National ground key to Foxrock
Ground conditions could hold the key as to which Grand National, the English or the Irish, will be the target for Foxrock in the spring.
With Easter falling quite late this year, the Randox Health Grand National is run first, on April 8 at Aintree, with the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Easter Monday (April 17) at Fairyhouse.
Foxrock, who needs ease in the ground, was allotted 10st 12lb in the Liverpool spectacular when the weights were announced on Tuesday evening.
"He has an entry in the English National and the Irish National and we'll just keep our options open," said owner Barry Connell.
"The handicapper has given him, I think, 4lb more than he has here (in Ireland). It's really just an entry we've made at this stage.
"His main point this year is hunter chasing and we'll probably let him take his chance in either the English or the Irish National. We're just keeping an open mind on that.
"He could run in Aintree. Easter is a bit later this year so it would depend on what the ground is like. He's better with a cut in the ground and we'll see.
"He's going to have one more run in a hunter chase in Gowran Park in a fortnight's time."
Foxrock is quoted in the ante-post betting, as low as 6/1 in places, for the Cross County Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but Connell revealed the horse will not take his chance. It could be a different story in 2018, however.
"I see he's still in the betting for the cross-country race in Cheltenham. He's had one run over the banks in Punchestown, but he won't be going for that," he said.
"He'll run in either the English or Irish National and that would be his last run of the year.
"We'll go back hunter chasing with him. If he doesn't win either of those races, he's eligible to go back and he'd be qualified for Cheltenham and Aintree next year."
Jimmy Moffatt admits he "dares to dream" about Grand National glory as Highland Lodge is already virtually guaranteed a place.
Highland Lodge just missed the maximum 40-horse cut last spring, but it is unlikely there will be such heartache this time round after last season's Becher Chase winner was handed 10st 6lb and a rating of 148, putting him 42nd in the National list.
The 11-year-old was only just touched off by Vieux Lion Rouge in this season's Becher Chase in December and will head straight to the National.
"I'm very pleased. Obviously, it's an opportunity for us now and I'm looking forward to it," said Moffatt, who is based in Cartmel.
"He's in great form and this season has just been about two races – the Becher and the National.
"I've learnt an awful lot more about the horse than I did last season. That was all a bit of a rush.
"He looks great and we're just building towards the National.
"I believe he's got a chance to do something. He jumps the fences well and the Becher form looks pretty rock-solid in both years he's run in it and there's no doubt about him getting the trip.
"We're pretty confident and we dare to dream. It's a great opportunity for a small yard like ours."
Henry Brooke recovered from a serious injury he sustained in October to partner Highland Lodge in the Becher and will be on board in the National.
"Henry is riding well and he really suits the horse. He gives Highland Lodge the type of ride he needs," said Moffatt.
Jonjo O'Neill lifted the National with Don't Push It in 2010 and is happy with his two entries – Minella Rocco (11st 2lb) and More Of That (11st 1lb) – though plans have not yet been decided.
Both horses ran in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday, but unseated their riders.
"We know Minella Rocco gets the trip and whatever you run at Aintree has to get the trip," the Jackdaws Castle handler told Racing UK.
"He's in great form and is normally a decent jumper.
"It was great to see More Of That with his sparkle back the other day at Leopardstown. He was a little bit unlucky to come down at the last, but he's normally a very accurate jumper.
"He's just a class horse, so if everything went right for him he's the one you'd like to ride.
"We haven't discussed anything with JP (McManus, owner) or Frank (Berry, racing manager) yet. We'll have a discussion and see where we are going. They are nice horses to have in the race."
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