MELISSA JONES SAYS: Grey is the one to beat

WALES’ 2012 Six Nations clash with Ireland was a nailbiter – and a similarly stirring conclusion is expected swapping disciplines today.

Two leading contenders in this year’s Grand National are trained either side of the Irish Sea – Chicago Grey in the capable hands of Gordon Elliott and Cappa Bleu with Evan Williams in a Welsh countryside haven.

But, while I am loathed to oppose Cappa, who looked tremendous on my meeting with Team Williams, the Grey soldier has fewer questions to answer on the stamina front.

His victory in last year’s four mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham is most persuasive.

Hunted around at the back of the field by his amateur jockey, he jumped nimbly, before powering his way round the home turn and up the stiff finishing hill to victory.

The form is strong as he overcame the Welsh trained Beshabar and the same result is expected once again against his new challenger.

Critics will argue the Grey monster has not won since but, not to fear, Gordon Elliott knows how to prepare one for this race given Silver Birch’s triumph five years ago.

His camp has been making positive noises about the condition of the nine-year-old, who looked to be coming to hand on his last two starts.

It could have been he took a while to get over his Cheltenham exertions, but is being brought back to the boil like many Irish runners are for the National.

Expect Carberry to ride a quiet race before creeping into contention on the second circuit and taking up the running passing the elbow.

Cappa Bleu can take the runner-up berth, with last year’s winner Ballabriggs fully expected to put in a valiant effort to defend his crown on ground coming right for him.

There will be no repeat of the balmy summer sunshine this year, which took its toll on many of the 2011 field, including the classy victor.

His jumping was sublime then, triumphing as the Argus tip, and few would deny Ballabriggs a second victory for the McCain camp if the Grey does not come up trumps.

MELISSA’S VERDICT: 1) Chicago Grey 2) Cappa Bleu 3) Ballabriggs 4) Quiscover Fontaine l If Welsh challenger State of Play finishes in the frame for a fourth successive National, he will match the achievements of only Red Rum (1973-77) and West Tip (1986-89).

Trainer Evan Williams was putting the final touches to his preparation yesterday morning, along with Cappa Bleu and Deep Purple.

“Everything seems fine,” he said. “I don’t like the journey up there much as it’s a nervous time but I always look forward to the race. Hopefully they’ll all run well.”

Postmaster is Vale of Glamorgan trainer Tim Vaughan’s first runner in the National, and while he said it was “devastating” leading contender Beshabar did not make the line-up, he is just happy to be involved.

“Postmaster is fit, well and in great form coming into it. He doesn’t fill the normal profile of a National contender but he’s happy and healthy and it’s a pleasure to have a National runner.”

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