Nicholls could finally find his Niche in the Grand National

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THE Sir Alex Ferguson-owned What A Friend is the main Grand National hope on Saturday for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, but jockey Harry Skelton still has high hopes for stable-mate Niche Market.

The gelding has already got one National under his belt having won the Irish version at Fairyhouse under Skelton.

Skelton had his first ride in the National on Niche Market last year, in which the 10-year-old was pulled up, and teams up with him on the track for the first time since then.

Skelton said: “I’ve had two wins already on him, and hopefully try to make it a third on Saturday

“He was travelling really well last year until a few before Becher’s then he emptied, which was uncharacteristic for him.

“We found he had got a very bad cut and had to have seven stitches and five or six weeks of box rest.

“It was quite a nasty cut so that probably had something to do with it.

“Paul Nicholls’ idea was to run over two and a half miles last time to sharpen him up mentally, make sure he was alert and ready for what it is to come on Saturday.

“Hopefully it will have put him spot-on.”

n JOCKEY Denis O’Regan, second in the National a year ago on Black Apalachi, bids to go one better when he rides veteran outsider King Fontaine for Malcolm Jefferson.

The 12-year-old carries the colours of Trevor Hemmings, successful with Hedgehunter in 2005.

O’Regan said: “He ran a blinder at Cheltenham, finishing fifth in the Spinal Research Chase.

“He has the right profile for the race and will love the ground, but you need luck just to get round.

“He pulled up in the Grand National Trial at Haydock but it was on bottomless ground. He’s definitely a horse that goes better on better ground.

“Malcolm is very keen on his chances and I’m hoping for a good spin.

“With 10st 6lb he’s unexposed, so I’m hoping he can run a good race, that he’ll get round first and hopefully he’ll go well off his light weight.”

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