Familar faces continue to impress ahead of Aintree

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There were less seismic shifts and more tremors in the Grand National market as three of the protagonists continued their preparation with mixed results for next month’s showpiece.

After choosing Kelso over Newbury Ballabriggs, Big Fella Thanks and Join Together all had different assignments.

2011 winner Ballabriggs has been of plenty of interest since the weights revealed Donald McCain’s stalwart will carry no more than his winning burden two years ago and the bullish noises from Bankhouse stables seem justified.

The 12-year-old has used this as a platform for Aintree since 2010, and today’s third was his best result to date. This was an ideal stepping stone for Trevor Hemmings’ star as although outpaced on the run-in, he was given exactly the type of workout desired.

McCain believes that age will be no barrier to a repeat success, citing Amberleigh House’s famous win at the same vintage, although ‘nice’ ground is the key. This all bodes well for Ballabriggs supporters, whose odds have been cut to 25/1 from 33/1, as he travelled sweetly for the vast majority in undesirable conditions with there being every chance that the surface will come right when the tape goes up.

Big Fella Thanks also impressed, finishing runner-up in the Greatwood Gold Cup, and although not being able to mach the eventual winner’s turn of foot there was plenty to admire about the way he battled on for second. Despite being unchanged in the market, anyone with ante-post slips showing last year’s sixth place horse can be content.

Ruby Walsh had to pull up the National fifth-favourite Join Together as he was hampered early on in Doncaster’s Grimthorpe and never looked comfortable. The layers and punters alike seem not to be overly concerned about Paul Nicholls’ charge, however, as his 16/1 price has remained in tact. This could be the best approach to a performance that is difficult to judge in context of 4 ½ miles round Aintree.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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