King George hero Hewick has emerged as a surprise contender for the JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle, with trainer John ‘Shark’ Hanlon keen to keep options open with conditions at Aintree currently testing ahead of the three-day Grand National meeting.

Famously acquired for just €850, the nine-year-old’s rags-to-riches tale as seen him become one of the most popular horses in training and he has picked up prizes such as the Galway Plate and American Grand National en route to becoming a bona fide Grade One operator.

After striking at Kempton on Boxing Day, the wet weather has already scuppered Hanlon’s plans to run Hewick in both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Randox Grand National itself this spring and the continued rainfall has seen him searching for a Merseyside alternative to running in Thursday’s Aintree Bowl.

However, the County Carlow handler has no concerns about switching to the smaller obstacles, unwilling to expose his stable star to what could be the worst of conditions on Thursday.

No worries

“We know he is as good a hurdler as he is a chaser and I’m not worried about running him over hurdles,” said Hanlon.

“We ran him in the French Champion Hurdle and he ran a cracker, the ground was just too soft and if the ground was too soft there at Aintree on Thursday and we didn’t run him, it gives us the option to run him there on Saturday.

“They are giving the weather to dry up from Tuesday on and the ground could be good again on Saturday, so if the ground was OK we would run him.

“I’ve had it in my mind for the last fortnight and he wouldn’t mind a bit of cut in the ground over hurdles, it’s just that he’s not over big himself and over fences I would be afraid he would burst his heart trying to jump out of heavy ground, which over a hurdle he won’t. It’s not that he has to have good ground, it is just that a fence looks very big to him on soft ground.

“He’s in great form and he’s worked nice. We’re just going to wait now and see and it might be that (hurdles) division this year might not be overly the best. I just have to keep all my options open.”

Star-studded entries

There are a total of 20 entries for the three-mile Grade 1 with Stayers’ Hurdle champion Teahupoo one of four possible runners for Gordon Elliott alongside defending champion Sire Du Berlais, Irish Point and Beacon Edge.

Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Flooring Porter will bid to turn the tables for Gavin Cromwell, while fellow Irish raider Buddy One could seek a first Grade One victory having also acquitted himself well at the Cheltenham Festival.

Fergal O’Brien’s Crambo is among the British hopes, with dual Coral Cup winner Langer Dan taking the leap into deep waters for the trainers’ championship-seeking Dan Skelton.

The Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle could see record buy Caldwell Potter make his debut for Paul Nicholls, with a collection of talented novices, including Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Slade Steel, amongst the 24 initial entries.

Meanwhile, there has been little to separate Elliott’s Found A Fifty and Willie Mullins’ Il Etait Temps this season and they could lock horns for a third time in the My Pension Expert Maghull Novices’ Chase – the last of three Grade Ones on the Grand National day card.