DONALD McCain is hoping Ballabriggs is taking the same route to Grand National glory by calling in at Kelso today for another crack at the totepool.com Premier Chase before triumphing at Aintree next month.
Last year the 11-year-old (above with McCain) was beaten at odds-on at the Scottish Borders track by Skippers Brig, but it was a pleasing performance nevertheless.
And those who had backed him ante-post for the National went on to collect big on the day that really mattered.
Although he will find life more difficult trying to become the first horse since Red Rum to win successive Grand Nationals off a 10lb higher perch, he is strongly fancied to go one better in the Kelso contest.
Ballabriggs was also engaged in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster, but that is a handicap and he is much better off in this conditions race as he meets According To Pete on 13lb more favourable terms.
While a recent racecourse gallop should have blown away the cobwebs, Ballabriggs goes well fresh and, despite tackling a trip well short of his best, he should have too much ammunition for his four rivals.
Malcolm Jefferson has done a great job bringing According To Pete back to his best form after a spell in the doldrums. The rejuvenated gelding sprang a surprise in the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day, but showed it was no fluke by going on to capture the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock.
However, he has a lot on his plate here taking on Ballabriggs at level weights and he would also prefer softer ground.
Tony McCoy makes one of his rare appearances at Kelso and two of his rides are for Nicky Henderson, including Master Of The Hall, who beat two higher-rated opponents on his Aintree reappearance in early December only to blot his copybook at Sandown next time when failing to complete.
He has something to prove after that, but he has won four of his eight starts over fences, albeit in small fields and non-handicaps, and he runs here in preference to the big handicap at Doncaster where he looked well treated off a mark of 148. In contrast, he has to concede weight all round at Kelso.
Captain Conan is another Henderson runner who has to put behind him a poor run last time. He goes for the totepool Premier Kelso Hurdle after beating only one home in a Grade One novice hurdle at Leopardstown.
He had previously got home by a short-head in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown and, although his future lies over fences, he has already shown a good level of form as a hurdler and must be a serious player here.
Lucinda Russell saddled last year’s winner Bold Sir Brian and could have the answer again with Tap Night, who was formerly trained on the Flat in the United States but now looks a decent recruit to hurdling.
It took him a while to get used to his new surroundings and a change of discipline but has won his last two starts and should be thereabouts in his hat-trick attempt.
McCoy teams up for his boss JP McManus on Sundown Trail in the Bet totepool Handicap Hurdle. The seven-year-old got off the mark at Sedgefield in December but was beaten when favourite on his return to the County Durham course. Racing off an 8lb higher mark, he didn’t find much off the bridle and had to settle for third.
No doubt he will have his supporters again, but I have decided that this is the moment Pyjama Game can finally break his duck for Rose Dobbin.
He has proved costly to follow but hasn’t done a lot wrong either in bumpers or over timber.
Having his first outing since November, Pyjama Game stayed on to finish a never-dangerous third to Phoenix Lady at Newcastle last time after hitting a flat spot and finding himself with too much ground to make up.
It was enough evidence to suggest he is capable of winning a race and I am hoping the step-up in trip and better ground will see him in better light. His trainer could certainly do with a few winners.