The John Smith’s Grand National has been highlighted as very much top of the agenda for the Alan King-trained staying chaser Hold On Julio who ran such a fine race at Newbury last month when a staying-on fifth to Bobs Worth in the Grade 3 Hennessy Gold Cup Handicap Chase, writes Elliot Slater.

The lightly raced nine-year-old was noted doing all his best work at the finish of the three-and-a-quarter mile Newbury showcase event, although he was no match for the tremendously impressive winner who is one o the more popular Betfair Horseracing Tips and has advanced to 5/1 ante-post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the back of his outstanding performance under a big weight.

Last term Hold On Julio made quite an impact after switching from point-to-points, winning on his rules debut in a maiden contest at Kelso when trained by permit holder Vicky Simpson, before joining King’s Barbury Castle team and making an immediate impact when slamming Earth Planet by 11-lengths in a three-mile Sandown handicap chase.

Raised 16lbs for his first win under King’s guidance the gelded son of Blueprint followed up over the same course and distance two months later, beating the subsequent Aintree hero Neptunes Collonges by nine-lengths before running a disappointing race in finishing in the mid-division when sent off joint-favourite for the Grade 3 JLT Speciality Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on what proved to be his final outing of the season.

Reported to have done well for his summer break, Hold On Julio was a close third to Balthazar King at Cheltenham in October before his big run at Newbury, and King is now focusing on having the current ante-post 50/1 shot at spot on for the John Smith’s Grand National on April 6, nominating Warwick’s Classic Chase in January as his next most likely outing.

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