JUNIOR may make use of the Cheltenham Gold Cup as his warm up race for the Grand National with trainer David Pipe wishing the ante-post favourite can follow in the hoof prints of Miinnehoma, who won the National in 1994 for his father.

After finishing eighth over hurdles on his return at Newbury last week, Junior, who is as short as 12-1 for the Aintree showpiece, winner of last year’s Kim Muir Chase and favourite for the Grand National could go for either the Gold Cup or the JLT Speciality Handicap Chase, also a target for long-term absentee The Package. Anyone following the ante-post Cheltenham betting online will know it is set to be a tough race.

Pipe, who won the Grand National in 2008 with Comply Or Die, said: “Obviously the Gold Cup has been a good prep race for Grand National horses and this year there's another week between the two festivals.

“He stays all day and you have to stay well with the way the Gold Cup is run. Miinnehoma ran well in the Gold Cup before he won his National, Junior loves Cheltenham and will be a better horse on better ground.”

Consultations will take place between the trainer and owners Roger Stanley and Yvonne Reynolds as well. Input will also besought from David's father Martin, and Gerry Supple, who rides the seven-year-old every day.

Explaining what will influence the decision, Pipe said: “There are two questions we need to answer. Can he travel at the pace of a Gold Cup – and I would say yes – and can he jump at the pace of a Gold Cup, that is the only issue.

“He's been good in his novice chases and I was impressed with the way he won and jumped at Kempton.”

Meanwhile Cheltenham are preparing to start watering next Wednesday with ground conditions currently quicker than ideal ahead of the showpiece meeting which starts on March 13.

Clerk of the course Simon Claisse said: ‘Warmer weather is on the way and I think it will be 15 or 16C by the end of the week. We are currently good, good to firm in places and without between six and seven millimetres of water, we would be good to firm by Monday.
‘We have had a very dry February and we are trying to maintain the ground at good.’