By Andrew Atkinson
Haydock Park stage the £100,000 G3 Unibet Grand National Trial Handicap Chase (3.15pm) over 3m 4½f on Saturday, with Truckers Lodge, trained by Paul Nicholls, heading the betting at 4-1.
Truckers Lodge finished second in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on December 27.
The weights are headed by Elegant Escape, trained by Colin Tizzard, with 11st 12lb, noted when a fast finishing third in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.
Lord du Mesnil has won his last two starts, both at Haydock Park, by an aggregate of 22 lengths.
The progressive seven-year-old captured the Betway Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase on December 21 and followed up nine days later in The Last Fling Handicap Chase, over Saturday’s course and distance.
Trainer Richard Hobson said: “Lord du Mesnil has worked well and, provided the ground is soft to heavy, he will take his chance in the Unibet Grand National Trial.
“He enjoys the course. I have been saying all along that he needs the right ground conditions – and that therefore brings Haydock into the equation.
“He has options after this, including the Cheltenham Festival, but I just want to take one run at a time.”
Owner Trevor Hemmings and trainer Sue Smith, who combined to win the Unibet Grand National Trial in 2000 with The Last Fling, are set to be represented by Vintage Clouds.
Vintage Clouds impressed, when defeating Definitly Red and Geronimo in the G2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock Park on January 18.
“Vintage Clouds has been fine since the Peter Marsh Chase. It was a lovely performance and we were delighted with the manner in which he jumped – it was great to see him put it all together,” said trainer Smith.
“He is entered for the Unibet Grand National Trial – that is the plan at the moment,” added Smith.
“The Aintree Grand National is back on the agenda. We just have to decide between now and then whether he also takes in the Ultima Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival,” said Smith.
Ramses de Teillee, trained by David Pipe, could attempt to go one better – worn down close home by Robinsfirth, 12 months ago.
Ramses de Teillee has won twice over hurdles this season, latterly winning a G2 novice contest with ease at Doncaster on January 25.
The 2017 Randox Health Grand National hero, One For Arthur, trained by Lucinda Russell, also remains engaged.
The 11-year-old has been kept fresh, since finishing a staying-on fifth in the G3 Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree on December 7.
Other high profile names are Ballyoptic, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, winner of the G2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October, and Welsh Grand National fifth The Two Amigos, trained by Nicky Martin.
Unibet Grand National Trial – Unibet betting: 4/1 Truckers Lodge; 5/1 Ramses de Teillee; 6/1 Lord du Mensil; 13/2 Elegant Escape, Yala Enki; 8/1 The Two Amigos, Vintage Clouds; 10/1 Ballyoptic; 11/1 Steely Addition; 12/1 Geronimo, Pobbles Bay; 14/1 One For Arthur; 16/1 Graceful Legend, One Style; 25/1 Smooth Stepper.
Ed Nicholson, Head of Unibet Racing Sponsorship & Communications said: “Unibet is delighted to sponsor five races at the Unibet Grand National Trial meeting from Haydock Park on Saturday, including two ITV1 races – the G3 Unibet Grand National Trial itself, as well as the prestigious Grade 2 Unibet Rendlesham hurdle.
“This high-profile sponsorship is yet another example of our long-term commitment to racing. Last month alone we sponsored the G1 Unibet Tolworth Hurdle, the G2 Unibet Silviniaco Conti Chase, the G2 The New One Unibet Hurdle as well as another 42 races including two Listed contests. “And next month we have the G1 Unibet Champion hurdle and the Unibet Lincoln to look forward to.”
Haydock Park’s seven-race programme includes two G2 contests – the £40,000 Unibet Rendlesham Hurdle (2.05pm) and the £30,000 Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle (4.25pm), both over three miles.
The entries for the Unibet Rendlesham Hurdle feature The Worlds End, trained by Tom George and L’Ami Serge, trained by Nicky Henderson, who filled the first two places in the G1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.
Exciting five-year-old The Big Breakaway, trained by Colin Tizzard, could test his Cheltenham Festival credentials in the Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle, after impressive victories at Chepstow and Newbury over intermediate distances.
There are likely to be G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle pointers in the £20,000 Unibet Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle (2.40pm). Goshen, trained by Gary Moore, Sir Psycho, trained by Paul Nicholls, and Navajo Pass, trained by Donald McCain, are among the nine entries.
The going at Haydock Park is Heavy, following 27mm of rain over the weekend. Showers are forecast, with temperatures set to remain above zero.
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