The John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on April 14 is likely to be graced with the presence of the popular Niche Market for the third successive year, Paul Nicholls’ gelding being amongst the 82 horses entered at the initial stage for this season’s running of the ‘world’s greatest steeplechase’, writes Elliot Slater.
Nicholls has confirmed that he has every intention of giving the 11-year-old another chance to prove himself over the daunting Aintree fences having last year run with tremendous credit in finishing fifth to Ballabriggs, leading the field until approaching the fourth last of the 30 fences before getting tired. His 2011 effort was a big step up on the previous year when, trained by Bob Buckler, the gelded son of Presenting was pulled up after the third last having faded badly out of contention from the Canal Turn on the final circuit. Anyone with a Grand National free bet offer will be wondering if he can push on again.
Already this term Niche Market has shown he retains all his ability, following a mid-division finish behind Exmoor Ranger in the Grade 3 United House Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot in October on his seasonal bow, with another rock solid performance at Aintree when second to West End Rocker over the inadequate trip of three-and-a-quarter-miles in the listed Betfred Becher Handicap Chase.
Nicholls has already suggested that the ideal prep race for Niche Market’s latest big race bid could be a veterans’ chase at Newbury on March 3, a contest that would then allow an ideal six-week break before the Grand National itself. The winner of the 2009 Irish Grand National remains a feasibly handicapped horse if granted his preferred good ground on the big day and is currently rated a top price 33/1 chance to add his name to the famous list of honour at Aintree.