Any Second Now fits Aintree bill for Walsh

Ted Walsh has already tasted Randox Grand National glory with Papillon – and while he feels this year’s contender Any Second Now compares favourably, he is very wary of the threat posed by favourite Cloth Cap.

Walsh and his son Ruby teamed up to win the 2000 Grand National – and despite the Champion Hurdles and Gold Cups the great jockey went on to win, on his retirement he still hailed Papillon’s triumph as his favourite memory.

Walsh senior also trained Seabass to finish third in the National in 2012, ridden by his daughter Katie, so there is no doubt he knows what is required – and Any Second Now has enjoyed a similar preparation, winning a Grade Two over two miles last time out.

“He’s going there with a good chance if you get the luck that you need to win a National,” said Walsh.

“He has a nice weight, hasn’t had too much racing and had a good run the last day.

“If he jumps a clear round and doesn’t get interfered with then he has a chance. You want plenty of luck.

“He’s similar to Papillon and Seabass in that they were able to win over two miles as well, and get a trip. He’s not as good a jumper as those two, but they were exceptional jumpers.

“I think the favourite will be very hard to beat. He stays and he jumps – he was a good winner in Newbury and he’s 14lb well-in.”

After dominating Cheltenham, the Irish team is strong in numbers and quality on Saturday too.

Burrows Saint won the Irish National two years ago
Burrows Saint won the Irish National two years ago (PA Wire)

Willie Mullins fields four – with Acapella Bourgeois, Cabaret Queen and Class Conti joining 2019 Irish National winner Burrows Saint, who now has Patrick Mullins replacing the injured Paul Townend.

“On the stats it was probably a good thing missing the race last year as a seven-year-old,” jockey Mullins said of Burrows Saint.

“I don’t think a seven-year-old has won the National since the 1940s, so it might have been a blessing in disguise.

“He’s still relatively unexposed, and I think he ticks a lot of the boxes.

“Everything has gone pretty much to plan this season. He had a couple of runs over hurdles and a good run in the Bobbyjo.

“I think better ground will bring about more improvement.”

Mullins also doubles up as assistant trainer and said of his father’s other runners: “Acapella is in great form, and Danny (Mullins) gets on very well with him.

“He beat Burrows Saint in the Bobbyjo, so where one is the other shouldn’t be far away. But I suppose Burrows Saint will probably improve more for the better ground, so that might swap the placings there.

“He’s a horse who’s a little bit older as an 11-year-old and probably a bit more exposed, but he has a nice racing weight.

“Class Conti has to have a little squeak of getting placed. I suppose the worry with him is whether he’ll be able to lie up with the early pace, but he’s a safe jumper and will like the ground.

“Cabaret Queen has won a National in Listowel and a couple of good handicap chases. Her form has tapered off a little bit, but I think the drier ground will suit her well. There’s worse long shots than her.”

Nicky Henderson has never won the National
Nicky Henderson has never won the National (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Nicky Henderson has famously never won the race, and relies on Ok Corral this time.

“He was all teed up for last year’s Grand National, and I was really looking forward to it, I must admit – I thought he was one of our more realistic chances in recent years,” said Henderson.

“It hasn’t been such an easy preparation this year. To be fair, he wasn’t quite ready for Cheltenham, but he’s in good form at the moment and has enjoyed jumping the National fences at home.

“The clock is ticking, and I’m not going to have many more shots at it.

“We all know the Grand National is very special to everybody, and it would be nice to get it on the CV – but if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen.”

Christian Williams has long held the belief Potters Corner is the right type for the race, after he won the 2019 Welsh National.

Potters Corner sparked wild scenes when winning the Welsh National
Potters Corner sparked wild scenes when winning the Welsh National (David Davies/PA)

“His season has been geared towards the Grand National, so fingers crossed,” said Williams.

“It was all about the Welsh National for the whole of last season, and it’s very much Aintree all of this season.”

Paul Nolan went close in the Irish National on Monday with Latest Exhibition and runs Discorama, placed at the Cheltenham Festival on more than one occasion.

“He’s due a bit of luck – he’s been placed at three Cheltenham Festivals,” said Nolan.

“He’s certainly a horse we’d love to get his head in front, but it’s not easy with the way he runs and the way he stays behind the bridle a little bit.

“You have your favourite races, and certainly the English National captures the hearts of millions of people.

“The horse that wins it becomes a household name for a certain bit of time. It would absolutely be a dream come true if he was able to win.”

Nick Alexander runs Lake View Lad – another in the Trevor Hemmings colours, along with Cloth Cap.

“He’s done all his work and he’s ready to go,” said Alexander.

“He’s in very good shape. His last couple of runs were a little disappointing, but we’ve done a few things, so hopefully we can get him back to the form he was in when he won the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree at the beginning of December.

“If he can replicate that form and takes to the fences, he should run a big race, I hope. We go there with optimism.”

Bristol De Mai is the class act in the race
Bristol De Mai is the class act in the race (Mike Egerton/PA)

Nigel Twiston-Davies calls upon Bristol De Mai as he looks for a third Grand National.

“I was going to run him in last year’s National – and while that never happened, he’s been trained specifically for the race this time,” said Twiston-Davies.

“We decided to give the Gold Cup a miss, and take him fresh to Aintree.

“He’s a very good jumper and has great enjoyed himself schooling over a couple of ‘jumped-up’ fences.

“He pleased me in each of his races this season. To win a third Betfair Chase like that was very special, and I thought he did nothing wrong at Sandown (when chasing home Native River) in the Cotswold Chase.”

Twiston-Davies also runs Ballyoptic – while Jessica Harrington has again sent over the mare Magic Of Light, who chased home Tiger Roll a couple of years ago. She also runs Jett.

Randox Health Grand National Festival 2019 – Grand National Day – Aintree Racecourse
Magic Of Light (left) put it up to Tiger Roll two years ago (Nigel French/PA)

“She’s all set and all ready to rock and roll,” said Harrington.

“You’ve got to have a lot of luck. I hope she’s in as good a form as she was two years ago, but it’s hard to tell.

“She’s been in good form all season, and I was delighted with her run at Cheltenham. The trip was too short for her – they went very quick, and she just got going at the end.

“It blew the cobwebs away and should put her right for Saturday, all being well.

“As long as the ground is good, I think Jett will give a good account of himself. He loves those fences, and we’ll hope for the best.”

Any Second Now out to cap Walsh clan’s National fairytale

The Walsh family already have great memories of the Randox Grand National – and hopes are high Any Second Now can gave them further reason to cheer at Aintree next week.

It is 21 years since father Ted and son Ruby combined to win the world’s most famous steeplechase with the popular Papillon, with the rider’s then teenage sister Katie also part of the travelling team.

Five years later, Ruby Walsh added a second National success to his CV aboard the Willie Mullins-trained favourite Hedgehunter, while in 2012 Katie achieved the best placing of a female rider in Grand National history when third aboard Seabass, also trained by Ted Walsh.

Seabass and Katie Walsh in action in the 2021 National
Seabass and Katie Walsh in action in the 2012 National (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

“It’s been a race that’s been very lucky for us over the years,” said Katie.

“I always had a memory of the National from watching it as a child, but my clearest memory and best day was Papillon winning back in 2000.

“I was lucky enough to travel over and look after him. It’s so long ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

“It’s a fairytale really. When I was riding ponies round a field, I envisaged that we were jumping Becher’s and the Canal Turn.

“To be over there with a horse running in the National when I was 15 or 16, with Ruby riding him and dad training him, it really was this dream that was coming alive – and for him to win it was unbelievable.”

Ruby Walsh, riding Papillon, with a young Katie leading the horse
Ruby Walsh, riding Papillon, with a young Katie leading the horse (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Ruby Walsh, of course, went on to become one of the most decorated riders in the history of the sport before his retirement in 2019.

But among his countless big-race successes, it is that first Aintree triumph aboard Papillon that he still recalls with most fondness.

He said: “I don’t even know if it was a dream, to be honest – I don’t know if anyone ever dreams of winning the Grand National.

“You probably dream about riding in the Grand National and re-enact riding in the National as a kid when you’re riding ponies, but you don’t dream about winning it or run the full race in your imagination.

“Before Bobbyjo won it in 1999, Irish horses didn’t really compete in the Grand National. When I was growing up as a kid, you were wondering if any of the Irish horses would get to the Canal Turn – you weren’t thinking they were going to win.

“It’s not the kind of race where you can think ‘if I get on the best horse I could win that’. You can dream about winning a Gold Cup or a Champion Hurdle – because in theory, if you go out on the best horse, the chances are you’ll win.

“With the Grand National, it’s just a lottery – it still takes a lot of winning.”

Any Second Now (right) was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2019
Any Second Now (right) was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2019 (Nigel French/PA)

This year Ted Walsh will saddle the JP McManus-owned Any Second Now, who warmed up for his bid for National glory with an impressive victory over just two miles at Navan in March.

Katie Walsh, who is heavily involved at her father’s yard, said: “I think the way the National has changed in recent years, you do need to be able to travel and travel easily within yourself for the first mile-and-a-half.

“In that regard, Any Second Now is a strong traveller.”

Cloth Cap is a hot favourite for the National
Cloth Cap is a hot favourite for the National (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While wary of the threat posed by Jonjo O’Neill’s hot favourite Cloth Cap in particular, Ruby Walsh insists he would pick Any Second Now if given the choice of which horse to ride.

He said: “I can see why Cloth Cap is favourite because he jumps, travels, has pace and stays. He’s probably going to be hard to beat, but Any Second Now is in great nick.

“Cloth Cap is so far ahead of the handicapper, in theory he should be an absolute certainty.

“If I was still a jockey, I’d be delighted if Jonjo rang me to ride him, I’d be delighted if my dad rang, I’d be delighted if Willie Mullins rang me to ride Burrows Saint – and if Paul Nolan rang me to ride Discorama I wouldn’t be saying ‘no’.

“I’d ride Any Second Now. Is he the most likely winner? I couldn’t tell you. But I still think the greatest day I had in racing was winning the Grand National for my dad – and I wouldn’t mind another feeling like that again.”

Should Any Second Now come up short, Katie Walsh would be as delighted as anyone to see one of the female riders in action claim victory – even if it will mean losing her record.

“I’ve never thought about it like that, to be honest,” she said.

“I never thought I would ever ride in the National. I dreamed about it and rode in a couple in our own back fields!”

If a female rider is to win the Grand National in the foreseeable future, the most likely candidate would appear to be Walsh’s compatriot Rachael Blackmore.

The 31-year-old has already made history this year, having become the first female rider to win a Champion Hurdle aboard Honeysuckle and being crowned leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival last month with six winners.

Katie Walsh believes Rachael Blackmore is more than capable of winning the National
Katie Walsh believes Rachael Blackmore is more than capable of winning the National (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Personally, I’d love to see Rachael Blackmore win it (the Grand National),” said Walsh.

“Rachael in Cheltenham was remarkable. She was brilliant – you can take male and female out of it.

“The more women riding in the National, the more chance there is of a woman winning it.

“Things have changed quickly. When I rode Seabass in 2012, I think we were all thinking ‘can this really happen?’. Now it just looks like it’s only a matter of when, because we have the likes of Rachael and Bryony Frost and Bridget Andrews as professional jockeys.

“Without doubt all those girls have the ability to ride the winner, but I can’t see a massive change in the number of female riders.

“I think you need to be very lucky on the day, and it all needs to work on the day for whoever rides the winner.”

Any Second Now books Aintree ticket

Any Second Now underlined his Randox Grand National claims with an effortless victory in the Grade Two Webster Cup at Navan.

Ted Walsh’s charge is now a general 12-1 second-favourite behind Cloth Cap for the Aintree showpiece on April 10 following an impressive round of jumping in the hands of Mark Walsh.

Sent off a 3-1 chance for this two-mile heat, Any Second Now was clearly in control with three to jump before moving clear after the penultimate obstacle and coasting home by 10 lengths from favourite Castlegrace Paddy.

The winning handler famously sent out Papillon to win the National back in 2000 while Seabass finished third in 2012, and Walsh thinks the JP McManus-owned Any Second Now compares favourably with those runners.

“He did it well,” said Walsh.

“He won a similar race last year at Naas the same way, he’s a smart horse. He won his maiden hurdle around here, won a Grade Two at Punchestown over hurdles and won the Kim Muir. He’s a fair horse.

“I’d say that was a career best and he’s going to the National in a good frame of mind. Five runners here and 40 in the National is chalk and cheese, but he’s going there in good shape and whatever happens, happens.

“He has a grand weight off 10st 9lb. I’ve no problem with the weight, anywhere this side of 11st is grand.

“He reminds me of Papillon or Seabass as he’s going there with a good chance. If he takes to the place, travels, jumps and gets a bit of luck, he won’t be far away.

“I’d say the favourite will be hard to beat, but if he runs a good race and he’s in good shape you can’t do more than that.”

Denise Foster claimed both divisions of the Navan Members Maiden Hurdle with Coqolino (8-11 favourite) and Robinstown (11-1).

The McManus-owned Coqolino took the first leg, triumphing by three and three-quarter lengths in the hands of Walsh despite a couple of lacklustre jumps – most notably at the final flight.

“He had a bit of a scare at the last but he did that well,” said Foster.

“He’s a gorgeous horse and he’s a chaser in the making. He probably wouldn’t like fast ground, so whether he has another run this season will depend on Frank (Berry, McManus’ racing manager) and JP.

“I’m delighted to give JP (who was 70 on Wednesday) a birthday present.”

Robinstown stayed on strongly in the second division for Jack Kennedy, while the Walsh-ridden and McManus-owned Gars De Sceaux (9-4 favourite) gave Foster her fourth winner since taking control of Gordon Elliott’s string on Tuesday in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Hurdle.

Foster sent out her first victor from Cullentra at Wexford on Wednesday and said: “It’s been good. It’s a well-oiled machine and the whole team have been so helpful.

“The staff are amazing, I know a lot of them. It will take me a while to get a handle on all the horses as there are so many.

“Everybody has been brilliant, I’ve felt really at home and that’s put the icing on the cake. I’m delighted for all the team because they’ve had a very hard time and worked so hard.”