Stuart, Steven and Ben Crawford are targeting Aintree joy
The all-conquering Crawford brothers from Larne are taking aim at Aintree this week.
Team Crawford have been in scintillating form this season, highlighted by wins in both the feature chase on St Patrick's Day at Down Royal and the Ulster Grand National at Downpatrick less than a week later.
The spectacular Aintree Festival gets under way tomorrow, concluding on Saturday with the first ever £1million Grand National – Crabbie's are the new sponsors.
Trainer Stuart Crawford, who heads the family operation at Newlands Farm along with jockeys Steven and Ben plus other family members, said: "Twentytwo's Taken goes for the Mares Champion Bumper (on Friday) while Heritage Way will run in the Champion Bumper for geldings (on Saturday).
"I will enter Mister Nibbles and Strongpoint for hurdle races at the meeting."
Twentytwo's Taken, owned and bred by Siobhan Mackinnon from County Down and unbeaten in both her starts at Down Royal and Fairyhouse, is held in the highest regard by Crawford.
Heritage Way, also owned by the trainer, won his sole start to date at Ayr in February. The horse was bred by Alfie Buller at Scarvagh Stud and the local breeder is also represented in Friday's Topham Chase by Ad The Man, trained by Nicky Richards.
Ulster-trained Warne can win tomorrow for Brian Hamilton. Trained beside Downpatrick racecourse, the top hunter chaser was recently sold to top English amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen but remains in training with Hamilton.
Warne proved a star for the Ballygowan-based Magill family, winning three point to points and two hunter chases prior to finishing third behind Tammys Hill at Leopardstown, the latter following up with victory in the Cheltenham Festival Foxhunters.
Warne finished an unlucky fourth in last year's Aintree Foxhunters for his former owners, when having made most of the running was badly hampered by a loose horse at Valentines Brook.
Armagh trainer James Lambe could be represented at Aintree by Sir Ector, winner of last year's Ulster Derby at Down Royal.
However Lambe said: "I'm still not sure about travelling as he may not get into either race (he is entered for) – I just have to wait and see."
Lambe's Bertimont, an impressive winner on the flat at Leopardstown on Sunday, has been entered for the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr the following weekend.
"I will have more runners at Ayr and will look at some of the top novice hurdles at Fairyhouse and Punchestown for Bertimont – he's a very smart horse," he said.
County Antrim-based Tom McIlhagga bred Double Ross, favourite for Friday's Topham Chase, while the Sue Smith-trained Mr Moonshine is another he bred and an intended runner in the Grand National.
The trainer – married to legendary showjumper Harvey Smith – won the big race last year with Auroras Encore.
There is no shortage of Ulster links to Aintree. Top equine vet, Hugh Suffern owner of Tullyraine Stud where stallion and 19 95 Irish Derby winner, Winged Love stands has a trio in the Topham with Hunt Ball, Lost Love and Tahiti Pearl while Templepatrick trainer, Colin Mc Keever who oversees leading Ulster owner, Wilson Dennison's string of youngsters which star in local point to points prior to sale has Burton Port in the National and Rathlin in the Topham Chase to represent the Ulster points nursery. Two winners of the Nicholson Chase at the Down Royal Festival are engaged in the Grand National – this year's winner – Roi Du Mee and 20 11 winner, Quito de La Roque while Pineau De Re – winner of last year's Toals Ulster Grand National at Downpatrick goes for the big one Saturday for his new connections.