Gordon Elliott is looking forward to seeing the long-absent Don Poli tackle the Grand National fences in Saturday’s Randox Health Becher Chase.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned nine-year-old struck three times at Grade One level when trained by Willie Mullins, including the RSA Chase at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.
He joined Gordon Elliott two seasons ago – and while he failed to fire on his first start for his new trainer at Down Royal, he bounced back to finish second in the Christmas Chase and third in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
Don Poli must concede weight to each of his 17 rivals, including stablemate Noble Endeavor, when he returns from 664-day absence on Merseyside.
Elliott said: “Don Poli and Noble Endeavor both schooled over National fences at the Curragh the other day and went very well.
“Don Poli is a class horse, but he might need the run. He got a bit of heat in his leg before the Gold Cup a few years ago, and we had to leave him off.
“Noble Endeavor is a very good horse. He’s a bit in between with the rating he has, and the Grand National could suit him.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies has saddled six previous winners of the Becher Chase, including 1998 Grand National hero Earth Summit.
Blaklion struck gold 12 months ago and defends his crown alongside stablemate Ballyoptic, last seen being beaten a nose by Joe Farrell in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
Twiston-Davies said of the latter: “We could have run in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, but we would like to get some experience over the Grand National fences into him because we hope he could be a horse for the National.
“He ran a fine race in the Scottish Grand National last time and seemed to stay the trip very well.
“He is a smart horse, and if we can get him jumping slickly then we would be hopeful of a good run.
“The Becher looks a good place to start, and we are looking forward to it.”
The Jimmy Moffatt-trained Highland Lodge won the 2015 Becher and has finished second and third in the last two renewals.
The Cheveley Park Stud-owned 12-year-old is back for another shot – while Moffatt also saddles Just A Par, who makes his debut for the yard having previously been trained by Paul Nicholls.
Moffatt said: “This is Highland Lodge’s race full stop. He goes well fresh – we’ve trained him for this, and his preparation has gone well.
“I’m glad to see the rain has come. He’s a 12-year-old now, but his homework has been as good as ever.
“I think it’s more about mileage than age, and he has got many miles on the clock.
“Just A Par has been off for a good while, but he was in pre-training for 18 months. It’s been a slow and steady build-up.
“It’s a big ask for him, but he’s done all the work Highland Lodge has done and he’s there to do his best.”
Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost combine with Badger Ales Trophy winner Wincanton.
Other contenders include David Pipe’s 2016 Becher hero Vieux Lion Rouge, Colin Tizzard’s Ultragold – who won the Topham Chase over the National fences in April – and Warren Greatrex’s Kim Muir winner Missed Approach.