McCain wants big race from Weird Al
Weird Al is on course to make his seasonal reappearance in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.
The lightly-raced nine-year-old finished ten lengths behind Kauto Star last season after an easy win in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Donald McCain's charge failed to complete in his final two starts last term, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and in the John Smith's Grand National, but is reportedly in rude health for his comeback.
McCain, Weird Al's trainer, said: "He is in grand form and I am very happy with him.
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"He didn't run in the Charlie Hall Chase this year because I just wanted to give him a bit more time.
"He ran well in the Betfair Chase last season and then he disappointed in the Gold Cup, but that's just the one run.
"He was still in with a chance when he came down in the Grand National.
"You would not be confident on Saturday when you are taking on horses of that quality but we would be hopeful he runs a big race.
"He likes nice ground but he will cope if the ground is soft as it was slow enough last year."
Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Long Run and Imperial Commander also appear amongst the nine entries.
Nicky Henderson's Long Run, who took the Cheltenham highlight in 2011, chased home the rejuvenated Kauto Star in this valuable Grade One event 12 months ago.
It has been a long road back for Imperial Commander, the 2010 Betfair winner who was pulled up on his most recent start in Long Run's Gold Cup.
Imperial Commander's jockey Paddy Brennan is excited about the assignment, tweeting: "Had my final sit on Imperial Commander this am before the Betfair Chase on Saturday. I jumped eight fences on him and he felt great."
Paul Nicholls, who has won four of the seven runnings of the Lancashire highlight, could rely upon recent Charlie Hall winner Silviniaco Conti and Tidal Bay, who bolted up in the John Smith's Hurdle on the same day at Wetherby.
The Neil Mulholland-trained Midnight Chase and Wayward Prince, with Hilary Parrott, are still engaged.
Grands Crus is to be treated for a breathing issue detected after his ordinary run in last Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
David Pipe's grey, who set a high standard in staying hurdles and won last year's Feltham Novices' Chase, went off the 7-4 favourite for the first major handicap of the season but was pulled up before the second-last fence.
"Geoff Lane [a renowned vet] had a look at him and he wasn't happy with his wind," Pipe said yesterday. "It's ongoing, but I should think we'll do something about it this week."