Ikorodu (left) and Junior - Docaster 03.03.2012

Junior (right): now joint-favourite for Grand National with Ladbrokes

  PICTURE: Martin Lynch  

Junior cut to joint-favourite for National

JUNIOR'S narrow defeat in the Williamhill.com Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster on Saturday led to the nine-year-old being promoted to joint-favouritism for the John Smith'sGrand National with Ladbrokes.

After a gallant effort conceding nearly two stone and going down by a short head to Ikorodu Road, Ladbrokes made Junior a 10-1 shot at the head of their market with Prince De Beauchene.

Both jockey Tom Scudamore and trainer David Pipe were delighted with the run, and Pipe, who was at Newbury rather than Doncaster, said: "I haven't actually seen it but he must have run a blinder. It's all systems go now for Aintree."

Last year's winner Ballabriggs was also in action, finishing fourth on his seasonal reappearance at Kelso, a performance which led to Ladbrokes making him a 12-1 chance [from 16] to retain his crown.

TrainerDonald McCain was suitably pleased as he said: "I'm very happy with him. I did try to warn people he would just need the run, he's had a good healthy blow and Jason [Maguire] was very happy with him.

"We will get a gallop into him before Aintree, it's not about today, it's all about April 14 [date of Grand National]."

David Williams, spokesman for the firm, said: "Despite defeats for both Junior and Ballabriggs we thought both horsesenhanced their appeal for Aintree."

In what was a busy day for the Grand National ante-post market, last year's fifth Niche Market was another to run a creditable race, finishing a half length second to Marufo in a veteran's chase at Doncaster.

The Paul Nicholls-trained 11-year-old will now head for Aintree, and is a general 20-1 chance (from 25), with Boylesports going 16-1, (also from 25).

As sporting sights go, few match the sheer excitement of 40 horses thundering towards the first fence at Aintree for the John Smith's Grand National.

A race steeped in history that always provides a story, the Grand National is the ultimate test of endurance and skill for both horse and jockey, as the pairing must navigate 30 treacherous fences, and then still have enough stamina to make a challenge on the run-in.

To manage a clear round in the 4m4f epic is no mean achievement, with the fences notoriously difficult and offering unique challenges.

Over the years, there have been countless memorable moments, Devon Loch's phantom leap in the 1956 contest, Foinavon's shock 100-1 win in 1967 and the brilliance of Red Rum, who took the chase on three occasions in 1973, 74 and 77.

In 1981 Aldaniti and Bob Champion completed a heartwarming tale when winning the race, as Aldaniti had recovered from a career-threatening injury while jockey Champion had battled back from cancer.

In 2011 the race provided another fairytale story as Donald McCain emulated his father and Aintree legend Ginger when winning with Ballabriggs - and that came just a year after champion jockey Tony McCoy finally gained victory in the race at the 15th time of asking.