Nicky Henderson reacts to Randox Grand National weights
Nicky Henderson has admitted he would be sad if he had to retire without ever winning the Randox Grand National and believes his best chances of victory this year rest with OK Corral and Beware The Bear.
The Seven Barrows trainer had his first runner in the Aintree showpiece in 1979 when Zongalero finished second, but 42 years later that remains his best ever finish in the race, jointly with 1987 runner-up The Tsarevich.
Henderson hopes there is still time to conquer the legendary and iconic Aintree fences and, of his six entries this year, reckons OK Corral and Beware The Bear represent his best opportunities.
Speaking as the weights for the 2021 renewal were released today, he joked:"I have gone for the scattergun approach this year! The two that are most likely to go for the race are Beware The Bear and OK Corral, though Pym is another possible.
I am not saying I would retire on the spot if I won it, as I would not, but it would be awfully nice to win the race.
It is a very special race and has all the ingredients of being a proper steeplechase and it goes back a long way in history.
It would be sad if I did not manage to win it at some point.
The Topham is easy to win as weve won that five times but I am not sure why they cannot win this one over another circuit.
We have been second twice and third and had some fall when going well but it is the race you have got to have the most luck in.
Though Beware The Bear (10st 10lbs) and OK Corral (10st 8lbs) are Hendersons two most likely Grand National candidates he has left his Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up, Santini, in the race as a back-up in case anything was to prevent him running at Cheltenham next month.
Santini jointly heads the weights for the National at 11st 10lbs and Henderson said: "We have left Santini in it as this is something he ought to be trying at some stage of his career. The aim is the Gold Cup, as it was last season, but one day we would like to have a crack at it as his game is staying and he is built for the fences. You never know what can happen though. He could fall at the first in the Gold Cup, or go lame on the day then be fine the next day and miss the Gold Cup. Then you would have to think about running him in the National.
Henderson reports OK Corral, who has not been sighted since landing a Listed chase at Doncaster in January 2020, to be making positive steps as he continues building towards a comeback.
He explained: "We have still got to do a bit of work with Ok Corral but we have got time. He has had a lot of little niggles and though he is 11 he has not got many miles on the clock. His win last year at Doncaster was a proper Grand National trial. He won the three mile Grade Two novice chase at Warwick and we then prepared him for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.
He ran disappointingly in that but it was not his fault as it was at the time we had to re-vaccinate the horses and that knocked him for six.
We could have done without the cold weather last week as I only work him on the grass so that was a bit of a hold-up but we have plenty of time.
He looks like a good stayer and was going for the race last year until it was cancelled.
I think 10st 8lbs looks a good weight.
Beware The Bear has failed to feature in either of his two starts this season, but Henderson believes a short break has done the 2019 Ultima Handicap Chase winner the world of good.
He said: "We have given Beware The Bear a break over the winter and he looks as fresh as paint. He is about to have a run in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster and proper staying trips are what he wants. We used to jump him out the gate but he would drift back, then come through with a real rattle so we decided to drop him out the back and let him come through them. That tactic will be difficult in a Grand National and that is the one drawback, but the race was a target last year and it will be this year.
Prospects of a sound surface would also bolster the chances of Pym featuring in this years Grand National according to Henderson.
He said: "Pym is definitely a possible. He stays all day and he is a pretty level, easy sort of horse and he has got very few complications about him. He jumps well. He won some good novice chases last season and he won the Listed Intermediate Chase at Sandown this season. Nice ground suits him and I can see him going there. He looks to have been given a nice weight for the race.
Gold Present (10st 2lbs) and Valtor (9st 13lbs) both require plenty of others to drop out to guarantee a run, but Henderson would consider the race for the pair should they get in.
He added: "Valtor would run if he gets in and he goes on anything. Gold Present has jumped well around there in a Topham. We have run him a little bit short of three miles but he would stay. He just needs good ground.