Catching Pigeons column with all the weekend gossip


Sportinglife Catching Pigeons column has all the gossip ahead of a super Saturday of racing – and Gordon Elliott is fancied to win a second Randox Health Grand National.

Ucello Conti can erase the memory of his unlucky departure 12 months ago and give Gordon Elliot a second win in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.

Silver Birch’s success in this race 11 years ago put Elliott on the training map, and he is now one of the most powerful forces in the game with another leading contender for this ultra valuable prize this time around in Tiger Roll.

There is plenty of confidence behind that runner but there is also a strong belief that Ucello Conti will also play a leading role. Despite unseating Daryl Jacob at second Bechers last year, the selection has a sound record over the daunting National fences with his sixth in 2016 and a close fourth in The Becher Chase eight months later.

Elliott has trained him very much with this race in mind and is reported to have him in tip-top shape. Ground conditions should suit him well enough and he has that touch of class usually required to win the race.

Jacob, his regular partner who steered Neptune Collonges to a famous win in2012, is eagerly looking forward to renewing his association with the gelding and is also confident he can run a big race.

Red Indian is a thoroughly consistent performer and should run his usual sound race in the Gaskells Handicap Hurdle. Ben Pauling’s gelding was beaten only six-and-a-half lengths in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham last month and the manner on which he stayed on in the closing stages suggests he could find some improvement on what will be his first appearance over three miles.

On The Blind Side can beat Black Op in a fascinating Grade One Betway Mersey Novices Hurdle. Nicky Henderson had high hopes of Cheltenham Festival glory for the selection after he landed an impressive win at Sandown in December but just failed to get him ready in time after some niggling training problems. However, the unbeaten six-year-old is now fit and ready for what will be his toughest test so far and his homework suggests he is more than ready for the step up to the top table.

Tom George, trainer of Black Op, can enjoy better luck with Rocklander in the Betway Handicap Chase. A winner of two of his four chases so far this season, he ran arguably his best race when chasing home Mister Whitaker and Rather Be at the Cheltenham Festival last month. Both the winner and runner-up are very highly rated and were strongly fancied on the day and Rocklander gave the distinct impression he would appreciate this more demanding trip.

Ian Williams is always a man to note at the big meetings on both the flat and jumps and can end the National meeting on a high with Michael’s Mount in the Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle.

A useful performer on the level for Ed Dunlop, he has won novices at Doncaster and Ludlow since his arrival at Camp Williams and ran another fine race to finish third to Global Citizen in the Sky Bet Dovecote Kempton in between. Williams has engaged top class conditional James Bowen to ride and he looks nicely weighted from a mark of 134.

Salute The Soldier can make it third time lucky in the 188Bet Noel Fehily Grand National Blog Novice Stakes at Lingfield. Clive Cox’s team fancied this three-year-old on his two outings last season at Newbury and Kempton and he ran sound races against decent opposition on both occasions. Although Betty F will take plenty of beating here, Salute The Soldier looks the type to improve for his winter break, and the Cox team have started the spring season in good form.

West Wing would have finished a good deal closer than sixth to One Cool Daddy had he not met with trouble in running after a tardy start at Kempton on his debut and is expected to step up considerably on that effort in the Enhanced Place Odds at 188Bet Novice Stakes. He made good headway in the closing stages and will be suited by the step up from a mile to ten furlongs.

Roger Varian’s Hermosita has not raced since overcoming a slow start to win on her debut at Yarmouth last June but looks a filly with a future and is fancied to maintain her 100% record in the Contact Us At Fillies’ Novice Stakes at Wolverhampton on Saturday evening.

Mick Channon has enjoyed a great start to the campaign with his juveniles and debutant Knockabout Queen should go well from her advantageous draw in the FCL Global Forwarding EBF Fillies Novice Stakes.