Racing: McCoy opts for Colbert Station over Sunnyhillboy
It was a hard call for the champion jockey to reject his other JP McManus-owned option, the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Sunnyhillboy, who was beaten by the narrowest margin in National history 12 months ago by Neptune Collonges.
However, with Sunnyhillboy carrying 10lb more this year, McCoy has gone for the potential improver, who marked himself out as a National horse when winning the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
“He’s won his last two races while Sunnyhillboy has the experience of being round here and is trained by Jonjo O’Neill, which is the biggest plus there is in staying chases,” the 17-times champion jockey said.
“Colbert Station has less weight, he is a bit inexperienced but is a bit more unexposed, too.
“The Paddy Power Chase is not anywhere near as good a race as the Grand National, but it’s very competitive in terms of hustle and bustle. With 30 runners it is like a mini-Grand National.
“If Colbert Station doesn’t win I hope Sunnyhillboy does. He was second last year, he has lots of positives and it was a tough decision. It’s always difficult getting off one of Jonjo’s horses in these long-distance chases.
“The only thing is that Ted Walsh has a pretty good record in the National as well. That was a plus point.”
Walsh also runs Seabass, third last year and once again partnered by his daughter, Katie.
Sunnyhillboy will again be ridden by Richie McLernon, who is hoping for another brilliant ride. He said: “I’ll go out with the same mentality as last year and do the exact same thing. He didn’t deserve to get beat and hopefully we’ll go one better.”
Imperial Commander is at the head of the weights after the good ground at Aintree persuaded his connections to let him take his chance after he missed the Gold Cup with a minor infection. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has two more in Major Malarkey, ridden by Tom Scudamore, and Viking Blond (Adam Wedge), who is the final horse of the 40 declared runners.
The ante-post favourite is Willie Mullins’ On His Own, ridden by Ruby Walsh. The trainer and jockey teamed up for National glory with Hedgehunter in 2005. Mullins also runs Quel Esprit and Quiscover Fontaine.
Champion trainer Paul Nich-olls, who won his first National last season in thrilling circumstances, has Join Together (Daryl Jacob), What A Friend (Sam Thomas) and Harry The Viking (Ryan Mahon), the latter two part-owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.