Ballycasey (11st 12lb) and Alelchi Inois (11st 9lb) head the weights for the £120,000 G3 Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase (4.05pm) on Ladies’ Day, Friday 7th April, at Aintree’s Randox Health Grand National.
They are trained by Ireland’s champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins, who saddled Its Time For A Win to victory in the 2 mile, five furlong handicap chase over the Grand National fences in 2002.
The seven Mullins’ contenders in the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase also feature valuable Leopardstown handicap chase runner-up The Crafty Butcher (10st 4lb) and G2 JT McNamara National Hunt Chase third Haymount (10st 13lb).
Both Alelchi Inois and The Crafty Butcher remain in the feature race of the Randox Health Grand National Festival, the £1-million Randox Health Grand National on Saturday 8th April, though the latter is unlikely to get a place in the 40-strong line-up.
G3 Ultima Handicap Chase fifth Go Conquer (10st 1lb, Jonjo O’Neill) and Seefood (10st 1lb, Dr Richard Newland), second over the Grand National fences in December’s Betfred Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, are the joint-favourites for the Randox Health Topham Handicap Chase.
O’Neill may also be represented by last year’s winner Eastlake (16/1, 11st 4lb), while the Paul Nicholls-trained As De Mee (12/1, 10st 10lb) could also aim for a repeat success over the Grand National fences, having beaten Seefood in the Betfred Grand Sefton Handicap Chase earlier this season.
A powerful squad from Britain’s champion Jump trainer Nicholls, who is trying to win his 11th trainers’ title, includes Bouvreuil (10st 11lb) and Art Mauresque (11st 5lb), who were third and eighth respectively in the G3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at the Cheltenham Festival, recent Newbury winner Warriors Tale (10st 9lb), and G2 Pendil Novices’ Chase scorer Frodon (11st 5lb).
Nicky Henderson, currently in the lead for the trainers’ championship, has O O Seven (11st 4lb), Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase second Gold Present (10st 8lb) and Randox Health Grand National entry Cocktails At Dawn (10st 6lb) to choose from.
Other leading contenders among the 60 contenders going forward include Navan G2 Chase victor A Toi Phil (11st 3lb, Gordon Elliott IRE) and Betfred Grand Sefton Handicap Chase third Henryville (Harry Fry, 10st 6lb).
Philip Dempsey, who trains in County Kildare, Ireland, is looking forward to sending over Mr Diablo (10st 8lb). The eight-year-old was a cosy winner of a valuable Leopardstown handicap chase over an extended 2 miles and five furlongs on 5th March – his first appearance in almost five months. The eight-year-old’s regular jockey is the trainer’s son Luke Dempsey.
The son of Presenting showed a high level of form as a novice last season, coming home second behind future Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John in a beginners’ chase and filling the same spot in a novices’ handicap chase at the Punchestown Festival.
Dempsey revealed: “The plan is to come over to Aintree with Mr Diablo. It was a good performance to win off top-weight at Leopardstown and he schooled over the National-style fences at the Curragh last Friday, which went well.
“We put a tongue-tie on him last time, although I am not sure how much of a difference it made. He has never had a wind issue and is a good horse on his day, but it certainly won’t do any harm to put it on again.
“He was second in a €100,000 chase at Punchestown last year, when he had some very good horses behind him including the Galway Plate winner Lord Scoundrel, but then he got a bad cut on a tendon when he ran at Roscommon.
“He has won on all sorts of ground and he’s a good moving horse. He has mixed it with some of the best around at times and you would like to dream that he could be a National horse one day.”
The three-day Randox Health Grand National Festival at Aintree commences with Grand Opening Day on Thursday 6th April.