04/09/2015 2:32PM

Shutthefrontdoor returns to action in Grand National Steeplechase


All winter, Shutthefrontdoor was kept out of action in steeplechase races in England by design.

The 8-year-old Irish-bred gelding was fine. The goal for trainer Jonjo O’Neill and owner J.P. McManus through the winter was Saturday’s grueling $1,469,200 Grand National Steeplechase at 4 7/16ths miles at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool.

The preparation may seem unconventional, but Shutthefrontdoor was the 7-1 favorite for the race as of Thursday. Should he win, Shutthefrontdoor will be the most popular winner in years.

He will be ridden by A.P. McCoy, the all-time leading steeplechase jockey who has won more than 4,300 races. McCoy, on course to win the steeplechase riding title for the 20th consecutive year, announced in February that he will retire this month.

Saturday’s Grand National will be his final mount in a race he won in 2010 with Don’t Push It, owned by McManus and trained by O’Neill.

Shutthefrontdoor has not raced since winning a minor race in Carlisle, England, in November. He won the Irish Grand National last April.

The race will have a field of 39, following the withdrawal on Friday of Carlito Brigante. The race is restricted to 7-year-olds and up and has runners ranging in ages from 7 to 12. The Grand National is a handicap. The 9-year-old Lord Windermere, a 40-1 shot, will carry the high weight of 164 pounds, while The Package, a 12-year-old and a 40-1 outsider, will have the low weight of 140 pounds.

If Shutthefrontdoor falters, runners such as Rocky Creek (8-1), Balthazar King (10-1), The Druids Nephew (12-1), and Pineau De Re (20-1) can win.

Rocky Creek, 9, was fifth behind Pineau De Re in the 2014 Grand National and won a three-mile chase at Kempton Park in February. Balthazar King was second in the 2014 Grand National and has not raced since winning a cross-country race at Cheltenham, England, in November.

The Druids Nephew goes to Aintree following a sharp win in a handicap chase at 3 1/8 miles at Cheltenham last month. Pineau de Re is harder to assess. He is winless in four hurdle races since the 2014 Grand National, a campaign designed to improve fitness but keep him out of tougher steeplechase races where a win would lead to a higher weight assignment.

Still, Pineau de Re will carry 154 pounds Saturday, eight more than he carried last year. The 12-year-old’s win in 2014 counts for that increase.