GRAHAM Regan returns to Aintree on Saturday determined to settle some "unfinished business" in the £950,000 John Smith's Grand National.
A year ago Niche Market – owned by the Somerset businessman – was travelling sweetly in the Liverpool marathon until an injury sustained at the 12th fence took its toll and the gelding lost ground before being pulled up by Harry Skelton after the third last.
It is impossible to say what would have happened had Niche Market stayed sound but Regan does know that his pride and joy jumped the awesome fences superbly and would have stayed the full distance of four miles and four furlongs.
On that occasion the son of Presenting carried 11st 4lb and was a 33-1 chance trained by Bob Buckler (Henley near Crewkerne). This weekend Niche Market goes there with 10st 13lb as a 16-1 shot (Ladbrokes) for champion NH handler Paul Nicholls (Ditcheat near Shepton Mallet) – with Regan convinced his horse has a great chance to show how unlucky he was in 2010.
Regan said: "Last year Niche Market was right where you wanted him to be – he was alongside the winner Don't Push It at Becher's Brook second time round – but then Harry said it was like trying to drive a car with a flat tyre.
"He got struck into at the 12th but kept on going and it wasn't until the Canal Turn on the second circuit when the leaders kicked on that Harry dropped back.
"We are blessed to have an opportunity to go back and we know more about what the Grand National is about. When we left Aintree last year we still didn't know what the horse is capable of – for me it's a case of unfinished business.
"I am delighted with his weight – I'd take anything under 11st."
Ever since the 2010 running Niche Market's target for this season has been the National.
Regan explained: "In August Paul told me not to worry what happens between then and April 8 – what matters is what happens on April 9. He has been laid-out for the race, the National has been our only aim."
Given plenty of time to recover from the seven-inch gash sustained in his off hind leg at Aintree, Niche Market returned in the Badger Ales Chase at Wincanton in November but suffered the first fall of his career at halfway.
Later in the month he was a decent fifth to Diamond Harry in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and then underwent a breathing operation before having his National tune-up over an inadequate trip of two miles and four furlongs back at Newbury on March 5.
Regan said: "Ruby Walsh rode him last time at Newbury and said it was a very close call between riding him or Aintree favourite The Midnight Club from Ireland in the National.
"He said his jumping had been bomb-proof and it gave Ruby something to think about before he decided on The Midnight Club."
Regan could not be happier with Niche Market as the Liverpool countdown continues – and is delighted that Harry Skelton is back on board: "Niche Market is in great form. He's fresh, he's buzzing and is ready for the race.
"Harry schooled him over Paul's National fences at Ditcheat on Thursday and he simply barrelled down and sailed over them. He is a very straightforward and clever horse.
"We know he'll stay the trip because he did so over four miles at Cheltenham and we know he jumps and gallops."
With little prospect of serious rain the ground is expected to be 'good' which will suit Niche Market who had similar conditions when he won the Irish Grand National under Skelton two years ago.
However, no matter how talented a horse is, Aintree National winners invariably need a liberal slice of another ingredient. Regan added: "You need luck – that word keeps cropping up when you talk about the National."
By David Briers