Paul Nicholls believes Vicente has a “massive chance” of becoming the first horse in over a century to win three consecutive renewals of the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday.
Couvrefeu II is the only horse to have achieved the feat between 1911-13. Southern Hero struck gold on three occasions in the 1930s and Queen’s Taste did the same in the 1950s, but neither horse managed to win three on the bounce.
Vicente has failed to complete on his two most recent outings and was pulled up when last seen at the Cheltenham Festival. However, connections sidestepped the Grand National at Aintree in favour of a potentially historic hat-trick bid at Ayr.
And with the ground turning in his favour, Nicholls is in confident mood. “He’s fine. He went up to Aintree last week as we were thinking of running him but the ground went against him,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“It’s amazing what a difference a week makes. The more it dries, the better it will be for him. We shouldn’t have run him at Cheltenham. He never jumps well on soft ground in a big field, but he’s a different animal on good ground.”
He added: “He’s a bit higher in the weights this year and, because of the ground, he’s had a pretty ordinary season, though he did run well at Cheltenham first time up. On ground he loves, he’s got to have a massive chance.”
Nicholls has a second string to his bow in Silsol. “We also run Silsol, who is not without a chance. He ran well in the Welsh National and Midlands National,” he told At The Races.
Vicente is one half of a formidable twin assault for leading owner Trevor Hemmings, along with the Sue Smith-trained Vintage Clouds. The latter was fourth reserve for the Grand National last Saturday and connections were left frustrated after he failed to make the cut.
Mick Meagher, the owner’s racing manager, said: “Vintage Clouds goes on any ground but it was frustrating to miss last week with him. Sue says he’s in great form and he’s run well all season. He was fourth in the Welsh National, so should stay, and his jumping has improved.”
Gordon Elliott relies upon Fagan in a bid to complete a remarkable Grand National hat-trick this spring.
The title-chasing trainer landed a first Irish Grand National with General Principle on Easter Monday before Tiger Roll provided him with a second success in the National at Aintree. Fagan appears to have strong claims, having been off the track since chasing home leading staying novice Black Corton at Cheltenham in October. Davy Russell, aboard Tiger Roll on Merseyside, takes the ride.
Russell’s compatriot Robbie Power has his first ride in the Scottish National aboard Colin Tizzard’s Sizing Tennessee, who was last seen finishing third in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Other leading hopes in a 30-strong field include Neil Mulholland’s Doing Fine, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ballyoptic and Nicky Henderson’s pair of Gold Present and Beware The Bear.