LIMERICK LACE (Keith Donoghue) wins The Mrs Paddy Power Mares Chase Cheltenham 15 Mar 2024 - Pic Steven Cargill / Racingfotos.com

Monday Musings: My Idea of the National Winner is…

It’s a horrible thought, but if all the horses eligible to run before today’s five-day stage for the Randox Grand National stood their ground and then took up the engagement on Thursday morning, only six of the drastically reduced field this year, from 40 to 34, will be trained in the UK, writes Tony Stafford.

Even more salutary, between them, Gordon Elliott (ten) and Willie Mullins (eight) will have more than a 50% chance of knocking off the £500,000 first prize and the better than acceptable place money from second, £200k, down to five grand for tenth.

The inertia once horses get to a certain level – and this time there’s no fault being found about handicapping on either side of the Irish Sea - means it takes a lot for, say, a 150-rated animal to drop out of his guaranteed place in the line-up from year to year. That’s why they race so infrequently – where else can you have a shot at half a million?

The lucky six this time would be supplemented if the big two fine down their options. Six of the next ten are trained over here so it could at least bring, if not a level playing field, one that offers a hint of promise. Of the guaranteed sextet, connections of the 11-year-old Latenightpass will be on a winner even before the gelding lines up.

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Fourth under multiple champion and overall point-to-point lady record holder Gina Andrews in last year’s Foxhunters at the National meeting over the same fences, the gelding will be her first ride in a Grand National. He’s safely in on 24, and Gina, the multiple point-to-point champion and by far the winning-most lady rider in that sphere, rides the family gelding for husband Tom Ellis, king of the point-to-point trainers.

In racecard order as they stood this morning, the top two from the UK are number 3 Nassalam and number 8 Corach Rambler. After his excellent third behind Galopin Des Champs in last month’s Gold Cup, Corach Rambler is only a 4/1 shot to repeat last year’s victory for Lucinda Russell. Nassalam concedes him 2lb because of two spectacular performances around Chepstow in December but was then pulled up in the Gold Cup, so the market’s preference is understandable.

But such was Nassalam’s astonishing demolition job on the Welsh Grand National field in his last race before Cheltenham – unfortunately causing Gary Moore’s gelding that abrupt jump in his rating – he must be a contender especially as we’ll be having heavy ground bar a miracle with the weather by Saturday.

Nassalam also looked good around the big Aintree fences in the autumn, staying on well from a long way back in the Grand Sefton over a woefully inadequate 2m5f, gathering momentum as the race neared its climax. He’s one of the best equipped to handle both ground and distance in the field and although he did carry a big weight in the 3m6f Welsh National, his mark soared another 16lb after that.

I reckon every 1lb will be worth two under these conditions, so with regret I’ve been looking down the list. Sadly, apart from the obvious claims of Corach Rambler – and repeat winners aren’t exactly unheard of - even if the ground might not be totally to his liking, I’ve landed on an Irish contender.

The same age as Nassalam, that’s seven, and significantly the 2022 winner Noble Yeats was also that age at the time, I find it hard to get away from the Gavin Cromwell-trained and, need I say it, J P McManus-owned mare Limerick Lace.

Limerick Lace would be the first of her sex to win the race since 1951 and indeed only three mares, Shannon Lass (James Hackett) in 1902, 1948 Sheila’s Cottage (40/1) trained by Nevile Crump, and Nickel Coin (50/1) for Jack O’Donoghue, won the race in the entire 20th Century. It will take something special to quell that statistic but maybe Limerick Lace is that entity.

She had the effrontery to intrude on Elliott’s second most heinous action as a trainer when he supplied 14 of the 20 runners in Navan’s Troytown Chase in November. Limerick Lace didn’t win the three-miler on heavy ground but got within a couple of lengths of Coko Beach, who did, a fair old run for a 6yo.

She will meet Coko Beach on 2lb better terms, fair enough, and equally being put up 6lb for that was entirely understandable. But she’s run twice and won twice since then, both in the UK. Firstly, she came over to Doncaster for a mares’ chase and bolted up by six lengths with her mark already on the 147 allotted after Navan, and that remained unchanged.

Then she took in the Grade 2 2m5f Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham last month and won it nicely from Willie Mullins’ Dinoblue, who was rated 13lb her superior. Cromwell’s mare did a touch of tail-flashing but showed plenty of resolution and her official mark is now 153, but a bargain 147 for this early closing race only.

In all she has five wins from ten starts over fences with three seconds and a third as back-up. I’m going for a rarity, but one that did happen twice in the first five years of my life – I wasn’t out quite in time for Shannon Lass! Limerick Lace to beat Nassalam and Corach Rambler.

**

My copy of Horses in Training finally came on Friday and I’ve enjoyed trying to work out which stable has the most horses, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Inevitably, we have to guess a bit as two of the biggest strings each year decline sending full lists. The Gosdens have 149 three-year-olds and up but are keeping their two-year-olds a secret while Richard Fahey won’t tell us a thing.

Generally, the boys with more than 200 in their care are the ones that will be challenging for top honours most of the time. But while not yet at that rarified atmosphere numerically, one intriguing name which has a lasting place in Grand National history, is undergoing a re-vamp.

I noticed his list on first skim through but then when wanting to look again, couldn’t find it. The book is in alphabetical order, but Dr Richard Newland and joint licensee Jamie Insole are sandwiched between Tina Jackson and Iain Jardine.

Ten years ago, I backed the doctor’s Grand National winner, Pineau De Re. Now he and Jamie have 100 horses in their care and are obviously going much more seriously at the flat. Last year’s 73 were all older horses. This time, of their 100, 20 are juveniles and all bar one was acquired at the sales, at prices between 16 grand and 110k.

They joined forces late last season, by the end of which they had four wins from their first six runners on the flat. A further four have come at the more sustainable rate of ten per cent this year. The jumpers have provided the partnership with five wins from 77 runs. Until the switch-around, Dr Newland alone had 18 jumps wins from 158 runners.

Insole, 26, is from an Irish family with plenty of NH riding history behind it. He grew up, some might say, curiously in Billericay in deepest Essex but has been involved in the sport for most of his life from adolescence. After jobs with such as Alan King, he went the whole hog into flat racing as a pupil assistant to Charlie Hills.

Of all the stables that have caught my attention, in Grand National week I can’t stop thinking that if someone like the doctor (and his owners) have invested the best part of £1million at the sales to get this embryo partnership under way, they must have the utmost faith in their new recruit. I can’t wait for their first juvenile runner. Royal Ascot maybe?

- TS

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1 reply
  1. Mugpunter
    Mugpunter says:

    While the saying weight stops trains is obviously applicable in some circumstances, say a stone difference between 2 runners on the flat over a mile of further, I really don’t think 2-3lbs or even 5-7lbs is going to make a huge difference to animals weighing
    1,000 lbs. Far more important is going and distance.I wouldn’t consider weight too much unless the differential are fairly large. The very small differences in weights Mr Stafford is discussing above I think are negligible in terms of the GN.

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