Katie Walsh targeting Aintree National glory aboard Baie Des Iles
Jonjo O’Neill’s Minella Rocco at the head of the weights following the second forfeit stage
Katie Walsh celebrates after winning the Weatherbys Champion Bumper with Relegate at Cheltenham. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
It is six years since Walsh steered Seabass to finish third in the Aintree spectacular for her father, Ted, which remains the highest-placed finish for any female jockey in the history of the race.
Trained by the leading amateur rider’s husband, Ross O’Sullivan, grey mare Baie Des Iles was last seen finishing third when bidding for back-to-back victories in a Grand National trial at Punchestown in February.
She is a best-priced 66-1 to claim a historic victory on Merseyside.
Walsh said: “Ross was delighted with her run in Punchestown. She had a lot of weight in very heavy ground and ran a cracker. It was a lovely run and I wasn’t over-hard on her. She comes here off the back of that. It’s still a month away, so a lot can happen between here and then, but fingers crossed.”
While many trainers will be giving their National hopes a sighter over custom-built Aintree fences between now and April 14th, Baie Des Iles, who has been handed a weight of 10st 7lb, is likely to tackle the obstacles for the first time during the race itself.
“She ran in France and they’ve a lot of different obstacles over there. Touch-wood, she seems to be a good, safe jumper, so I don’t think there’d be any reason why she should [school over National fences],” Walsh added.
“A lot of her form is on soft to heavy ground, but, for me, I don’t feel she wants it as soft as her form suggests. I think the track will definitely suit and the trip will without doubt suit.
“So much can go right and so much can go wrong, but hopefully with a bit of luck she’ll be here in good order.”
Jonjo O’Neill feels Minella Rocco has all the attributes to make his mark after he was left at the head of the weights following the second forfeit stage.
Runner-up to Sizing John in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, the JP McManus-owned gelding was in line for another crack at the blue riband before being declared a non-runner on account of the testing conditions.
He will carry the welter burden of 11st 10lb after the original top weight Definitly Red, Irish Gold Cup hero Edwulf and Outlander were all scratched.
Speaking from Aintree at a Grand National media lunch, O’Neill said: “The ground got very heavy [at Cheltenham] and, as we all know, he’s got a wind problem and that ground wouldn’t help him, so we saved him for here. So long as we get good ground, we’ve a good chance.
“He’s won over four miles, so he just has to get another half a mile. Top weight isn’t ideal, but that’s the way it is and he’s a big horse, so hopefully he can carry it. He jumps well and keeps galloping, so the National was always at the back of my mind.”
O’Neill has a potential second string to his bow in Go Conquer (10st 13lb), who was also among 73 horses to have stood their ground.
“Whether he comes for the Topham or the National, I’m not sure,” said O’Neill.
Second on the list behind Minella Rocco is ante-post favourite Blaklion, who is now on 11st 9lb after the weights were raised 3lb.
The Irish challenge is headed by the Willie Mullins-trained Total Recall (11st 4lb), who was still in contention when falling three fences from the finish in the Gold Cup on Friday.