To run or not to run? That is the dilemma facing connections of last weekend’s impressive Sandown scorer Unioniste regarding the grey’s possible participation in this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National for which the son of Dom Alco is a best price 25-1 with several bookmakers including Bet365 who are currently the only firm paying out on five places in the ante-post market.
An 11lb hike following his easy ten length victory over Bertie Boru in the 32Red Casino Handicap Chase plus the fact that no seven-year-old has proved successful in the world’s most famous steeplechase since Bogskar’s victory in 1940 creates enough doubts in the minds of trainer Paul Nicholls and owner John Hales that an initial decision is unlikely to be made until the weights are revealed in just over a months time.
Now rated 159, the same mark allocated to the stable’s Neptune Collonges when successful by the narrowest of margins over Sunnyhillboy in the 2012 renewal, Unioniste, like that horse owned by John Hales who said regarding the possibility of adding another National to his cv: “Aintree was difinitely at the back of our minds and I just wonder really whether we should have run in the race ( at Sandown ).
“Unfortunately the handicapper does not take into consideration either experience or age. I understand that, but he’s my horse and I want to look after him. Maybe he ( the handicapper ) has made up our minds. He’ll have an entry and we’ll see what weight he gets, but I worry that 11lb is one hell of a lift.”
Hales confirmed that Unioniste would not be asked to compete in both the Gold Cup and National, despite a four-week gap between the two races this year, and if the latter proves to be the preferred option one horse who will not be among his rivals will be last year’s third Double Seven, ruled out for the rest of the season by trainer Martin Brassil due to a setback.