Vieux Lion Rouge put himself firmly at the head of the market for the Grand National at Aintree in April after winning the Grand National Trail at Haydock on Saturday afternoon.
David Pipe's eight-year-old is now as low as 10-1 favourite with some bookmakers for the world’s greatest steeplechase on April 8th.
Vieux Lion Rouge finished seventh in last year's Grand National behind Rule The World and he showed his liking for the Aintree fences with victory the Becher Chase in December.
Vieux Lion Rouge was allotted 10st7lb when the weights were revealed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London earlier this week and that now appears to be a very generous weight given his exploits on Saturday.
In a race that was dominated by the three front-runners, Gas Line Boy made the running to three out where Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion took over to dominate the finish.
There was nothing between them over the last two fences, but Vieux Lion Rouge found that extra spurt for Tom Scudamore to win by three and a quarter lengths from Blaklion with Vintage Clouds 18 lengths back in third.
David Pipe said: "He's changed a lot, as he never used to find much at the end of his races. As a French horse he's quite a late maturer, running in the National last season made a man of him.
"I wasn't confident he was going to win as it's a long straight and Tom wasn't sure what he had left.
"He's going back to Aintree with experience over the fences and he proved today he doesn't need soft ground.
"We can look forward to April now."
His rider Tom Scudamore said: "He never used to finish off his races, but running in the National as a novice made a man of him.
"He was foot-perfect in the Becher and was foot-perfect today. He wasn't the greatest jumper before he ran in the National last year.
"We can head to the National now with confidence and a few pounds up our sleeves, we hope.”
For the first time in many a year the Grand National Trial was run on decent ground and not in desperate conditions. This really showed as the race unfolded early on the first lap and the mudlarks in the field failed to make an impact on proceedings. The classier horses certainly came to the fore.
Seven of the horses who ran in the Haydock Grand National Trail are also among the 109 entries for the Grand National National itself, and Blaklion did his own prospects no harm with a great showing.
Blaklion will carry 10st10lb in the National and will be 3lb better off at Aintree with Vieux Lion Rouge on this running.
Twiston-Davies is no stranger to National success winning it twice with Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002). He was obviously delighted with the result.
He said: "We'll win the National and forget about being second today. He's had a long time off and that should put him spot on for Aintree.
"He was much more like his old self. His jumping was spot on at almost every fence and even when he was tired he put himself right, and that's what you need for Aintree."
Top weight Outlander has been ruled out of the Grand National at Aintree by trainer Gordon Elliott. The nine-year-old was handed 11st 10lb for the world-famous steeplechase at a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Tuesday evening, but Elliott says the Cheltenham Gold Cup contender will not run on April 8th.
Nor will Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt for that matter after owner Michael O’Leary confirmed he was going to pull them from the race citing “horse welfare” as one of his reasons.
In a war of words this week over the weight allocated by British racing’s senior handicapper to horses owned by Ireland’s champion owner, O’Leary has added to his initial comments accusing Phil Smith of making up the rules and dismissing his rationale behind his Grand National ratings as “utter drivel”.
The weights are as follows:
11st 10lb Outlander, 11-9 Champagne West,
11-8 Empire Of Dirt, 11-7 Don Poli,
11-6 Carlingford Lough, 11-5 The Last Samuri,
11-4 Alary, 11-3 Alelchi Inois, 11-2 Minella Rocco,
11-1 Devils Bride, More Of That,
11-0 Lord Scoundrel, Perfect Candidate, Saphir Du Rheu, Shantou Flyer
10-13 Road To Riches, Sausalito Sunrise,
10-12 Carole’s Destrier, Clarcam, Foxrock, Roi Des Francs,
10-11 Wonderful Charm, Wounded Warrior,
10-10 Blaklion, Drop Out Joe, Tenor Nivernais,Tiger Roll
10-9 A Toi Phil, Le Mercurey, The Game Changer
10-8 Cause Of Causes, Maggio, Regal Encore, The Young Master
10-7, Definitly Red, Double Shuffle, Houblon Des Obeaux, Pleasant Company, Ucello Conti, Vieux Lion Rouge,
10-6 Ballynagour, Highland Lodge, Junction Fourteen, O’Faolains Boy, One For Arthur, Vivaldi Collonges,
10-5 Bishops Road, Lord Windermere, Saint Are, Vicente, Vics Canvas, Ziga Boy
10-4 Just A Par, Measureofmydreams, Raz De Maree, Stellar Notion,
10-3 As De Mee, Cocktails At Dawn, Pendra, Rogue Angel, Seventh Sky, Shutthefrontdoor,
10-2 Gas Line Boy, Goodtoknow, The Romford Pele, Thunder And Roses, Triolo D’Alene, Vieux Morvan,
10-1 Doctor Harper, Gallant Oscar, La Vaticane,
10-0 Bless The Wings, Tour Des Champs,
9-13 Knock House, 9-12 Hadrian’s Approach,
9-11 Benbens, Potters Cross, Sambremont, Straidnahanna, Viva Steve,
9-10 Cloudy Too, Lamb Or Cod, Milansbar, Polidam,
9-9 Dromnea, Streets Of Promise, Vyta Du Roc,
9-8 Beeves, Royale Knight,
9-7 Alfie Spinner, Emperor’s Choice, Goulanes, Lessons In Milan, Mountain King, Out Sam, Sizing Coal,
9-6 Dare To Endeavour, Father Edward, Samingarry, Silver Man,
9-5 Alvarado, Milborough,
9-4 The Crafty Butcher, Waldorf Salad,
9-3 Katenko, 9-2 Federici,
9-1 Gone Too Far, Racing Pulse, 9-0 Killer Crow
Current 888sport Grand National odds: 888sport.com/bet/#/racing/event/1003195512
Top jump jockeys (last 7 days): Miss N Parker (3/3), A.Cheleda (3/8), W.Biddick (4/11), K.Wood (7/20).
Top jump trainers (last 7 days): W.Mullins (5/7), N.Mulholland (3/7), T.George (3/8), P.Nicholls (5/17).