s not made to be a four-year-old bumper horse, he’s a very big horse, so that just shows the ability he’s got at this stage in his career.

“We’d like to think he’d make a very nice novice hurdler for next year, we’ve schooled him plenty already and he looks a bit of a natural.”

Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Gerri Colombe and Festival absentees Hewick and Shishkin are among 12 entries for the Aintree Bowl on the opening afternoon of the Grand National meeting on Thursday.

Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe finished a clear best of the rest behind reigning champion Galopin Des Champs in the blue riband at Prestbury Park last month and could now bid for a second win on Merseyside, having claimed Grade One honours in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase 12 months ago.

Shark Hanlon made the difficult decision to take Hewick out of the Gold Cup due to the rain-softened ground, and having opted against running his charge under top-weight in the Randox Grand National, he is instead set to line up at Aintree 48 hours earlier.

Shishkin was also declared a non-runner in the Gold Cup during a difficult week at Cheltenham for Nicky Henderson, meaning he will be fresh as he looks to claim the Bowl for the second year in succession.

Other contenders for the home team include the Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame, Dan Skelton’s Ryanair Chase hero Protektorat and Ahoy Senor from Lucinda Russell’s yard, while the Irish contingent interestingly features Emmet Mullins’ exciting novice Corbetts Cross.

The latter was hugely impressive when sauntering to success in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival and could now step up to take on more experienced rivals at the highest level.

Banbridge (Joseph O’Brien), Conflated (Elliott), Gentlemansgame (Mouse Morris), Jungle Boogie (Henry de Bromhead) and Thunder Rock (Olly Murphy) complete the potential field.

A dozen entries have also been made for the William Hill Aintree Hurdle, which will of course be missing last year’s winner Constitution Hill.

In his absence, leading lights include Elliott’s Champion Hurdle runner-up Irish Point, De Bromhead’s Bob Olinger and the Willie Mullins-trained Impaire Et Passe, with the latter pair having purposely sidestepped Cheltenham to be saved for this race.

Despite Constitution Hill being sidelined, Henderson could still be represented with Champion Hurdle third Luccia, Iberico Lord, Marie’s Rock and First Street all in the mix, while dual Coral Cup victor Langer Dan could step up in class for the title-chasing Skelton team.

The first of four Grade Ones is the Manifesto Novices’ Chase, which also features Corbetts Cross as well as the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Embassy Gardens and Il Etait Temps, with Turners Novices’ Chase one-two Grey Dawning (Skelton) and Ginny’s Destiny (Nicholls) perhaps the best of the British in an 18-strong field.

A total of 13 four-year-olds are in contention for the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle, with Henderson’s Sir Gino looking for compensation after missing the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.

His potential rivals include the Triumph Hurdle second and fourth Kargese (Willie Mullins) and Nurburgring (Joseph O’Brien), as well as the unbeaten Kalif Du Berlais (Nicholls).

Connections of White Birch are keeping their fingers crossed Saturday’s Curragh meeting goes ahead to allow last season’s Derby third to make his reappearance in the Tote.ie Alleged Stakes.

Winner of the Ballysax Stakes on heavy ground at Leopardstown 12 months ago, John Joseph Murphy’s colt went on to finish a close second to The Foxes in the Dante at York before picking up the bronze medal behind Auguste Rodin in the premier Classic at Epsom in early June.

The grey failed to fire in the Irish Derby on his next start but rounded off his season with a close-up fourth in a Group Three on Irish Champions Weekend and George Murphy, assistant to his father, views this 10-furlong contest as a suitable starting point for his four-year-old campaign.

“We’re getting an awful lot of rain here, I don’t know what they’re getting in the Curragh, but I would imagine it will be the same,” he said.

“It’ll be tough going, but it will be loose ground and he’ll more than likely run if it goes ahead.

“He’ll definitely come on for it. Everything has been going well, we probably would have liked to have got him on the grass a couple more times, but other than that, we’re very happy with him.

“We’ll make a plan for what’s next after the weekend.”

White Birch is the highest-rated horse in a nine-strong entry list, with Noel Meade fielding a pair of multiple course winners in Lafayette and Helvic Dream.

Lafayette has struck gold at the home of Irish Flat racing on four occasions, with Helvic Dream a three-time course winner, most notably claiming Group One honours in the 2021 Tattersalls Gold Cup.

Maxux, who carries the colours of Spanish footballer Alvaro Odriozola, has won twice from four previous starts for Joseph O’Brien and was last seen plundering a Group Three prize at Fairyhouse in September.

“She looks like she handles soft ground and that is what it is going to be at the weekend,” said O’Brien.

“Although it looks a really competitive race and she is taking on colts, it looks a nice starting point for her.

“We’re just hoping for a nice run and hope it’s a nice starting point. At this time of the season, it’s all about a platform that she can build on. I’m sure there will be easier opportunities at this level as the year goes on, but this is a good starting point.”

Aidan O’Brien has won four of the last six runnings of the Alleged Stakes and this year relies upon Greenland, while Crypto Force makes his stable debut for Adrian Murray, having been off the track since claiming the 2022 Beresford Stakes.

Mashhoor (Johnny Murtagh), The Shadow Lingers (Luke Comer) and Village Voice (Jessica Harrington) are the other hopefuls.

Animal Rising, the organisation behind the disruption at last year’s Grand National, has announced it has no plans to interfere with the meeting next week.

Last year’s Grand National was delayed by around 15 minutes after members of Animal Rising attempted to glue themselves to a fence. Over 100 arrests were made by Merseyside Police.

Animal Rising went on to stage a further protest at the Derby at Epsom in June, which led to Ben Newman, one of the founders of the group, being given a suspended prison sentence because the Jockey Club, the owners of Epsom, had been granted an injunction preventing disruption.

Animal Rising issued a statement confirming they had no intention of attending this year’s Grand National which read: “Last year the British public saw through the myths of the horse racing industry as a spotlight was put onto the Grand National.

“We all want to see these horses living happy lives in sanctuaries, not being raced; just as we need to see mass rewilding and a plant-based food system to really tackle our climate and nature crises.”

A spokesperson for Aintree said the racecourse have not been contacted directly by Animal Rising ahead of next week’s event and that they continue to work with Merseyside Police and their own security teams to plan for all eventualities.

This afternoon’s meeting at Fontwell and Saturday’s Premier fixture at Kelso are the latest to fall foul of the persistent wet spell.

Officials at Fontwell held a precautionary inspection at 7.30am following over 30mm of rain through the week and a further 7mm in the last 24 hours tipped the decision over the edge.

Unfortunately for Kelso, where the £100,000 Herring Queen Series Final Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle was the feature on a valuable card, heavy rain overnight left the course unraceable and more is forecast.

Clerk of the course Matthew Taylor said: “Unfortunately we’ve had a further 12mm overnight and it has left us unraceable.

“We had 22mm yesterday but then we had some improvement which was significant but this further 12mm has set us back quite a way. Up to 50 per cent of the track is waterlogged.

“It has just stopped raining by 8am and it is a bit breezy but we’ve got random sporadic showers forecast this afternoon which will be heavy and there’s a further rain band coming in Friday night and into Saturday morning.

“That wouldn’t give us enough time to do the work needed so we’ve had to abandon. We’re really sorry, we were desperate to get it on as a Premier raceday but we just can’t guarantee the integrity of the structure of the surface underneath.”

Wexford in Ireland were also forced to abandon on Friday while the meeting at Wetherby had already been called off.

Banbridge is set to lead a select Joseph O’Brien team to Aintree next week, with Triumph Hurdle fourth Nurburgring also among the Owning Hill handler’s raiding party.

O’Brien may be lacking in numbers in Liverpool but will undoubtedly saddle some quality, with star chaser Banbridge attempting to atone for a disappointing showing at the Cheltenham Festival.

Conditions ultimately proved too soft for the good ground-loving eight-year-old in the Ryanair Chase at Prestbury Park, but he has some high-class chasing form to his name.

Owned by Ronnie Bartlett, Banbridge was a Grade One winner on Merseyside 12 months ago in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase and is as short as 7-2 with bet365 for the My Pension Expert Melling Chase over the same course and distance on Friday, April 12.

However, he will also be given the option of stepping up in trip to three miles for the previous day’s Aintree Bowl – a race where he could meet the likes of John ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s King George hero Hewick.

“Banbridge will have a couple of entries there, as well as a couple of the juveniles, Nurburgring and Intellotto,” said O’Brien, with conditions in the north west set to have a significant bearing on where Banbridge lines up.

“Banbridge has options for both races and of course it will be discussed with Ronnie as we get closer to the time – and we will see what the ground is like. We haven’t made a decision on that yet.

“It was a bit soft for him at Cheltenham and we took a chance running, but when you don’t win, you learn something.”

Meanwhile, Nurburgring will be given the chance to build on his encouraging Triumph Hurdle display when he lines up in the Grade One Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle on the opening day of the three-day Grand National meeting.

“Nurburgring ran a very good race in the Triumph,” continued O’Brien. “Hopefully a similar performance would see him in the mix for a place and maybe give them a fright for a bit more.”

He will be joined on the teamsheet by the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned Intellotto, who was underwhelming in Grade One company at the Dublin Racing Festival but bounced back to his best with a comfortable victory at Limerick last month.

Owner Audrey Turley reported Galopin Des Champs to be on course for the Punchestown Gold Cup after seeing her Got Glory hit the target at Naas.

Galopin Des Champs followed up last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph by losing out to Fastorslow at the Punchestown Festival but will try to pull off the double this term at the start of next month.

The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old powered to victory at Prestbury Park again when galloping on gamely up the hill to beat Gerri Colombe by three and a half lengths under Paul Townend.

Regarding a return to Punchestown, Turley said: “I think that is the plan and I think he’s doing good, so fingers crossed he’ll run.”

Reflecting on the gelding’s second Cheltenham Gold Cup success, she told Racing TV: “We’re watching it on the loop at home and we can’t get enough of it, to be honest. And the more you watch it, the more you enjoy it.

“He’s a superstar horse, he really is. The whole team are superstars and it’s just been a privilege to be involved with it. We’re thrilled and feel very lucky.

“It’s terrifying to watch (at the time) and I can’t watch it, but I really enjoy it afterwards when I watch it back. It was an incredible experience and it’s hard to put words on it – excitement, nervous, the anticipation, it’s all there and it’s all wonderful.”

After winning on her debut in France back in July 2021, Got Glory spent 636 days on the sidelines before being pulled up in last year’s Grade One Honeysuckle Mares Novice Hurdle first time out for Mullins.

Following another 361-day lay-off, she made an impressive reappearance when scoring by five and a half lengths at 4-7 in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Maiden Hurdle, with Townend in the saddle.

“It was very satisfying and she ran so well,” said Turley. “I think Paul makes it look very easy but over the last three years, she’s been injured quite a lot and it’s lovely to see her back on the track and winning the race. It’s incredible and really nice for her.

“We’ve had patience with her and it worked out in the end – she’s a beautiful horse, a beautiful mare and we’re delighted to be here having her running, let alone winning. It’s a real thrill.

“I think she looked fine and in good form, so I’d say she’ll run again pretty soon, maybe at Galway.”

Townend commented: “She was fresh and gassy and wanted to get on with it, but the engine is in there, we just have to keep the wheels on the bus.

“She’s a fine filly but has just had a lot of problems. The owners were patient, she does smart work and hopefully we can keep her right.”

Swingalong will have Group One ambitions this season, with connections hopeful their high-class speedster has found the required improvement to make her mark at the highest level.

Trained by Karl Burke, the Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum-owned daughter of Showcasing has been the most consistent of performers throughout her two seasons in training.

A winner of York’s Lowther as a two-year-old, she was successful once again on the Knavesmire in Group Three company at three.

However, it was her encouraging runs at the top table throughout 2023 that were most impressive, beaten only two lengths in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and finishing the campaign on the premises in both Haydock’s Sprint Cup and the British Champions Sprint at Ascot.

A return to her beloved York for the Group Two 1895 Duke of York Clipper Stakes on May 15 has been described as a probable starting point for the Spigot Lodge sprinter, with an ambitious campaign in store for the fast-moving four-year-old.

“I went to see her a couple of weeks ago and I thought she looked magnificent,” said Philip Robinson, assistant racing manager for the owner.

“I thought she just has to improve a little and if she can find a length and a half she will have a great chance of picking up one of those Group Ones.

“Physically she has bulked up and looks a proper sprinter now. I’m hoping I’m right in that she looks to have improved physically more than the length and a half I thought she needed to improve to win one of those big sprints.

“I’m going into the season very hopeful with her. We’ve got nothing to lose aiming at the good ones (races) and anything she does is a bonus because she’s already proven herself, she’s very genuine and very fast.”

Unbeaten sprinter Vandeek has the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock as his first target as he prepares for his eagerly-awaited three-year-old campaign.

Simon and Ed Crisford’s Havana Grey colt had the perfect juvenile season, running four times and winning well on each occasion as he climbed the ranks from maiden to Group One.

At Goodwood, he took the Richmond Stakes on soft ground and he was then a game winner of the top-level Prix Morny at Deauville on very soft going.

But at Newmarket in late September, he showed his versatility when producing his best run to date to land the Middle Park on good to firm.

Currently ante-post favourite for the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, the Betfred-sponsored Sandy Lane has been earmarked for his opening assignment of the campaign, a six-furlong Group Two for three-year-olds on May 25.

“He’s going well, he’s wintered well, but like everywhere else, I think Newmarket has struggled with the weather,” said Chris Wall, racing manager for owner Shaikh Khalid’s KHK Racing organisation.

“They’re on target with the horse but they haven’t always been able to do what they’ve wanted to do because various canters have been closed.

“He’s in good heart and coming along nicely, he’s aiming at the Sandy Lane at Haydock in May.”

Vandeek was a leggy two-year-old and he is reported to have grown further and filled out through the winter.

Wall added: “He’s done everything right, he’s grown a bit. He was a big enough lad last year but he has grown a bit more, he’s filled out and he looks a lot stronger.

“He’s done everything the right way, he hasn’t done any fast work, so it’s too early to see if there’s a corresponding increase in his ability but we’d like to think that he’ll at least be no worse than he was last year – and that’s probably good enough.”

KHK Racing and trainer Roger Varian have a nice prospect in True Cyan, a No Nay Never filly out of the Group-winning Dark Angel mare Realtra.

Making her debut at Newmarket in September in a seven-furlong fillies’ maiden, the grey was a taking victor with a length-and-a-half triumph over three subsequent winners.

The three-year-old holds an entry for the 1000 Guineas and connections are likely to use the Nell Gwyn Stakes as a trial before hopefully proceeding in that direction.

“She’s wintered very well, I watched her do a piece of work yesterday (Wednesday) which was very satisfactory,” said Wall.

“Roger is keen to run her in the Nell Gwynn, all being well, which will tell us whether we’re Guineas-bound or whether we need to go down another route with her.

“It’s all good news with her, she looks to have improved throughout the winter, so she’ll find her level – whether that’s in the Guineas or somewhere else.

“The form from that race (her debut) looks decent, she did it very well. She’s going to be a nice filly this year if all goes well for her, at what level we will find out.”

Disruption to the fixture list looks set to continue into the weekend after Wetherby’s meeting on Friday became the latest to fall due to a waterlogged track.

With no sign of the current wet spell coming to an end, Southwell flew the flag for jumps racing in Britain on Thursday, with meetings at Warwick and at Clonmel in Ireland both called off.

Officials at Wetherby called an inspection for 3pm on Thursday ahead of Friday’s card and made the decision to draw stumps shortly after.

A statement on the track’s website read: “There has been insufficient improvement during the last 24 hours and the ground remains waterlogged, with false ground in several areas. A further 12-15 millimetres of rain is expected overnight Thursday into Friday morning.”

Fontwell’s Friday fixture is also under threat, with a precautionary check called for 7.30am, while Saturday’s Premier Raceday at Kelso is already in doubt.

The Borders track is due to host a high-profile card, part of which is set to be shown live on ITV, but the ground is described as heavy, waterlogged in places and an inspection will take place at 8am on Friday to assess the latest state of play.

Chelmsford’s meeting scheduled for Saturday evening has been moved to an earlier start, from 5.25pm to 2.50pm.

A statement from the British Horseracing Authority read: “In light of the current forecast for Saturday April 6, the BHA has agreed to move Chelmsford City’s fixture to a 2.50 start and rearranged the running order.

“This is in order to ensure an appropriate level of racing content for our customers on Saturday afternoon and offer potential ITV coverage to the Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes at 3.30 should other fixtures on Saturday be abandoned.”

Dual St Leger winner Eldar Eldarov has likely run his last race as he recovers from a neck injury sustained in the stalls at the Dubai World Cup.

The Roger Varian-trained five-year-old was due to contest the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan on Saturday to kick off his 2024 campaign after landing the Irish St Leger on his final run last season.

He was loaded into the stalls but another horse kicked out and unsettled him, causing him to rear up and hit his head before being withdrawn from the contest.

The son of Dubawi was sent to the local equine hospital and later treated by two specialist vets who flew over from America at the request of owner Shaikh Khalid.

Eldar Eldarov has undergone an operation on a fracture to his neck and though he is not out of the woods, there are encouraging signs of his recovery after the procedure.

“He had an operation on Tuesday to stabilise a fracture in his neck, initially when he was in that post-operative phase, he had a rough time of things but he’s making progress now,” said Chris Wall, racing manager for Shaikh Khalid’s organisation.

“It will be small steps, he’s got a long way to go but the future is looking brighter than it did 48 hours ago.

“He’s in good hands in the equine hospital in Dubai, they’ve done a very good job so far.

“We flew in two vets from America who said they thought they’d be able to do something for him and they have.

“We are thankful and grateful to them, and to Shaikh Khalid for insisting that we left no stone unturned to try to give the horse a future.

“He still has quite a long way to go, he’s by no means in the clear yet, but the progress report this morning (Wednesday) was positive and he’s moving in the right direction.”

Eldar Eldarov’s future will either be at stud or in complete retirement, depending on how he fares in his recuperation.

“I think we can safely say he won’t be returning to racing, it’s now a question of whether he can do a stud job or whether he just has a happy retirement somewhere,” said Wall.

“We’ll have to see, that all depends on how his recovery goes and it’s a bit early to say for certain.”

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