British champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls is getting closer to finalising all the jockey bookings for his quartet of challengers for the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on April 9, writes Elliot Slater.

Daryl Jacob was handed the ride on Nicholls’ perceived leading candidate What A Friend some days ago, the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup fourth having been the subject of substantial market support since his Cheltenham effort as much down to the fact that he is owned by Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson as to his fine effort at the Prestbury track in mid-March behind the imperious Long Run. What A Friend is now a solid 11/1 second favourite in the Grand National odds and is likely to run in the blinkers that seemed to spark such a revival in his form in the Gold Cup.

Following the decision of Nicholls’ stable jockey Ruby Walsh to ride The Midnight Club (8/1f) for Willie Mullins, the Ditcheat handler has handed the ride on another of his strongly fancied runners, Niche Market, to Harry Skelton, the jockey who rode the now 10-year-old to a famous victory in the 2009 Irish Grand National. Skelton was also on board in last year’s Aintree National where the horse ran well for a long way before fading from the Canal Turn second time round and was eventually pulled up. He is a 16/1 chance to win this year’s renewal.

Nicholls’ other potential runners in the Grand National are Ornais and The Tother One. Jockeys Nick Scholfield and Ryan Mahon are almost certain to be offered a ride, but Nicholls hasn’t yet decided who will be on which horse. Ornais (owned by Andy Stewart), second in a Newbury hunter chase last time out when ridden by Mahon is a 66/1 shot, whilst consistent staying handicapper The Tother One can be backed at 50/1.

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