Lord du Mesnil, a decisive winner at Haydock Park on his last two starts, headlines a field of 11 for the Unibet Grand National Trial on Saturday.
The Richard Hobson-trained chaser, readily won the Betway Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase and followed up nine days later in The Last Fling Handicap Chase over Saturday’s course and distance.
Paul O’Brien, on board for both starts, partners the improving seven-year-old, who is chasing a four-timer having also scored at Newcastle at the end of November – a sequence that has seen the soft-ground specialist go from a mark of 122 to his current rating of 147.
Lucinda Russell is the most successful current trainer in the Unibet Grand National Trial, having sent out the winner on three occasions with Silver By Nature (2010 & 2011) and Lie Forrit (2015).
This year, the Kinross handler is represented by One For Arthur (10st 12lb, Derek Fox), whose finest hour came with victory in the 2017 Grand National.
The 11 year-old, who was sixth in the Aintree showpiece last year, has been kept fresh since a staying-on fifth in the Becher Handicap Chase, also over the Grand National fences.
Russell said: “One For Arthur is in good form. After the Becher Chase, we said that we would wait until the National weights came out before we ran him again.
“I was happy with his performance in the Becher and, in general, I think he is in good shape this year.
“He has been allotted 10st 2lb for the Grand National, which is a very nice weight and the same mark that he had when he won the race two years ago.”
The weights for the Unibet Grand National Trial are headed by the 2018 Welsh Grand National winner Elegant Escape (Colin Tizzard/Robbie Power), who was sixth in the same race on his latest start in December. The Two Amigos (Nicky Martin/Matt Griffiths) and Pobbles Bay (Evan Williams/Adam Wedge) also lined up in the Chepstow marathon, coming home fifth and eighth respectively.
Elegant Escape started his season with two excellent efforts, chasing home Ballyoptic (Nigel Twiston Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies) in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and finishing third in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy.
Yala Enki (Bryony Frost) won the 2018 Grand National Trial when trained by Venetia Williams and the 10 year-old recorded a first victory for his current handler Paul Nicholls when taking a staying chase at Taunton in January.
Vintage Clouds (Sue Smith/Leighton Aspell) returns to Haydock Park following an impressive victory over Definitly Red and Geronimo (Sandy Thomson/Sean Quinlan) in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at the course. The field is completed by Steely Addition (Philip Hobbs/Tom O’Brien) and Smooth Stepper (Alex Hales/Harry Bannister).
Ed Nicholson, Head of Unibet Racing sponsorship & communications, said: “This year’s Unibet Grand National Trial is packed full of staying chasers who could well feature in the Aintree race itself. We are absolutely delighted with the field which includes a former Aintree Grand National winner in One For Arthur, a Welsh National hero in Elegant Escape, a real Haydock specialist in the form of Vintage Clouds and a former winner of this very race in Yala Enki.”