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O’Sullivan relishing Randox Health Grand National challenge with Baie Des Iles ridden by Katie Walsh

Irish trainer Ross O’Sullivan is hoping the progressive Baie Des Iles will line up in the £1-million Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, April 14.

The world’s greatest and richest chase takes place over 30 fences and four miles, two furlongs and 74 yards on day three of the 2018 Randox Health Grand National Festival.

Baie Des Iles has won three of her 11 starts over fences and was the impressive scorer of the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Punchestown by four and three quarter lengths in February, 2017, having previously finished a good fifth to Native River in the 2016 Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

The seven-year-old mare was third on her final start last season behind Pleasant Company in the G3 Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse in February.

Baie Des Iles has finished sixth on both of her starts so far this season – in a handicap hurdle at Navan in November and a handicap chase at Limerick on December 27. Experienced amateur rider Katie Walsh, O’Sullivan’s wife, has been in the saddle for all those races.

O’Sullivan’s charge could look to land a second Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Punchestown later this month [February 11] before a tilt at the Randox Health Grand National in April, for which the mare is a 50/1 chance with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival.

Walsh, a Randox Health Grand National Festival Ambassador for the fourth time in 2018, achieved the highest-ever finish by a female rider in the Aintree spectacular when third aboard Seabass, trained by her father Ted, in 2012. The jockey has completed the course in four of her five Grand National rides.

O’Sullivan, based in Naas, County Kildare, reported: “Baie Des Iles is in really good form and has come out of her latest race really well. The Randox Health Grand National is the long-term aim for her.

“She won the Grand National Trial at Punchestown last year, but wasn’t high enough in the weights to get into the Grand National itself, so we couldn’t run her in it last year, but she should hopefully be high enough this time around.

“Baie des Iles will go the Grand National Trial at Punchestown again and we’ll see how she gets on there on February 11. We’ll then probably give her a break and go straight for the Grand National.

“She’s a big, strong mare. She is getting stronger with age and that should bring about more improvement.

“She’s really grown into her frame and matured with racing and age. She is lightly-raced and only seven and you’d think there would be more to come as she gets older.

“She has run well in big-field handicaps and the key to her looks to be those longer, staying trips. She has won a Grand National Trial, been fifth in a Welsh National and is suited by these sorts of races.

“We haven’t schooled her over any Aintree-type fences yet but she is an excellent jumper and before she was with me, she used to run in France and seemed to enjoy racing over the fences at Auteuil, which are a real test.

“She has always jumped well and we think she’ll be suited by the Grand National fences.

“She loves cut in the ground. Come April 14, there is the probability that the ground could come up good which wouldn’t suit her as much.

“She has done much of her racing on soft ground so we wouldn’t want conditions to be too quick, but we can’t worry about that now. If they get some wet weather, that will only enhance her chance in the race.

“It would be a fantastic experience to have a runner in the Grand National and it’s one we are really looking forward to.

“Her owner [Zorka Wentworth] has been very patient with her. She was one of my first owners and it would be great to saddle a horse in the Grand National for her.

“Katie has rode her on most of her starts and she doesn’t have a bad record in the race! She’s had some great experiences in the Grand National, particularly on Seabass when he finished third [2012] so it will be nice to have another go with Baie Des Iles and hopefully she can have another good run round.

“It would for sure be really special for me as well to have a runner in the race and hopefully we will be there on the day.”

Only 13 mares have won the Randox Health Grand National in the 170 runnings of the great chase, the latest of which was the Jack O’Donoghue-trained Nickel Coin back in 1951, who registered a six-length success at 40/1.

Nickel Coin became the third mare to win the Randox Health Grand National in the 20th century, following Shannon Lass (1902) and Sheila’s Cottage (1948).

Charity (1841) was the first mare to win the Grand National, while the 10 successful females in the 19th century included Emblem (1863) and Emblematic (1864), who were full sisters remarkably.

The 21st century is still awaiting its first mare to succeed, with the last mare to be placed being Dubacilla (fourth in 1995), while Ebony Jane was also fourth in 1994 and Auntie Dot finished third in 1991.

If successful on April 14, Baie Des Iles would also become only the fourth grey winner following The Lamb (1868 & 1871), Nicolaus Silver (1961) and Neptune Collonges (2012).

A stellar 105 entries were unveiled on January 31 for the £1-million Randox Health Grand National. Blaklion, one of six entries for dual Grand National-winning trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, was fourth in the four and a quarter mile contest last year and heads the market as the 10/1 favourite with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival.

The weights for the 2018 Randox Health Grand National, framed personally by the British Horseracing Authority’s Head of Handicapping, Phil Smith, will be unveiled on the evening of Tuesday, February 13, at BAFTA in London’s West End.

The Randox Health Grand National is the only handicap of the year where Smith has absolute discretion to deviate from the normal handicap ratings when determining the weights.

A maximum of 40 runners can go to post at 5.15pm on Saturday, April 14.