Grey Dawning kicks off what could prove to be a crucial three days at Aintree for title-chasing Dan Skelton in the the Close Brothers Manifesto Novices’ Chase on Thursday.

Following a fantastic four-timer at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, the Alcester handler heads former mentor Paul Nicholls by around £30,000 in the race to be crowned leading trainer, while perennial Irish champion Willie Mullins cannot be discounted despite being just over £685,000 further adrift.

Skelton is well aware the next three days on Merseyside are likely to have a major bearing on where the championship ultimately ends up, but he is doing his best to keep his feet on the ground.

“There’s a lot of water to go under that bridge, but having good chances at this meeting with the prize-money on offer there is obviously very important,” he said.

Grey Dawning was one of Skelton’s fab four at Cheltenham, reversing previous form with the Nicholls-trained Ginny’s Destiny to secure Grade One honours in the Turners Novices’ Chase.

The pair will renew rivalry in the opening race of the Randox Grand National Festival, with Skelton hopeful Grey Dawning’s Cheltenham exploits have not left their mark.

He added: “I’m looking forward to it a lot, obviously. He showed at Cheltenham two-and-a-half (miles) in this ground is no issue at all. I wanted to go three miles with him, but when the ground was like this, it was a pretty easy decision to make.

“He’s in good form at home. I’ve no reason to think that he’s not in the same form as he was at Cheltenham, but historically horses have tried to do the two and some have and some haven’t, I just hope he’s in the have category! I have no reason to think he’s not, I’m very happy with him.”

Nicholls is similarly positive about Ginny’s Destiny’s wellbeing and is looking forward to the rematch with Grey Dawning in a race worth £120,000 in total.

“He’s made giant strides since joining us this season, winning three times at Cheltenham before another cracking run when second to Grey Dawning at the Festival,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“He will love the ground at Aintree and is in good shape.

“As with all of ours who ran at Cheltenham, no one can tell you for sure how they have come out of their races but they have had a nice, easy fortnight before we started tuning them up again. They did their last piece of work on Saturday and head to Aintree fresh and well.”

Mullins also has a significant contender in the form of Il Etait Temps, who steps up in trip after placing third behind stablemate Gaelic Warrior in the Arkle at Cheltenham.

Jamie Snowden’s Turners Novices’ Chase sixth Colonel Harry and Tom Lacey’s Blow Your Wad, the only horse in the field not to run at the Festival, are the other hopefuls.

Dual Coral Cup winner Langer Dan takes a step into the unknown as he tackles Grade One company for the first time in the William Hill Aintree Hurdle.

The eight-year-old had struggled for form during the winter but trainer Dan Skelton reported the gelding had suffered from stomach ulcers over that period.

He was right back to his very best at Cheltenham, however, winning by three and a half lengths to become the first dual winner of the ultra-competitive handicap and he now faces top-level scorers Bob Olinger and Impaire Et Passe in a field of eight.

“He’s up in class, running in a Grade One for the first time I think, which is very exciting,” said Skelton.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for first two in the betting (Bob Olinger and Impaire Et Passe) and they’re not going to be easy horses to beat, but our horse is in great form and put up a career-best in the Coral Cup last time.

“I think think he’s a player anyway, but whether he can beat the two fancied ones or not we’ll see.”

Henry de Bromhead’s Bob Olinger missed the Cheltenham Festival having finished second in the Irish Champion Hurdle as this has been his main target all season, over his ideal trip of two and a half miles.

“I’m really looking forward to riding Bob Olinger in the Aintree Hurdle,” Rachael Blackmore told Betfair.

“He was really good in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. It was great to feel the old Bob Olinger spark again this season. He really felt back to himself. When you have ridden a horse who has the ability that he has, it’s great when you get that feeling from him again.

“He ran very well then in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown, he did well to keep on to finish second to the Champion Hurdler State Man.

“He’s in great form at home, and hopefully he can continue running like he has been running all season. We couldn’t be happier with him, we’re really looking forward to him.”

Nicky Henderson’s Luccia ran a massive career-best to finish third in the Champion Hurdle when many of her stablemates were under a cloud, with her trainer eager to try a longer trip.

“The line of thought with stepping her up in trip is that we haven’t really got anywhere else to go other than Punchestown for the two-mile mares’ hurdle where you’d expect Lossiemouth to turn up,” Henderson told Unibet.

“We were third in the Champion Hurdle so it would be interesting to find out where we compare with Lossiemouth to find out whether Lossiemouth would have been fourth or first in the Champion Hurdle.

“State Man didn’t exactly get a million miles away from Luccia which is probably the bit that chews us as we know where Luccia would sit with Constitution Hill and five lengths wouldn’t bring them together.

“I thought Lossiemouth was brilliant the twice we’ve seen her this season, so not only are we not keen on taking her on, I’ve been dying to step Luccia up in trip as this is an opportunity to see if she stays as it will make next year much easier.”

Beacon Edge, Mahons Glory, Nemean Lion and Marie’s Rock complete the field.

Matty Longstaff is enjoying a fresh start with Toronto FC having gone from the highest of highs with boyhood club Newcastle to dealing with injuries, frustration and the business side of the beautiful game.

If you were writing a script for a young Geordie, then scoring the winner against Manchester United on your Premier League debut at a packed St James’ Park would be the dream.

Better still, teenager Longstaff did that playing alongside his older brother and appeared set to follow Sean in establishing himself as a Newcastle regular.

The midfielder made 15 appearances during the 2019-20 campaign and scored at Old Trafford, but things ultimately did not go to plan for a midfielder starting anew in Major League Soccer with Toronto.

“You probably don’t realise how special it is until down the line, you realise how difficult it was to actually go and do that,” Longstaff told the PA news agency.

“When I came through, I didn’t have any lows. Broke through, scored on my debut against Man United, played that season, felt like I’d done well, obviously scored at Old Trafford.

“Everything just kind of seemed to roll on. You don’t really think about anything – you just play, play, play.

“Then certain things come up and suddenly you’d start to stall. It gets a bit tougher and then you realise that it’s a business and it’s not what you think it is. As bad as it sounds, it’s a business at the end of the day.

“Obviously I was there and then you’re gone and you have to accept it because ultimately, players are going to come and go.

“When I’m 19 breaking through, you just think ‘I’ll play here and this will be me for my career’ but then in about six or seven months, you soon realise that it’s completely different and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Longstaff’s breakthrough attracted interest from Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, including a lucrative offer from Udinese, but he was always “praying” for a new deal where his “heart lay”.

The homegrown midfielder eventually signed a new contract with the Magpies but only made five more appearances for them, spending time on loan at Aberdeen, Mansfield and Colchester.

The latter spell was ended by an anterior cruciate ligament injury on Boxing Day 2022, leading to a gruelling rehabilitation programme and uncertainty after his Newcastle deal ended last summer.

“I did every bit of the rehab there,” said Longstaff, who is full of praise for his former club. “I was really lucky.

“When I ran out of contract, I got a phone call off (sporting director) Dan Ashworth in the off-season when I’d ran out.

“Let’s be honest, as a player you never know what can happen with clubs and stuff, but they were absolutely spot on with me.

“Dan just rang me and said ‘look, Matty, we’re going to keep you here for the full rehab process, it doesn’t matter how long it takes’.

“Dan and the gaffer (Eddie Howe) at Newcastle were unbelievable with us.”

Longstaff says it “makes such a big difference to you when you know people actually care”, with that help even extending to aiding his move to Canada.


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The 24-year-old met Ashworth and Toronto boss John Herdman – who hails from nearby Consett – at Newcastle’s training ground during rehab, leading to a trial and signing a two-year deal.

Longstaff so far loves life in Toronto – his brother Sean’s “favourite place” – and is full of praise for an “unbelievable” club, who he made his debut for off the bench against Charlotte a month ago.

“I hadn’t played a competitive game in 15 months, so you miss that feeling,” he said. “The way the fans went on, it was unbelievable.

“Something I’ll remember and hopefully the longer I’m here, I can give them a few more opportunities to cheer.”

Longstaff has since made four starts for TFC and is excited to be starting this new chapter at a time when MLS is beginning its own with the 2026 World Cup looming large.

“It’s showing what a good league it is now,” Longstaff said. “I’m looking forward to playing more.

“When you look at the players that are coming here and what’s happening round here, it was a bit of a no-brainer.”

Late-night commuters at an Australian train station had a surprise travel companion last Friday as a loose horse ended up on the platform.

An unknown person broke into the premises of trainer Annabel Neasham, who is based at Warwick Farm in Sydney, unlocking some of the stable doors which allowed the horse to escape.

The unnamed runner ended up on the platform at Warwick Farm train station, with New South Wales Premier Chris Minns sharing a video of the incident on Wednesday, which shows the horse walking up and down as a train arrives while passengers jumped out of the way.

The horse was eventually caught by a staff member and transported back home.

In a post on X, Minns said: “Wet tracker.

“Didn’t realise I needed to say but – horses aren’t allowed on our trains, sorry folks.

“I can confirm the horse has returned home, safe and sound.”

Neasham, who was born in Britain and is best known for her handling of ex-Sir Michael Stoute runner Zaaki, has been contacted Racing NSW stewards regarding the incident.

A statement from the authority said: “Ms Neasham explained that on the evening of Friday, April 5 an unknown person gained access to one of her stable barns in the Warwick Farm stabling precinct.

“It was ascertained that the unknown person released three racehorses and a stable pony with one of the stated racehorses leaving the vicinity of her stable complex.

“Ms Neasham added that as soon as she became aware that there was a loose horse from her stable complex, she immediately contacted local police who attended soon after and the horse was able to be recaptured without sustaining any injury or damaging any property.

“Further, Ms Neasham explained that the stable barn which was accessed accommodates horses which are in the early stages of their respective preparations and therefore did not contain any horses which were entered for or scheduled to race.

“Ms Neasham will be formally interviewed by the stewards at a time to be fixed regarding the incident.”

Cheltenham Festival runner-up Kargese follows a familiar route for Willie Mullins in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree on Thursday.

The Closutton handler has claimed this Grade One contest twice in the last seven years, with both the sensational 2016 victor Apple’s Jade and last year’s heroine Zenta picking up minor honours in the Triumph Hurdle prior to striking gold on Merseyside.

His latest challenger is a pea out of the same pod having found only stablemate Majborough too strong at Prestbury Park last month – and while Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten Triumph absentee Sir Gino is a major threat, connections of Kargese are quietly confident about her chances.

“If she’s come out of Cheltenham well, which the team at Closutton seem to think she has, she must have every chance,” said Peter Molony, racing manger for owner Kenny Alexander.

“She just needs to learn to settle a little bit. I would upgrade her run big time in the Triumph as she basically fought for her head the whole way round and never really settled. Before the last she looked like she was galloping all over the winner and then she just got tired.

“I know the winner is very good, but I think she definitely would have got closer to him if she had settled better, so if she can settle on Thursday we’d be very hopeful.

“She’s a very nice mare who owes us nothing as she’s had a great year already, but we rate her pretty highly so hopefully she can settle and we’ll have a good run.”

Sir Gino looked every inch a top-class prospect after winning his first two starts for Nicky Henderson, particularly when dominating his rivals in a Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham in late January.

The French import disappointingly missed the Triumph Hurdle itself during what was a difficult week for his trainer, but that does at least mean he will be fresh for his latest assignment.

“It was sad he couldn’t run at Cheltenham because, to be fair, there was nothing wrong with him but by the time we got to the Friday I’d completely lost my bottle altogether,” Henderson told Unibet.

“I didn’t dare run him. I think he’s a very good horse and we’re going to find out sooner or later. He looked very good on Trials day at Cheltenham and his work recently has been up to that standard.

“He’s been round Auteuil so the ground shouldn’t worry him.”

Similar comments apply to the Paul Nicholls-trained Kalif Du Berlais, who is two from two since arriving in Britain and has been saved for Aintree since landing the Adonis at Kempton in February.

“He’s a horse with a big future and maintained his unbeaten record with a determined success in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton under a 5lb penalty,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“It was always the plan to miss the Triumph Hurdle and wait for this race at Aintree. We’ve deliberately given him time and although this is a step up in class for him, he seems be improving physically and I think he is in better shape than he was before his last run.”

Joseph O’Brien saddles both Triumph Hurdle fourth Nurburgring and his stablemate Intellotto, who was last seen landing a small-field conditions event at Limerick.

Syd Hosie’s rank outsider and hurdling debutant Dirty Den, down the field in the Champion Bumper last month, completes the field.

Galileo Dame looks to have a bright future based on the way she quickened up to win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Maiden at Leopardstown.

The last three winners have all gone on to be Group One performers in Tarnawa, Above The Curve and last season subsequent Irish Oaks winner Savethelastdance was successful in it.

Aidan O’Brien ran two with Ryan Moore preferring the claims of Rubies Are Red, a full-sister to multiple Group One winner Found and it was she and stablemate Flight Of Fancy who went for him just off the bend.

Dylan Browne McMonagle was just biding his time on the Joseph O’Brien-trained winner, though, and as soon as she was in the clear despite the ground being heavy she sprinted away to win by three and a half lengths at 13-8.

“She had a good run in soft ground last year and we thought that 10 furlongs would suit her well,” said Joseph O’Brien.

“I was very pleased and looking at that you’d have to say she’s a smart filly.

“I suppose the obvious thing now is to go into an Oaks trial of some sort. That’s probably where she’ll go.

“She’s owned by a great group of lads, the Annus Mirabilis Syndicate, Sean O’Driscoll and Brian McKieran. It’s exciting for them to have a real smart filly.”

James Reveley will get the leg-up on a horse he helped to source as he partners Roi Mage in the Randox Grand National on Saturday.

The 12-year-old is trained in Ireland by Patrick Griffin and his son and assistant James – a duo Reveley is well acquainted with, having ridden numerous winners for them throughout his career.

A notable victory shared between them was with Maggio in the Listed Betfred Handicap Chase in 2016, the race before the Grand National in which Rule The World triumphed for Mouse Morris and David Mullins.

On that occasion, Reveley wore the blue and yellow silks previously made famous by Auroras Encore when he won the Aintree showpiece in 2013 for Sue Smith and Ryan Mania, colours belonging to a group of owners that clearly love to target the big race.

They did so last year with Roi Mage, who was partnered by another France-based jockey in Felix de Giles and finished an admirable seventh after his first encounter with the unique National obstacles at Aintree.

After a summer break, he joined forces with Reveley to target the Listed Grand Steeple-Chase-Cross-Country de Compiegne, a race he won by three lengths on heavy ground over three miles and three furlongs.

Most recently, he was seen in the Bluegrass Stamm 30 Chase at Down Royal, finishing second behind fellow National challenger Adamantly Chosen.

That run has prepared him nicely for his Liverpool bid and Reveley is looking forward to reuniting with him on going that is guaranteed to be testing.

“He’s a horse I’ve ridden a few times and I know quite well, I found him for the Griffins in France,” he said.

“I’d ridden him in France and I thought he’d be a good National type, they’ve had a bit of fun with him, they’ve had a couple of wins and a good run in the National last year. Let’s hope he can put in another one, as they love to have a National horse.

“I actually rode a winner for them at Aintree in the race before the National a long time ago, on Maggio in the same colours, so that’s where the connection comes from.

“They asked me if there were any horses in France that could potentially be National types and I thought of this horse, he’s turned out to be quite good for them.

“I think things have gone a bit better for him this year, his last run was good, very solid, and I liked how he stayed on to the line.

“They campaign him quietly, they don’t over-race him and that’s good for an older horse. He enjoys his life with the Griffins in Ireland and I’m quietly confident.”

Reveley has already enjoyed a notable success on British turf this year when landing the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day aboard Il Est Francais.

Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm’s gelding then contested the Prix Murat at Auteuil last Saturday but something appeared to be amiss as he was all but pulled up.

“I haven’t heard the verdict yet but my immediate conclusion was that he didn’t enjoy being ridden like that,” the jockey said of the disappointment.

“He’s a dominant horse who likes to dominate, to use his stride and his jumping – and we didn’t let him do that.

“I think that could be one of the reasons why he ran so badly.”

Emmet Mullins’ Corbetts Cross is bidding for the Cheltenham-Aintree double as he prepares to contest the William Hill Bowl Chase on the opening day of the Grand National meeting.

The chestnut was a wide-margin winner at the Cheltenham Festival, taking the Maureen Mullins National Hunt Challenge Cup by 17 lengths under Derek O’Connor.

That run proved his stamina and his ability in heavy ground, and now his class will be tested as he steps down in trip from three miles and six furlongs to three miles and a furlong at Aintree.

Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus, said: “He’s probably in at the deep end, but he’s in good form, came out of Cheltenham very well and Emmet was keen enough to have a crack at it.

“The other horse is in the three-mile novice, Inothewayurthinkin, so we said we’d give Corbetts Cross a crack at this and see how we get on.

“He’s obviously coming back from Cheltenham where he had a hard enough race and he is in at the deep end, but as long as he runs well and gets round we’ll be happy.”

Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin is the reigning champion in the race but has met with mixed fortunes this year, refusing to race in the  1965 Chase at Ascot and then falling with the race at his mercy in the King George VI Chase.

He bounced back to stroll to victory in the Denman Chase but his participation in the Gold Cup was prevented by an unsatisfactory scope ahead of the race during a difficult time for the Seven Barrows stable.

“Nico rode him on Saturday and said he felt fantastic, we’re ready to rock and roll I hope,” Henderson told Unibet.

“We had to miss the Gold Cup but there was nothing else you could do, it just hasn’t been his year.

“The King George, you could argue whether he would or he wouldn’t have won – I’ve always felt that he would have won.

“Let’s hope he can put it all to rights, he certainly deserves it.”

Gordon Elliott will saddle the Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Gerri Colombe in the race after he missed out by three and a half lengths when last seen in the Cotswolds in March.

The gelding has course and distance form as he was the winner of the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at the meeting last year with an easy seven-and-a-half-length success.

“I’m really happy with Gerri Colombe, he worked great on Monday morning,” the trainer told At The Races.

“We were a bit disappointed with him after the Savills Chase, so we were delighted to see him come back to himself when running so well in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

“He seems to be improving all the time and can hopefully step up again. He handles soft ground very well, but he travelled great on nicer ground at Aintree last year, so I don’t think he’s one dimensional that way.”

Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame also ran in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but did not run up to his mark when tailed off in fifth.

Nicholls felt the conditions did not suit him and will also experiment with cheekpieces as the bay looks to return to form in Liverpool.

“Things haven’t quite gone to plan for Bravemansgame this season,” he said to Betfair.

“He hated the testing conditions at Cheltenham and it was clear from an early stage in the Gold Cup that he wasn’t handling them.

“The flat track at Aintree will suit him better and the ground shouldn’t be as deep as at Cheltenham.

“We are putting cheekpieces on Bravemansgame to help sharpen him up. It’s something we almost tried last time. His regular rider Scott Marshall was very pleased with the way he worked on Saturday morning.”

Mouse Morris’ Gentlemansgame is another contender last seen in the Gold Cup, where he was pulled up two from home following a more fruitful start to the season that saw him finish second in the PWC Champion Chase and win the Charlie Hall.

Lucinda Russell’s Ahoy Senor was second behind Shishkin in the race last term and lines up in a bid to go one better after coming home in the middle of the pack in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham when last seen.

Olly Murphy’s Thunder Rock completes the field, winner of the Listed bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso in early March.

Valvano is set for a step up in distance following his encouraging return behind 2000 Guineas hopeful Notable Speech at Kempton.

An impressive winner of a heavy ground maiden at Nottingham last October, the Ralph Beckett-trained colt was tasked with taking on Godolphin’s highly-regarded and unbeaten track-and-trip specialist for his return in a conditions race won by some top operators over the years.

The son of Night Of Thunder lost little in defeat when headed late on by the speedy winner – who was cut across the boards for the 2000 Guineas in the aftermath – and having blown away the cobwebs and confirmed the promise of his excellent debut, connections can now look forward to moving up in distance and a possible run in a Classic trial next.

“We knew we were going to use Saturday as a stepping stone and we know that he is going to want 10 furlongs plus and probably with a bit of juice in the ground, so for Valvano to go a mile round Kempton and take on a horse who has every chance of taking his chance in the Guineas, it was always going to be a tough ask,” said Alex Elliott, adviser to owners Valmont.

“It will have done him good to get the freshness out of him and it was an improvement on his debut and will have taught him something. We look forward to stepping him up in trip now and we will probably look at a trial, I suppose.

“The winner looks a cut above in terms of going a mile and you would like to think if we could make the same improvement as we did from a maiden going into a conditions race when going up in trip in preferred conditions, we could have a really smart horse hopefully.”

With the feeling Valvano has a preference for cut in the ground, weather conditions could dictate where he steps up in trip and although he holds an entry for the Betfred Derby, it could be the French equivalent at Chantilly that becomes a longer-term objective.

Elliott continued: “Ralph thinks from his pedigree he is going to want a little bit of rain and I think he is going to be ground dependent.

“On the bottom side of his pedigree there is a lot of stamina, being out of a Duke Of Marmalade mare. But Night Of Thunder doesn’t really get them to stay that far. Ten furlongs could be his optimum for now but I think Ralph is pretty confident the horse could stay even further.

“He’s in the Dante, but wherever the rain is, whether that is York or Chester or something like that, if that went to plan, we could look at going to France for the French Derby.

“We’ll see and it’s a long way away and for now it is nice to see him back and make the progression. Hopefully he can take another step forward next time.”

Fellow Valmont-owned three-year-old Feigning Madness could also put his Classic hopes to the test when he makes his return in trial action at either Epsom or Lingfield.

The son of Ulysses somewhat surprised his team when going unbeaten in two starts as a two-year-old and as well as being a candidate for the Derby, the colt is also seen as a possible St Leger prospect for later in the campaign.

“He ran above expectation last year, he ran at Newbury first time and we thought he would be green, which he was, but we didn’t really expect him to do what he did,” continued Elliott.

“To then carry a penalty the way he did at Newmarket when the horse was on his head the whole way, you have to think the horse is going to stay super well.

“He’s going to come back in a trial and it will either be the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom or Lingfield. He has had two runs now and has learnt a lot. He is crying out for a step up in trip and we’re going to try to pick our easiest way to Epsom – if we can run well in a trial, then why not take a shot.

“He’s a well-balanced horse and his work has been good this year, which is pleasing everybody, and I think the further he goes, the better, so you could hopefully see him in something at Doncaster at the end of the season.”

Feigning Madness claimed the scalp of Ed Walker’s Harper’s Ferry on his second start and it was interesting to see another of the Valmont string, Moon Over Miami, also finish ahead of that rival when making a taking debut at Doncaster at the beginning of the Flat turf season.

As he is a gelding, Classic events are off the cards, but connections are keen to see the Kimpton Downs inmate continue his on-track education with a view to lining up at Royal Ascot in the summer.

“The time boys went crazy over Moon Over Miami but with him being a gelding, he can’t take in one of the trials so we will probably go for another novice with a penalty,” added Elliott.

“I think Ralph has his eye on something Greenham weekend – I think there is a 10 furlong novice there – and I guess we will be trying to get three runs into him before Royal Ascot.

“We’re just a little hamstrung with him being a gelding as to what we do next, but he’s exciting.”

Jonbon steps up to two and a half miles for the first time in Friday’s ultra-competitive My Pension Expert Melling Chase at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has won multiple Grade Ones over the minimum trip but connections have been minded to try him over further for some time.

Having missed the Cheltenham Festival due to concerns over the form of his string, Henderson will be hoping for a better display than the one which saw him beaten at 1-4 in the rearranged Clarence House Chase when he made several jumping errors.

Taking him on are this year’s Ryanair winner Protekorat and the 2022 winner of that race Envoi Allen.

Protekorat had spent a large part of the previous two seasons running over three miles but excelled dropped in trip last month, while Envoi Allen put up a game defence of his title in second.

Paul Nicholls won the race last year with Pic D’Orhy and the nine-year-old is back again searching for a valuable win for his handler in the race to be champion trainer.

Gordon Elliott’s Conflated also runs in this in preference to the Grand National, with Easy Game and Minella Drama completing the field.

Two smart mares, Golden Ace and Dysart Enos, will meet again in the TrustATrader Top Novices’ Hurdle.

Fergal O’Brien’s Dysart Enos came out on top when they met in a Grade Two bumper at this meeting 12 months ago but she was denied her chance to go for glory at Cheltenham due to a minor setback.

In her absence Jeremy Scott’s Golden Ace won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, beating some well-touted Irish contenders.

Standing in their way is Willie Mullins’ Supreme runner-up Mystical Power, the third Firefox and Ben Pauling’s promising Personal Ambition in a field of eight.

There are six in the Huyton Asphalt Franny Blennerhassett Memorial Mildmay Novices’ Chase and none can be confidently ruled out.

Cheltenham winner Inothewayurthinkin and Kim Bailey’s Chianti Classico will have plenty of supporters.

Henry de Bromhead sends over Heart Wood, Broadway Boy gets the chance to atone for missing Cheltenham, with Giovinco and Iroko not out of it either.

The Mullins-trained Dancing City and Readin Tommy Wrong, Shanagh Bob, Croke Park and The Jukebox Man, agonisingly reeled in by Stellar Story in the Albert Bartlett, are among nine in the Cavani Sartorial Menswear Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.

Max Whitlock has announced this summer’s Paris Olympics will mark the end of his glittering gymnastics career after more than two decades of history-making moments and “muck-ups”.

The 31-year-old, who has won three Olympic gold medals and three world titles, says he no longer fears life beyond the competitive side of the sport which drove him to become one of the greatest British athletes of his generation.

And whether it involves his quest to extend that remarkable legacy, or to win games of ‘Pick a Pair’ with his five-year-old daughter Willow, who will watch him at an Olympics for the first time in Paris, Whitlock’s competitive fires continue to burn as ferociously as ever.

“Working towards that end goal of my fourth and final Olympics is so exciting, and it will hopefully put me in a position to push the boundaries further, and make this final chapter the best it can possibly be,” Whitlock told the PA news agency.

“To have the opportunity to do that in front of Willow feels amazing. I always said I wanted to continue until she was old enough to watch me in competitions, and I love that she will get that chance in Paris.

“I get the feeling Willow is mega-proud. She loves going round telling people I’m the Olympic champion, and she thinks I win everything. Even when we’re playing ‘Pick a Pair’ together, my competitive instinct doesn’t stop.”

Whitlock’s almost decade-long career as a global champion, starting when he edged out pommel rival Louis Smith to become Britain’s first individual world champion in Glasgow in 2015, has masked periods of struggle and self-doubt.

“I’ve mucked up more times than a lot of people think,” insisted Whitlock, who missed out on a medal most recently at last year’s World Championships in Antwerp, where he came off the apparatus midway through his final routine.

“I’ve been to so many competitions, so many European Championships, where I’ve not been able to achieve what I wanted.

“But what it does is it massively hones you, it focuses you to go back into the gym and work on fixing things. Sometimes, it’s those mistakes that get you in the mindset to get where you want to be.”

Whitlock won two Olympic gold medals – on floor and pommel – within two hours on an unforgettable Sunday afternoon in Rio, as well as defending his world crown in Montreal and Stuttgart in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

But his fondest memory remains his first significant step on the global stage at London 2012, where he was part of a history-making bronze medal-winning men’s team and also took individual bronze on pommel, paving the way for his future exploits.

“London was such a big thing for me, to be completely doubted but to come away with those bronze medals, and it gave me the motivation and inspiration that I could go on from there and compete anywhere,” recalled Whitlock.

“I was approaching my prime and I felt invincible. The four years after London were amazing because it was about seeing how far I could take it. I felt like I was floating. If I hadn’t made London, my career might have turned out very differently.”

Whitlock’s third Olympic gold, in an almost empty Ariake Arena in Tokyo, preceded 18 months of soul-searching, during which he privately struggled with the concept that his competitive career was drawing to a close.

Almost three years on, however, his growing family and flourishing business, rolling out bespoke gymnastics courses for children, have given Whitlock renewed confidence that life without the constant calling to improve and excel can be equally rewarding.

“I feel like I’ve learned from the hard-stop of the Tokyo experience, when I was adamant that I was never coming back,” continued Whitlock.

“A lot of things weren’t really ticking the box. I had nothing to wake up to in the morning and think, ‘I’m going to work hard to try to achieve this.’ I’ve said I felt like a waste of space. But it’s different now.

“I’m equally passionate about the business I’ve set up, that creates a massive impact among young children, and the two complement each other because the enthusiasm I get from that is helping me have a really positive outlook in the gym.

“I know deep inside that Paris 2024 feels like the right time to say, ‘I’m done’. For 24 years I’ve been pushing to do everything I possibly can.

“I’ve got one final opportunity to grab, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”

Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner of the Grand National when guiding Minella Times home on this day in 2021.

The Henry De Bromhead-trained Minella Times helped Blackmore back up her Cheltenham exploits weeks earlier with more history at Aintree.

Despite the race taking place behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was a day to remember for Blackmore on the 11-1 shot after 32 previous female jockeys had tried and failed to win the Grand National.

While Blackmore had finished runner-up in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham the month before, she had claimed top jockey at the meeting to propel herself onto not only the back pages but the front.

Coupled with the well-fancied Minella Times, expectations were high for the 31-year-old and she did not disappoint with a well-timed run on good to soft ground.

Minella Times and Blackmore stormed past outsider Jett over the last fence and held off Balko Des Flos, also De Bromhead-trained, to earn a historic success.

“I don’t feel male or female. I don’t even feel human, I feel unbelievable,” Blackmore exclaimed after her run with Katie Walsh’s third-place finish on Seabass in 2012 the previous best by a female jockey at the Grand National.

“You need so much luck to get around with no-one else interfering first of all. You need so much to go right and things went right for me today.

“I feel so incredibly lucky. It is unbelievable, I’m just so thrilled.”

Reggae Boyz left back Kemar Lawrence will now call the Romanian Super League home after joining FC UTA Arad.

This will be the sixth club in the 31-year-old’s professional career. Lawrence started his pro career with Harbour View from 2009-2014 before moving to MLS club New York Red Bulls from 2015-2019 where he scored five goals in 118 games.

Lawrence then had his first stint in Europe with Belgian club Anderlecht from 2020-2021 before moving back to MLS with Toronto FC and then Minnesota United.

He was released by the latter in August last year.

Lawrence has scored three goals in 77 appearances for the Reggae Boyz since his debut in 2013.

Paul Townend will be on board I Am Maximus and Mark Walsh has opted to partner Limerick Lace after owner JP McManus finalised riding plans for his five-strong team in Saturday’s Randox Grand National.

The celebrated owner has enjoyed two famous victories in the world’s greatest steeplechase, memorably providing AP McCoy with an elusive first success aboard Don’t Push It in 2010 before the historic triumph of the Rachael Blackmore-ridden Minella Times three years ago.

McManus is set to be well represented once more at Aintree this weekend, with Irish Grand National hero I Am Maximus and his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Meetingofthewaters his two shortest-priced runners.

William Hill on Tuesday suggested the latter, third in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival last month, could even go off favourite following a “massive gamble”, but with Townend in the saddle on I Am Maximus, the owner’s retained rider in Ireland, Mark Walsh, has interestingly sided with Gavin Cromwell’s Mares’ Chase heroine Limerick Lace.

Confirming riding arrangements, McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry said: “Paul is on I Am Maximus, Mark is on Limerick Lace and Danny (Mullins) is on Meetingofthewaters.

“Mark has never ridden I Am Maximus, so Paul will ride him. Mark had a difficult decision to make as he liked Meetingofthewaters at Cheltenham as well. It was a difficult decision, but he’s gone with the mare anyway, so he’s hoping she’ll get the trip.”

Berry said Keith Donoghue had been booked to ride Cotswold Chase winner Capodanno, while Jody McGarvey will do the steering on Janidil.

He added: “They’re all going there in good form, they’ll need a bit of luck in running on the day in the National as everyone knows, but hopefully they’ll give a good account.”

Hills make last year’s winner Corach Rambler their 9-2 favourite, with I Am Maximus 7-1 and Meetingofthewaters only a point behind at 8-1 after being cut from 10s.

Spokesperson Lee Phelps said: “The money started coming in for Meetingofthewaters last week and it has not stopped. Make no mistake, this is a massive gamble, and we’ve been forced to take more preventative action, cutting Willie Mullins’ runner to 8-1 from 10-1, having been as big as 14-1 less than a week ago.

“Most people would have expected last year’s winner Corach Rambler to go off favourite, but if this gamble continues at its current rate we think there’s a good chance Meetingofthewaters could be favourite come Saturday race-time.”

The well-fancied Kitty’s Light, a 14-1 shot with the same firm, appears almost certain to make the cut after Gordon Elliott revealed top-weight Conflated will instead run in the Melling Chase on Friday.

Conflated was one of 13 Elliott-trained horses still in contention for the event following the confirmation stage on Monday, but owners Gigginstown House Stud later said the prospect of running under 11st 12lb on testing ground over four and a quarter miles was a major concern.

The 10-year-old was also entered for Thursday’s Aintree Bowl over three miles and a furlong, but was not declared on Tuesday morning and is instead set to run over two and a half miles the following day.

“We had the option of the Aintree Bowl and the Grand National, but with the ground going the way it is we are going to run in the Melling Chase on Friday instead,” Elliott said in a stable tour for

“I thought he ran great in the Ryanair Chase (at Cheltenham, finished third), he hit the line well and I was very happy with his run.”

Conflated’s anticipated defection means all six horses with an allotted weight of 10st 6lb are now set to get into the final field of 34.

As Glengouly, Galia Des Liteaux and Panda Boy are rated 146, all three were already guaranteed a starting berth, but the same could not be said of Eklat De Rire, Chambard and Kitty’s Light.

As that trio have all been dropped 1lb to an official rating of 145 since the weights were unveiled in February, connections faced an anxious wait and a potential random ballot to decide which two of the three would creep in at the bottom if none of the horses above them were taken out.

Christian Williams, trainer of last year’s Scottish Grand National and bet365 Gold Cup hero Kitty’s Light, admitted to being relieved that barring a late change of mind from Elliott, that will no longer be the case.

He said: “It’s great that he’ll get in now, it’s good for the owners. The whole season has been geared towards the Grand National so it’s great that we’ve got in.

“The owners have been looking at it for the last three weeks and had everything upside down. They’ve been thinking about it for the last three weeks and I just stayed out of it.

“I think Gordon declared Conflated for the Bowl this morning, so one of the owners rang me and said ‘brilliant Chris, we’re in’, then Gordon took him back out! Anyway, it sounds like he’s running on Friday hopefully.”

Of Kitty’s Light, he added: “He’s flying, it’s just a shame with the ground because when we had him in a good place last year the ground was good and it looks like it will be heavy on Saturday.

“He might still have won the Scottish National last year if it was soft, you don’t really know do you? You can’t discount him on the ground until he actually goes out there as when we’ve run him on that sort of ground before we didn’t have him in the best of form and it wouldn’t have been his ideal trip.

“When he’s had his ideal trip it’s been in the spring and that’s when the ground has been good. We’ll see how he runs on heavy ground in the spring – there’s only one way to find out.”

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