The countdown to the 2018 Randox Health Grand National started on Wednesday with a media visit organised by Aintree Racecourse to the stable of Nigel Twiston-Davies.
The £1-million handicap chase, by far the richest Jump race run anywhere outside of Japan, takes place at Aintree on Saturday, April 14.
Twiston-Davies is the only current trainer to have won the Grand National more than once. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of his first Grand National success with Earth Summit in 1998. His second victory came courtesy of Bindaree in 2002.
The stable's main hopes for 2018 are last season's fourth Blaklion - the 16/1 favourite with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival - and Splash Of Ginge (50/1).
Splash Of Ginge, photo Liesl King
Blaklion went down by half a length to stablemate Bristol De Mai on his return in the G2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on November 4, and is the 11/4 clear favourite with Betway for the £145,000 Randox Health Becher Chase over the Grand National fences this Saturday, Becher Chase Day, December 9.
Twiston-Davies said: "Blaklion has huge Grand National potential. He possibly went too soon last year and didn't quite get home.
"It was still a really good run and he did look the winner three out. We would probably ride him with more restraint next time.
"The run in Charlie Hall Chase looks very good form. There wasn't much between him and Bristol De Mai and the handicapper has not been too hard on him.
"Everything looks perfect for him in the Randox Health Becher Chase and, with a clear run, I would be very excited. I don't want to get too excited though as when that happens, something usually goes wrong! He looks a worthy favourite anyway.
"We will see how he goes on Saturday before making a plan. If he romps home, do we maybe start looking at him as a Gold Cup horse? I don't know.
"Gavin Sheehan rides him on Saturday. He is a good very freelance and rode at Wetherby because we had run out of jockeys."
Splash Of Ginge already has two prestigious handicap prizes to his name. He captured the 2014 Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and returned to form over fences last time out with a tenacious victory in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on November 17.
Twiston-Davies continued: "We will see how his next couple of races go, but Splash Of Ginge could be given a Grand National entry. John [Neild, owner] is a Liverpudlian and wants to have a go. Why not? He has had a bet and will win a million quid if he wins.
"Splash Of Ginge will go for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup next week, provided there is some rain. If it doesn't rain, he will go for the Welsh National where it should be soft ground, which will suit him. Certainly over two and a half miles, he would need very testing ground. Over longer, he doesn't.
"Now that Splash Of Ginge has rediscovered his jumping, he could be a national horse. We put him back over hurdles to try and restore his confidence. He frightened himself over fences but has learned again that is isn't frightening. He won up at Haydock over hurdles and has been good ever since."
Before Splash Of Ginge ever raced, his charismatic owner John Neild had a £1,000 bet at 1,000/1 that his horse would win the Grand National during his career. Splash Of Ginge is now a 50/1 chance with Betway.
Neild said today: "The bet does not change our thinking about the Randox Health Grand National. I always say to Nige that you can't make the horse fit the race. He was out of form but seems to have his confidence back now over fences.
"Splash Of Ginge stays longer than the mother in law. He just needs his ground. We were lucky the other day to get it in the BetVictor Gold Cup when the rain came. If it happens to rain around the second Saturday in April, we will be there to have a go.
"Nige is one of those enigmas. I hope people realise and not when he stops training. Everyone thinks he is a maverick character but he isn't. He thinks everything through methodically and comes back to me with a plan.
"We have been more than lucky to have won what we have but if anyone can pull out a Grand National win with this horse, it is Nige."
Twiston-Davies will be well-represented at Aintree on Saturday, with Ballybolley and Arctic Gold in the other race over the Grand National fences, the 188Bet Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, and G1 scorer Flying Angel set to tackle three miles and a furlong for the first time in £50,000 G2 188bet.co.uk Many Clouds Chase.
Twiston-Davies added: "Ballybolley and Arctic Gold will go for the Grand Sefton. Ballybolley is quite free-going but a very good jumper. I like him and it will be exciting to watch him around Aintree - he should hopefully eat those fences hopefully. Arctic Gold has not done as much as Ballybolley but is a nice horse and also a good jumper."
Flying Angel captured the G2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase over two miles at Warwick in February and enjoyed his biggest success to date in the G1 Manifesto Novices' Chase over half a mile further at Aintree in April.
The trainer added: "Flying Angel disappointed on his first run of the season [fifth at Newton Abbot] but was much better the other day at Ascot [fourth in G2 Christy 1965 Chase]. Now we are upping him in trip for the Many Clouds Chase and we hope that will bring out the best in him.
"Although he has won over shorter, we have always thought he could be a three-miler. You have to dream and he could be the next Bristol De Mai. He is exuberant and jumps well, and is pretty smart on his day."