CONNECTIONS of Rival D’Estruval insist they are not feeling any pressure ahead of the eight-year-old’s bid to justify favouritism in the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
An impressive winner at Kelso in early December, Rival D’Estruval was put away for the next three months, with Northumberland trainer Pauline Robson targeting the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Having gone to the trouble of booking leading Irish amateur Derek O’Connor for the ride well in advance, the long-term plan looked as though it could come to fruition until Rival D’Estruval came to grief two fences from home. None the worse since, he now turns out for the biggest race of Scotland’s National Hunt season and aims to give owner Raymond Anderson Green his third win in the race in the last four years following the triumphs of Merigo in 2010 and 2012.
Robson’s assistant, David Parker, is the brother of Merigo’s trainer Andrew, and hopes to uphold family honour at the weekend.
“It’s just myself and Pauline and there aren’t really any outside pressures,” said Parker. “If he’s favourite for next year’s Grand National, it might be a different story, but we’re just looking forward to this race more than anything. It was great to see Andrew win it a couple of times with Merigo, he’s wished us the best of luck for Saturday and it would be great if we can do it.”
Milnathort trainer Lucinda Russell would dearly love to win the race and fires two bullets in Nuts N Bolts and Silver By Nature.
James Reveley takes over from the sidelined Tony McCoy on Nuts N Bolts, while Silver By Nature was pulled up on his first start in almost two years at Haydock in February. Russell said: “I was really impressed with the way Nuts N Bolts stayed on over three miles at Cheltenham and that gave us the idea to come for this race – he has always been a possible Scottish National horse.
“Silver By Nature always runs terribly on his first run back and we decided to come here because of the heavy ground. If it dried out too much, he might not even run.”
Already proven over extreme distances and in ultra-testing conditions is the David Pipe-trained Big Occasion, winner of the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter last month. Scottish-born amateur Mikey Ennis keeps the ride and Josh Apiafi, a member of the owning syndicate The Old Betfairians, is hopeful of another bold show. Apiafi said: “David is very happy with him and we’re really looking forward to it. There is a lot of talk about Big Occasion and Rival D’Estruval. I actually quite like Rebeccas Choice, who was second to us at Uttoxeter. Our horse is in good order”
Always Right is an interesting contender for County Durham-based trainer John Wade. The 11-year-old was beaten just a length into third in the 2011 Scottish National, is only 1lb higher in the weights and was a winner on his latest start at Kelso. Wade said: “Everything is good with him and we were delighted with his last run at Kelso. The great thing about him is he goes on any ground.”
Scottish-born trainer Alan King is represented by Godsmejudge, who held on for third in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.
David Dennis, racing manager for owners Favourites Racing, told At The Races: “Godsmejudge has been in consistent form all season and we’re hopeful he’ll put up a good run. He is very consistent with his jumping. He seems to stay all day, so we’re hopeful.”
Brian Ellison is confident Neptune Equester will make his presence felt if he handles the conditions. “He’s in good form and this has been the plan so because of that we gave him an easy time of it earlier in the season,” said Ellison.
David O’Meara is hoping his charge, Rose Of The Moon, can recapture his early-season form. “One thing he will like is the four miles and testing ground,” said O’Meara.
Donald McCain’s Our Mick has a consistent profile and ran yet another good race in defeat when second in Cheltenham’s JLT Specialty Chase last month while the only Irish-trained runner in the field is last year’s Irish Grand National hero Lion Na Bearnai. The 11-year-old has had an interrupted campaign and has not been seen since being pulled up in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury at the start of December. Trainer Thomas Gibney said: “He’s ready to go and we’re hoping for the best.”