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Will we see former Grand National favourite at Aintree again?

The weights list for this year’s Grand National were recently announced and there was a notably absentee – Blaklion. The outright favourite for 2017’s race, who eventually finished fourth, some eight lengths behind winner, One For Arthur, won’t feature in the latest odds on 2020 Grand National victor. It has been revealed injuries have curtailed his season once more. The 11-year-old was ruled out of last year’s race at the last minute, due to a back injury and it appears, it’s yet another setback for the former Becher Chase winner.

There were high hopes when Darren Yates purchased the gelding for £300,000 ahead of the 2019 Grand National, given his earliest days’ form. But Blaklion hasn’t raced under his current owner, with his most recent entry coming in February 2019. It was only a fifth-placed finish in the Handicap Hurdle, with Jordan Nailor making his first appearance in the saddle.

Later that year, Yates famously pulled the majority of his horses from Phillip Kirby’s yard, switching to Dan Skelton, as a result of his superstitious beliefs. At the time, he stated it was nothing malicious: "It’s got nothing to do with Phil and Pippa's [Kirby's wife] ability whatsoever, they are fantastic, it’s purely that I’m a massively superstitious person and I felt we were having no luck. Phil's a friend and it's been heart wrenching."

Blaklion’s early career proved fruitful and under trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, he won half of his first 16 races – including a memorable but narrow victory in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. His record since then has been anything but prolific – just one win in 14 races, albeit on the famous course at Aintree.

Since that victory, the gelding has been unable to get within 11 lengths of the winner and there have been two occasions he has been unable to even complete the course. The most notable, the 2018 Grand National when he was brought down at the first fence with Twiston-Davies’ son Sam in the saddle. After the disappointment of the previous year’s race, it could have been a chance for redemption, but it wasn’t to be. Although Blaklion returned to Aintree in December that year, it was a mere 11th place finish in the Becher and a far cry from his previous performance, that earned him the plaudits.

With his return to the track once again given the red light, who knows when or where Blaklion will make his comeback. Assistant trainer Tom Messenger recently shed some light on the situation – “He will come back next season, quite what he will do I'm not sure. He had a couple of niggly problems when we got him, a previous leg injury and hock issues so he just needed a bit of time off. He's not in training at the moment.”

It’s believed that – all being well – Blaklion will make his return to the track in autumn, but it’s hard to see him making a comeback at any of the Blue Riband races at this stage. It’s certainly a case of what could have been and a series of unfortunate events for the former favourite.