04/07/2011 1:11PM

Grand National ripe for Ballabriggs to pick


The ever-consistent Ballabriggs has been almost perfectly prepared for Saturday’s $1.5 million Grand National Handicap Chase at Aintree. The winner of five of his last six starts, the 10-year-old is taken to outlast his 39 rivals in the monumental 4 1/2-mile spectacle, which requires stamina and jumping prowess in equal parts over 30 demanding spruce fences.

Ballabriggs has the right connections to win the race. Jason Maguire, the nephew of the immensely talented ex-jumps rider Adrian Maguire, will ride the horse, who is trained in Ireland by Donald McCain, the grandson of Ginger McCain, the man who trained Red Rum to win three Grand Nationals. The winner of the 3 5/16-mile Kim Muir Challenge Chase at Cheltenham a year ago, Ballabriggs won twice earlier this winter before a satisfactory prep at Kelso on March 5 when he was second to Skippers Brig in a 3-mile chase.

The David Elsworth-trained Skippers Brig is a danger, as he will be carrying eight pounds fewer than Ballabriggs than he did at Kelso. What A Friend – a very good fourth last time in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Long Run and previous Gold Cup winners Denman and Kauto Star – will have his supporters, as will the first three home from what appears to be the key Grand National prep this year, Fairyhouse’s 3 1/8-mile Bobbyjo Chase.

Named for the 1999 Grand National winner, that Feb. 23 event was won by The Midnight Club, who defeated Arbor Supreme by a length with Oscar time 4 lengths further back in third. A deserving 8-1 favorite, The Midnight Club will be ridden by two-time Grand National winner Ruby Walsh.

Last year’s five-length Grand National winner, Don’t Push, has been saddled with highweight of 164 pounds. His chances of a repeat victory have been further dimmed by three poor efforts this winter, but he will be ridden by Perennial British champion jumps rider Tony McCoy. Last year’s third- and fourth-place finishers, State of Play and Big Fella Thanks must be considered, although State of Play has not run since last year’s race.

Post time for the Grand National, which will be televised by HRTV, is 11:15 a.m. Eastern.