Road To Riches spearheads Ulster challenge at Aintree
The Aintree Festival culminating in the Grand National on Saturday gets under way today with a trio of runners from the province in the Randox Foxhunters.
Road To Riches, winner of the Ulster Champion Chase at the Down Royal Festival in 2014 having previously won a Galway Plate when trained by Noel Meade, looks the most interesting and is now in the care of Derrylin handler David Christie.
The local horse will be partnered by Ulster-born owner/rider David Maxwell in the 'Amateurs Grand National'.
Road To Riches finished a credible sixth in last year's Grand National and today's race has been the long term target with the 12-year-old winning his most recent start at Carlisle on unsuitable going. The current going at Aintree - good/soft - should prove ideal.
Christie said: "The horse travelled over on Tuesday with my son and assistant David Junior. He has settled well and cleaned up his feed trough which is always a good sign. He can't wait to get on the lorry and is an excellent traveller. I think he is currently in the best form I've had him this season and the target is the Foxhunters contest."
Balnaslow, trained by Graham McKeever at Templepatrick, bids for repeat success having won the race last year. The Co Antrim runner also won another major event when landing the Punchestown Champion Hunter Chase in 2017, denying Mendip Express partnered by David Maxwell a short head. Balnaslow was formerly owned by the late Peggy Hagan from Ballyclare but now runs in the same colours for Peggy's daughter Margaret Simpson.
McKeever said yesterday afternoon: "I'll be leaving shortly for Liverpool. The horse was sent over early. He's in the same form as last year and we're hoping for a repeat of last season - he's been there and done it which is a big plus over the Aintree fences."
Banbridge rider Mark O'Hare, who is enjoying his best season, takes the ride as regular partner and champion rider Derek O'Connor has opted for Burning Ambition - an impressive winner of a Down Royal hunter chase on St Patrick's Day.
Coastal Tiep - formerly with British champion trainer Paul Nicholls - was bought by Larne handler Stuart Crawford at Doncaster Sales for £18,000 to go hunter chasing and will have the trainer's brother Ben aboard today. The three-times track winner got off to a flying start for his new connections - the local Jetmac Syndicate - winning both his points starts but more recently had to settle for runner-up in a Navan hunter chase behind Ucello Conti.
Ucello Conti and Kruzhlinin are from Gordon Elliott's powerful team and the former could prove a major player having run a solid race in the Grand National last year until blundering and unseating his rider four from home, and is the mount of Jamie Codd who recorded dual victories at the Cheltenham Festival.
Road To Respect, winner of the Nicholson Chase at last year's Maze festival, has claims in today's featured Betway Bowl while Melon - which won on his seasonal debut at Down Royal and finished runner-up in the Champion Hurdle last month - again holds each way claims in the Aintree Hurdle with the opposition including dual champion Buveur D'Air with Ruby Walsh preferring Faugheen of the Willie Mullins-trained duo.