David Pipe's tremendously talented dual-purpose performer Junior could be set to return to the racecourse at Haydock in mid-February to contest the Betfred Grand National Trial, less than a week after the publication of the weights for the four-and-a-half mile marathon contest, writes Elliot Slater.
Junior has been given an easy time of things so far this term and hasn't set foot on a racecourse since finishing some way down the field at Royal Ascot in June where he was bidding to win the two-and-a-half-mile Ascot Stakes Handicap for the second year running having landed a big gamble in the horse racing odds when galloping to glory in the 2010 renewal, beating Elyaadi by five-lengths.
His Ascot victory was followed by a great effort when runner-up in the Goodwood Stakes and his fine run of form continued into the last season's jumps campaign where the Middleham Park Racing-owned son of Singspiel ran two solid races to be placed at Cheltenham in the winter before returning to the home of National Hunt racing last March where he put up a devastating performance in quite simply running away with the ultra-competitive Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase, beating the course specialist Faasel by a stunning 24-lengths.
After missing the cut for last season's Grand National, Pipe has tailored his charge's preparation this term solely on the ‘world's greatest steeplechase' and reports the nine-year-old to be in fine shape ahead of his expected return at Haydock where he may well face a number of other major contenders for Aintree including West End Rocker, Le Beau Bai and former National winner Mon Mome. Bookmakers currently rate Junior a 16/1 joint-favourite for the Aintree spectacular alongside last year's brave winner Ballabriggs, and a good performance from Pipe's horse could well see him go off just about advance to clear favourite in the ante-post lists.