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Balla back for more National glory
Donald McCain's Ballabriggs today bids to become the first back-to-back winner of the John Smith's Grand National since the legendary Red Rum, who was trained by the handler's late father Ginger McCain.
Ginger was on hand to see the National celebrations 12 months ago in what turned out to be the last year of his life, and there would clearly be no more poignant or emotional winner if Ballabriggs can do it again.
"At the start of the season myself and Mr (Trevor) Hemmings (owner) had a talk and it goes without saying the target was one day, Grand National day, and we've worked back from there," said the trainer.
"He was tired after the National but after an hour he was fine and the next morning he looked a million dollars. I don't see any reason at all why he shouldn't go there and run his race again. He's got more weight to carry, but he's a big, strong horse and if he takes to the place the same as he did last year, he's going to be thereabouts."
McCain has a second string to his bow in the form of the talented Weird Al, who was pulled up in last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup, and McCain continued: "He burst a blood vessel at Cheltenham and that's not the first time it's happened.
"He was fit and well for Cheltenham, he'd had a good long break and we concentrated on that one day. After that we had to decide what was the next step. He gives me the impression of a horse that could take to the place. If he did he has a touch of class.
"All things were geared round Cheltenham and it never happened. This is an obvious target now and with his way of racing and the bit of quality he's got, he could be very interesting if he takes to the place. He didn't go far enough to have a race at Cheltenham. It's been four weeks and we're very happy with him."
Alan King's West End Rocker was brought down jumping Becher's Brook first time a year ago, but the experience clearly did not sour him as he jumped like a buck to win the Becher Chase over these fences in November.
Circumstances mean he has not had a run since, but his trainer is delighted with his condition.
"I haven't had many National runners, but I think this is the strongest challenge we've ever come with," said King.