Nick Kent will saddle his first Grade One runner when unbeaten chaser Erne River takes his chance in the SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree on Thursday.
The gelding has run twice over fences and was victorious on both occasions, taking a competitive Doncaster novice by six lengths in January and then going on to score again when a 13-length winner at Wetherby the following month.
The Wetherby outing took place on soft ground that later deteriorated into heavy – conditions Kent felt did not suit his seven-year-old and thus made his decisive win all the more impressive.
“We’re excited, of course, it’s our first Grade One runner,” said the Lincolnshire-based trainer.
“All I can say is he’s really well, he came out of Wetherby really well. We felt he deserved a chance in a race like this, showing what he’d shown already, so we’ll give it a go and see if he’s up to it.
“He ran really well at Doncaster, it’s a flat galloping track again at Aintree. The ground was against him at Wetherby, I felt, he doesn’t feel the best on softer ground and the better ground seemed to suit him, but then again you couldn’t argue with how he ran at Wetherby.
“He galloped to the line. Charlie (Hammond, jockey) was really happy with him and said every time he gave him a squeeze he kept finding (more).”
The form of the Doncaster race was boosted at Ayr last week when Dan Skelton’s Beakstown, beaten six lengths by Erne River, went on to score in the Listed Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase.
“The form’s looking good, it’s a big ask going into a Grade One but let’s see,” said Kent.
“He’s improved so quickly, he seems to have progressed very quickly. He did have three runs in point to points in Ireland, I know it’s not the same but it’s still experience over fences.
“He’s got his own way of jumping, he can get a bit low at the odd one but he’s quite an intelligent horse, he’s quite clever.
“We’ll just have to hope it all holds together on the day – it’s exciting, nerve-wracking, but exciting.”
Colin Tizzard will be represented by The Widdow Maker and War Lord, the latter of whom was a creditable fourth behind Edwardstone in the Arkle at Cheltenham.
A 50-1 chance at the Festival, the performance was a significant step forward for the grey and assistant trainer Joe Tizzard is hoping a return to a two-and-a-half-mile trip will see him at his best.
“It was cracking run in the Arkle and he just got a bit outpaced at a crucial time and stayed on again really strongly,” he said.
“It has always been the plan to step him back up to two and a half at Aintree. He won’t mind the ground. It looks like a lovely race for him to be honest and hopefully he will be very competitive in it.
“On the ratings he has a tiny bit to find, but not a great deal. He’s not far away and that two and a half at Aintree will be right up his street.”
Millers Bank is another of the seven-strong field and arrives on Merseyside after finishing second to Pic D’orhy in the Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton in February.
The bay produced an assured round of jumping in the race, putting behind him two prior runs where he made errors when travelling competitively and unseated his jockey.
“He’s very well, he’s come out of Kempton in good shape and this has always been part of the plan,” said Hales.
“He’s obviously got to improve again and it will be a competitive race, but we’re really looking forward to running him.”
Millers Bank was an 11-length winner on his chasing debut at Huntingdon but jumped a little too carefully on occasion during his following two runs and seemed to stutter upon landing and thus unbalance his rider.
“His first run at Huntingdon was absolutely brilliant, at Newbury he just took a little time to warm up to it, he was a bit novicey and I think he was the same at Cheltenham really. He just didn’t quite get his landing gear out quick enough,” said Hales.
“He did jump well at Kempton, that was the main thing, it was nice to get a clear run with him and hopefully he can build on that.”
“It’s very exciting and it’s just great to have a runner in a Grade One.”
Pic D’orhy will cross paths again with Millers Bank, as Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old searches for a first Grade One success.
“I’ve had this race in mind all season for Pic D’orhy who is best on a flat track like Aintree on nice ground,” the Ditcheat trainer told Betfair.
“We were never going to Cheltenham with him and probably shouldn’t have taken him to Sandown. He is exciting and looked smart when winning last time at Kempton which was his best performance over fences.
“He has won two Grade Two chases and it would be nice to win a Grade One.”
The Irish have a sole runner through the Henry de Bromhead-trained Gin On Lime – last seen snatching victory from the jaws of defeat when scrambling to her feet and claiming a Cheltenham novice match race from My Drogo in November.
Milton Harris’ Jacamar, who finished fourth to Do Your Job in the Future Champion Novices’ Chase at Ayr on Saturday, was declared a non runner.