sport

Tidal wave of optimism for Nicholls

Trainer Paul Nicholls was "delighted" at the weight allotted to Tidal Bay for the Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree on April 5.

Although the 13-year-old must shoulder top weight of 11st 10lb, he is 7lb lower than his official mark of 168.

Tidal Bay, who finished a staying-on second in the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown on Sunday, was due to run in the National last season but he was ruled out of the race due to injury.

Nicholls, who has taken Tidal Bay out of the Gold Cup with Aintree in mind, told his Betfair column: "I am obviously delighted with his weight again this year, as Phil Smith (senior handicapper) has given him a realistic winning chance off 161, 7lb lower than his current mark.

"Tidal Bay is obviously getting on a bit as a 13-year-old - and he did unseat in this race three years ago when with Howard Johnson - but he wasn't far off his brilliant best when a close third off a mark of 163 in the Welsh National.

"I was more than satisfied with his second in the Irish Hennessy on Sunday given the race didn't play to his strengths. In fact, that was an awesome run for a 13-year-old in a Grade One race."

Rocky Creek, runner up in the Hennessy and the Argento Chase, is another leading fancy for Nicholls on 11st 5lb, but he could instead be preserved solely for the Gold Cup in March.

The Ditcheat handler said: "We have yet to sit down and make a final decision, but at the moment it is 50-50 as to whether we go to the Gold Cup rather than Aintree this season.

"We just have it in the back of our minds that he has only had seven starts over fences and whether we ought to get some more experience into him before going to Aintree, even if it is not as big a test as in previous years."

Nicholls also has Kauto Stone (11st 1lb), Sire Collonges (10st 8lb), Hawkes Point (10st 6lb), Mon Parrain (10st 7lb) and There's No Panic (9st 11lb).

He said: "The Grand National is not at the top of my list of priorities for him (Kauto Stone), and he will take in the Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday and the Ryanair at Cheltenham next.

"Sire Collonges bounced back to form when winning the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham in December, and he will run in that race at the Festival next month before going to Aintree.

"Mon Parrain is certainly well handicapped on his Topham second three years ago - he is 5lb lower and he did jump the Aintree fences brilliantly that day - but he clearly has had his problems since, missing last season with a leg injury, and has his stamina to prove.

"I have trained him for the National, and he will have one race before Aintree, though he will not run on bad ground.

"Hawkes Point is entered at both Haydock and Ascot on Saturday, and the plan is to run him this weekend providing racing beats this blasted weather, with Haydock the preferred option.

"He ran a great Aintree trial when splitting Mountainous and Tidal Bay in the Welsh National and is on the upgrade, and while he does prefer soft ground, he does have some form on better going and he will love every yard of the trip. But he is 6lb higher than at Chepstow, and that makes life a lot tougher.

"There's No Panic was another of my National runners to bounce back to form last time when winning over three and a half miles at Sandown in December.

"Quite clearly, he will struggle to get in here, and didn't have the best experience of these fences when brought down in the Topham last year, but he will go to the Kim Muir at Cheltenham next month and we will see what unfolds. But I have one eye on the bet365 (Gold Cup) for him at Sandown at the end of the season."