Lucinda Russell has her sights on another monumental day at Aintree when Corach Rambler defends his Randox Grand National title.

The 10-year-old ran out an impressive winner 12 months ago and will attempt to join the likes of Tiger Roll and the legendary Red Rum on the select list of back-to-back champions.

Buoyed by the performance of Ahoy Senor at the track on Thursday, the Scottish trainer is hopeful ahead of her Cheltenham Gold Cup third’s quest to join the Aintree immortals.

Russell – like her jockey Derek Fox also victorious with One For Arthur in 2017 – said: “I love coming to Aintree, we’ve had so many great days here and the crowd are always so appreciative, I feel a great affinity with it, it’s magic.

“I wish I could skip forward to Sunday, but I’m really hopeful and obviously watching Ahoy Senor has boosted his form again as the winner (Gerri Colombe) was just in front of him in the Gold Cup.

“We didn’t travel down until Thursday morning, which is different for us, but Scu (Peter Scudamore, assistant and partner) wanted to ride Corach on Thursday morning. The ground must be drying out and that is in his favour.”

Vanillier’s fast-finishing effort was ultimately in vain 12 months ago, but last year’s runner-up has been prepared with one day in mind as he bids to become the first grey in 12 years to win.

“We’ve trained him all year with this race in mind and he seems in good nick at home, so hopefully he will be right there,” said trainer Gavin Cromwell.

“He likes it at Aintree, so it would be good to see him run well there again.”

Cromwell will also be represented by Cheltenham Festival winner Limerick Lace, who will try to end the 70-year plus losing run for mares in the National.

He continued: “I suppose she goes on the ground, but whether she will stay on that ground, I’m not particularly sure – it’s going to take a lot of getting.

“She’s only a seven-year-old, but she is going into the race in good form and off a light weight and we hope she has a chance.”

Limerick Lace is owned by JP McManus, who is seeking his third National win after both Don’t Push It (2010) and Minella Times (2021).

The McManus squad includes the highly-touted Willie Mullins-trained pair I Am Maximus and Meetingofthewaters, with the master of Closutton reportedly pleased with the duo’s preparations.

“We have some nice prospects, but in the National you need a bit of luck. Hopefully they get round and have a bit of luck, that would be great,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“Willie is happy with his. I Am Maximus would be the big one if he takes to the place. He won’t mind the ground, but his jumping will have to come into play and he will need a bit of luck in running.

“Meetingofthewaters ran well at Cheltenham and he’s come out of the race well. Willie is very happy with him and we keep our fingers crossed he gets a good round.”

There would be emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure if Kitty’s Light was to strike for Christian Williams and having snuck into the race at the foot of the handicap, big-race pilot Jack Tudor is willing a long-held plan to come to fruition.

“We kind of sacrificed our whole season for this one race, so to be guaranteed a run now is massive,” said Tudor.

“From this time last year, it’s kind of all been leading to this and to now finally have a go at it, we’re looking forward to it.

“He’s obviously very used to big handicaps and big-runner fields and the only difference is going to be the fences and as long as he takes to them, they actually ride like a very nice fence, so we just hope he can get into a nice rhythm early and then hope for a bit of luck.”

Martin Brassil knows all about winning on Merseyside and hopes conditions will not hinder Panda Boy’s attempt to follow in the footsteps of 2006 winner Numbersixvalverde.

“It will all depend on how he copes, but he has coped with a couple of big fields so far and hopefully it won’t be a problem,” explained Brassil.

“With the reduced sized field, it might make things easier too, but the ground would be the one thing I would be worried about if there is heavy in there.

“He’s had two solid runs in good company and he’s about 10 or 11lb better off with Meetingofthewaters from the Leopardstown race where he was beaten and hopefully if Meetingofthewaters is involved, Panda Boy might be somewhere in and around at the finish.”

In contrast, Mahler Mission will give John McConnell his first runner, with the Irish handler full of confidence ahead of the big occasion.

He said: “We couldn’t be happier with him and we’re hoping that translates on the day – and if we get some above average luck, he should run a big race.

“We’ve never had him better and from that point of view we’re very happy. The ground should be OK and we’re looking forward to it.

“It’s a very big day and I just hope we get no hard-luck stories and then whatever will be will be, but we’ve enormous confidence in the horse.”

As a Randox Grand National winner Corach Rambler’s place in racing history is already assured. But superstar status awaits if he can make it back-to-back victories at Aintree.

A relatively inexpensive purchase at £17,000 from the Irish point-to-point field, the 10-year-old has given his trainer and the seven members of The Ramblers syndicate the ride of their lives.

Seven wins from 16 starts is admirable rather than amazing, but successive wins in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival followed by success in the world’s most famous steeplechase on Merseyside 12 months ago mean he has achieved far more than his connections could ever have dreamed of.

The current campaign got off to a poor start at Kelso, but a distant third in Haydock’s Betfair Chase suggested the tank was not empty and Corach Rambler hammered home that theory when picking up the bronze medal again in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, much to the delight of his proud trainer.

“We set him quite a stiff task (in the Gold Cup) really, but we wanted to give him a run and the timing works well for Aintree,” she said.

“I was absolutely delighted with the way he ran, to be third in a Gold Cup is fantastic in itself, whether you’re looking at the National or not.

“We were really pleased and I was actually quite touched as the reception he got from the crowd around the parade ring was amazing. He’s phenomenal and absolutely deserves it.”

There is just over four weeks between the Gold Cup and Grand National and Russell could not be happier with how Corach Rambler has both recovered and subsequently prepared for his return to Merseyside.

“It was a great run at Cheltenham and we were delighted, but at the same time we couldn’t rest on laurels at all as we had to get ready for Aintree,” she said.

“He had a nice, quiet 10 days. Normally we just give them a week, but we gave him a little bit longer after Cheltenham as the ground was a little bit soft for him that day.

“Time seems to have passed very quickly, but everything has been going according to plan.”

Corach Rambler’s staying-on effort behind reigning champion Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup can be taken one of two ways.

While on the one hand it may be seen as the perfect preparation for the defence of his Aintree crown – certainly a line bookmakers have taken by slashing his odds for a Grand National repeat – others have questioned whether what the handicapper considered a career-best performance may leave a mark.

Russell appears to be in the former camp, adding: “I think back to last year when he won the Ultima and he certainly had a hard enough race there before going on and winning at Aintree.

“We’ll see what happens on the day, but I think the way he has felt since Cheltenham, Scu (Peter Scudamore, partner and assistant) has been very happy with him.”

Corach Rambler is out to emulate the great Tiger Roll and the legendary three-time winner Red Rum by winning two Grand Nationals in succession, while Russell is out to notch a third win, having also struck gold with One For Arthur in 2017.

The Kinross handler has also enjoyed Grade One success at the Grand National meeting in recent years with Ahoy Senor and Apple Away, so it is no surprise she holds the three-day fixture in high esteem.

“I’ve always loved Aintree and it’s very much in my heart,” she said.

“I love Liverpool and love the people there. They look after the horses and owners so well and it’s a track I like winning at.

“I always said I wanted Corach Rambler to go down in history, and he has gone down in history by winning the National once. If he could do it twice, it would really establish him as one of the great racehorses in the country.”

British racing has launched a new campaign designed to promote and share the facts around welfare in racing.

HorsePWR will have its own dedicated website ( to provide information about the sport and the thoroughbred, the lives they lead and the high welfare and safety standards within racing.

The website explores the areas that racing has committed to improve, such as the lives after racing horses go on to have, reducing risk on and off course and facts surrounding the whip.

Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell said of the new campaign: “This is just what racing needs. We must provide the facts, help educate, and confront the tough questions head on.

“The facts matter. We understand our responsibility and respect our horses, and we want to make sure the public know this too.

“It’s good to see us taking a new approach, showing pride in the lives we give our horses, and challenging and correcting inaccurate information which is put into the public domain by those who are opposed to the sport.”

Robin Mounsey, BHA head of communications and member of the sport’s Horse Welfare Board, said: “The HorsePWR campaign sees the sport take a new approach when it comes to talking about welfare.

“It is about being up-front, open, and transparent. It is about tackling head-on the elements of the sport that we know are areas of concern and providing information to educate and reassure.

“Those who work in the sport are rightly proud of our record and standards when it comes to welfare. This campaign provides a platform to allow those connected with the sport to share their pride.

“It will be aimed at racing’s current and potential fans, seeking to ensure that future generations of racing followers are not lost to the sport due to negative perceptions around the welfare issues which are tackled by this campaign.

“HorsePWR has received significant support from across the racing industry, and we are especially grateful to the Jockey Club for providing additional funding to support the initial stage of the campaign.”

Lucinda Russell is hoping for a break in the wet weather ahead of Corach Rambler’s bid for back-to-back victories in the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday week.

The 10-year-old provided the Scottish trainer and her stable jockey Derek Fox with their second victory in the world’s most famous steeplechase last spring, having previously successfully combined with One For Arthur in 2017.

Corach Rambler made an inauspicious start to the current campaign at Kelso in October, but performed better in Haydock’s Betfair Chase the following month and made an excellent return from a winter break when third behind reigning champion Galopin Des Champs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Russell has been delighted with how her pride and joy has recovered from his Festival exertions, but admits the prospect of running in testing conditions on Merseyside is a concern.

“Time seems to be passing very quickly since Cheltenham, but everything has been going according to plan,” she said.

“He’s now back in full work, he was working today actually, and we’ll get him wound up for the National. Everything is looking good, I just wish it would slightly stop raining at Aintree.

“I don’t think anyone would want a really heavy-ground Grand National, so hopefully it won’t be too testing, it does drain well here.”

Corach Rambler is set to lead a small but select Russell team into battle at Aintree, with Ahoy Senor poised to run at the Grand National meeting for the fourth year in succession.

The nine-year-old was a shock 66-1 winner of the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle in 2021 and returned to Liverpool to claim another top-level success in the following season’s Mildmay Novices’ Chase.

Last term, Ahoy Senor had to make do with the silver medal behind Shishkin in the Bowl, but is poised for another crack at the same race next week after finishing sixth in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

Russell, a William Hill ambassador, added: “He’ll go for the Bowl again and again he’s one that will be affected by the ground, he’s better on good to soft but he’s in good form.

“Giovinco might run in the three-mile novice chase (Mildmay) and we have a few nice novice hurdlers like Esprit Du Potier and a horse called Myretown, who is by the same sire as Ahoy Senor (Dylan Thomas). He’s a lovely horse and he might go for the Sefton, which is a race we like having runners in.

“I’ve always loved Aintree and it’s very much in my heart. I love Liverpool and love the people here. They look after the horses and owners so well and it’s a track I like winning at.”

Derek Fox will not miss the ride on Corach Rambler in the Randox Grand National, despite potentially breaching the whip guidelines at Newcastle on Tuesday, the British Horseracing Authority has said.

Corach Rambler provided Fox and trainer Lucinda Russell with a second victory in the Aintree spectacular last season, with the pair having also successfully combined with One For Arthur in 2017.

Following an excellent effort in defeat when third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup two weeks ago, Corach Rambler is the clear favourite to successfully defend his crown on Merseyside on April 13 – and despite speculation to the contrary, Fox looks set to be in the plate once more.

Reports on Thursday suggested the Sligo-born jockey could be in trouble with the Whip Review Committee following his winning ride aboard the Russell-trained Clovis Boy at Newcastle on Tuesday.

However, while the BHA confirmed the ride was being reviewed, and a penalty may yet therefore follow, any potential suspension will not kick in until the week after the National.

The BHA does not normally comment regarding which riders may or may not have been referred, but has done so on this occasion, stating: “Given the speculation in the media in this instance, and the potential ramifications for the public betting on this race, we felt it would be helpful to clarify the situation.”

A BHA spokesperson said: “The WRC today considered a ride by Mr Fox at Newcastle on Tuesday. Upon reviewing the ride, the WRC had further questions for Mr Fox and have written to him today to seek his observations, as is outlined in the protocols and procedures around WRC meetings.

“As a result, Mr Fox’s case will be considered by the WRC on Tuesday, April 2. Any potential penalty arising from this ride, therefore, will not come into effect until Tuesday, April 16.”

Corach Rambler is currently the 4-1 favourite for National glory with William Hill, who report he has been incredibly popular with punters.

Spokesperson Lee Phelps said: “Corach Rambler’s run in the Gold Cup looked a perfect prep for his defence of the Grand National, and our customers agree as he has been absolutely hammered in the betting since the run at Cheltenham.

“He wasn’t a bad result prior to that, but the weight of money in the last couple of weeks has been so significant that he’d be the worst ante-post result this century. At this stage, we would take anything to beat him, but the way the money is going suggests he’s going to be incredibly hard to beat.”

Coral have also cut him to the same price from 5-1 after strong support, with David Stevens commenting: “Corach Rambler was 12-1 for a repeat National success prior to his Gold Cup run, and 8-1 immediately after that Cheltenham placing, so punters have plenty of confidence in the Lucinda Russell-trained star joining an elite group of dual Aintree winners next month.”

Serious Operator provided Patrick Wadge with another valuable winner in his quest to be champion conditional jockey when seeing off Brewin’upastorm in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle at Kelso.

Trained by Lucinda Russell, Wadge’s main supplier of winners, the seven-year-old had finished fifth in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton last time out and was a well-backed 7-2 chance.

With Wadge, who still claims 3lb, full of confidence looking for a sixth winner in his last seven rides, he waited for the right time to kick for home and jumped the last with an advantage he held to the line, winning by a length and three-quarters.

“He’s improving, his jumping was perfect but we were a bit worried about the ground because he prefers it good to soft than soft,” said Russell.

“Halfway down the back I was thinking the ground was catching him out, but it wasn’t and he was entitled to go close based on his Lanzarote run.

“We’ll go chasing next year, he probably should have done it this year, but to be fair his hurdling is outstanding. He’ll go to Aintree now and he’ll stay around at two and a half miles, it suits him.”

On Wadge, she added: “I’m so proud of him and he’s riding with such confidence, it’s great.

“The title would be great, but it’s a fickle old world and there are two months still to go. He’s certainly riding at the top of his game.”

Lucinda Russell’s Apple Away looks to take the next step in her promising chasing career when she lines up in the Sodexo Live! Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

The Grade One-winning novice hurdler is in her first season over fences and has made a pleasing start so far, finishing third on debut in a competitive graduation chase and then winning by a huge margin next time out at Leicester.

She gained more experience in the Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick last month, finishing second to the highly-regarded Grey Dawning – the same horse that won her first race over fences and the highest-rated novice chaser in training in Britain.

“It’s a good opportunity for her and Grey Dawning looks a very good horse, but she is probably better than she showed at Warwick,” said Peter Scudamore, partner and assistant to Russell.

“I don’t know if I had her quite right at Warwick but I’m hoping for a big run this time.

“It’s a competitive race and we don’t underestimate the opposition, but God willing, she is jumping OK and she’s running to the same standard as she did over hurdles.

“We realise we’re in at the deep end with her, but we know we’re fortunate to have a mare as good as her, so we’re hoping for a big run.”

Apple Away is ultimately Cheltenham-bound, with connections likely to come away from this weekend with more of an idea of which direction to go in at the meeting.

Scudamore added: “We have Giovinco as well, who won on Thursday, and Apple Away and one will probably go to the Ultima.

“Apple will probably have more options and could go for the amateur race (National Hunt Challenge Cup), but I would like to keep Derek (Fox) on her if possible. You have the Ultima and the Brown Advisory, so we will see.”

Also running is Paul Nicholls’ Brave Kingdom, who has returned from a significant break this season to win both starts in novice handicap chases.

He steps up a level and Nicholls hopes he is open to improvement and may think bigger still if he impresses at Ascot.

“He’s come good, he had problems and missed a lot of time and then he won at Plumpton well and then again at Newbury,” he said.

“He has to progress again, but we’re very happy with him. Newbury was obviously a novice handicap and this is a different race again, but we’re happy with him and he’s had a nice bit of time since Newbury, so hopefully he will run well again.

“Because he has had problems, you only take things race-by-race with him but I suspect if he won or did very well in this then we might look at a better race down the line at Aintree or somewhere like that. I’m not convinced Cheltenham is his track at the moment, but we will see.”

Anthony Honeyball’s Kilbeg King is another interesting contender having finished third in the Grade One Kauto Star at Kempton when last seen, with the Ben Pauling-trained Henry’s Friend and Dan Skelton’s The King Of Ryhope completing the field.

Lucinda Russell’s Giovinco has Sandown and Cheltenham options after pulling up in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The seven-year-old claimed his first win over fences at Aintree in November and then chased home Paul Nicholls’ useful Stay Away Fay in the Grade Two Esher Novices’ Chase at Sandown next time out.

He was subsequently entered in the Kauto Star, a Grade One run over the same trip of three miles, but under Stephen Mulqueen he never seemed to hit his stride and was eventually pulled up as Il Est Francais went on to win impressively.

There was less than three weeks between the gelding’s last two runs, a time-span Russell suspects may have been too short with hindsight.

The Scilly Isles at Sandown and the Festival Trials Day card at Cheltenham could now appear on Giovinco’s agenda, both of which would involve a step down to the near two-and-a-half-mile trip he was successful over twice as a hurdler.

“He might go to Sandown, we’ve got a couple of options with him,” said Russell.

“We might even go to Cheltenham and go over two miles four (furlongs) there.

“He was quite tired after Kempton and we felt, in hindsight, we’d gone to the well just a bit too quickly with him.

“He seems well now, he had a quiet time over the New Year and he’s back to being his usual self again.”

Grand National winner Corach Rambler will head straight for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham before aiming to repeat his Aintree heroics in April.

Last seen running an encouraging race to be third in the Betfair Chase, Lucinda Russell feels he would have too much weight to carry in the Ultima at Cheltenham, the race he won prior to success in the National, so therefore the Gold Cup represents a better route.

“Corach Rambler is in flying form and seems very well in himself. He’ll go straight to the Gold Cup and we’ll look to get a racecourse gallop into him before that like we did last year,” she told William Hill.

“Everyone knows how much I love him and it would be very special if he could be competitive in another Grand National. Over Christmas we watched back the race last year and it was amazing how much he loved it and how well he jumped. That is the main target and, while I don’t like to call the Gold Cup a prep, that’s sort of what we’re treating it as.

“He’ll have to carry so much weight in the Ultima and we just feel the Gold Cup will be a better race for him. It would be amazing if he could run well in that which would set him up perfectly for Aintree.”

She may have two runners in the blue riband with Ahoy Senor possibly lining up. He is likely to have another run first, however.

“Ahoy Senor is in great form and has fully recovered from his sore heel after Newbury. We’ve sorted that out and he’s been doing really well at home since,” said Russell.

“The aim looks the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham and, if we don’t go there, we’ll look at the Denman Chase at Newbury – a track we know he goes well at. The race at Lingfield (Fleur De Lys Chase) could have been an option, but I’m not keen on running him on very heavy ground.

“Providing one of those races goes well, it will most likely be the Gold Cup next. He has got an entry in the Ryanair and we could look at that, but I’d be leaning towards the Gold Cup at this stage.”

Russell, who feels she possibly ran Giovinco back too quickly in the Kauto Star Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and may go to Sandown or Cheltenham next, also passed on a good word for the mare, Apple Away.

“She’s a bit of a dark horse and I’m quietly confident she might run quite well in the Brown Advisory. She’ll head to Warwick next weekend and I’ve been really happy with her at home since her last run,” she said.

Lucinda Russell’s Apple Away has a new division in which to thrive after a facile chasing success at Leicester

The mare took some notable scalps at Aintree in the spring when winning the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at 16-1, defeating Donald McCain’s Maximilian, Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero’s Iroko and Paul Nicholls’ Stay Away Fay.

The latter two horses have since made very impressive starts to their chasing careers, with Iroko making light work of his debut over fences before injury interrupted his campaign and Stay Away Fay winning both chasing starts thus far including the Grade Two Esher Novices’ Chase most recently.

Apple Away’s first experience at the discipline was in a highly competitive Haydock graduation chase in late November, where she encountered two quality horses in Dan Skelton’s Grey Dawning and Willie Mullins’ Galliard Du Mesnil.

The two greys finished in the above order with Apple Away behind them and although beaten, the experience seemed to have served her well when she lined up for the @leicesterraces Christmas Meeting 28th December Book Now Beginners’ Chase over nearly two miles and seven furlongs on Wednesday.

Under Derek Fox she ran prominently and jumped soundly to take an easy lead and stroll to a 31-length success over Nicholls’ Makin’yourmindup with Fergal O’Brien’s Alaphilippe a further length and a half behind – both horses being Grade Two winners over hurdles.

Apple Away is always well supported by members of Old Gold Racing, a large-scale syndicate headed up by CEO Ed Seyfried.

Seyfried was delighted to see the six-year-old get off the mark over fences, saying of the performance: “We are properly, properly excited about her.

“It was a three-horse race and you know the old adage, back the outsider in a field of three, but we were looking at a Grade One winner and two Grade Two winners and she put a very good race to bed by 31 lengths – we’ve got a proper little rocket on our hands.

“She’ll stay and stay, we’re a syndication business trying to give the experience of owning a racehorse to a much wider population of people and to have a horse as good as this that has people on social media squabbling about whether we should go for the Brown Advisory or the mares’ chase – what a wonderful decision to have to make.

“I said that it would give us a huge boost if she could win by 20 lengths but that there was no chance of that. She heard me and over-performed by 50 per cent!

“She’s a very, very tough mare, we let the trainers do their jobs and though it wasn’t set in stone that she would go chasing this season, I love the fact that she has and I think she’s a proper little chaser now. She causes happiness and mirth wherever she goes and I can’t wait to see more of it.

“You saw in the Sefton at Aintree that she can run from the front if we want her to, everyone loves a front runner and I think she’s just going to grab everyone’s hearts.

“In the home straight she jumped into a 30-length lead. She was very careful at Haydock and she was quite careful in the first circuit at Leicester, but by the time the second circuit came around she was fabulous. I loved watching her jump like that.”

Apple Away’s next outing is yet to be decided upon, with the Kauto Star at Kempton and a limited novices’ handicap Wetherby previously under consideration before the Leicester race was added to the calendar belatedly.

Those contests will come only a fortnight after her most recent run, however, and the mare is therefore more likely to return to action in the new year instead.

“If you look at how she was campaigned last year, they didn’t really go for any eyecatching big races until quite late on,” Seyfried said.

“She has so much potential and though we’re not counting our chickens, to have a horse with so much potential in syndicate ownership is wonderful.

“It’s just fabulous, she is a walking morale booster.”

Grade One-winning hurdler Apple Away got off the mark over fences with a foot-perfect display in the opening race at Leicester on Wednesday.

The six-year-old won four of her seven starts over the smaller obstacles for trainer Lucinda Russell and owners Old Gold Racing, including a surprise top-level victory over the likes of Iroko and Stay Away Fay at Aintree in the spring.

Having been set a stiff task on her chasing debut when third behind Grey Dawning and Cheltenham Festival winner Gaillard Du Mesnil at Haydock last month, Apple Away was an even-money shot to dispatch of two rivals in the @leicesterraces Christmas Meeting 28th December Book Now Beginners’ Chase, and ultimately did so in some style.

Ridden by Derek Fox, the Scottish raider fenced fluently throughout the two-and-three-quarter-mile contest and pulled 31 lengths of a decent yardstick in Makin’yourmindup in the home straight.

The sponsors cut Apple Away to 14-1 from 20-1 for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham in March, while she is 20-1 from 25-1 to beat the boys in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Michael Scudamore, assistant trainer to Russell, told Racing TV: “We’re thrilled to bits, the further she went the better she looked. It’s great to get her chasing career off and going.

“She ran a nice race at Haydock, it probably wasn’t ideal to run her in a graduation chase first time over fences but such is the weather and the options at the moment you just have to go where you can.

“She learned plenty that day, she jumped well, she was careful and then today she was better again.

“She’s proven before what a good mare she is, but you could see her being really intelligent and enjoying it today.

“She’s got plenty of options and being a mare that opens up other options so we’ll have to see what the future holds for her.”

Royale Pagaille shone brightest at his favourite track when upsetting Bravemansgame to land the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

The nine-year-old was second in this race in 2021 and returned to the Grade One contest at a price of 5-1 under Charlie Deutsch, having never been out of the first two in four previous trips to the Merseyside venue.

Dan Skelton’s Protektorat was occasionally erratic in his jumping and Lucinda Russell’s Corach Rambler, the reigning Grand National hero, found the race happening at too quick a pace.

It was left to Royale Pagaille and Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame, the 8-11 favourite, to share the lead in the battle for top honours.

And in the closing stages it was Venetia Williams’ charge who pushed on, jumping well over the final two fences to claim his biggest success to date by six and a half lengths. Corach Rambler was another nine lengths back in third.

Derek Fox is relishing the prospect of reuniting with Ahoy Senor in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

Lucinda Russell’s star chaser was bitterly disappointing and finished last when sent off the 11-10 favourite for the Grade Two event last season but would go on to prove any doubters wrong in the second half of the campaign.

Having won the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January, he was putting up a bold show when a faller six out in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and showed no ill effects when quickly backing that performance up to finish a fine second to Shishkin in the Bowl at Aintree.

Lying in wait once again for Ahoy Senor is a familiar face in defending champion Bravemansgame and Fox is thrilled to be able to take the ride having successfully appealed a 10-day ban picked up at the track last month, which would have left him sat on the sidelines on Saturday afternoon.

He said: “I’m delighted I’m able to ride him, it’s all systems go and we’re looking forward to getting him out again.

“I’ve rode him out and we’re all happy with him – he’s in good form and all seems well.

“He might have needed it (the run) a bit last year. I actually don’t think he ran that badly, he was just a bit free and got a bit tired.”

The Charlie Hall is set to be run in testing conditions with Wetherby abandoning racing at the track on Friday.

However, Fox is happy his mount will be OK on the ground despite it not being connections’ preferred going for his West Yorkshire return.

He added: “He’s handled heavy ground before. Probably for the first day out for the season, ideally you wouldn’t have it so heavy, but it’s the same for them all and he handles any ground.

“We’re going there hopeful that he’s in good order at home and hoping he’ll do well.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Russell’s partner and assistant Peter Scudamore, who said: “We’ve obviously discussed it and Derek doesn’t see it as an issue.

“It was very tacky and dead ground the day he won at Cheltenham. He’s a free-going sort, but I don’t see it being too big an issue.”

Scudamore is no stranger to top-class staying chasers and the former champion jockey is looking forward to seeing Ahoy Senor kick off his new campaign.

“You are always nervous when you run a horse like that,” said Scudamore.

“We really fancied him last year (in the race) and it all went wrong, but he picked himself up from that and was able to run some really nice races.

“To be fair to the horse, he had a bad start to last season but then he ran some fabulous races, the two Cheltenham runs and Aintree, so we just need to have him back to that level.

“I’m a little bit more relaxed than I was and I just hope he jumps sensibly and then we can look at the Coral Gold Cup for him.

“This isn’t the be-all and end-all of the season, but we’re looking forward to it.”

Following victory in this race 12 months ago, Bravemansgame would go on to add the King George VI Chase at Christmas before brave efforts in defeat at both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals in the spring.

Trainer Paul Nicholls was originally keen to point his Gold Cup runner-up towards Haydock’s Betfair Chase, but concerned about bottomless ground on Merseyside later this month, has elected for Bravemansgame to defend his Charlie Hall crown before returning to Kempton on Boxing Day.

Nicholls told Betfair: “He enjoyed an amazing time last season and I couldn’t be happier with him as he bids to win the Charlie Hall for the second year running.

“I was leaning towards taking him to Haydock in three weeks’ time for his seasonal debut in the Betfair Chase but changed my mind after all the rain we’ve had. The way things are at the moment conditions could be bottomless at Haydock by the end of the month which would be far from ideal for Bravemansgame over almost three and a quarter miles first time out.

“It makes sense to go for the Charlie Hall with only three opponents declared against him. He won this race easily a year ago and the race comes at the right time for him ahead of the King George VI Chase at Kempton.”

Dan Skelton’s Midnight River successfully stepped up in trip when winning a big handicap at Aintree on Grand National Day and will ply his trade once again over a staying distance, while Mouse Morris will saddle the sole Irish challenger Gentlemansgame.

Morris has enjoyed success at Wetherby in the past, with the Tony McCoy-ridden Boss Doyle finishing second to Strath Royal in the 1998 Charlie Hall before going on to win back-to-back runnings of the West Yorkshire Hurdle in 2000 and 2001. He also filled the runner-up spot in the same race when bidding for the hat-trick in 2002.

Morris will now bid to enhance that record with the strapping seven-year-old who makes just his third appearance over fences.

“He’s travelled over and he’s in good shape so hopefully it’s on now, that’s the main thing,” said the Irishman.

“He ran well in Gowran and we just need to get a bit of experience into him. He’s being thrown in at the deep end on Saturday, but as long as he gives a good account of himself I’ll be happy.

“I don’t think the ground or the trip will be a problem, but you can’t beat experience in life.”

Dual Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell has thrown her support behind the decision to reduce the Aintree field to 34 runners from next year.

The Jockey Club, which runs the Liverpool track, announced a series of revisions to the April highlight on Thursday, with a cut in the maximum number of contenders down from 40 the headline change.

The position of the first fence will also be moved closer to the start while the race will be brought forward from its recent slot of 5.15pm, with the aim of providing the best possible ground for what is the betting event of the season.

Russell saddled One For Arthur to victory in 2017 and sent out Corach Rambler to triumph last season in a National that was slightly delayed after protesters from Animal Rising tried to stop the race from going ahead.

The Kinross handler said: “I think these changes announced today are a clear sign again that Aintree and The Jockey Club continue to be proactive in trying to support the Grand National and the wider sport of horseracing.

“I am fully supportive of reducing the field size and I don’t feel that six fewer runners will make a difference to the heritage of the race – it can only be a good step and hopefully will help improve the start procedures.

“As regards moving the first fence, the further you go then the more speed you are going to pick up, so logically it should mean they approach it slower. I know that it’s tricky for the jockeys to manage their speed, as it’s such an important race and everyone is vying for a good position.

“Aintree do a wonderful job in always producing perfect ground conditions; it is ground on the soft side of good, which is the way it should be.

“The level of welfare in racing is phenomenal and something we should be proud of. Once again, Aintree is trying to make things safer.”

Retired jockey Ruby Walsh rode two National winners on Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2005) and he believes evolution is essential for the future of the race.

He said: “The Grand National is the showcase event for a sport I love dearly. It’s iconic and I don’t think you can overstate how important the Grand National is – it’s a Saturday in April when non-racing people watch our sport. People enjoy it and it’s up to us in racing to make sure that they continue to enjoy it.

“I think these changes represent the evolution of the Grand National. The world is ever-changing and the Grand National, and indeed horseracing, like any other sport, has to be prepared to change. Risk can never be removed but you have to try and minimise it.

“Horse welfare is a huge part of horseracing – it’s a team sport between horse and rider and we are responsible for the welfare of the horse. I think the changes announced today by The Jockey Club will enhance the Grand National as a horse race and help to ensure its future.

“I would say the biggest effect of the earlier start time will be with the ground. We all know what a big conversation climate change is in the world and it’s very hard to keep the whole of the Grand National course on the soft side of good with the race being run later in the afternoon.”

The race was contested over four and a half miles until 2013, when it was reduced by half a furlong after the start was moved forward to be further away from the crowds and grandstands following a safety review, with the trip cut further to four miles, two and a half furlongs in 2016 after the method of measuring race distances was changed.

A standing start will now be implemented for the race, which meets with Walsh’s approval, as does the call to lower the 11th fence and alter the track layout to help catch loose horses earlier.

He added: “An effect of being able to bypass fences and the levelling off on the landing sides of fences means that more runners bunch towards the inside and therefore the reduction in field size will, in my opinion, make a considerable difference.

“You hope small things make for big progress. A lot of thought and effort has gone into this process – it was a proper and thorough review. For me, it’s evolution. It was 10 years since the last changes were made and you can look and see what has worked and what needs to be evolved.

“There are lots of people who don’t like change but all sports change. Soccer is not the same game it was 30 or even 15 years ago and looking at the Rugby World Cup, rugby has had to evolve. Racing is the same in that we have to evolve to ensure the future of the sport.”

Emma Slawinski, RSPCA director of policy, described the announcement as a “welcome step” but underlined the charity still thinks there is more work to be done.

She said: “This is a welcome step from The Jockey Club and we are very pleased to see the organisation taking horse welfare seriously and making changes to the Grand National as a result, including decreasing the current maximum number of runners.

“We have always urged horseracing authorities to act on the wealth of science and evidence and believe this is the only way to demonstrate a commitment to improving and protecting horse welfare and ensuring a good life for those involved in the sport. The BHA and The Jockey Club will know that the RSPCA will continue to urge them to go further for the good of horse welfare.

“We believe that racehorses should have a good life on and off the track and should never be exposed to unacceptable risk of injury or death. Any steps from The Jockey Club to meet that aim are a positive step forward, we look forward to seeing this announcement pave the way for further changes and remain keen to work with them.”

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