Ballabriggs to step up bid for National repeat

Flashback: Ballabriggs ridden by Jason Maguire jumps the last on the way to winning the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree last April.        Photo:  Gareth Copley/PA Wire.
Flashback: Ballabriggs ridden by Jason Maguire jumps the last on the way to winning the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree last April. Photo: Gareth Copley/PA Wire.
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Ballabriggs is about to have his work schedule stepped-up a gear in preparation for one or two outings before bidding for back-to-back successes in the John Smith’s Grand National.

The 11-year-old’s trainer Donald McCain has pinpointed Kelso’s Premier Chase on March 3 as Ballabriggs’ last run before his April 14 date at Aintree, as it was ahead of his 2011 National triumph under Jason Maguire.

But Haydock’s Rendlesham Hurdle could precede that if McCain feels two runs are necessary for Ballabriggs to be at his absolute peak as he tries to become only the eighth horse in history to win the National on more than one occasion.

“We are just at the stage when he’s starting fast work again. We know him well, he’s very exciting and of course the National is the biggest day of the year for us,” said McCain.

“Ballabriggs is the most gorgeous old-fashioned chaser you could possibly wish for, and we were lucky to find a route we could plan by going back to hurdling last season.

“He’d strained a ligament in his back and was off for 12 months. But now he’s rated 150 over hurdles and is a 160-rated chaser so there’s not many races you can go for. Ideally though, I would prefer two runs before he goes back to Aintree.”

McCain insists Kelso’s extended two-mile-six-furlong contest is of paramount importance.

He added: “We ran Cloudy Lane in it and Balla finished second in the race last season. Going back there is Plan A and that will be his final run before the National.

“I don’t know whether he will have another run before then. We’ll just wait until we get a bit closer before deciding.”

The gelding carried 11st to his superb victory over Oscar Time last year and McCain realises he will probably be lumbered with second top weight for his repeat bid should Synchronised be entered.

He said: “I would be fine with Ballabriggs being top weight. My father always told me that having top weight in the Grand National means you’ve got the best horse, and to just make sure that you get him spot-on for the big day.”

McCain vigorously defended the Aintree executive for its handling of the 2011 race.

The track came in for criticism after the deaths of two horses in the race, as well as Maguire being banned for his use of the whip and the big-race finishers needing some swift cooling off after competing on an unseasonably hot day.

However, McCain reiterated his view that no changes were necessary to the famous fences.