Blaklion can confirm his place at the head of the Grand National betting with victory in tomorrow’s National Trial at Haydock (3.15).

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ nine-year-old, pictured above, is at around 10-1 for the world famous steeplechase in April, and he’s bidding to go one better here having finished second behind Vieux Lion Rouge in this race 12 months ago.

Blaklion is 9lb higher now – shoulders top weight here off 161 – but there is good reason for that, having gone odds-on in-running in last year’s National itself and eventually finishing an eight-length fourth having hit the front too soon, before two cracking runs this season when second in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, prior to thrashing 14 rivals in what looked a competitive renewal of the Becher Chase back at Aintree.

That was one of the best performances you’ll see in a handicap over a staying trip and there’s plenty of evidence to recommend Blaklion’s chances this weekend. He’s a 3-1 shot, but could well go off a fair bit shorter, and with Sam Twiston-Davies taking the ride – with a view to riding him at Aintree – this looks another gilt-edged opportunity to enhance his National credentials before a second tilt at the big one.

Uppertown Prince looked a nice prospect when bolting up on rules debut for Donald McCain and can confirm his early promise in the Novices’  Hurdle (4.25).

McCain paid £35,000 for the six-year-old 12 months ago and it looked money well spent when drawing clear at Bangor in early December, having previously won a three mile point-to-point in Ireland.

Bidding to follow up on January 4 at the same track – up in trip – Uppertown Prince bumped into another good-looking novice in the form of Samuel Jackson. I’m of the opinion that was a pretty strong race for its type and will row in again with Will Kennedy’s mount tomorrow, especially given the flying form of McCain’s yard.

At Ascot, the Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase (1.50) looks a decent renewal and can go to Anthony Honeyball’s improving mare Ms Parfois.

The seven-year-old has relished the switch to chasing, landing a mares’ handicap at Cheltenham before following up in graded events at Newbury and Warwick, impressing when winning the latter off a mark of 134.

A hefty 12lb rise has followed but she’s rapidly on the up and could serve it up to Black Corton on the run-in. Whether she can outbattle Paul Nicholls’ charge – with Bryony Frost taking off 3lb – is another question, but I’ll take Ms Parfois to lift the mood in Honeyball’s camp, after the tragic loss of Fountains Windfall last week.

Cheltenham is less than four weeks away and there’s one that really caught my eye when going through the entries for the National Hunt Novices’ Chase on the opening day of the Festival. Often referred to as the ‘four miler’, this race is for amateur riders and was won two years ago by Minella Rocco, in the colours of owner JP McManus, who always likes a big tilt at this event, and No Comment is his only entry.

Philip Hobbs’ seven-year-old has some excellent staying form in the book, landing a hugely competitive Punchestown bumper back in April 2016 – beating Monalee – before a series of victories over inadequate trips over hurdles. Upped to three miles he was a fine second at both the Aintree and Punchestown festivals.

No Comment pitched up at Sandown a fortnight ago for his chase debut in a Grade 1 over 2m4f, jumping fluently in the main and weakening two out, but it was an encouraging performance. He rates a proper bet for Cheltenham, with 25-1 readily available non-runner no-bet.