Pam Sly sticking to Aintree plan with Eileendover

Pam Sly’s unbeaten filly Eileendover remains on course for Aintree’s Grade Two bumper, held in April as part of the Grand National meeting.

The four-year-old has triumphed in three bumpers so far, culminating in a six-and-a-half-length success in the Listed Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Market Rasen in January.

Willie Mullins’ Grangee finished third in the same contest, and then went on to boost the form when triumphing in a Grade Two mares’ bumper during the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Although Sly has previously vetoed the idea of sending Eileendover to Cheltenham for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, the betting market still lists the daughter of Canford Cliffs as third-favourite behind Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard.

Aintree’s Champion Standard Open NH Flat Race remains the target, however, and Sly has no intention of rerouting.

“I didn’t make the entry for Cheltenham,” she said.

“I haven’t had a change of plan. I’ve been saying since Market Rasen that Aintree is the target – she won’t be going to Cheltenham.

“She’s fine, she’s very well – and on track for Aintree.”

No change to Grand National date as Aintree rules out delay

This year’s Randox Grand National meeting will take place in its scheduled slot after Jockey Club Racecourses ruled out delaying the Aintree showpiece.

There had been calls from some parts of the industry to push back the fixture, which will run April 8-10, to the following week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his road map to lifting lockdown restrictions on Monday.

Non-essential retail, including bookmakers, is pencilled in for reopening on April 12 – two days after the National – meaning only punters with online accounts will be able to have a wager on what is the biggest betting race of the year.

Following talks with stakeholders, it has been decided there is not enough certainty around the plans, among other factors, to move the meeting with just six weeks to go.

Tiger Roll was denied the chance to win a third successive Grand National last year
Tiger Roll was denied the chance to win a third successive Grand National last year (Nigel French/PA)
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Dickon White, who runs the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree as the Jockey Club’s north west regional director, said: “Since the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday, we’ve consulted with various stakeholders and weighed up the pros and cons of attempting to delay the Randox Grand National Festival to a time when the country may have moved into ‘Step Two’ of lockdown restrictions lifting.

“We’ve reviewed multiple aspects, including people being at home and available to watch the racing and showcase our sport to the maximum audience; the impact on other racing fixtures in the UK and Ireland and feasibility of any delay; and the impact on hundreds of participants across 21 races at Aintree and beyond.

“We’ve considered whether there is any financial upside for the sport when all parts of such a move are accounted for; whether it is responsible to cause such a rush on betting shops just as they open again with a pandemic ongoing or if the Government intended for this to be more gradual; and whether we would disappoint fans by creating clashes with other sports events.

“This has been a really difficult time for the retail and on-course betting industry and we very much hope that retail outlets will reopen on Monday, April 12, but like so much in this pandemic, this is far from certain at this stage.

“The Prime Minister has been clear that timings for lifting restrictions in England are best case and not guaranteed, while already we know outlets will not be open in Scotland.

“With timings fluid and several downsides of delay, as well as some upsides that may or may not happen, there is not a solid enough basis to move one of the biggest racing fixtures in the calendar just six weeks out. Therefore, the three-day meeting will remain in its planned Thursday 8th to Saturday, April 10 slot.”

He added: “It has been interesting to listen to views on this and we are always happy to do so. The Randox Grand National is the People’s Race and it is a shame that those wishing to have a flutter this year will be limited to online and mobile platforms, rather than being able to drop into the bookies.

“With the national vaccination programme under way, including using facilities at Aintree Racecourse, we very much hope our way of life can return in the fullest sense just as soon as possible.”

The Jam Man ’50-50′ for Grand National outing

A Randox Grand National bid for The Jam Man is “50-50” at this stage, according to trainer Ronan McNally.

Hugely impressive in winning the Troytown Chase at Navan, the eight-year-old subsequently finished a fair sixth behind Main Fact over hurdles at Haydock, but was beaten a long way at the Dublin Racing Festival.

However, McNally has not been happy with the overall health of his string in recent weeks and feels that effort is easily explained.

On the possibility of a trip to Aintree, he said: “It’s probably 50-50 at this stage. He’ll be entered in the Irish National as well and we’ll just see how things are looking closer to the time.

“I never really dreamt he’d be running in a National until he won the Troytown – it surprised us how well he won. That opened up a few doors for us.

“He’s got a mark now which means we don’t have to worry about people dropping out of races for us to get in – it’s half the battle getting into these races.

“He’d have a lovely weight in the National on 10st 7lb. Because he’s only a small horse, it’s just whether he’ll take to the fences or not, but I suppose everyone has that question going there for the first time.

“We can take him to school at the Curragh to see if he takes to those and I think he’ll stay. He goes to sleep in his races which will help. Getting round would be my worry!”

He added: “We’ll just see how he is. If he’s healthy and well three weeks off, then it could become reality that we could have a go. The horses just aren’t quite firing at the minute, so we’ll have to hope they are in better form.”

Delayed National could restore ‘celebration’ for shop punters

Bookmakers hope racing can again demonstrate its flexibility by pushing back the date of the Grand National to ensure betting-shop punters are able to enjoy the annual “celebration”.

Coronavirus put paid to the 2020 National – along with so many other major sporting events – and after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday, this year it is set to take place just two days before the earliest possible reopening of non-essential shops.

Racing administrators have had to adapt to a series of challenges posed by the pandemic over the past 12 months, first with a halted fixture list, then a suspension of attendance for owners and spectators and shop closures also impacting on revenue.

Tiger Roll (right) is still on course to bid for a Grand National hat-trick at Aintree in April
Tiger Roll (right) is still on course to bid for a Grand National hat-trick at Aintree in April (Nigel French/PA)

Only recently, the winter weather has brought its challenges, too – but racing administrators were quick to draw up rescheduling plans to save big meetings lost to the freeze.

Ladbrokes Coral PR director Simon Clare is suggesting the sport can show more of that pro-active spirit – and give itself a much-needed financial boost – by delaying the Randox Grand National, currently scheduled to take place on Saturday April 10, so that it can be run with shops open again.

The National is by far the biggest betting race of the year, worth an estimated £300million in turnover.

Clare said: “Now we’ve seen the dates for the Government road map – which are provisional – and the fact that there is potential for betting shops to open on April 12, the obvious issue is the Grand National.

“It is the biggest betting race of the year – the race which millions of people enjoy as a national celebration. It was lost to the pandemic in 2020, and would take place two days before the shops open this year.

“It is the one race where betting shops provide a big service. There are a lot of once-a-year punters who want to come and have a bet on the big race.

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“There’s the celebratory aspect of the Grand National. It’s the showcase for racing and for betting – so we’d love to see it happen.”

Clare concedes it may not ultimately prove possible to push the race back by a few days or up to a week.

But he is pinning his hopes on another example of the resourcefulness which has helped the British Horseracing Authority, Jockey Club and other stakeholder administrators plot a path through the pandemic so far.

He added: “Just shops reopening is great – that’s the most important thing.

“The Grand National is the biggest betting race of the year. It’s worth 10 times more than the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is the second biggest, in turnover.

“Obviously, racing has done an amazing job being flexible during the pandemic. It’s been an amazing effort.

“It may not be possible – but if it can be done, it would be fantastic.”

Bookmakers have, of course, felt the financial consequences of having to keep shops shut during the lockdowns of the past year.

Clare said: “It’s an important source of revenue for betting shops who’ve had a really tough time and for racing which has done a brilliant job keeping the show on the road but has been supported heavily by the Levy Board.

“The Grand National taking place when shops are open would give a big injection of money.”

Both Jockey Club Racecourses, who own and manage Aintree, and the BHA have declined to comment as yet about the prospect of any rescheduling.

Officials at Ascot, meanwhile, are considering the dilemma of whether to try to put the five-day Royal meeting back a week in the hope of having a full crowd.

As the road map currently stands, a limited number would be allowed at the current dates of June 15-19 – but restrictions could be lifted in their entirety on June 21.

Ascot’s director of communications Nick Smith told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “We were quietly surprised and probably quite pleased at the level of detail the Prime Minister was able to share (on Monday).

Royal Ascot may yet be able to welcome back a full crowd this year
Royal Ascot may yet be able to welcome back a full crowd this year (Julian Finney/PA)

“It was certainly a surprise to us there was so much detail about the return of crowds to sporting events so early – so we’ve got an awful lot to digest.

“It’s natural the question (of moving the meeting back a week) would be asked. I think the reality is what the Prime Minister said was that stage 4 would be June 21 at the earliest. With Royal Ascot due to end on June 19, if it were to move a week later, that doesn’t give an awful lot of room for slippage.

“At this particular point in time, bearing in mind all the complexities of moving a race meeting with Pattern issues and the real uncertainty over whether June 21 will become tenable, we’re just watching this space.

“I wouldn’t want to set hares running to say there is a plan in the background to move the Royal meeting because a) it’s too early to think about that and b) there isn’t at this stage.

“I think we have to be realistic. It’s not impossible, and some would say it’s likely, that there will be some slippage in this programme – which won’t mean it’s failing, it will just mean the natural course of events aren’t as quick as people would like.

“It’s extremely complicated. Saying one week we could plan for ‘x’ thousand and the next plan for 70,000 capacity – or what have you – would require a huge amount of expenditure, and if you aren’t absolutely certain you would be able to deliver it one week later would be financially a very difficult risk to take, especially given what we faced last year and what we face this year.

“The really great news is that it appears to be likely we will be able to welcome at least some crowd. We don’t know what the number will be, as the Government has detailed what you can accommodate in a stadium – which is seat-based – and courses don’t operate like that.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled her own “cautious” route out of lockdown on Tuesday, with the reopening of the economy expected to start from April 26.

Following the announcement Scottish Racing – the body which represents Ayr, Hamilton Park, Kelso, Musselburgh and Perth – tweeted: “Further to today’s announcement from @ScotGovFM, Scottish Racing will continue to engage with @ScotGov on plans to allow horseracing to welcome spectators as part of the government’s new roadmap out of lockdown.”

National handicapper concentrating on job in hand

British Horseracing Authority handicapper Martin Greenwood has reiterated he is never influenced by outside pressure when it comes to framing the Randox Grand National weights, after allotting Tiger Roll 11st 9lb in this year’s race.

Michael O’Leary, owner of the dual winner Tiger Roll, has been vocal in the weeks leading up to the announcement that he would not let the 11-year-old run if he was given a rating in “the 160s or 170s”.

He has been allotted a rating of 166, just 1lb lower than Easysland, who beat him by 17 lengths at Cheltenham last March.

Greenwood said: “It was a tricky one because his four runs since the weights were released last year have yielded almost next to nothing, bar his second at Cheltenham.

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“He was due to run off 170 last year and was around 5-1 favourite. It’s still difficult to know how much ability he’s got.

“Mr and Mr O’Leary (Michael and his brother and racing manager Eddie) are perfectly entitled to offer any opinion they wish, and I’m perfectly entitled not to listen. I’m not distracted by such things and go about my job as I would any other race to a degree – I know it’s the National.

“I’m not influenced any other way by connections questioning my ratings. It would be disrespectful to all the other horses should I give him special treatment, it would be perverse of me to do that. Unfortunately sentiment and emotion can’t come into it when you are a handicapper.”

When it came to assessing the quality of this year’s renewal, Greenwood said it should be one of the best ever run.

He explained: “Last year there were 48 horses above 150, which was a record. This year there are 38 which isn’t quite as good, but it’s still the second best ever, if you include last year. There are still lots of quality handicap winners, Scottish and Welsh National winners, Cloth Cap etc.

“I think there’s a good chance the top-weight Bristol De Mai will run this year and it looks a top-quality handicap.”

He added: “Easysland was tricky to rate because we’ve only got cross-country form to go on, even in France. He was 167 after trouncing Tiger Roll, but it’s important to remember that from Tiger Roll’s point of view, connections felt the ground was too soft and he’d had an interrupted prep, so maybe that result didn’t give a clear picture of Tiger Roll.

“Easysland then ran at Cheltenham in November and was odds-on off 167 and has been absent since. I just think we haven’t got to the bottom of this horse and we don’t know what he’s capable of. I didn’t feel it was right and proper at the minute to lower his rating. The one thing that might concern me is his jumping, as he can clout a few. Whether connections decide to run, we’ll know further down the line.”

While Greenwood stressed he is unable to bet in his position as a handicapper, he did suggest one horse he thinks may be a shorter price on the day.

“If he runs, Secret Reprieve will be popular. He’s unexposed, he jumped soundly at Chepstow winning the Welsh National and he’ll probably get in,” he said.

National weights – what they say

Trainer Tom Lacey – Kimberlite Candy (10st 10lb)

Tom Lacey has high hopes for Kimberlite Candy
Tom Lacey has high hopes for Kimberlite Candy (Steven Paston/PA)

“From an early age we joked and said he could be a Grand National horse as he was such an accurate jumper and that seed was sown in the Becher Chase first time out when he wasn’t beaten far by Walk In The Mill.

“The winner of this year’s Becher (Vieux Lion Rouge) hosed up, but I was still satisfied with the run of Kimberlite Candy. He feels like the finished article now.

“He has not done much wrong over park fences but he has jumped very impressively around there (Aintree) twice in the Becher and he seems to be very slick over them. All he needs is that bit of juice in the ground with an April shower or two.

“The Grand National has been the target from the moment he walked back in the yard this season. I’d like to think he can go there with a real live chance.”

Trainer Willie Mullins – Burrows Saint (10st 13lb), Acapella Bourgeois (10st 12lb), Brahma Bull (10st 8lb), Class Conti (10st 6lb), Cabaret Queen (10st 5lb), Robin Des Foret (10st 5lb), Saturnas (9st 13lb), Bellow Mome (9st 2lb)

Burrows Saint on his way to winning the Irish Grand National
Burrows Saint on his way to winning the Irish Grand National (PA)

“The Grand National is what we’ve been aiming for now for the last 24 months with Burrows Saint. He’s got a nice racing weight on 10st 13lb – we can’t complain about that.

“He’s yet to really come into form for me (this season), but I’m hoping that we can do that in the near future. We’ve got a few runs into him and the ground has been unusually heavy – I think he’s always better on spring ground.

“He could have another run before (Aintree). The Bobbyjo (Chase, Fairyhouse, February 28) is usually our preferred route, so both he and Acapella Bourgeois could go there.

“Acapella is getting on now as an 11-year-old and might be past his best, but we’ll see how he gets on in the Bobbyjo.

“I’m happy enough with Brahma Bull’s weight. He’ll love the trip I think and keep jumping away.

“I thought Class Conti ran a cracker in the Thyestes Chase (finished third), so that’s him coming back to form.

“Cabaret Queen was disappointing in the Thyestes and she will definitely have another run, while hopefully Robin Des Foret will just squeeze in.

“I think we’ll probably have to start looking for an alternative for Saturnas, maybe the Irish National, as he’ll need luck to get in.

“Bellow Mome has got no hope of getting in, so we’ll be going down the handicap route I’m sure as well.”

Trainer Paul Nicholls – Yala Enki (11st 3lb), Give Me Copper (10st 4lb), Shantou Flyer (9st 7lb)

Paul Nicholls views Yala Enki (right) as a legitimate National contender
Paul Nicholls views Yala Enki (right) as a legitimate National contender (Julian Herbert/PA)
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“The horse I’d love to run is Yala Enki and I’ve got to sweet-talk his owners into letting him run.

“To be fair to him he did fall at the first in the Becher, but that might not all be lost on him as he woke up fairly quickly and he jumped round loose afterwards very well.

“He is an experienced horse and he has been round everywhere. To me he is the ideal horse for the National.

“Give Me A Copper was a bit disappointing when he ran at Doncaster the other day and is not the easiest horse to train. The biggest challenge I’ve got to be honest with you is getting him there – it will be like a winner if he gets there.

“Shantou Flyer won’t get in the race.”

Trainer Nicky Henderson – Santini (11st 10lb), Beware The Bear (10st 10lb), Pym (10st 10lb), OK Corral (10st 8lb), Gold Present (10st 2lb), Valtor (9st 13lb)

Beware The Bear will bid to provide Nicky Henderson with a first Grand National win
Beware The Bear will bid to provide Nicky Henderson with a first Grand National win (Nigel French/PA)

“I’ve gone for the scattergun approach this year! The two that are most likely to go for the race are Beware The Bear and OK Corral, though Pym is another possible.

“I’m not saying I would retire on the spot if I won it, as I wouldn’t, but it would be awfully nice to win the race. It’s a very special race and goes a long way back in history – it would be sad if I didn’t manage to win it at some point.

“We’ve left Santini in it as this is something he ought to be trying at some stage of his career. The aim is the Gold Cup, as it was last season, but one day we would like to have a crack at it as his game is staying and he is built for the fences.

“You never know what can happen. He could fall at the first in the Gold Cup, or go lame on the day then be fine the next day and miss the Gold Cup. Then you would have to think about running him in the National.

“We’ve still got to do a bit of work with Ok Corral, but we’ve got time. He looks like a good stayer and was going for the race last year until it was cancelled. I think 10st 8lb looks a good weight.

“We’ve given Beware The Bear a break over the winter and he looks as fresh as paint. He is about to have a run in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster and proper staying trips are what he wants.

“Pym is definitely a possible. He stays all day and he is a pretty level, easy sort of horse.

“Valtor would run if he gets in and Gold Present has jumped well around there in a Topham – he just needs good ground.”

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies – Bristol De Mai (11st 10lb), Ballyoptic (11st 1lb), Crievehill (9st 11lb), The Hollow Ginge (9st 11lb) and Flying Angel (9st 10lb)

Bristol De Mai is at the head of the weights
Bristol De Mai is at the head of the weights (Clint Hughes/PA)

“Bristol De Mai would have run in the race last year – we have just simply delayed it by 12 months. There is no reason why he can’t carry top-weight as he has the class to.

“I’m not worried about the ground as it will never be fast so that isn’t going to be a problem. He galloped them all into the ground over three miles in heavy ground at Haydock so I think he will get the trip as he is a real stayer.

“Ballyoptic has not had the best of seasons, but he has now come down the weights a little bit which is good. The plan is to run him at the weekend where he holds entries at Ascot in the race he won last year and the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.

“If Crievehill got in we would have a look it, but I think he will struggle, as will the other two.”

Trainer Christian Williams – Potters Corner (10st 6lb), Cap Du Nord (9st 13lb)

Potters Corner after winning the Welsh Grand National
Potters Corner after winning the Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

“It’s been a quiet season for Potters Corner up until now, with everything geared towards Cheltenham and Aintree.

“Last year the main aim was the Welsh National while this time it is Aintree, so we’re just prepping him for the latter half of the season.

“He was a bit disappointing at Exeter on Sunday and I’m going to take a blood sample off him and scope him. It was a hurdle race, so perhaps he just needs those bigger fences now to spark him.

“The plan is to go for the cross-country race at Cheltenham followed by Aintree, so there’s no big panic yet.

“Cap Du Nord could be quite exciting and the unexposed one. He ran really well to finish third in soft ground at Doncaster last time – and on better ground I think it would have been a different result.

“He could be a lively type if he sneaks in.”

Trainer Jessica Harrington – Magic Of Light (10st 13lb), Jett (10st 7lb)

Magic Of Light finished second in the 2019 Grand National
Magic Of Light finished second in the 2019 Grand National (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Magic Of Light is off a fair mark. I think she’s lower than she was going to be last year and is 2lb better off with Tiger Roll.

“All roads lead to Aintree. I’m not quite sure where she’s going to run next as I don’t want to run her on heavy ground, but she may come to Cheltenham to run at the Festival.”

Trainer Ted Walsh – Any Second Now (10st 9lb)

Any Second Now represents Ted Walsh
Any Second Now represents Ted Walsh (Paul Harding/PA)

“That’s roughly around what I thought he would get, so I’m happy enough with the weight – it’s much the same as what he had last year.

“I was disappointed with him when he ran in the Thyestes Chase, but Mark (Walsh) said he didn’t handle the very heavy ground and pulled him up. I’ll run him again either at Naas or at Fairyhouse in two weeks’ time.

“The trip won’t be a problem, the only problem will be whether he takes to the Aintree fences or not. Some horses love it – the 40 runners and the hustle and bustle of it – and some don’t and I hope he’s one of those who’ll relish it.”

Top golfer and part-owner Lee Westwood – Bellshill (10st 10lb)

Bellshill is part-owned by professional golfer Lee Westwood
Bellshill is part-owned by professional golfer Lee Westwood (Brian Lawless/PA)

“The Grand National is very high up in my affections. For people in horse racing it is very high up, but I think for people who don’t watching racing regularly it is probably the most famous race of all.

“It’s a bit like the Ryder Cup in a way – the majors draw in all the fanatical golf followers, but the Ryder Cup pulls in sport followers and I’d say the Grand National is the same.

“Sandy Thomson (trainer) is great with these older racehorses. Getting an old-ish horse like Bellshill there is an even bigger achievement and if he races you just want him to come back safe and sound.

“Just see him jump the fences would be a real buzz if it happens.”

Hemmings banking on Cloth Cap for victory in ‘Wembley of all races’

Trevor Hemmings believes Cloth Cop represents his best chance of claiming a record fourth victory in the Randox Grand National.

The Isle of Man-based businessman is the joint most successful owner in the history of the world’s most famous steeplechase, having struck Aintree gold with Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds (2015).

The 85-year-old would dearly love to claim another victory on April 10.

“The Grand National is the ultimate in my life as far I am concerned,” said Hemmings.

“I built a holiday village next to where Ginger McCain used to bring Red Rum, the beach at Ainsdale. As a result of that and working with Fred Pontin (owner of 1971 Grand National winner Specify), I had to work the weekend Fred won the Grand National and that also captured me. I had to finish the holiday village at Ainsdale and he went off for the weekend and won the Grand National with Specify.

“If you look at the blue riband, which is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it is probably the ultimate in the UK. If you look at the Grand National, which is worldwide – it’s the Wembley of all of racing.

“That’s why I cherish Liverpool and that wonderful few days you can have in Grand National week.”

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Hemmings considers his first National success with the Willie Mullins-trained Hedgehunter as the highlight of his racing life.

Hedgehunter won the Grand National under Ruby Walsh
Hedgehunter won the Grand National under Ruby Walsh (David Davies/PA)

He added: “My most precious moment is winning the Grand National in what I call the old stadium – the previous winner’s enclosure to what is used today.

“The history of all that had happened before was still in that winner’s enclosure. I was there with Willie and Jackie Mullins, Willie’s father Paddy and mother Maureen and his son Patrick, who we know now as a grown, mature jockey, but was a kid back then.

“I will remember the passion of everybody.”

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Cloth Cap emerged as a leading National contender with victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.

On a rating of 148, the nine-year-old is on a weight of 10st 5lb – and Betway make him a 16-1 co-favourite along with dual National hero Tiger Roll and Kimberlite Candy.

Hemmings could also be represented by Lake View Lad, winner of the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase over the Mildmay Course at Aintree in December, and Deise Aba, who returned to form when landing a handicap chase at Sandown Park on February 6.

“Of my three entries this year, Cloth Cap would look to have the best chance,” said Hemmings.

“We have two that should be in the race as they are number 13 (Lake View Lad) and number 46 (Cloth Cap) I think in the list. It usually goes down to about 80 to get a run and Deise Aba is 71. All being well, they should get in.

“Catherine, who looks after my business, came up with the name Cloth Cap. Everybody knows me in this cloth cap, although I have had to change it as my last one had a hole in it!”

Hemmings recently received his first Covid-19 vaccination, and added: “I was vaccinated at the end of last month and am due another a week from now. It is an easy thing to do and everybody should it – nobody wants to miss out on the chance of living longer.”

Cloth Cap (white cap) on his way to winning the Ladbrokes Trophy
Cloth Cap (white cap) on his way to winning the Ladbrokes Trophy (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

O’Neill has high hopes for Cloth Cap, saying: “I am very happy with him. The important thing for him is the ground. He needs good ground, so I hope they run out of water there!

“We were planning this last year really, but it didn’t happen. Unfortunately he just didn’t perform the way that we had hoped he would, but this year he came back in great form.

“He jumps and he stays well so the Grand National is the obvious race to go for.

“He has 10st 5lb, which is a really nice weight, and Trevor loves the race.

“We are hoping to get a prep race into him either at Kempton or Doncaster.”

Elliott hoping Tiger Roll will be allowed to bid for National hat-trick

Gordon Elliott admits it will be disappointing should Tiger Roll not run in the Randox Grand National after being allotted 11st 9lb – but underlined the final decision will rest with owner Michael O’Leary.

The diminutive 11-year-old was denied the chance to win the race three times in a row – something not even Red Rum managed – by the Covid-19 pandemic, but Elliott is training him to peak on April 10.

However, it has been well documented that O’Leary and his brother Eddie felt he needed plenty of help from handicapper Martin Greenwood for him to stand any chance of winning the race again, warning he would not run if he was rated “in the 160s or 170s”.

Tiger Roll won in 2018 from a mark of 150 and defied a 9lb rise 12 months later. This year he is off 166, despite pulling up on his last appearance at Cheltenham in November.

“He has got 166 and he won off 159 two years ago when the race was last run. He seems in good form at home and we are looking forward to the race,” said Elliott.

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“You are always hoping you are going to be a couple of pounds less than what you have been given, but to be honest we will just smile and take it.

“I have to concentrate on training the horse and I just hope his owner lets the horse run in the race for the public. Everyone will be looking forward to seeing the horse run again in the Grand National, but Michael will make that decision.

“It will be disappointing for everyone if he doesn’t turn up, but as you know he makes the decisions. He is 7lb higher than what he won off before, but it is probably fair enough.

“If you look at him he is not the biggest horse in the world, but he really seems to enjoy those fences.”

Davy Russell plants a kiss on Tiger Roll
Davy Russell plants a kiss on Tiger Roll (John Grossick/The Jockey Club)

Regarding his run in November, Elliott said:  “He made a mistake the last day at Cheltenham and he was lame after the race, but thankfully he is OK now.

“We injected his stifles behind and thankfully he is back sound and moving very well and we are very happy with him at the moment. We will just keep our heads up and hopefully he will be OK for the rest of the season.

“He is in the Boyne Hurdle at the weekend, but the ground is very soft, so we might not run him. If it isn’t too bad he will run, as he has run in it the last two years.

“He is in good form and if the ground is right for him we would like to run him as it’s a race he has won before.”

Presenting Percy is among Gordon Elliott's other National hopes
Presenting Percy is among Gordon Elliott’s other National hopes (Mike Egerton/PA)

When contacted on Tuesday, Eddie O’Leary said: “We’ve said all we’re going to say on the matter and will be offering no further comment.”

Elliott has 15 other entries, but that has already been slimmed down by the news Delta Work is out for the season and the likes of Aforementioned, Monbeg Notorious and Roaring Bull are highly unlikely to make the cut.

Of his other hopefuls he added: “I would say I would hopefully run Presenting Percy (11st 9lb). He has had a little setback, but hopefully I will have him back for the National. Tiger Roll, The Storyteller (11st 8lb) and Alpha Des Obeaux (10st 9lb) will all hopefully go.

“I thought one down at the bottom with 10st 6lb could be very well handicapped, a horse called Milan Native. He has had a wind operation since his last run and he is one I am looking forward to for the Grand National this year.”

Three horses are weighted 1lb higher than Tiger Roll – Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Bristol De Mai, Tiger Roll’s Cheltenham conqueror Easysland and Gold Cup runner-up Santini.

Magic Of Light, second to Tiger Roll two years ago, has 10st 13lb, Ladbrokes Trophy winner Cloth Cap has been given 10st 5lb while Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve needs a little bit of luck to secure a place as he is on 10st 1lb.

Sly sets sights on Aintree aim for Eileendover

Pam Sly is to resist the temptation of Cheltenham for Eileendover and run her star filly at Aintree instead.

The Peterborough trainer feels the Weatherbys Champion Bumper will come too soon for her unbeaten charge and is to prepare her for the Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race on April 8.

Sly has just started to build Eileendover back up to full fitness after giving her a month’s break following her victory in a Listed bumper at Market Rasen.

“She’s had a month’s holiday. She’d been in since last February. It’s a long time,” said Sly.

“She’s on the walker this week. We can’t do much at the moment. It keeps snowing and we’ve had another frost this morning.

“I’m still aiming to go to Aintree. I know I should probably go for the Grade One at Cheltenham, but I just think it’s too early. I won’t have her fit enough for that.”

Sly was pleased to see the Market Rasen form franked on Sunday when the Willie Mullins-trained Grangee, who was beaten eight and a half lengths in third place, took the Grade Two mares’ bumper at Leopardstown.

“That was all right. She won 59 grand for that and ours was only 11. Their ground looked a bit better than ours,” she added.

“I always thought our filly wanted better ground and I still do.”

Nicholls favouring Aintree date for Hitman

Paul Nicholls reports Hitman to be none the worse after falling in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown on Saturday.

Hugely impressive on his British debut at Ffos Las in November, the French recruit subsequently chased home Dan Skelton’s Allmankind when stepped up to Grade One level for the first time in Sandown’s Henry VIII Novices’ Chase the following month.

The five-year-old returned to the Esher venue for another top-level assignment last weekend – and was still travelling strongly when coming to grief at the first of the Railway Fences.

Speaking on a call hosted by Great British Racing, Nicholls said: “It was very frustrating – I don’t think I’ve seen Harry (Cobden, jockey) that frustrated after a race for a long time.

“He was travelling extremely well and jumped impeccably. He was just a bit unlucky he landed a little bit steep.

“He’s come out of the race fine and we’ve just got to make a plan as to what we’re going to do with him going forward.”

Hitman holds entries in the Arkle Trophy and the Marsh Novices’ Chase at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, but could sidestep the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds entirely.

Nicholls added: “I wouldn’t mind saving him for Aintree. He’s a horse who doesn’t want a lot of racing this year. He’s only just turned five and he’s going to improve physically for another summer.

“You wouldn’t do Cheltenham and Aintree and Cheltenham might come a bit quick off the back of a fall.

“I wouldn’t mind getting a clear round in somewhere on a small track and then go to Aintree.”

McCain favouring Aintree option for Musselburgh victors

Donald McCain could skip Cheltenham in preference for Aintree with Musselburgh winners Fiveandtwenty and Bareback Jack.

The duo have both won three times since joining McCain and took their form to a new level at the weekend.

Juvenile hurdler Fiveandtwenty, with Mark Johnston on the Flat, won a Listed event by four lengths and Grade One company now beckons on Merseyside.

“It was a good weekend, very positive,” said McCain.

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“We were a little disappointed the last time she won, but to be fair to her, she’s now been up there three times and stayed overnight each time, the second time there wasn’t much of a gap.

“She’d had more time this time and was obviously the better for it.

“At the moment it’s all systems go for Aintree.”

Bareback Jack beat a quality opponent in Dan Skelton’s Third Time Lucki, who eventually faded into fourth after the two were locked in battle all the way up the straight in the Scottish Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

“I suppose people can say the favourite made a mistake at the last, but we weren’t clever at it and I think we had his measure going to it,” said McCain.

“He was a bit careful two out and he lacks a bit of racing experience.

“We’re really positive about him because he can only improve for better ground, I think, and by the end of two days at Musselburgh it was a bit of a mess.

“He’s a very neat jumper. He’s not got the physique of a chaser at the moment, but the way he jumps suggests to me he’ll be a two to two-and-a-half-mile chaser.

“Tim (Leslie, owner) and myself are big fans of Aintree. He’s in at Cheltenham, but this year I don’t think we’d be in a rush to take him there. Aintree should suit him, so there’s a strong possibility he might end up there.

“We might look to take him somewhere before then, but it’s not easy at the minute. The Premier Hurdle (at Kelso) is an option, but the ground is likely to be slow so we’ll see.”

Waiting Patiently to be aimed at Aintree

Waiting Patiently will sidestep the Cheltenham Festival and instead be aimed at the Grand National meeting at Aintree.

Ruth Jefferson’s stable star made a hugely encouraging return from over a year off the track when runner-up to Frodon in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The talented 10-year-old was subsequently dropped in trip from three miles to two miles and a furlong for the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, where after being supplemented he finished third to First Flow and Politologue.

Having already been taken out of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Waiting Patiently retained the option of running in either the Ryanair Chase or the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the Cotswolds, but has now been scratched from those races, too.

Jefferson said: “I took him out of the Queen Mother ages ago and I’ve now taken him out of the Ryanair and the Gold Cup.

“Thinking about it, we felt the King George wasn’t the fastest run three-mile race in the world, so maybe the Gold Cup wasn’t the right option.

“And after his last race, he was going to need a little bit of veterinary attention, so we thought we’d leave him for Aintree.

Ruth Jefferson is looking towards Aintree with Waiting Patiently
Ruth Jefferson is looking towards Aintree with Waiting Patiently (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He’s not had an issue as such, but the longer between his Ascot run and his next run the better.”

Reflecting on Waiting Patiently’s latest performance, North Yorkshire-based Jefferson added: “I just thought he was flat out, to be honest.

“He came into the race and just stayed on at the same pace.”

O’Leary raises Irish National idea for Tiger Roll

Tiger Roll could line up in the Irish Grand National if connections decide not to bid for a famous hat-trick at Aintree.

The Gordon Elliott-trained 11-year-old won the Randox Grand National in both 2018 and 2019, but was denied the chance to emulate Red Rum as a three-times winner when last year’s renewal was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael O’Leary, who owns Tiger Roll through his Gigginstown House Stud outfit, has made no secret of the fact he is dissatisfied with the gelding’s current British handicap mark of 168, particularly as he has been well beaten in his four starts since his Aintree verdict two years ago.

With the National weights due to be announced later this month, O’Leary wants to see a reduction in Tiger Roll’s mark if he is to have any chance of lining up at Aintree.

He told Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme: “He last won the National off 159. He’s run four times since and has not finished in the frame. He was beaten by Easysland by 17 lengths off level weights – Easysland is now rated 167, yet somehow Tiger Roll is still rated around 170.

“I think if he rates him fairly, somewhere in the 150s then he’ll run in the Grand National. If he rates him in the 160s or 170s, he won’t and we’ll take him out after the weights.

“The plan for Gordon and Eddie (O’Leary racing manager) has always been to take him to the Cross Country at Cheltenham, where I believe he will be kicked out of the way again by Easysland, and then I think the options are possibly retirement or we may look at an entry in the Irish Grand National, where I think he would be more fairly weighted.

“We’ve a responsibility to the horse. He owes us nothing, he’s a four-time winner at Cheltenham and a two-time Grand National winner.

“He’s getting older, he may not run again after Cheltenham. His last couple of runs suggest he’s not in love with the game anymore and the priority at this point is minding Tiger Roll.”

Tiger Roll headlines National entries – but connections sound cautious note

Dual Randox Health Grand National winner Tiger Roll is one of 106 entries for the Aintree spectacular on April 10.

Gordon Elliott’s 11-year-old was denied the chance to make it three wins in a row last year, with the race cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tiger Roll, a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner, has not run since disappointing over the cross-country fences at Cheltenham in November – and his National participation is seemingly not guaranteed, with connections remaining unhappy with his rating.

Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for his owners, Gigginstown House Stud, said: “Touch wood, he’ll go for the Boyne Hurdle at Navan (February 21) next and then it will be the cross-country chase at Cheltenham.

“I think the November run was just one of those days. We didn’t expect him to win or anything, but we didn’t think he’d run that bad. There was no reason for it, maybe he had a headache, I couldn’t tell you.

“With regards to the National, he’s still got a crazy weight. For some unknown reason he has this crazy rating, but he didn’t even appear in the end-of-season classifications last year, yet he’s got this rating of 168.

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“When I queried it, I was told that was because it was a cross-country rating. Tiger Roll was beaten 17 lengths by Easysland off level weights (in March).

“I’ve always said 168 is crazy and there’s no point in running in the National unless he’s given a chance. We’d be absolutely thrilled if he could run to a mark of 168, but it makes no sense.

“Unless he’s given a chance he’ll probably be retired at Cheltenham if he runs badly, and maybe Cheltenham is the right place to retire him given his record there.”

Trainer Gordon Elliott sprang to prominence when Silver Birch won in 2007
Trainer Gordon Elliott sprang to prominence when Silver Birch won in 2007 (Niall Carson/PA)

Elliott has also entered multiple Grade One winner Delta Work as he chases a fourth success in the race having also tasted glory with Silver Birch in 2007. Presenting Percy and The Storyteller are others among his team of 16.

Nicky Henderson has famously never won the National, but he has entered last year’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini this time around.

Willie Mullins has entered eight, including Burrows Saint, while Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve has been given the option by Evan Williams, despite still being a novice.

The Ted Walsh-trained Any Second Now, French cross-country specialist Easysland and Kimberlite Candy feature in a strong numerical team for owner JP McManus.

Lake View Lad, Potters Corner, Bristol De Mai and Magic Of Light are others prominent in the early betting.

Golfer Lee Westwood could fulfil a lifelong dream should Yorkhill or Bellshill make the race.

Speaking to, he said: “It’s no secret that I have a real love for racing and that stems from watching big races like the Grand National from a young age. I’ve always wanted to have a runner in the big race, so to have two entered is perfect.

“It was such a thrill to see Yorkhill get back to winning ways at Newcastle in November and you certainly can’t write him off as a multiple Grade One winner, while Bellshill has plenty of class and would certainly have a chance if he runs.

“Sandy Thomson has done a great job with both horses so far and I’d love to win a race that’s famous all over the world.”

David Bridgwater’s Cheltenham Festival winner The Conditional and Jonjo O’Neill’s Ladbrokes Trophy winner Cloth Cap are other leading contenders.

McCain looking forward to bright future with Navajo Pass

Donald McCain is already looking forward to next season with Navajo Pass following his victory at Haydock on Saturday.

The five-year-old upset dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air in The New One Unibet Hurdle, thanks to a bold front-running performance in the hands of Sean Quinlan.

The Cheshire trainer might consider the Grade One Aintree Hurdle, over two and a half miles, as a spring target, but he believes Navajo Pass is a horse for the future.

“Obviously, as everyone has been saying, the favourite probably needed the run, but he (Navajo Pass) went about his job in a good manner and did it really well. He came back well, so happy days,” said McCain.

“We’ve that one under our belt so there’s no panic. You never say never, but I can’t quite envisage we’re going to be going to Cheltenham because handicaps are going to be out of the question now.

“If we get one more run into him, maybe go to Aintree, that is probably the scenario, and then he’s next year’s horse really.

“He’s won a couple of races now this season. He’ll improve again for another summer and we’ll keep going forward. He’s changing all the time.

“It’s a pretty steep learning curve out of juveniles, but he seems to be finding his feet now and improving all the time.”