PENDRA and Drop Out Joe fly the flag for Charlie Longsdon’s Chipping Norton stables in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on Saturday after battling back from serious health problems, writes Russell Smith.

A bout of pneumonia last autumn has restricted Pendra, a general 50-1 shot, to just one start this season when he finished a heartbreaking second to Domesday Book at the Cheltenham Festival.

Meanwhile, Drop Out Joe, quoted at 80-1, hasn’t been seen on a racecourse for 286 days, having had a series of issues, including a career-threatening stifle injury, since winning the John Smith’s Summer Cup at Uttoxeter in June.

Speaking after the pair exercised at his Hull Farm Stables this week, Longsdon, 41, said: “Pendra was at the vets for five to six weeks and he was quite sick for a couple of days. They had to get the fluid off his lungs.

“Joe has had a few niggling problems. Therefore, we thought we would come straight here with him.”

However, he is satisfied the two nine-year-old chestnut geldings are now ready for the challenge ahead.

Pendra will be having his second crack at the National after finishing 13th last year in testing conditions, with Aidan Coleman again set to ride.

After recovering from illness, he reappeared at the Festival and came agonisingly close to giving the trainer a long-awaited first win at the meeting when collared on the run-in in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase.

“Pendra’s run at Cheltenham was fantastic, but gutting,” said Longsdon. “He has been a superstar for us.

“Better ground this year is going to give him every chance of getting home. We have tried to keep him as fresh as possible since Cheltenham.”

Drop Out Joe, who was partnered by big-race jockey Tom O’Brien in a schooling session at Lambourn on Monday, does have a good record of running well after a break.

Longsdon said: “Joe is off a career-high mark of 152, but we have always thought of him as a National horse, and that the fences and the track would suit him.

“He is only 9lbs off the best horse, which will make it very tough, but he has won big races like the Summer Cup and the Badger Ales Trophy, and he is a good horse.

“If I had to choose between the two I would slightly favour Pendra, who probably has a little more improvement in him.”

Pendra, who carries the green and gold colours of JP McManus, will be led up again by Jess Benfield, 21, from Chipping Norton.

And Drop Out Joe is looked after by Anneli Lewis, 24, who hails from Newtown.

l ASTON Rowant trainer Alan Hill is hoping Broken Eagle can cause a shock in today’s Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase at Aintree.

Hill partnered Border Burg to victory in the amateur riders’ contest over the National fences in 1987, before striking on Sheer Jest in 1995.

Now he is seeking a first success as a trainer with 25-1 shot Broken Eagle, winner of 11 of his 14 point-to-points, and ridden by his son, Joe.

“Everything with the horse is in brilliant order,” the trainer said.