Nicky Henderson on Saturday conceded the jumps trainers' championship to chief rival Paul Nicholls, but was not waving the white flag over the battle at Aintree where big guns Altior and Buveur D'Air are set for action.
Henderson, some £400,000 behind Nicholls in the title race, feels his chances of winning the £1 million Randox Health Grand National on April 6 are slim, leaving his prospects of a sixth crown, and third in three seasons, unlikely.
He said: "We've given up on that on the grounds I'm very, very unlikely to win the Grand National – I might not even have a runner in it, although we might have one.
"I think we'll concede and just look forward to Aintree with no pressure. We'll have a lot of nice young horses to get on with and run, and there'll be plenty going to Aintree."
That team is set to include the Patricia Pugh-owned Altior, the four-time Cheltenham Festival hero who was last seen adding a second Champion Chase to his illustrious CV.
He is poised to step up to 2m4f for the first time in the Melling Chase at Aintree – on his first start at the track – with the new test of stamina coinciding with his bid to break the record of 18 consecutive jumps wins held by Big Buck's.
"He's come out of Cheltenham well and I'm the first to admit it looked like another half a mile would be right up his street," Henderson said.
"Two and a half miles around Aintree isn't an enormous test of stamina and if he didn't stay there, he's certainly not going to win the King George [over three miles on December 26].
"It's a stepping stone and I discussed it with Patricia last night. We'll discuss it further and I want Nico [de Boinville] to have a sit on him next week to see if he's happy and take it from there."
Buveur D'Air was unable to win a third Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, falling early, but could make the trip to Merseyside for the Aintree Hurdle – a race he won two years ago.
Henderson added: "He's very good, but we haven't done anything with them yet. We'll have to see next week.
"He might learn to pick his feet up a tiny bit higher. You know what his jumping's like; it's very slick and deadly accurate, but the deadly accurate bit went out of the window and he missed it by an inch."
Might Bite, who was pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, appears doubtful for the meeting.
"He seems fine and I've been looking at everything but come up with nothing, so I'm not sure I'm desperately tempted by Aintree because there's something there we've got to get to the bottom of," said Henderson.
Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills, Ballymore Novices' Hurdle runner-up Champ and RSA Novices' Chase second Santini are among other Seven Barrows stars being aimed at the Grand National meeting.
Melling Chase odds (Paddy Power): 8-11 Altior, 4-1 Politologue, 9-2 Waiting Patiently, 7-1 Sceau Royal, 8-1 Min, 14-1 bar