Although the heavy ground was all against him at Aintree last weekend the Paul Nicholls-trained Niche Market nonetheless ran a very solid race to chase home West End Rocker in the listed Betfred Becher Handicap Chase to further enhance his claims for serious consideration as a lively candidate for the John Smith’s Grand National back at the Liverpool circuit on April 14, writes Elliot Slater.
The ten-year-old has always shown his best form on decent ground so the heavy going certainly didn’t play to his strengths in the three-and-a-quarter-mile contest, but to his credit last year’s Grand National fifth battled on bravely to take the minor honour although from some way out it was clear he was never going to catch the runaway winner who has now advance to join the likes of Beshabar, last year’s winner Ballabriggs, Junior, and Oscar Time as ante-post co-favourite for the ‘world’s greatest steeplechase’. Those planning a Grand National bet will be keeping close eye on his progress.
Having had a seasonal pipe-opener at Ascot five weeks earlier when finishing in mid-division behind Exmoor Ranger, Niche Market looked fit and well and ready to do himself justice under Harry Skelton and despite a scare at the first fence when he was down on his nose, travelled well throughout the contest and was still within six lengths of West End Rocker at the second last, only for Alan King’s charge to forge away on ground he handles particularly well to record a 22-length verdict. The fact that Niche Market was giving 9lbs to the winner and in turn finished some 32-lengths clear of Ballyvesey underlines what a sound effort he produced.
Given the right conditions and an uninterrupted preparation over the next four months there is every chance that Niche Market will go to Aintree in the spring (for which he is currently a 33/1 shot), as a serious candidate to give his hugely popular handler a first win in the one big race that has continued to elude him for so long.