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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 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.”

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.”

Aintree assignment top of Magic Of Light agenda

A second shot at the Randox Grand National remains the ultimate aim for 2019 runner-up Magic Of Light.

The 10-year-old was last seen finishing eight lengths behind Dan Skelton’s Roksana in the Grade Two Warfield Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot on January 23.

Jessica Harrington’s runner had won the two previous renewals of the race, but found Skelton’s highly-regarded mare too good and was passed after the last hurdle having led throughout.

Harrington reports Magic Of Light to be in good form following the run, saying: “She’s very well, we were pleased with her.”

The Kildare-based trainer then pointed out the gap in ratings between her mare and the winner, with Magic Of Light ranked 4lb lower than Roksana but meeting off level weights.

“On ratings she had no right to beat that filly and she ran a very good race on ground that was probably a bit tacky for her,” she said.

“It probably was a stronger renewal, and the ground was very tacky.”

Though there are no appearances pencilled in for the meantime, Harrington is clear on the ultimate aim for the mare this season.

“We’ve no idea where we’ll go next, none at all,” she said.

“But the Grand National is the aim, so we’ll just work our way towards that.”

Magic Of Light finished two and three-quarter lengths behind Tiger Roll in the 2019 Aintree marathon, almost causing a notable upset when starting at a massive price of 66-1.

The mare’s performance over the extreme trip and unique fences of the Grand National were testament to her versatility, whilst her consistency is highlighted by the fact that she has won or been placed in 12 of her 17 chase outings.

“She’s lovely, she’s very consistent,” Harrington said.

“She is as she is, and she’s in great form this year.”

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 thejockeyclub.co.uk, 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.

Chepstow hero Secret Reprieve to be entered for Grand National

Evan Williams has confirmed Secret Reprieve will be given an entry in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.

The seven-year-old novice landed a sustained gamble last time out in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow, following up a win in the Trial for the same race.

While Williams was keen to stress Secret Reprieve is far from guaranteed to run at Aintree, owners William and Angela Rucker have unfinished business there 0 having been placed in the race seven times through State Of Play, Cappa Bleu and Alvarado.

“I don’t know what we will do next, but he will be entered in the Grand National – that’s all I can say right now,” said Williams.

“He will be entered in it. We’ve had a good discussion about it, and it will certainly be talked about. We might give that a shot.

“I’m not saying we’ll end up going there, but that is the latest – entries close next week. I’m not saying we are going to go, but I’m saying he will be entered.

“It’s only a few weeks since his run, and he’s only been going quietly. He has the entry for the Grand National Trial at Haydock – but that will come too soon, that’s one thing I can say. That will come too quick for him.”

Williams is also hoping to have two runners in the Betfair Hurdle next weekend, in Mack The Man and Ballinsker.

“We’ll try to get Mack The Man in, and if it dried Ballinsker could run,” he said.

“It’s very wet everywhere at the moment, but we are better having this weather at this time of year than in the spring.”

Cross-country plan for Potters Corner before National

Potters Corner is to have the Glenfarclas Chase over the cross-country fences at the Cheltenham Festival as his prep race for the Randox Health Grand National.

Trainer Christian Williams reports the 11-year-old, winner of the Midlands and Welsh Grand Nationals, to be in good form following his run over hurdles in a Pertemps qualifier at Warwick this month.

“Warwick would be a sharp-enough track for him, and he’s got a career-high mark over hurdles and is an 11-year-old, so he probably had it all to do,” said the Bridgend trainer.

“We were very pleased. He ran well until turning in. It was a nice positive run.

“He’ll go straight to the cross-country race at Cheltenham, I’d have thought.

“That will be his prep for the National.”

Potters Corner tackled the cross-country course at Cheltenham for the first time in November, finishing third to Kingswell Theatre.

Adrimel given Warwick aim by Tom Lacey

Tom Lacey is confident Adrimel can take a step up in trip and class in his stride in the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle.

The five-year-old will put his unbeaten record over hurdles on the line in the two-mile-five Grade Two contest at Warwick on Saturday.

Adrimel, whose sole defeat under rules came in last season’s Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival, followed up his debut victory over hurdles at Sandown with a game success at Haydock last month.

Lacey said: “He won’t be going back to Haydock and the plan all being well is to go to Warwick for the Grade Two there.

“He wants plenty of give in the ground so it should be ideal for him there.

“This is a big step up in trip but it should be to his advantage.

“It just shows what a good horse he is that he has been winning over two miles.”

Although Adrimel was a late absentee in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last weekend, the Herefordshire handler reports his rising star to be in good order.

He said: “I just wasn’t happy with him and I’ve had one or two horses that I’ve not been entirely happy with.

“If you are going to go into a Grade One you need to be 110 per cent but he seems fine now.”

Kimberlite Candy will continue his preparation for the Grand National with an outing at Ascot next month (Steven Paston/PA Images)
Kimberlite Candy will continue his preparation for the Grand National with an outing at Ascot next month (Steven Paston/PA Images)

Leading Randox Health Grand National contender Kimberlite Candy remains on course to make his next start in the Listed Keltbray Swinley Chase at Ascot on February 20.

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old filled the runner’s up spot on his return to action for the second season in succession over the famous Grand National fences at Aintree in last month’s Becher Chase.

Lacey said: “Kimberlite Candy is in great nick. I’ve spoken to Mr McManus and his team and he will run at Ascot in a three-mile handicap after the National weights are out.

“Even though he was beaten 24 lengths, I didn’t expect him to get dropped by the handicapper as he picked up a good prize for second.”

O’Neill sights set on Grand National outing for Cloth Cap

Jonjo O’Neill plans to give Ladbrokes Trophy winner Cloth Cap one run ahead of an outing in the Randox Health Grand National.

The Jackdaws Castle handler will work back from the Aintree marathon on April 10, for which the nine-year-old is a general 20-1 chance.

Cloth Cap entered the Grand National picture when ending a two-year drought with an impressive front-running success in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.

O’Neill said: “The plan remains to go for the Grand National and hopefully we can get a race into him before then.

“He has been put up 11lb, but he won well in the Ladbrokes Trophy and jumped great. He only had 10st that day and everything was right for him.

“Trevor (Hemmings, owner) is keen to go for the National as it was the plan last year, but it obviously didn’t happen.”

O’Neill has no doubts about Cloth Cap, who finished third in the 2019 Scottish National, getting the extended four-and-a-quarter-mile trip, although he fears the ground may go against his new stable star.

He said: “He is a National horse as we know he stays and he jumps well normally, so those boxes are ticked.

“I wouldn’t be worried about him not staying, but the ground is very important to him.

“The only problem with the Grand National is that he might not get the ground as quick as it was in the Ladbrokes Trophy.”

Delight for Aintree as Randox extends National meeting sponsorship

Randox has agreed a five-year extension to its current sponsorship of the Grand National meeting at Aintree.

The new agreement will run from 2022-2026 and follow on from the initial five-year contract which runs until next year.

As well as being the headline sponsor of the festival, Randox will lend its name to the three races over the Grand National fences at the fixture – the Randox Foxhunters Chase, the Randox Topham Chase and the big one itself, the Randox Grand National.

Dr Peter Fitzgerald CBE, founder and managing director of Randox, said: “We have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Jockey Club’s team at Aintree and look forward to another successful five years, when we are once again able to come together to celebrate the Randox Grand National.”

Randox has developed a test for Covid-19 and is currently processing 90,000 a day for the UK Government’s national Covid-19 testing programme.

Tiger Roll will hopefully bid for a Grand National hat-trick in April
Tiger Roll will hopefully bid for a Grand National hat-trick in April (Mike Egerton/PA)

Fitzgerald added: “We are excited for this new era of our partnership, of horse racing, and of society – in which Covid has taught us to appreciate the important things in life – our friends, our family, and our health.

“We very much look forward to the next five years.”

Dickon White, North West Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, which runs Aintree, said: “I am delighted that Randox has agreed to extend their sponsorship for the Grand National Festival for a further five years.

“It’s been a fantastic partnership over the past few years and we’ve been extremely impressed with their operation as well as their dedication to one of sports’ most iconic events.

“At a time when we are facing massive challenges in British racing, it is a tremendous boost to the Jockey Club, and a huge endorsement to the Grand National itself, that a new multi-year deal has been agreed with Randox.”

Race Histories 5: The National Hunt Chase

Now here’s a conundrum for you. We’ve just seen the 4 mile National Hunt Chase (I’ll just use it’s regular title here), a race in it’s 153rd year. Yet National Hunt racing has only regularly taken place at Cheltenham since the early 1900s, with the festival established in 1911. So what about the early years of the race? Read more