Paul Nicholls’ Vicente heads to Ayr to defend Scottish Grand National title

Chris Cook
‘They want a big pat on the back at Aintree, they produced lovely ground and the cooling-off area works really well,’ said Paul Nicholls of last weekend’s race. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Vicente made a frustratingly early exit at the first fence in the Grand National on Saturday but his trainer, Paul Nicholls, is now seeing some consolation in the fact that his race was over quickly. The eight-year-old will be turned out again a week on Saturday for the Scottish equivalent, a race he won last year.

“Vicente’s fine, he goes to Ayr,” Nicholls said, picking over the details of a National in which he had five runners but came away with no prize money. “It was frustrating but that’s the National and you’d rather that happened at the first than the 21st.

“In the end he was probably the most fancied of mine. He seemed very well beforehand. He does come right at this time of year.”

Vicente’s success in the Scottish Grand National last year put Nicholls back in front in the race to be champion trainer and he eventually held off a strong challenge from Willie Mullins to take his 10th title. This time he sees no prospect of overhauling Nicky Henderson, even if Vicente can bag the £120,000 prize once more, as his Lambourn rival is around £330,000 in front with less than three weeks left in the season.

Vicente, who figures towards the top of the Ayr betting at 16-1, will be joined on the long road north by his stablemates Arpege D’Alene and Vivaldi Collonges. Nicholls also plans to send Just A Par, a never-involved 14th at Aintree, to Sandown’s Bet365 Gold Cup at the end of the month, a race he won in 2015 and in which he was beaten by a short-head last year.

Of his other National runners Nicholls said: “Wonderful Charm [19th] might run in a hunter chase. He won’t run in a handicap; he’s just not good enough. Le Mercurey [12th] won’t run again this season; he was very tired afterwards.”

Saphir Du Rheu is also finished for the season after falling at the 11th on Saturday, not through any consequence of the fall but because the ground is now on the fast side for the grey. “He jumped absolutely fantastic and then you get one bit of laziness and he’s out of it,” Nicholls said. “There are races for him next year, probably Grade Twos but he might run in the [Cheltenham] Gold Cup again.

“Everything’s come out of Aintree fine, including Politologue,” the trainer added in reference to a popular grey who fell at the last fence when leading in a novice chase on Saturday. “He’s the one you’d think might be a bit stiff and sore but not a bit of it; he’s fine. They want a big pat on the back at Aintree. They produced lovely ground and the cooling-off area works really well.”

Blaklion and Vieux Lion Rouge have also done enough for the season according to their trainers, the two eight-year-olds having run valiantly in the National. “I’m very upset, I thought I was going to win,” joked Nigel Twiston-Davies, whose Blaklion went clear shortly before the turn for home but tired into fourth.

“I’m chuffed with the horse. I’ve never seen anything jump like that round there. He’s really good this morning but I wouldn’t have thought he’ll run again. He’s entered at Sandown but he was quite knackered afterwards.”

David Pipe said of the sixth-placed Vieux Lion Rouge: “He seems OK. He ran a great race, he just didn’t quite see out the trip. I’m sure the owners will be keen to have another crack at the race.”

A viewing figure for the National of 8.2m, down from 10m last year, has provoked some discussion but one leading bookmakers reported that interest in the race from the betting public remains strong. “When you have that warm weather suddenly, it can impact on betting as well as TV,” said Coral’s Simon Clare, “but we were quite encouraged by our turnover figures on Saturday night. We have targets across the shops and on digital and we pretty much hit them.

“Then we saw what people were saying on Sunday about the viewing figures and had another look but it does feel like another strong National as far as we’re concerned and certainly nothing to be concerned about.

“Suddenly getting that warm weather after a pretty miserable winter and early spring is an important thing to factor into this discussion. My concern is we might be over-indexing the floating viewer, the most fickle of viewers. The core interest is still there.”

Tuesday’s tips, by Chris Cook

Lingfield

2.00 Mathix 2.30 Team Meeting 3.00 Our Man In Havana 3.30 Viewpoint 4.00 Alkhor 4.30 Shrubland 5.00 Hong Kong Joe 5.30 Hallingham

Pontefract

2.10 Fine Example 2.40 Above Normal 3.10 Battered 3.40 Medicine Hat (nb) 4.10 Cymro 4.40 Acadian Angel 5.10 Jabbaar 5.40 Indy

Exeter

2.20 Gambol 2.50 Shantou Rock (nap) 3.20 Nancy’s Trix 3.50 Clubs Are Trumps 4.20 An Siltean 4.50 Poisoned Berry 5.20 Western Wave 5.50 Lord Ben

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