A black cat must have crossed Paul Nicholls’ path recently. He's already been putting in an extra shift in an effort to get Kauto Star fit and ready for next week's Cheltenham Gold Cup. Last weekend, it was the turn of Niche Market, his fancied horse for the John Smith's Grand National to have a run out in preparation.
Niche Market ran well enough at Newbury, finishing a good second behind the Philip Hobbs trained Marufo in the Greatwood Veterans Chase, confirming his price of 20/1 for the National at this early stage. However, the news came through this morning that Niche Market will miss the big race at Aintree next month.
His trainer tweeted, "More bad news to report I'm afraid. Niche Market, who ran a great race last week, misses the National." He was becoming a National regular, and after being pulled up in 2010, completed the course, finishing in fifth place last year. But after the race the horse suffered some jarring on his forelegs, and didn't race again until October.
Nicholls said things soon cleared up in the spring, but it's a problem that could recur at any time, and last night they spotted things were not quite right. On his Betfair column this morning the trainer said, "We had him scanned this morning and that revealed a small bit of damage in the leg, and that doesn't give us enough time to get him right for Aintree. It's very frustrating for all concerned and just goes to show once again how fragile horses are."
So it does, and it leaves Nicholls with Neptune Collonges, who hasn’t been to Aintree since finishing third in a novice hurdle at the 2006 National meeting, as his only remaining representative this year.