Many people fancied Pleasant Company for the 2017 Grand National and a good run over the big fences helped him to finish in 9th position in the race. He is now a nine-year-old and returns to the track this weekend looking to put on a good show on his seasonal debut, to prove he has a good chance of winning the big one in April yet again.
His return to action could not be in a much tougher race, he comes back to run in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday, a race better known as the Hennessy Gold Cup. This hugely competitive, 21-runner handicap will test him to the limit, but a fast-paced, big field handicap where you need a lot of stamina is exactly what he is going to face in April, so it is good practice for the big one.
He looks to be fairly well treated this season and starts 2lb lower in the handicap than when he ran at Aintree in the 2017 Grand National. That should give him a little room for movement throughout the season, so the Willie Mullins team will not have to specifically keep him away from certain races until the weights are out. That means he can spend the full season running in a race like this one, and he can also travel across the water to come over and race in Britain, two things that will give him vital experience of what happens on Grand National day.
We only saw him run twice before the Grand National last season and that is something that looks sure to change this season. He campaigned lightly with the intention of keeping his handicap mark protected and while it did the job, we probably did not see the best of Pleasant Company because of that. This season he will be able to run a normal amount of times and have probably four prep runs before the national in April. That should mean he arrives at the race in much better condition and race fit with important time on the track under his belt.
It will be very interesting to see how Pleasant Company goes on Saturday because although this is an extremely tough race for him to win, he is still relatively well handicapped and it will suit his stamina. The test is not the same as the one he will face at Aintree, but it will still test the horses that run in it and he has the potential to run very well.
Whatever he does on Saturday will, of course, be a stepping-stone towards the Grand National and the first in a number of races that will hopefully have him spot on for the big day in April. However, having said that, he looks to be capable of putting up a good show in the Ladbrokes Trophy and it would not be the biggest surprise in the world to see him run very well on his seasonal reappearance.