Catching Pigeons: Nicholls the champ
Our Catching Pigeons column has all the gossip for the weekend and news from the gallops in Newmarket.
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Rocky Creek can foil Nicky Henderson's hopes of retaining the trainers title by landing the Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.
Although the Seven Barrows team have their best chance for many years of winning the great race, the bold jumping selection has the required class to see off their challenge and give Paul Nicholls both the championship and his second success in the race.
A good second to one of Henderson's leading players in the race, Triolo D'Alene, in the Hennessy at Newbury in November, he ran another cracker behind subsequent Gold Cup third The Giant Bolster at Cheltenham in January.
That was a classy performance in view of the fact that he was conceding the winner seven pounds and unlike his Newbury conqueror, he has the advantage of having missed the Cheltenham Festival completely. Nicholls has been very pleased with his form at home in the build up to the National and the decent ground should give him every chance to get the trip.
Henderson, fresh for Friday's sparkling treble, sends a strong squad for the support races at Aintree and should go close with Vasco Du Ronceray in the Maxilead Metals Handicap Hurdle. He has had his problems this season, but is in good heart now and is moving well at home.
Bringithomeminty, a stablemate of Vasco du Ronceray, shows plenty of quality in his homework and is just preferred to the Alan King-trained Ordo Ab Chao in the closing bumper.
Balder Succes is in the form of his life according to the King team and his bold jumping will stand him in good stead in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices Chase. This race has been the long-term target for some time and his trainer is really pleased with him. Hinterland, who was still going well when unseating in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, could be the one to beat.
On the level at Lingfield, Dark Leopard is one of Roger Charlton's three-year-olds to follow and he should kick off the season in style in the 32Red Maiden.
His two outings last season came on easy ground at Newbury and he acquitted himself well on both occasions. The seventh furlong on what was the more testing of the two surfaces found him out a bit on his second start, and connections believe that this return to six looks the ideal trip for his re-launch.
Frankie Dettori can strike on the promising Sloane Avenue in the listed 32Red International Stakes.
He justified plenty of stable confidence when he made an impressive winning debut over course and distance in February and he has thrived for the exertions.
Brass Ring has always been seen as a long term project at the John Gosden yard and he should go well on his return from an lengthy absence in the coral.co.uk Handicap. James Doyle takes the ride for his Juddmonte retainers while Gosden's stable jockey William Buick partners Glorious Protector for Ed Walker.
He was keen to have a sit on the good looking four-year-old this week and was sufficiently impressed to parner him at the weekend.
Big Boned is another attractive sort and Jamie Spencer heads down to Wolverhampton to partner her in the 32Red.com Handicap. She looked on good terms with herself this week in a solo spin on the Al Bahatri.
Ryan Moore continues to be a man in demand at Headquarters and had a sit on Amazing Maria for Ed Dunlop this week. He also partnered Venezia for Martyn Meade and Lady Cecil's unbeaten Mighty Yar who could reappear in Wednesday's Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham.
The former champion jockey heads to Pontefract on Tuesday where his rides are expected to include Danehill Revival, a lovely unraced daughter of Pivotal trained by William Haggas.
It's interesting to see Adam Kirby jocked up on several Luca Cumani entries for the week ahead, including Ajman Bridge, also at the West Yorkshire track. Fellow Newmarket raider Centurius could be a tough nut to crack in the New Betting Hall Handicap there though.
The Newmarket two-year-olds are now ticking over and Hayley Turner partnered a nice one for James Fanshawe, owned by one of the syndicates now run by his wife Jacko, in a spin this week. Michael Bell also has a handful nearing a first run, Tom Queally and Jamie Spencer having a sit on two of them recently.
Finally, the very expensive, much vaunted and still unraced, Hydrogen is now back in work for Peter Chapple-Hyam and continues to catch the eye. He's a fine physical specimen.