Bristol De Mai tops Grand National field – but Secret Reprieve set to miss out

Bristol De Mai heads a maximum field of 40 in the Randox Grand National – but the strongly-fancied Secret Reprieve is only second reserve and set to miss out as a result.

Trained by Evan Williams, Secret Reprieve won the Welsh National in December and has been kept fresh in the hope of a crack at the world’s greatest steeplechase on Saturday.

However, it had been touch and go whether he would make the cut or not and as only The Storyteller was not declared at the 48-hour stage, Secret Reprieve’s connections are resigned to their fate.

Secret Reprieve is only second reserve for the Randox Grand National
Secret Reprieve is only second reserve for the Randox Grand National (David Davies/PA)

Should there be any non-runners before 1pm on Friday, the reserve system will come into play – but Williams was philosophical about Secret Reprieve not making the top 40 and is already looking forward to next season with the lightly-raced seven-year-old.

“We’ve had a lot worse news regarding horses, we knew there was a chance that would happen so there’s no point worrying about things we can’t control,” the Llancarfan trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s safe and sound and that’s always the main thing. He’ll go home with Mr and Mrs Rucker (owners) now and we’ll think about next year.

“We took a punt about getting in the National and it’s not going to work out. That’s the way it is.

“The great thing about missing out on getting into the National is they dropped him 2lb for anywhere we want to go now next year. Every cloud has a silver lining.

“I’m certainly not worried. He’s a young horse, fingers crossed he’ll have his day again in the sun somewhere down the line.

“He’s gone and won a Welsh National. It was only his sixth start over fences. He’s had a mighty season. He can have a good field of grass now and we can look forward to next year with him.”

Cloth Cap is the red-hot favourite for the Grand National
Cloth Cap is the red-hot favourite for the Grand National (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Dan Skelton’s Blaklion was the beneficiary of of The Storyteller’s no-show and creeps in as number 40. The first reserve is John McConnell’s Some Neck, with Kauto Riko third reserve and Fagan the fourth and final one.

Ante-post favourite Cloth Cap will aim to give Trever Hemmings a record fourth win in the race following the successes of Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds – and his trainer Jonjo O’Neill is chasing his second National, having won with Don’t Push It.

After their domination at Cheltenham, the Irish battalion bring a strong team in which Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now is well touted.

Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a dream Festival and aims to top an incredible year on Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Times. The Gold Cup-winning stable is also responsible for Chris’s Dream and Balko Des Flos.

Burrows Saint (left) will be ridden by Patrick Mullins
Burrows Saint (left) will be ridden by Patrick Mullins (PA)

Willie Mullins is without the services of Paul Townend, who suffered an injury at Fairyhouse earlier this week. He is replaced on Burrows Saint by Patrick Mullins.

Danny Mullins rides Acapella Bourgeois, and Brian Hayes is on Class Conti – with Sean O’Keeffe on Cabaret Queen.

Denis O’Regan comes in for the ride on Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly, who has run well in the race twice before and has also twice been placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Leading amateur Jamie Codd rides Milan Native, with Sean Flanagan on Tout Est Permis.

Twiston-Davies anticipating bold Aintree show from Bristol De Mai

Casting his gaze over the noble head of Bristol De Mai at Grange Farm Stables, Nigel Twiston-Davies exuded cautious optimism over the grey’s Randox Grand National prospects in what will be the first edition of the race staged behind closed doors.

The Covid-19 pandemic might have put paid to what would have been the top weight’s first attempt at the National 12 months ago, but Twiston-Davies thanks his lucky stars that owing to a huge combined effort within the racing industry, the sport has continued without issue through the winter lockdown.

A smattering of owners that are now allowed to attend Aintree will add a small voice to the occasion, but as far as the participants are concerned – be they trainer, horse or jockey – everything will pan out like any other day’s racing, with a tension you could cut with a knife as the runners assemble in front of the stands.

Twiston-Davies identified the class element that Bristol De Mai will bring to the National table very soon after he arrived at Guiting Power from France as an exciting juvenile hurdler.

He recalls: “He was sent to us by the owners as a three-year-old and we thought he was decent when he won the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. He went on to finish third at Aintree and went straight over fences as a four-year-old.

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

“He’s a very good jumper and Daryl (Jacob) was delighted with the way he schooled over a couple of dressed up fences here on Thursday. He had two goes and greatly enjoyed himself.”

Bristol De Mai and Nigel Twiston-Davies
Bristol De Mai and Nigel Twiston-Davies (Neil Morrice/PA)

It is interesting that each of the people most closely connected with the gelding on the training side of the equation are united in their view that he was in fact ‘made’ for the rigours the old course, with the Becher’s Brook drop, the towering presence of The Chair and generally far stiffer obstacles.

The design of the obstacles has been adjusted over the years, with every fence redressed with a plastic easy-fix inner torso that still catches out a number of horses, but for the overall good of the sport makes the fences safer.

Such a scenario did not greet Earth Summit and Bindaree for their Aintree triumphs of 1998 and 2002.

Bindaree on his way to National glory for Nigel Twiston-Davies
Bindaree on his way to National glory for Nigel Twiston-Davies (Rui Vieira/PA)

Twiston-Davies said: “The course has changed a lot over the years, which is a shame in a sense, as I feel the old National fences would have played to Bristol’s strengths. Since they redid the insides of the fences, it’s made the jumping side of the equation easier.

“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.

“I feel very lucky to have won two Nationals. Earth Summit surprised me a little, as I thought he might not be brave enough for it, but it was quite the reverse as it was his ground and it didn’t worry him one little bit.

Earth Summit won the National in 1998
Earth Summit won the National in 1998 (PA)

“When Bindaree won I was contemplating my future as a trainer, and I suppose he helped me U-turn my decision. He was a horse with a lot of class, he took to it and in truth didn’t surprise me.

“We could have had a third success with Beau, who also had a touch of class and had won a Whitbread. He was travelling beautifully, but nodded on landing at the first on the second circuit and it caused the rein to go over his head.

“Carl (Llewellyn) tried to keep the steering intact for three or four more fences, but in the end gravity took over. Carl fell off and then tried to catch him, as he could have remounted. There was still plenty of time for him to win the race.”

Praising the combined efforts of everyone that has assisted in running racing, the trainer added: “I think it’s great for the sport that racing has continued unabated through the third lockdown, with not a single upset, which is the main thing.

“We don’t need anyone rocking the boat and it’s superb the way they have kept the show on the road.

“It won’t be the same without the crowds, but it’s the National – there only is one and it would have been a disaster to miss two.”

Carl Llewellyn was a National winner on Party Politics in 1992
Carl Llewellyn was a National winner on Party Politics in 1992 (John Giles/PA)

Llewellyn is business partner to Twiston- Davies at Grange Farm and partnered Party Politics as well as Earth Summit to Aintree glory.

He said: “Over the relatively new easy-fix with spruce fences, horses don’t have to be as good jumpers as they were to get round.

“I think Bristol De Mai will be fine. He finished third in a Gold Cup so is classy, and as an individual he’s very athletic, tall and has great footwork. He has a hell of a lot of scope, respects his fences and has the ability to both stand off and shorten up.”

Bristol De Mai relaxing at home
Bristol De Mai relaxing at home (Neil Morrice/PA)

The trainer’s ‘right hand man’ Jim Old is a permanent feature on the gallops, and since retiring from the training ranks has managed the interests of a handful of inmates at the yard.

Old is in agreement with Twiston-Davies that in one sense Bristol De Mai is a horse out of time.

He explains: “I only ever had one runner in the National, and apart from that had one beaten a short head in the Topham, so you could say Aintree wasn’t really my bag. But if you could pick a horse that would have all the attributes required for that course, then it’s Bristol De Mai.

“Without any doubt he would have been a wonderful horse for the old National course. But that’s in the past and he will still love it round there.

“If it stayed dry, it wouldn’t be too much of a worry because he’s won on it at Haydock.”

Bristol De Mai has Cleeve and Cotswold options

Nigel Twiston-Davies has given Bristol De Mai entries in both the rescheduled Cotswold Chase and Cleeve Hurdle, because of uncertainties over the wintry weather this week.

Bristol De Mai is one of six possibles for the Cotswold at Sandown and one of 17 in the Cleeve at Wetherby – with both races switched to this Saturday, after Cheltenham’s Festival Trials card was abandoned last weekend.

Twiston-Davies is leaning towards the Cotswold but felt it wise to put him in the Cleeve as well during such a volatile spell of weather.

“Let’s see what the weather does. We’ve no idea yet,” said the Naunton trainer.

“We’d probably prefer to go for the Cotswold if it was on, but I’ll have to speak to the owners first, so I haven’t a clue at the moment.”

Santini is among six entries for the rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown on Saturday
Santini is among six entries for the rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown on Saturday (David Davies/PA)

The five other Cotswold entries are Lake View Lad, Native River, Saint Calvados, Santini and Yala Enki.

The Cotswold Chase is one of eight races on Sandown’s card, with officials still hoping to stage the meeting as scheduled after the hurdles course just passed an inspection on Tuesday.

However, it is still possible the hurdle races could be lost and replaced with more steeplechase contests.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said: “It would be absolute borderline you could race here this afternoon – and we’re obliged, quite rightly, not to give up on it just yet.

“With an unsettled outlook with spells of rain – we’re expecting one Wednesday morning and showery thereafter – there will be another inspection at some point to decide where we go for Saturday.

“The absolute deadline to make it an all-chase card would be declarations morning on Thursday. If the weather intervenes significantly in the interim, that decision would be brought forward.

“We just felt, given the importance and value of the hurdles race on Saturday, it would be premature to give up on the hurdle races just yet.”

A final decision on the make-up of the fixture will be taken following an inspection at 8am on Thursday. The British Horseracing Authority has made a contingency to add two further chases to make an all-chase six-race card.

A favourable forecast over the next few days gives Wetherby clerk of the the course Jonjo Sanderson every hope the meeting there will go ahead.

Wetherby are optimistic of racing taking place on Saturday (
Wetherby are optimistic of racing taking place on Saturday (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We had a covering of snow overnight, but it turned to drizzle and is thawing away,” he said.

“The temperatures are supposed to rise to eight or nine degrees tomorrow, Thursday and Friday.

“We were absolutely fine on Monday and were back to a point where we were raceable after the waterlogging last week.

“All being well, the fact we’ve got three good days, plus Saturday, for this to drain through, we should be OK. The ground will be heavy all round, I should think.”

With Paisley Park an absentee, as expected, from the rescheduled Cleeve Hurdle, the Grade Two contest has a much more open look.

Lake View Lad could run at either Sandown or Wetherby
Lake View Lad could run at either Sandown or Wetherby (Richard Sellers/PA)

“Paisley Park would have put a few off at Cheltenham, and the fact Emma Lavelle has said she is not coming to Wetherby has opened the race up a bit more to make it a bit more attractive,” Sanderson added.

“We’re delighted to run the race, so it’s not lost. William Hill have stepped in and have added to their package. We’re grateful for their support of the race.”

Like Bristol De Mai, Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad has an entry in the two races.

Among others in the Cleeve are Ballyoptic, Itchy Feet, Main Fact, On The Blind Side, Ramses De Teillee and Yorkhill.

Santini and Bristol De Mai face Cotswold Chase rematch

Last year’s one-two Santini and Bristol De Mai are among eight horses declared for Saturday’s Paddy Power “45 Sleeps To Cheltenham” Cotswold Chase.

Nicky Henderson’s Santini saw off the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Bristol De Mai by three and a half lengths in last year’s renewal of the Grade Two contest, before going on to finish a close second to Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He has failed to rediscover that level of form so far this season – most recently finishing fifth in the King George at Kempton – and Henderson has already voiced concerns about the prospect of ultra-testing conditions in the Cotswolds this weekend.

Henderson told Sky Sports Racing: “Our feeling, even at the beginning of the week, was if it was heavy ground we’d have to think again.

“It is a trial and it’s very important with him that he enjoys it.

“He loves work and loves jumping and loves racing, but I don’t want to take that away from him by giving him a very tough race in really heavy ground – I want to find a race that he’s actually going to enjoy.

“I’m not saying I want an easy race for him as there’s no such thing. The only alternative would be to wait for the Denman Chase at Newbury and we have Champ going there, but you can’t not run a horse just because you have another one in the race.

“You’ve got to go where is right for the horses and we are short of options”

With stable jockey Nico de Boinville heading to Doncaster to partner star novice chaser Shishkin and Jerry McGrath sidelined by injury, Aidan Coleman has been booked to partner Santini for the first time.

Bristol De Mai is a couple of pounds better off for the rematch and loves nothing more than a slog in the mud, as he proved when winning his third Betfair Chase at Haydock in November.

Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup hero Native River returns to the Cotswolds for the first time since finishing fourth in the 2019 renewal of the blue riband, having missed the race last season through injury.

The 11-year-old proved he retains plenty of ability when a close-up third behind Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad and Santini in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree last month, although several fences were missed because of low sun.

Lake View Lad gets the opportunity to prove that triumph was no fluke under champion jockey Brian Hughes, while Harry Whittington saddles King George fourth Saint Calvados.

The Conditional (David Bridgwater), Yorkhill (Sandy Thomson) and Yala Enki (Paul Nicholls) are the other hopefuls.

Paisley Park is set to face five rivals when bidding for a third straight victory in the Paddy Power Cleeve Hurdle.

Emma Lavelle’s stable star suffered a well-documented heart problem when defending his crown in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, but has bounced back to finish second in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and win the Long Walk at Ascot this term.

His biggest threat could be Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet, who reverts to the smaller obstacles after displaying high-class form over fences.

David Pipe runs the prolific Main Fact, although he has plenty of ground to make up on Paisley Park on their Ascot meeting last month.

Pipe has a second string to his bow in Ramses De Teillee, with the teenage Unowhatimeanharry and Irish challenger Decor Irlandais completing the field.

Nassalam looks to have a good opportunity to regain the winning thread in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial.

Gary Moore’s dual Fontwell scorer was no match for Pipe’s Adagio in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow three weeks ago, but will be widely expected to account for his three rivals this weekend.

Aso heads a field of 11 runners for the Paddy Power Millionaire Trophy Handicap Chase, while Nicky Martin’s stable star Bear Ghylls puts his unbeaten record on the line against four opponents in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Bristol De Mai set for break before Cotswold Chase

Bristol De Mai will not run again before the Cotswold Chase at the end of January after sealing his third Betfair Chase success.

Having claimed Betfair Chase glory in 2017 and 2018, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained grey found Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation a length and a half too strong when bidding for a hat-trick 12 months ago.

But with conditions more demanding on Merseyside this time around, Bristol De Mai emphatically reversed that form to become the second three-time winner after Tizzard’s former star Cue Card, and just one short of Kauto Star’s record-breaking four wins.

Twiston-Davies did not make the trip to Haydock, but said on Monday morning: “He’s come out of the race 100 per cent, no bother at all.

“I was very pleased and delighted with him.”

With connections deciding against entering for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, Anthony Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, raised Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick as a possible Boxing Day alternative in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s triumph.

However, Twiston-Davies confirmed he will go straight for the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham before either returning to Prestbury Park for the Gold Cup or heading to Aintree for the Grand National.

“We won’t run him over Christmas – he’ll go for the Cotswold Chase at the end of January. He won’t go for the Rowland Meyrick,” said the Naunton-based trainer.

“We’ll see how he goes in the Cotswold Chase. If he does really well he might go for the Gold Cup, otherwise he’ll go straight to the National.

“He looks as good as ever.”

Bristol De Mai records famous hat-trick in Betfair Chase

Bristol De Mai lifted a third Betfair Chase with a gutsy performance in testing conditions at Haydock.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ popular grey thrives at the Merseyside circuit and had won this Grade One contest in 2017 and 2018, before seeing his hat-trick bid derailed by Lostinstranslation last year.

Bristol De Mai firmly had his revenge on that rival this time, however, as he produced an impressive round of jumping in the hands of Daryl Jacob.

Prominent throughout, Bristol De Mai was in control turning for home as both Clan Des Obeaux and 7-4 favourite Lostintranslation lined up to challenge.

The latter dropped away tamely, leaving Clan Des Obeaux to test Bristol De Mai – but the nine-year-old had plenty in reserve and after clearing the last, he galloped all the way to the line to score by two lengths.

Following his previous Betfair Chase victories, Bristol De Mai went on to tackle the King George VI Chase at Kempton without success, but Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, has a different Boxing Day option in mind this term.

He said: “We specifically didn’t enter him in the King George, so we might have to think what to do next. But we might have to run in a handicap – because what else can you do?

“There’s the Cotswold Chase, but that’s not until the end of January – it’s a long time waiting until then, so the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby, something like that.

“It’s a shame there hasn’t been a crowd here today. Merseyside really takes to this horse.”

Bristol De Mai was springheeled in the Betfair Chase
Bristol De Mai was springheeled in the Betfair Chase (Mike Egerton/PA)

Jacob said: “He’s a real credit to the whole team.

“It was great – I was looking at the rain (forecast) all week up at Haydock. The heavens opened up a little bit before the first race, and I texted Simon and Isaac to say ‘I’ve never been so happy to ride in the rain’.

“It was ideal to have Bellshill up there. Obviously, getting a little bit older he’s getting a little bit cute, so I needed him up there at times to bring me along again.

“I think this is just the ideal track for him really – flat, left-handed, and he’s always at his best on those.”

Jacob pointed towards a certain race in April as being ideal for Bristol De Mai.

He said: “I’d love to see him in the Grand National.

“His jumping is very good – he’s brave when you need him to be, but as you could see down the back straight there, he was good and clever to pop them. I’d love to have one crack at him – he’s nine now, rising 10, so I suppose if there’s a year that’s going to be his it’s going to be this year.”

Paul Nicholls felt the ground had scuppered Clan Des Obeaux, with his charge having had a hard race ahead of his planned King George defence next month.

Clan Des Obeaux has a King George defence on his agenda
Clan Des Obeaux has a King George defence on his agenda (Steven Paston/PA)

He said: “The rain today didn’t help him at all. On that heavy ground, he didn’t truly get that three-two. Sam (Twiston-Davies) gave him a brilliant ride, but he was beaten by a mud lark and a real true stayer.

“I’m just thinking all the way what might have happened on better ground. He just could have done without all that rain as the ground has gone very heavy. The rain has beat him, but he has run a blinding race. It was an encouraging run for Kempton.

“Cyrname and him have had a role reversal. If you think Cyrname had a really hard race a year ago on this day and Clan has had a real hard race this time.

“He is a tough horse and I’d like to think he will be all right, but he knows he has had a race today. I’m thrilled though and it was a good run.”

Lostintranslation (right) beat Bristol De Mai last year, but disappointed in his defence
Lostintranslation (right) beat Bristol De Mai last year, but disappointed in his defence (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Connections of the Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation also pointed to the ground taking its toll.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He never travelled on that ground. Robbie (Power) said after he jumped the first, he could feel he was hating it.

“Robbie has always said he’s a better horse on better ground and he finished last here in a novice hurdle one day. He did well to get round as he wants a bit more bounce in the ground.”

Betfair Chase Trends

Staged at Haydock Park racecourse the Betfair Chase Registered as the Lancashire Chase) is a Grade One race and is run over a slightly longer trip (3m1f). The contest is a fairly new one, being first run in 2005 and takes place in November each season.

Trainer Paul Nicholls has made the race his own, winning the decent prize 6 times in the last 12 years, including four times with Kauto Star, while in 2017 and 2018 we saw the popular grey Bristol De Mai land the pot twice and giving his trainer – Nigel Twiston-Davies – his third success in the contest. 12 months ago the Colin Tizzard camp fired in their fourth Betfair Chase winner when Lostintranslation beat Bristol De Mai.

Here at Geegeez we are on hand with all the key stats ahead of the 2020 renewal – this year run on Saturday November 21st 2020.


Recent Betfair Chase Winners

2019 - LOSTINTRANSLATION (5/4 fav)
2018 – BRISTOL DE MAI (13/2)
2017 – BRISTOL DE MAI (11/10 fav)
2016 – CUE CARD (15/8 fav)
2015 – CUE CARD (7/4)
2014 - SILVINIACO CONTI (10/3)
2013 – CUE CARD (9/1)
2011 – KAUTO STAR (6/1)
2010 – IMPERIAL COMMANDER (10/11 fav)
2009 – KAUTO STAR (4/6 fav)
2008 – SNOOPY LOOPY (33/1)
2007 – KAUTO STAR (4/5 fav)
2006 – KAUTO STAR (11/10 fav)
2005 – KINGSCLIFF (8/1)

Key Betfair Chase Betting Trends

15 Previous runnings
13/15 - Won over at least 3m (fences) previously
12/15 - Raced within the last 4 weeks
12/15 – Won by and Irish (4) or French (8) bred horse
12/15 - Placed in the top three in their last race
12/15 - Won a Grade One chase previously
11/15 - Raced at Haydock previously
10/15 - Officially rating of 168 or higher
10/15 – Favourites placed
8/15 – Aged 8 or older
8/15 - Winning distance - 2 ½ lengths or less
7/15 - Raced at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall last time out
7/15 – Won by a previous winner of the race
7/15 – Winning favourites
6/15 – Won their latest race
4/15 - Raced at Aintree last time out
The average winning price in the last 15 runnings is 5/1
The Paul Nicholls yard has won the prize in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 & 2014
The Nigel Twiston-Davies yard has won the prize in 2010, 2017 and 2018 
The Colin Tizzard yard has won the race in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2019


Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai set to meet again

Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai are set to meet again in the Betfair Chase at Haydock – for which only a maximum field of five is possible.

There were 10 entries initially, with three taken out before Monday’s confirmations, and Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard and Nicky Henderson’s Santini will also miss Saturday’s contest.

Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation got the better of Bristol De Mai 12 months ago in what turned into a terrific duel in the Haydock straight.

It was a rare reversal at Haydock for Bristol De Mai, who had won the two previous renewals for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

The third top-class contender is Paul Nicholls’ Clan Des Obeaux, a dual winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

Having failed to see out the Gold Cup trip in March, Boxing Day is once more his main objective this season.

The Sandy Thomson-trained Bellshill, a Grade One winner back in his days with Willie Mullins, and Warren Greatrex’s Keeper Hill complete the list.

The sponsors make last year’s winner their 5-4 favourite.

“It’s shaping up to be a cracking 16th renewal of the iconic race,” said Betfair’s Barry Orr.

“Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai couldn’t be separated in the market last year – but this time around the 2019 winner is clear favourite at 5-4, while the two-time winner Bristol De Mai is 7-4.

“Dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux is sure to have plenty of backers – with his trainer Paul Nicholls sounding very positive about his chances – and he looks a bit of value at 3-1.”