Niche Market, a regular at Aintree in April in the John Smith’s Grand National, did his chances of running well in this year’s renewal no harm at all with a rock solid effort at Newbury last week when going down by just a half-length to Marufo in the Greatwood Veterans Handicap Chase, writes Elliot Slater.

The Paul Nicholls-trained 11-year-old was conceding some 22lbs to the winner so lost little in defeat in the three-mile-three-furlong contest in which he led at the third last fence before soon being headed by the eventual winner. Ruby Walsh’s mount wouldn’t go down without a fight though and battled all the way to the line making his lightly weighted opponent pull out all the stops to hold him off and gain the day. Those following the best 2012 Grand National odds will be keeping a close eye on things.

Nicholls expressed himself highly satisfied with the performance of his charge who was having his first outing since finishing runner-up in the listed Becher Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree in December to West End Rocker on heavy ground. The better ground at Newbury was very much to Niche Market’s liking and similar conditions for the Liverpool marathon will be ideal for Nicholls’ veteran, who his trainer believes is in better shape for this year’s contest than he was for last year’s race in which he ran particularly well to finish fifth of the 40 runners behind Ballabriggs.

The 2009 Irish Grand National winner also finished third in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury that year (behind the mighty Denman), was a short-head second to Tricky Trickster in the 2010 Aon Chase, and was fifth to Diamond Harry in the Hennessy Gold Cup back at Newbury at the end of that year. Bookmakers respect the chance of the former Bob Buckler-trained stayer who is generally a 20/1 shot to win ‘the world’s greatest steeplechase’ but can still be backed in a few places at 25/1.

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