By Andy Stephens
The nine-time Grade One winner, who has accumulated almost £1.4 million in his previous seven season in training, suffered a surprise defeat in last year’s renewal when he was only third after being sent off 8-11 favourite.
Connections blamed that defeat on him being short of peak fitness and, this time round, he has had a racecourse gallop at Wincanton to sharpen him up.
“I schooled him myself yesterday morning over half a dozen fences and he felt fantastic - he virtually bolted with me over them,” Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin, revealed on Racing UK on Wednesday.
“He’s all lined up. As an older horse he takes bit more getting fit but he’s had racecourse gallop, which he hasn’t had in previous years, and feels in lovely, lovely form. We whizzed him to Wincanton and he did a two-mile gallop.
“The last two years it’s looked like he’s needing this [reappearance] run and it has put him bang on for [the Betfair Chase at] Haydock. He’s slightly further forward than he was 12 months ago.”
Cue Card is quoted at 11-4 by Coral, with Coneygree, the 2015 Gold Cup winner who will be having his first run since finishing a close third in the Punchestown Gold Cup in April, the general 9-4 favourite.
“Coneygree’s not lost any ability, by any means, from what we saw at Punchestown and and I don’t think Cue Card has either,” Tizzard said. “Both have got bigger targets but we have not left anything at home.”
Blaklion, winner of the RSA Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, was fourth in the West Yorkshire feature 12 months ago and was was last seen occupying the same finishing position in the Grand National at Aintree in April.
Bristol De Mai routed his rivals in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January, but was unable to make an impact in the Cheltenham Gold Cup or Betway Bowl at Aintree, though he shaped much be.
Both horses are ready to make their respective reappearances, but Bristol De Mai will only make the journey north if the ground is in his favour.
Twiston-Davies said: "It all depends on how the ground dries. If there is soft in it hopefully Bristol De Mai will run. I will talk to the owners.
"Blaklion will go to Wetherby. He is a lovely horse and we will be trying for the National again. It didn't appear to take much out of him."