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Social Discourse: 8th April 2019

You all know where this is starting.

 

  1. The Eye Of The Tiger

Look at it. Drink it all in. Reminisce, all over again, and enjoy Tiger Roll’s history-making repeat Grand National triumph.

 

Normally we post the best tweets in here that you might have missed, but there were so many that only the photos can do justice to racing’s collective scream of joy.

 

 

 

 

Hindsight is a powerful thing, but Davy Russell and Tiger Roll were always travelling beautifully and once the diminutive nine-year-old jumped to the front after the Elbow, it appeared – just like last year – to be simply a matter of how far, and he fairly sprinted clear of the young mare Magic Of Light, who ran a sensational race to finish second at 66/1.

The racing community – and basically the whole country of Ireland – were in raptures after taking a 1-2-3, with the popular Rathvinden finishing third, but this was all about one brilliant horse.

What they said: “Tiger Roll isn’t Red Rum – he’s Tiger Roll – and I feel no pressure to go back and try to win a third time. There’s huge public affection for him and I think we’re duty-bound to mind him now.” – Michael O’Leary with some performance trolling regarding Tiger Roll’s potential attempt at a three-timer.

“I was trying to watch all of mine, I can’t believe it. I never once thought he was going to win until he crossed the line, because all I could remember was last year. He didn’t tie up this year. He’s an absolute gentleman to deal with.” – Gordon Elliot in the aftermath of his third national win

 “This horse and this place is amazing. People go on about certain sporting events, but Liverpool and Aintree are so far ahead. People come here in their droves to cheer you on and they can be so proud of what they have here, it’s so well run. It’s televised all around the world and I’m so proud to be a part of it, I can’t believe it.” – Davy Russell, who had an easier time of things this year in the home straight 

 

  1. Those in behind….

There were 39 other horses (I know, did you also forget?) who lined up at the start, and many fine performances from the 19 horses who managed to complete the course.

It’s something of a surprise that Jessica Harrington, arguably the best dual code trainer around, hadn’t participated in the race before, and she nearly took it at the first attempt with eight-year-old mare Magic Of Light, who ran a tremendous race from the front before Tiger Roll flew past. Despite a mistake at the last (and a significant one at the Chair, after which Paddy Kennedy did well to stay on board), she came home two and a quarter-lengths clear of Rathvinden, who travelled best for much of the way, and looks sure to be back next year.

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Rathvinden gave a bold sight in third, although he was unable to give Ruby Walsh another National winner, whilst Walk In The Mill, the Becher Chase winner, was best of the British. He delighted the shrewd Robert Walford and gave James Best a fine spin; still only nine, all roads would lead to Aintree next year for him.

Spare a thought for Anibale Fly, who ran a titanic race to finish fifth under top weight, just half a length behind Walk In The Mill. Tony Martin has one of the most consistent staying chasers in the game, although he looks set to be forever too high in the weights to win this great race.

The 2017 winner One For Arthur had unseated twice but looked like the horse of two years ago when making a huge move around the outside coming for home, before he just faded late, and Lucinda Russell is already thinking of aiming him at next year’s contest.

 

 

  1. Meanwhile, back on the level….

Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore kick-started their season with a treble on Leopardstown’s Classic trials day, where we saw a number of eye-catching performances.

  • Lady Kaya ran out a comfortable winner of the Ballylinch Stud 'Priory Belle' 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes for trainer Sheila Lavery and jockey Robbie Colgan, with the fast-finishing Happen in second and last year’s Fillies’ Mile winner Idressa in third under a 3lb penalty

 

  • Leading Guineas hope Madhmoon was beaten for the first time as Never No More ran him down on his seasonal bow in the 2,000 Guineas Trial Stakes, taking advantage of a 3lbs concession in the weights and the benefit of a recent run on slower ground than he'd faced before

 

  • Broome gave the standout performance of the day as he bolted home in the Ballysax Stakes, winning by eight lengths and being cut to 9/1 for the Derby

  • In America, Roadster came with a powerful late run to take the Santa Anita Derby, beating stablemate and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Game Winner

 

  • Ghaiyyath put himself in the frame for a host of middle-distance honours this season with an eye-catching performance on his seasonal debut in the Prix d'Harcourt at Paris-Longchamp, as he stretched eight lengths clear before being eased down. The Ganay and the Tattersalls Gold Cup are on the agenda for Charlie Appleby's potentially top class colt.

 

  1. Box Office Tiger

Back to the Grand National, arguably the biggest PR moment for racing of the year, and certainly the biggest moment for any broadcaster involved in the sport, so ITV and the BHA have every right to be delighted with their viewing figures.

 

The coverage on Saturday scored a peak of 9.6 million viewers, a 12 per cent increase from the 8.5m in 2018 according to audience figures, with the average audience for the National show up from 5.1m to 5.4m, an endorsement of a programme which makes a lot of effort to reach first-time viewers and non-experts.

There are a multitude of personalities on the programme – different strokes for different folks, as they say – and it worked through the week too, as shown by a seven-figure audience for the Foxhunters’ on the first day.

Wake Up To ITV: There was also a record audience for The Opening Show too of 300,000 – a fine figure considering it was an FA Cup semi-final morning.

 

Takeaway: There’s much to be said about the draw of a horse who had such a big chance of back to back Nationals, but these figures are welcome news in an era when there has never been so much choice for sports fans. ITV’s approach of trying to convert causal watchers and educate first timers is the right one when younger fans are needed more than ever.

 

  1. What else?

Across the three days of Aintree, in case some had forgotten:

  • Kemboy made up for a first fence fall in the Gold Cup with a dominant success in the Betfred Bowl, confirming himself a top class staying chaser

  • Min bounced back from a below par showing in the Champion Chase with a 20 length romp in the Melling Chase, making it 2 feature race wins for Willie Mullins

  • Supasundae got the better of Buveur D’Air and  County Hurdle hero Ch'tibello in a thrilling Aintree Hurdle

 

  • Pentland Hills followed up his JCB Triumph Hurdle victory with a gritty display in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

  • Kalashnikov presented trainer Amy Murphy with a first Grade One success in the Devenish Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree.

 

  • Cadmium gave Mullins another winner as he dominated the Topham Chase and Top Wood fought back to pull the Foxhunters out of the fire

 

Next week? The small matter of Winx’s last race….

 

Monday Musings: Tiger’s No Red Rum… Yet!

So they wound up the clockwork horse once again at Aintree on Saturday and it all went, well, like clockwork, for Tiger Roll, Davy Russell, Gordon Elliott and Michael O’Leary in the Randox Health Grand National, writes Tony Stafford.

Once we first caught proper sight of the tiny star on his bay forehead coming down to Becher’s first time round, there was an air of inevitability about his second win in the great race. Indeed there wasn’t even a frisson of tension unlike last year when Pleasant Company rallied late to get within a head of the diminutive winner.

That horse’s departure from the leading group when unseating his rider Paul Townend at the fourth-last fence took away just about the last potential threat to the reigning champ. Thus the Summerhill-trained nine-year-old was left with the unexpected challenge of the year-younger and sole mare in the 40-horse line-up, Magic of Light.

Her trainer Jessica Harrington will have been especially proud of Magic of Light, running in the colours of the late Ann and Alan Potts, but originally in the ownership of the trainer’s daughter Kate and briefly after the couple’s sad death a couple of years ago, the trainer herself.

Since late December Magic of Light has raced six times in all, including once at Fairyhouse when unseating Robbie Power in the Bobbyjo Chase won by Saturday’s third Rathvinden. The other five represented a tour of the UK respectively at Newbury, Ascot, Huntingdon and Cheltenham before Saturday. One trip encompassed two runs, victory in a Grade 2 mares’ hurdle at Ascot and six days later runner-up spot in a mares’ chase over an inadequate two and a half miles at Huntingdon behind Happy Diva. She spent the intervening days with Paul Webber I seem to remember.

Last week in a very brief footnote to the article I suggested that potential pitfalls of the Grand National course vintage late 2010’s are very few once the legendary Becher’s (no Brook these days for fallen jockeys to roll back into for refuge) is negotiated second time round.

That obstacle’s once problematic nature has been eroded, happily with equine safety and public sensibilities to consider. In three races over the three days of the meeting, started in horrible weather on Thursday for the Foxhunters, better for Friday’s Topham and in glorious spring sunshine for the big race, only one horse was victim to Becher’s.

That was in Thursday’s Foxhunters when the 12-year-old Seefood unseated his rider, Miss Charlotte Crane. He has been racing in hunter chases this season for Justin Landy. The once Dessie Hughes-trained chaser started favourite for last year’s Topham for Dr Richard Newland but fell having made an earlier mistake at Becher’s.

Race-day absentees meant there were 27 rather than 30 runners in the two races over the Grand National fences before Saturday.  Twelve completed in the Foxhunters, with none actually being recorded as falling; three unseated and the remaining dozen pulled up.

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The stats were slightly different but in a way just as remarkable for the Topham. Twenty of the 27 completed the course, with three fallers, while two each unseated and pulled up.

The Grand National itself sadly did feature one fatality, the Willie Mullins-trained Up For Review, brought down when the much-fancied Vintage Clouds in the Trevor Hemmings colours, departed at the first fence. In the bad old days it was commonplace for approaching double figures to come down at that early stage.

The third fence also featured in multiple departures, but on the second circuit, as the 18th fence (normally 19th, but the 17th was by-passed because of the stricken Up For Review). Two of Gordon Elliott’s 11-strong team were eroded here, Jury Duty unseating and General Principle falling, bringing down Rock the Kasbah.

But 19 did complete, and of the remaining 21 only three actually fell, with two each unseating and being brought down and 14 pulling up.

It is easy, especially with only the statistics to draw upon, to mention Tiger Roll in the same breath as Red Rum, the first part of whose epic Aintree story was matched 45 years on with a second consecutive victory.

Starting at the same age as Rummy, he still has a fair way to go but the time also to achieve it. There can be little doubt that it will not be easy to gain a third victory next year even though the suggestion has been aired that he “would have won with another stone”, to which I offer the counter-claim “rubbish”.

Tiger Roll was relatively leniently treated by the handicappers. He won off 150 last year when he carried 10st 13lb. On Saturday he was 9lb higher on 159 but carried only 6lb more, 11st 5lb. After his second successive win in the Cheltenham Foxhunters last month, the UK chase handicapper said he would have put him up 8lb for that if the weights had not already been framed. So that will be the starting point before any extra massaging of his rating.

Red Rum’s first win in 1973 was achieved under a weight of 10st 5lb, relatively light in face of the opposition of the top-class two-miler, Crisp. He went agonisingly close after Richard Pitman took him miles clear all the way only to be foiled in the last 30 yards.

The following year Red Rum, like Tiger Roll flat-race-bred - he even dead-heated in a two-year-old race at Aintree six years before his initial National triumph - won under twelve stone top-weight, a demanding 23lb more than before.

One regard in which Tiger Roll has beaten Red Rum was in Saturday’s winning time of 9 min 1sec. Rummy’s fastest unsurprisingly came on his first attempt, but was 0.9 sec slower than Saturday’s time (though the start has of course moved forward in the interim). None of the four Nationals he featured in from 1974-7 was run slower than Tiger Roll’s 9min 40sec last year on heavy going. Twelve of 38 finished last year, the more testing conditions bringing six fallers, five unseated riders, two brought down and 13 horses pulled up.

Realistically it should be possible that faster times can be achieved nowadays with the demands of the old bigger, less forgiving fences with their exaggerated (especially Becher’s) drops on the landing side having been largely eliminated; and with the shortening of the run to the first fence.

Red Rum followed his second win with a gallant second in 1975 on very soft ground behind double Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L’Escargot, who still after almost half a century is my favourite racehorse; another runner-up spot to the very smart Rag Trade (Fred Rimell)  in 1976 and then his march to immortality the following April.

Trainer Ginger McCain had by now replaced Brian Fletcher, successful the first twice, with Tommy Stack, and the 12-year-old again carried top weight, though with only 11st 8lb in the saddle. My earlier reference to the relative demands of the fences was borne out by the fate of many of the 42 starters that day.

Eleven completed but seven departed (five falling, one unseating and another brought down) at the first; four fell at the third, the big ditch and three more fell at first Becher’s. That obstacle claimed five more (three falls, one pulled up and one refusal) second time and it was left to Churchtown Boy, carrying 10st to follow Rummy up the run-in in reverence, 25 lengths behind. Two days earlier Churchtown Boy had easily won the Topham.

Everyone loves a hero and in these days of social media, Tiger Roll is in danger of becoming an object of hyperbole if not hysteria. He’s great and he’s unique in his versatility – evidence his Graded hurdle win this year – but as yet he’s not Red Rum.

For a start to make it three he’ll have Magic of Light, now she’s shown her Aintree credentials, and my on-the-day each-way bet, fourth-placed Walk in the Mill, especially if it comes up soft, to worry about. Never mind what revenge the slighted handicapper will be planning. No wonder Michael O'Leary, his owner, is talking of retirement post-Cheltenham 2020.

What is not in doubt is the amazing popularity of the race, with ITV claiming an audience of ten million. Sorry ITV, I watched it on Racing TV and it was pretty good viewing there too!

- Tony Stafford

Social Discourse – 12th February

Welcome to a joyous, joyous edition of Social Discourse, as British racing makes its return from a six-day break caused by an outbreak of equine influenza (EI), which had put the sport into shutdown and caused concern over the Cheltenham Festival, due to commence a month today (allow yourself another little cheer).

Thanks to what one must say was quick and decisive action from the BHA, we are now set to return from tomorrow, albeit with caveats, giving (most) trainers a resumption of normality along with jockeys, owners, media outlets and the rest. There’s still time for Festival trials, too. Whoop!

As ever, hit me up at @KeejayOV2 on Twitter or just leave a comment below.

 

  1. The Wait……

1:57 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

9:12 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

10:23 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

11:19 PM · Feb 11, 2019: (Yes, that's right, the Irish Field got there first).

11:21 PM · Feb 11, 2019:


  2. The Joy…..

After what was nearly a ten-hour wait – although the last hour and a half was perhaps more stressful than the previous nine - it’s fair to say that this had brought the normally fractious social community of Racing Twitter together. A recap for you, if you couldn’t stay up, or just need that good feeling again.

 

3. The Super, Super Saturday Ahead 

We waited, and now good things are coming to us. Everyone within 10 miles of Cheltenham will still be breathing outwards with relief, but in the more immediate future, there are races to be won and more than a few Festival trials to be rescheduled.

Ascot’s card this coming Saturday was always going to be spectacular but, with the quick transfer of Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle and Game Spirit Chase to the Berkshire venue, it means we are set for a truly phenomenal day of action – the last chance for many high-class horses to run before Cheltenham.

 

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2-mile novice chasers get a last chance to tune themselves up for a very open-looking Arkle Chase with the Kingmaker moved from Warwick to boost Sandown’s Friday card; there’s a Mares’ Hurdle which now moves to Haydock from the same card, and Wincanton gets a Mares’ Chase from Exeter.

 

Don’t Forget: If Ascot is getting you excited, then Haydock also has a feature – the William Hill Grand National Trial, plus a Mares’ Hurdle – and Wincanton features the Kingwell Hurdle as well as the Mares' Chase. Best cancel those Saturday plans if you can.

Trigger-Happy Punters: Markets will have to be remade, with the BHA having to work out which yards can send runners, and the entries will come through at 1.30 today. So if anyone wants to get a jump…. Then have a sneaky tab open around 4 this afternoon.

 

4. The Caveats

It’s not as simple as some might think, however.

- No entries or declarations will be accepted from horses that have not been vaccinated in the previous six months.

- Added to this, trainers of all horses are required to submit a health declaration, the documentation for which needs to be with BHA staff at racecourse before a horse can be unloaded at the track

- If there happen to be any overseas runners, then they won’t be allowed to run unless there’s evidence of a negative test within last 72 hours.

- The ruling that all horses need to have been vaccinated in the last six months has put a spanner in the works of many plans. Already we know that Silver Streak will not be able to run in the Kingwell, whilst 2017 Grand National winner One For Arthur won’t be able to run thanks to needing another jab.

A list of yards that won’t be able to run at least in the next week has been speculated on twitter, and it could include Nicky Henderson, based on what we’ve seen here.

https://twitter.com/muffinmannhc/status/1095255812413497344

Those berating the BHA for not advising trainers of the need to get their horses a booster jab are wide of the mark, as this tweet shows:

As with all that has preceded it, the BHA is doing everything it can to support the sport, including announcing the provision of some additional races for circa 23rd February to enable those without booster jabs to get vaccinated and have a prep before the Festival:

5. Getting Jiggy With It

Meanwhile, racing in Ireland continued unabated and we were treated to a pair of good cards over the weekend with Punchestown having their Grand National Trial on what was at the very least an informative day.

Gigginstown can do no wrong at the moment and they gave themselves a tremendous hand in both the Aintree and Fairyhouse versions as Dounikos came right back to his best to beat Wishmoor by four and a half lengths, with General Principle just a half-length behind.

In what was a dominant showing for the O'Leary squad from start to finish – all three of their charges raced prominently – Dounikos put himself down as a major contender for either the Grand National itself at Aintree or the Irish equivalent, targets that Wishmoor and General Principle, the winner of last year’s Irish Grand National, will also be looking at.

Gordon Elliott, trainer of Dounikos, speaking to Tony O’Hehir of the Racing Post: "Dounikos might go to Aintree or Fairyhouse, we'll see the Aintree weights this week," he said. "I made a lot of entries and I could end up running 12 or 15 in the race. One of those could be General Principle, and Elliott added: "He ran a good race today and Aintree might be the job for him this year."

 

Be smart: Dounikos is generally a 33/1 shot for Aintree (as big as 40/1 with Bet Victor) with the weights due out tomorrow, and General Principle is around the same price.

 

6. Over The Water

A good card at Naas saved ITV, who combined quickly and effectively with the HRI to show a decent card in absentia of Newbury’s Super Saturday.

The highlight was arguably Pravalaguna, who gave a fine front-running display to take the Listed Opera Hat Chase.

Sent off at just 8/13 after strong support, the only scare came when jockey Paul Townend appeared to lose an iron briefly at the fifth last, but he regained full control before taking the next obstacle and from then on she didn’t put a foot wrong before marching to a 14 length success from Baie Des Iles in second.

On the same card, we saw another Festival contender in the shape of City Island, who justified long odds on favouritism with a facile win in the Connolly's Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle at Naas.

Mark Walsh could have written this column whilst he was sat onboard Martin Brassil's six-year-old, and when he gave him his cue, he picked up trailblazing The Echo Boy and won by an easy seven lengths. Cut to as short as 9/1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, he now goes as one of the main players.

Death, taxes, and Joseph O’Brien having smart juvenile hurdlers are the three certainties in life just now, and Band Of Outlaws joined a growing club by coming from last to first to take the EMS Copiers Rated Novice Hurdle.

In a slowly run race, JJ Slevin had Band Of Outlaws fifth of six most of the way round but when push came to shove, he comfortably had too much speed for long-time leader Maze Runner after the final flight to win going away by four and three-quarter lengths.

The Festival now? Well do be careful – the runner up was only seventh in Leopardstown’s Grade 2 at Christmas and O’Brien, if anywhere at Cheltenham, may send him for the Fred Winter although that is not certain at this stage.

 

Even when O’Brien loses, he wins: The new JP McManus purchase Konitho was a disappointing fifth of sixth, not finding anything like the response of his stablemate, although O’Brien felt that the slowly run race did not suit him. "You'd have to say he was a little bit disappointing. The race probably didn't suit him as he's bigger, more of a staying type of horse.”

Jessica Harrington could have a runner in the Cheltenham Festival Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in the shape of the wide margin maiden hurdle winner, Emily Moon. Robbie Power, having his only ride of the day, took the race by the scruff of the neck and she never saw another horse, eventually finishing 14 lengths clear of Debuchet.

Winning rider Robbie Power was impressed: "I was very impressed with her. She's improved a good bit and probably dropping back half a mile in trip suited her better as she loves jumping out and rolling. Over two miles you can let her go, you're not worried about the trip."

Onto next week we go - should be a quiet one..!

- William Kedjanyi

Monday Musings: An Unconventional National

Did you enjoy the Grand National meeting? I did, although it was one of the less conventional Aintree experiences of my existence, writes Tony Stafford. I didn’t go up until the Friday; disappeared north-easterly after racing, only returning to Liverpool the following morning. Then, instead of watching the race first hand, with some friends, I followed the first five races on the big screens of the Sir Thomas Hotel by the waterfront before setting off home, and listening to the big race on the car radio.

Top-class racing often doubles up with entertainment these days, especially in the summer, with many other tracks following the example of the long-established Newmarket Nights. At the Cheltenham Festival, arrivals at the main entrance were treated to a highly-talented female duo performing from a rooftop above the doorway and in the Sir Thomas, the gaps between races were filled with a brilliant singer/guitarist, Paul Hand, who must have sung more than 30 numbers in his six stints before making way for each of the race commentaries.

At least 100 party-goers were booked for lunch, but our local host, Scouser Bob, had the inside track and manage to persuade the management to allow us to order some food to go with the cocktails – J2O’s in my case. The snag was that half our group had to leave in time to get to Anfield, so the food did not arrive before they left. It hadn’t come by the time we set off at 4.45 either, but sometimes the anticipation is good enough.

It is only by going racing that you get the full experience, of course. On Friday, in the owners’ room – thanks Alan Spence for the tickets! – there was a premium on seating, but an accommodating gentleman who I was sure I’d seen many times before, made room for a little one.

Upon my inquisitiveness, he said he was a friend and near neighbour of Paul Nicholls who always kindly manages to get tickets for himself and his wife, who appeared not to be at the track. His name was John Bolton and he said I might have heard of him in relation to the Frankie Dettori seven-timer back in 1996.

I hadn’t, but on my return home I looked back and sure enough, there were stories on the internet of the fateful day 22 years ago when John was going racing at Ascot while his wife Mary was spending the day shopping in London. Mary was the Dettori fan and somehow they decided on a bet involving doubles and an each-way seven-horse accumulator.

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The bet, struck with Ladbrokes, actually came to a theoretical £930,000, but the couple were more than happy to accept the firm’s then daily limit of £500,000. John Bolton seemed a thoroughly-genuine, under-stated chap and it was no surprise when reading the back story to discover Mrs Bolton worked with disadvantaged children.

I felt I also had a little input, in that at the time I had just finished ghosting Frankie’s account of 1996, A Year in the Life. In those days pages were not as easily changed as nowadays, and the full run was already set, if not in stone, in type. We had to add a chapter starting something along the lines of: “Just when I thought….” As you can guess, the relevant volume is no longer in my possession.

I digress… The 2018 Grand National will be memorable for many reasons. I expected it to be something of an easy touch for Total Recall, but it didn’t take a clairvoyant to realise he wouldn’t be winning after the first few fences when his jumping technique proved totally inadequate. I doubt he’ll have a Recall next year.

Listening rather than watching, there was the feeling that there was a fair amount of carnage, but analysis of the result tells us that of the 38 horses that set off, only six actually fell, one of them because he was short of room.

Five more unseated their riders, and two of these, including my 66-1 long-shot Lake Windermere, were badly hampered. You could hardly blame the only two to be brought down, including the strongly-fancied Blaklion, who ended the hopes of connections, his legion of backers and his breeder Mary Morrison, when taking the opening fence right in the path of Perfect Candidate, the only other victim there.

Thirteen more pulled up, including Total Recall who got to the second last before being allowed by Paul Townend to ease off. Of the 12 finishers, my other each-way shot was the fellow (to the winner Tiger Roll) Gigginstown representative Road to Riches, at 50-1, who was a gallant sixth. Should have gone to Specsavers – certainly not to William Hill, who only paid down to fifth!

There will have been plenty of British-based trainers who would have been having a bit of a giggle when thinking back only just over a year to the bleating of Gigginstown’s boss Michael O’Leary, saying Phil Smith, the soon-to-be-retired senior BHA handicapper, was treating his (and other Irish) horses unfairly. O’Leary went as far to say he wouldn’t allow his trainers to run them in those circumstances. The Irish had the first four over the line, and five of the first six (eight of the twelve finishers in all).

Maybe it’s a shame he didn’t stick to his guns, as he does in the management of his airline, Ryanair, where if you want something remotely extra it’s a case of pay, pay, pay! Scouser Bob passed on a nice joke on Saturday. Michael O’Leary went into a bar, and outside there was a notice saying: Guinness 50p a pint. “Is that right?” says O’Leary. “It is,” replies the barman. “I’ll have a pint, then” says O’Leary. “Will you be wanting a glass with that?”

The weather for much of the country has been anything but a joke. Going across the Moors from the Cumbrian village of Tebay adjacent to the M6 across to Wilf Storey’s in Muggleswick, all the streams were running fast and there were still on Saturday morning the last isolated remnants of what by all accounts has been snow of biblical proportions.

It’s only now starting to dry out with temperatures creeping into double figures and at Hedgeholme Stud, the new location for the Raymond Tooth mares and young stock, evidence of what has gone before remains obvious.

The good news, though, is that the three foals so far born are thriving and the very flashy Mayson – Lawyers Choice colt, thus a full-brother to Sod’s Law, who ran well enough when fourth on his Kempton comeback last Wednesday, and half to Dutch Law, looks well up to the family standard.

Anyway, as I look across the rooftops from my office this morning there’s a bright sky promising more Flat-racing friendly weather for Newmarket and Newbury this week, and also less demanding ground for Cheltenham and, hopefully, Ayr’s big Scottish Grand National meeting.

Not much went wrong for Nicky Henderson with his host of Aintree Grade 1 wins, but one that should have won but didn’t was Theinval. If he turns out quickly again at Ayr on Friday there must be  very high hopes of a successful recovery mission.

Irish Point Notes: THAT point-to-point

The Aintree Grand National witnessed a remarkable result this year if you are a fan of walking in muddy fields with the rain pelting down, otherwise known as point-to-pointing, writes David Skelly. I must admit I am partial to that particular day out and I love to scamper out into the countryside to watch the horses jumping at full stretch. An occupational hazard is keeping a weather eye out for loose horses galloping gaily on without their original riders.

The headlines that delved a little deeper into this year’s National result told us that for the second year in a row Lucinda Russell’s winner had learnt his tradecraft in the Irish point-to-point nursery scene and One For Arthur’s victory followed that of Rule The World in 2016. For the record, since 2000 a total of three other Irish point-to-point graduates have collected the winners’ garland and these were Bindaree (2002), Monty’s Pass (2003) and Silver Birch in 2007 for the relatively unknown Gordon Elliott who continues to train the odd winner..

The disclosure that One For Arthur had won his four-year-old maiden at Lingstown in November 2013 was enhanced by the fact that he beat Saturday’s National favourite, Blaklion, by eight lengths in that maiden and repeated the winning distance in the “world’s favourite steeplechase” with Blaklion finishing fourth, eight-and-three-quarter lengths behind One For Arthur. Blaklion was then trained by Colin McKeever: he won his, now, five-year-old maiden a couple of months later before joining Nigel Twiston-Davies in a private deal. One For Arthur – probably forgiven the fact it took him five attempts to win his maiden on account of his sire, Milan – left Liam Kenny’s Enniscorthy base and cost the Two Golf Widows £60,000 before heading for Russell’s Scottish base. It seems an expensive gesture on behalf of the male widowers to placate two unhappy spouses but no doubt they are patrons of an all-male club!

The part of my brain that occasionally sees a bottle as half-empty immediately prompted the questions: what finished second in that fateful Lingstown maiden splitting these two top chasers and how has his career prospered since?

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The answer to the first question is: The Wexfordian.

It’s fair to say that this race did not especially catch the eye of the race readers back then with the first three home rated 86, 83 and a relatively lowly 78. Today, an impressive winning four-year-old will be rated in the low nineties and a small degree of rating inflation has crept into being, probably in direct proportion to the rising prices achieved for winning point-to-point graduates at public auction. Whether or not the increase in ratings is justified remains moot.

The Wexfordian was then trained by Liz Doyle in, where else, but Wexford and never ran in a point-to-point again. He was despatched to the Brightwells Cheltenham Sale the following month and joined Martin Keighley having been secured by the agent, Gerry Hogan, for a bid of £45,000 which was a decent return for the owner-breeder of this Shantou gelding.

You pays your money and you takes your chances in this game and The Wexfordian has run fourteen times for Keighley and, whilst running respectably, has yet to get his head in front whilst wearing an assortment of head gear. He has finished second on four occasions, including his last three starts in handicaps over hurdles and fences, his last start being in a seller, and his owners probably hate Wexford people at this stage.

In an interesting postscript I picked up the following from Keighley’s blog after The Wexfordian last ran on Tuesday, 11 April: “Sadly, The Wexfordian yesterday failed to frank the form of his debut Irish point to point (Nov 2013) with Saturday’s Grand National winner One For Arthur, who won that day, and Grand National fourth Blaklion, who finished behind him in 3rd, when only managing to finish 2nd in his Selling Hurdle at Exeter yesterday! He’s had his problems and hasn’t been the easiest to train but has been pretty frustrating. He was claimed yesterday so we wish them luck with him.”

And so say all of us!

David Skelly is a chartered accountant and Ballydoyle/Coolmore graduate who now dispenses pearls of wisdom to private bloodstock clients. Likes to look beyond the headline and the obvious to offer insights to professionals and punters alike. David can be contacted at dskelly@davidskelly.ie or via twitter @djskelly1

Harry Cobden’s Blog: 6th April 2017

The last time I wrote was on the eve of Cheltenham and, while I loved the buzz of the Festival, I was disappointed not to get closer than Zankandar's seventh place in the Stayers' Hurdle.

But the races come thick and fast at this time of year, so I was off to Fontwell the day after the Gold Cup for a winning spin on a nice mare of Anthony Honeyball's called Ms Parfois. She's a good mare, and will definitely improve for another summer under her belt. She could be a Listed mare with a bit of luck.

Last Sunday at Taunton, I got a chance for Mr Tizzard aboard a horse called Valhalla. He'd actually run pretty well in some decent races through the winter, and really seemed to relish the quicker ground. This was my first time riding him, with the plan to make it if nobody else went on. We got a fairly soft lead and he saw it out very well. He's up six for that which will make things tougher but there could be another win in him before the season's out on top of the ground.

Getting up to date, and April has started really well with a lovely winner for Anthony at Uttoxeter and a double for the boss yesterday at Wincanton. The trip up to the Midlands was worthwhile as I got to sit on a fine big horse called Indian Brave. He'd come to the Honeyball yard from Neil Mulholland, and this was his first run for his new stable and his first win. Despite still being quite gawky even on his seventh career start, I was always happy at the back of the field and he picked up his main rival - the odds-on Bardd - comfortably even though we made a bit of a hash of the last. He's got a workable rating (121) and looks to have a really nice future when he goes chasing.

Wincanton must be my luckiest track, as Matt was telling me I've now got 20 wins from 49 rides there! That's after a double from three rides yesterday afternoon. I guess I was expected to win on the 4/9 chance Diamond Guy, though he is only my second winner in a National Hunt Flat race. He couldn't have done it more easily, coasting clear by almost a distance. Who knows what he beat, but he definitely has an engine and may just be the pick of the boss's bumper horses this season. As easily as he won today, he'll be a much better horse on winter ground.

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Less predictable perhaps was the performance of San Satiro in a small field novices' hurdle earlier in the afternoon. He was only the third favourite of four in the race, though you'd never have known it the ease with which he won. The margin of two lengths doesn't really reflect his superiority and he was well on top at the finish. Again, the quick ground was not really to his advantage, so he can be rated a bit better than the bare margin and could be a fair animal next term.

THIS WEEK

Moving on, I'm really looking forward to my first ride in the National this weekend, and to the Aintree meeting generally. I had three rides at the meeting last season and I'm really hoping to go one better than the second place Virak and I recorded in the Listed three mile handicap chase.

I ride Old Guard in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle this afternoon. The former Greatwood Hurdle winner has been out of form most of this season but did show some of his old spark when a close up seventh of 25 in the Coral Cup. In truth, he ought to be outclassed in this field, but there is good prize money all the way down so it's worth rolling the dice.

Ultragold is an interesting runner in the Topham. Colin's horses are just starting to fire again and this lad wasn't beaten far in the Grand Annual. If he gets a clear round in, he'll give a good account of himself having won over this sort of trip a couple of years ago.

On Saturday, I'm really excited to be involved in the greatest race of them all, the Randox Health Grand National, aboard my old mate, Just A Par. The ten-year-old won a veterans' chase for me last time out and, if you think that's not good enough form, keep in mind that Pineau De Re did the exact same thing when he won the National in 2014.

The problem for me is that Just A Par goes to the sale after racing tonight (Thursday) and it will be up to the new owners whether they want to stick with his current rider, i.e. me!, or choose their own. I've got everything crossed that I get a spin in the big one but will just have to wait and see how it goes.

CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS' TITLE

I've moved to 54 winners for the season thanks to that Wincanton double yesterday, and with time running out to the end of the season I'm twenty clear of my good friend, Dave Noonan who has 34 on the scoresheet. With three weeks left to the end of the season, it's probably over as a contest now but I'm keen to keep my head down and ride a few more winners before the campaign is up.

That's all from me this time. I'll be back at the end of the month with a review of what has been a really exciting campaign. Speak to you then.

- Harry

A National Surfeit

The Grand and Scottish Nationals have rightly taken centre stage on the last two Saturdays, writes Ian Sutherland. They are as good an indicator as any that the jumps season is all but over. Yet there is still one more National to run before the curtain falls, Perth's Highland National, taking place this afternoon.

Matt's positive mention of Royale Knight for the Scottish National led me to listen out for the thoughts of the television team. I was surprised to hear that he was already a winner of three Nationals, and astonished when I looked up his profile to find that they were the last three races he had won (a Borders National in 2013 and the Durham National in 2014 and 2015). Here we had a three time National winner that wasn't on my radar at all.

It led me to wonder - are there too many Nationals?

How many do you think are run each season? And why are they all called a National? Now I've absolutely no quibble with the Grand, Scottish, Welsh and Irish races of that name. Each is a pinnacle of long distance handicap steeplechasing in the respective country, and the calling the race a National certainly helps to capture its importance.

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Yet the racing calendar includes another 13 "regional nationals", surely a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.

The following table shows races run over a distance of 3m 2.5f or more, with those reserved for amateur and conditional jockeys, or novice and hunter chases. There are 45 of them, with 16, or just over a third, including the word National in the race name. There are two anomalies: I've included the Summer Cup, run at Uttoxeter, as until 2011 that was known as the Summer National. And from this season the West Wales National has been reduced from 3m 4f to 3m 1.5f, a great shame in my view.

One of the things that makes a National special is the spectacle of a large field of horses taking each other on. Five of our 16 Nationals fail on that score, unable to attract 10 runners this season. Indeed, for the Cambridgeshire National, only four horses went to post, down from five in 2014, and eight in its inaugural running in 2013.

That's not what a National is about. It's time to drop the word from some of these long distance chases.

- Ian S

 

Date Course Title Distance Grade Runners
30-Apr-15 Sedgefield Free Bookmakers Bets 3m 2.5f Class 4 5
5-May-15 Sedgefield Jardines Catering 3m 2.5f Class 5 8
30-May-15 Stratford AMG Logistics 3m 3.5f Class 3 9
28-Jun-16 Uttoxeter John Smith's Summer Cup 3m 2f Listed 17
3-Sep-15 Sedgefield Tips on this Race 3m 2.5f Class 5 8
12-Oct-16 Sedgefield Renew Holdings 3m 2.5f Class 3 5
25-Oct-16 Wincanton Desert Orchid Silver Cup 3m 2.5f Class 3 8
29-Oct-16 Sedgefield Durham National 3m 5f Class 3 7
6-Nov-15 Musselburgh Thistle systems 3m 2.5f Class 4 4
14-Nov-15 Cheltenham Murphy Group 3m 3.5f Grade 3 17
15-Nov-15 Fontwell Southern National 3m 3f Class 3 13
19-Nov-15 Wincanton Wincanton Interactive 3m 2.5f Class 4 6
21-Nov-15 Haydock Betfair Pricerush 3m 4.5f Class 3 8
24-Nov-15 Sedgefield Betfred follow us on Twitter 3m 2.5f Class 5 11
4-Dec-15 Exeter Brewin Marathon 3m 6.5f Class 3 12
5-Dec-15 Sandown London National 3m 5f Class 2 15
6-Dec-15 Kelso Borders National 4m 0.5f Class 3 8
26-Dec-15 Market Rasen Lincolnshire National 3m 3.5f Class 4 12
30-Dec-15 Haydock Last Fling 3m 3.5f Class 2 8
1-Jan-16 Cheltenham Watch Live Racing 3m 2.5f Class 2 8
9-Jan-16 Chepstow Welsh National 3m 5.5f Grade 3 20
14-Jan-16 Catterick N Yorks Grand National 3m 6f Class 3 12
16-Jan-16 Warwick Betfred Classic 3m 5f Class 1 14
21-Jan-16 Wincanton Somerset National 3m 2.5f Class 3 14
6-Feb-16 Fos Llas West Wales National 3m 1.5f Class 2 7
20-Feb-16 Haydock Grand National Trial 3m 4.5f Class 1 8
26-Feb-16 Exeter Devon National 3m 6.5f Class 3 12
22-Feb-15 Newcastle Eider 4m 0.5f Class 2 17
29-Feb-16 Ayr Dawn Homes Kilsyth 3m 3f Class 4 8
2-Mar-16 Bangor RAO/Racing Post 3m 5.5f Class 4 8
6-Mar-16 Huntingdon Cambridgehire National 3m 6.5f Class 3 4
13-Mar-16 Warwick Free Skips For Metal 3m 5f Class 3 11
14-Mar-16 Taunton Bathwick Tyres 3m 4f Class 3 6
17-Mar-16 Hexham Perfect Location 4m Class 4 6
19-Mar-16 Uttoxeter Midlands Grand National 4m 2f Listed 18
23-Mar-16 Warwick Executive Hire News 3m 5f Class 4 10
26-Mar-16 Haydock Tim Moloney 3m 4f Class 3 8
27-Mar-16 Plumpton Sussex National 3m 4.5f Class 3 8
9-Apr-16 Aintree Grand National 4m 2.5f Grade 3 39
12-Apr-16 Exeter Exeter Audi Stayers 3m 6.5f Class 3 9
13-Apr-16 Cheltenham Racing UK Now 3m 4f Class 3 16
16-Apr-16 Ayr Scottish Grand National 4m Class 1 28
21-Apr-16 Warwick Close Brothers 3m 5f Class 3
22-Apr-16 Perth Deeside Highland National 3m 6.5f Class 3
23-Apr-16 Sandown Bet365 Gold Cup 3m 4.5f Grade 3

 

Monday Musings: Aintree to Newmarket…

Monday Musings

By Tony Stafford

You analyse a race like the Grand National, you look to previous form over the track, recent well-being and all the other sub- and semi-conscious considerations and make your choice.

Then the jockey goes off in front. Anyone who cares to seek out my opinion will know l thought Saint Are had a great chance and listening to his trainer Tom George beforehand, it was obvious last year’s runner-up was going there with maximum confidence. So then, on ground which probably was softer than ideal, Paddy Brennan decides to go off in the front group and was dead in the water by halfway.

Not that there was any suggestion that Rule the World was anything other than a deserving winner especially for his trainer Mouse Morris. My friend Wendy Normile from Coolmore used to work for Mouse and maybe still rides out there occasionally, so it’s a bit embarrassing that when she asked me what I liked for Saturday I said Saint Are rather than: “Why don’t you back your man?” Hopefully she was on both of them.

Wendy’s had some tragedy in her family’s life so it would be easy for her to sympathise, as everyone in Ireland has with Mouse’s loss of his son, Tiffer, at the ridiculously young age of 30 last year to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Mouse has been one of the top big-race trainers for many years. Michael O’Leary, owner of the winner, said after the race that Mouse doesn’t have many horses – unlike Gordon Elliott for example – but does so well with those he has. Maybe the boss of Ryanair should divert a few more of the drinks and snacks revenues on his planes Mouse’s way?

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The Willie Mullins/ Paul Nicholls match-up is in danger of totally fizzling out, with Mullins more than £200k ahead, even though he had the odd reverse, for instance Vautour, last week.

My favourite winner – Douvan it’s true was spectacular – was Apple’s Jade in the top four-year-old race. I liked her for the Triumph at Cheltenham after her brave win first time after her importation from France when she won her only race at 21-1. She was 12’s at Leopardstown and the same price in the Triumph and it was noticeable then that she kept on just as well as Ivanovich Gorbatov after the last once the O’Brien horse had swept past.

The pair drew well clear, but this time on softer ground, Apple’s Jade sprinted away to win by 41 lengths. I’d be running in the Champion Hurdle if she was mine whatever anyone else thought or the claims of anything else, such was the metronomic nature of her galloping and jumping.

Her sire, Saddler Maker, has had literally no impact as a Flat sire, but extremely good results with his jumpers. This one to me is as exciting as Annie Power and more so than any of the other Mullins mares such as Vroum Vroum Mag.

We’ve got Ayr coming up on Friday and Saturday and Sandown the following weekend to bring down the curtain until the new jump season starts on Sunday week, but today with the Craven Breeze-Up horses going through their galloping motions on Racecourse Side and the three days’ racing and two after-racing portions of sales, the new Flat season will finally be under way.

With the going on most tracks still resembling a ploughed field, it will be good to gain the benefit of Newmarket’s legendary drainage properties for the early Classic trials. The Nell Gwyn, Craven and to a lesser extent the Free Handicap and later in the week the Greenham and Dubai Duty Free (Fred Darling) at Newbury will get those horses which may not yet be at the required level on the track with a fortnight or so to the two Guineas races.

Meanwhile, the O’Brien stable seems to be a little more forward than hitherto and when it is considered they are labouring on very unfavourable ground at home in Ireland, the prognoses for Air Force Blue and Minding appear to be excellent.

Both won their end-of-season engagements in emphatic style over the same track, and Minding’s four-and-a-half length win in the Fillies’ Mile, nowadays run over the Guineas course and distance rather than Ascot, was exceptional.

She has stamina in abundance and will not mind it if the ground remains on the slower side, but Air Force Blue would probably prefer a faster surface. Buratino, the one horse to beat the “2,000” favourite in 2015 was warming up last week for his imminent assignment at Haydock as part of a Johnston reconnaissance team, and there might well be more of the same on the Rowley Mile.

The ground at Kingsley Park on the grass has been very testing and far from ideal for horses with Classic pretensions, but no doubt Johnston will test impressive debut juvenile winner Sutter County from his forward and already talented two-year-old team in Wednesday’s novice stakes. The first of them to run, Sutter County won by nine lengths at Wolverhampton and faces eight opponents at HQ on his first turf run.

The innovation, replacing many of the maiden races in 2016 by novice events in which winners under penalty can run, will be a big help in educating horses before they lock horns with the best early sorts from the other major stables at the Royal meeting.

In the past, very few races were suitable for good winners – Ascot’s Garter (now Ascot) Stakes and Sandown’s National Stakes were the most obvious routes to take – but now trainers can be selective and if they happen to win first time in lowly company, penalties for winners can be relatively light.

I’m hoping the ground dries out a little for Ayr on Friday when Notnowsam is being aimed at the novice handicap chase for which only nine horses have been entered. His chase record reads 12222, the last of them a nice effort at Kempton after a mid-season break. Still only five, he is doing well at Dan Skelton’s and hopefully can end that run of near- and not-so-near misses since his win at Warwick on debut for the stable back in May.

Ray Tooth, fresh from a nice week in Antigua, lucky devil, also has Adrakhan set up for Stratford on Sunday on what would be his last chance in a novice handicap hurdle, but the trainer is worried that the ground will be a bog! Who’d have thought it, midwinter ground on a summer-jumps track in mid-April?

Paget and Miller – An Inimitable Pairing

With the Cheltenham Festival fast approaching, I thought I would take a look at one of the earliest stars and his eccentric owner.

Dorothy Paget purchased Golden Miller in 1931 along with a potentially decent hurdler named Insurance for close to £10,000. Paget was the daughter of Lord Queenborough and Pauline Payne Whitney. The Whitney family were famed in America for their association with the thoroughbred racing industry.

She was an aristocrat, born into a privileged lifestyle with a love of all things fast. She’d been a fair rider in her youth, but issues with her weight meant she became a spectator rather than a participator. Fast cars and racehorses became her passion and she threw plenty of money at both pastimes.

In 1930 she financed the construction of supercharged Bentleys in a business venture with racing driver Tim Birkin. A three year spell failed to deliver a single victory on the track, but the same could not be said for Paget’s involvement in horse racing.

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In the 1930’s and 40s she became champion owner both on the Flat and over the Jumps. Her horse Straight Deal won the Epsom Derby and she owned seven Cheltenham Gold Cup winners. She also won the Champion Hurdle on four occasions and the outstanding Golden Miller took the Grand National for her in 1934.

She became a notorious character within the sport and was renowned for her eccentricity. A complete disregard for men in a sport dominated by them was always likely to create a story or two. She constantly moved her horses from one owner to another after numerous clashes, famously falling out with Golden Miller’s trainer Basil Briscoe despite the horse having won numerous Gold Cups and a Grand National under his guidance.

Paget became a notorious gambler spending thousands at a time. Her largest bet was said to be £160,000 to win just £20,000, and although that particular bet was successful many were not. Bookies stayed open at night to receive her phone-calls and late night punts, often on races that had already taken place.

She ate to excess and smoked non-stop during every waking hour, and it was therefore no surprise that a heart attack took her at the relatively young age of 55. Books have been written on the legendary owner and her unconventional and often belligerent lifestyle.

But what of that fortuitous purchase back in 1931? The two horses went on to win the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle. Insurance repeated his Champion Hurdle triumph in 1932, whilst Golden Miller became one of the all-time greats, going on to win the Gold Cup five times between 1932 and 1936. He also completed the Gold Cup and Grand National double in 1934.

He was bred in Ireland by Barry Geraghty’s grandfather Laurence. The horse was trained by Basil Briscoe in Cambridgeshire. He had told Paget that she was purchasing a future Gold Cup winner. He proved to be a terrific judge. He won his first Gold Cup at the age of five and went on to dominate the race for half a decade. Fluid over his fences rather than spectacular, the horse fell in love with Cheltenham and saved his best for the course.

His most thrilling success came in 1934 when taking on the excellent Thomond II. The pair had met on several occasions with Golden Miller coming off second best at Kempton. Only five horses made the starting line, with the two favourites settled at the back. With less than a mile to go the pair stepped on the gas and in a thrilling head to head it was Golden Miller that clung on to his crown by less than a length.

Despite years of success, Paget moved all of her horses from Briscoe placing her Gold Cup winner with Owen Anthony. The horse won again at Cheltenham completing his incredible five-timer. His record has never been matched, and Paget remains the most successful owner in the history of the Gold Cup. Both were exceptional in their own inimitable way.

Comeback Conti – Nicholls Works His Magic

Paul Nicholls switched from despair to delight in the blink of an eye on Saturday.

His enigmatic hurdler Irving had once again threw in a desperate performance, this time at Wincanton in the Kingwell Hurdle. Back in November he’d thrashed Melodic Rendezvous in the Elite Hurdle at the same track. And just a few weeks later he got the better of Henderson’s gutsy young hurdler Top Notch at Haydock. A poor performance had followed in the Fighting Fifth, but a winter’s break looked sure to have left him refreshed and raring to go for Saturday’s Grade 2.

Unfortunately he lacked any sort of Zip and was trailing from three out. He finished a tailed off fourth of four and another season that promised plenty has fizzled out. Nicholls had been watching on television screens at Ascot and was visibly shaken by the lamentable display. Speaking to Channel 4 Racing the champion trainer said: “He ran absolutely dire. I thought he’s been in the best form we could get him in. He’s been going really well and has just run dire.”

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That performance would have left Nicholls full of trepidation as the time approached for Silviniaco Conti to take to the track in the Betfair Ascot Chase. Yet just 15 minutes later a jubilant trainer was welcoming a returning hero after an exemplary display. With regular pilot Noel Fehily on board, the dual King George winner treated the Ascot crowd to a thoroughly dominant performance.

Royal Regatta set a strong pace at a track he has come to love, with Silviniaco on his tail throughout. The two stretched clear of the chasing pack turning for home and the race was over as a contest as Fehily sent his willing partner on at the second last. He finished 20 lengths clear of the eventual runner-up Dynaste.

Many had voiced concerns over the 2m5f trip, but it proved to be ideal. And though he’s won at both left and right hand tracks, his tendency to jump slightly out to the right ensured Ascot was a perfect fit. Ground conditions and the application of blinkers were further aids toward this stunning performance.

Nicholls said of the winner: “This is probably the first time we've had him pain-free this season. The blinkers were the right thing today, the ground was right and I'd say he was back to his best. After Irving had run so bad in the race before [at Wincanton] it was a pleasure to see one run as well as he did. To win seven Grade 1 races after Kauto and co have finished is great.”

Nicholls ruled out a return to Cheltenham but confirmed that Aintree is now the target, saying: “The Grand National is a definite possibility. It is highly likely he could run. He is going to be arguably well in now and Noel is keen on it.” Should a decision be made to dodge the National, he would likely go for the Betfred Bowl; a race he has won on his last two visits to Liverpool.

Hats off to Nicholls as he once again brings a faltering stable star back to his best. It’s been a turbulent winter for Ditcheat, with several high profile chasers failing to make an impact, whilst others spend time in their box due to niggling setbacks. Yet still the trainers’ championship is all but won, and his relentless pursuit of success, along with an overwhelming desire to be the best, shows no sign of diminishing.

Bailey at the Double at Southwell

Bailey's father wins the Grand National

Bailey's father wins the Grand National

A double at Southwell marked a terrific achievement for Caroline Bailey and her yard that averages around a dozen winners per season.

She has her horses in tip-top shape with a string of placed finishes in recent weeks. The victories also formed part of a wonderful treble for in-form jockey Harry Skelton.

Bailey had plenty of success when training point-to-pointers before her switch to rules in 2006. She had guided Castle Mane to victory in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham back in 1999, and also trained Gunner Welburn to take Aintree’s equivalent in 2001. Her husband Gerald has taken charge of the yard’s pointers, along with the substantial task of running his own dairy farm.

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Caroline is yet another that was very much born into the industry. Her father, the late Dick Saunders, rode as an amateur, winning the 1982 Grand National aboard Grittar at the age of 48. Her mother was also a competent jockey, riding in point to points. As a teenager Caroline found success in eventing before starting out in pointing at the age of 16.

Her stables, which were originally old farm buildings, form part of Holdenby North Lodge, situated in the Northamptonshire countryside, close to the villages of Teeton and Holdenby. The facilities are basic, as befits a yard lacking the financial clout of a Skelton or a Nicholls. Yet Bailey has the essentials which enable the smaller set-up to compete against the ‘big boys’.

A three furlong all-weather cushion track gallop is a necessity when the winter frosts arrive. There is also a one-and-a-half mile uphill grass run, perfect for fitness and strengthening work. Hurdles along with small and large fences are available for schooling, and a horse walker is used for warming up and warming down, along with light exercise for those on the ‘easy list’.

Bailey’s assistant trainer gets a big mention on her website. Tom McClorey was a talented show-jumper in his youth, and his skill in coaching horses to jump is clearly a huge advantage for the yard.

Those talents were certainly on display with the success of Global Domination at Southwell. The horse was having only his third run in almost three years and only his second over fences. Bar guessing at a fence on the second circuit, his jumping was incredibly neat and professional. With Skelton on top, the seven-year-old gelding jumped his opposition to sleep, and although appearing to tire close home, ran out a comfortable winner. If staying sound, he clearly has plenty more to offer over fences.

The five-year-old Carlo Rocks completed the double when winning the three mile handicap hurdle. Benefitting from a step up in trip, he pricked his ears when sent to the front, and looked to be idling all the way to the line. He’s another that plainly has the ability to find his way to the winners’ enclosure again over the winter.

Carli King was something of a star for the yard last season, with two victories and two placed finishes from his six starts. His most impressive performance came at Warwick in March when winning the 3m 5f handicap chase. That success earned him a crack at the Scottish National, though a couple of serious errors when going well put paid to his efforts that day. Though now a nine-year-old, he should remain competitive in staying events on his return.

Bailey enjoys sending her horses to Huntingdon, and has several entered up at the track this weekend. She’ll be more than hopeful of building on the team’s success at Southwell.

Grand National Stalwarts Strike at Southwell

The Classy State Of Play

The Classy State Of Play

Though he’s unlikely to hit the headlines for his impressive performance, Evan Williams’ Aqua Dude was an eye-catching winner of the Southwell National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle yesterday.

Winner of a point to point in April 2014, the five-year-old son of Flemensfirth had finished down the field in a bumper at Ascot in February; a race won by Hobbs’ exciting youngster Wait For Me. Aqua Dude is quite a unit and has the look of a chaser down the line. However, the style of his win at Southwell suggests he’s more than capable of making a name for himself over hurdles.

The horse is one of several in the yard owned by steadfast supporters Mr and Mrs William Rucker. It’s coming up to nine years since their familiar silks were carried to victory by their star asset in the 2006 Hennessy Gold Cup. State Of Play became a 160 rated chaser, classy enough to add the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase, prior to prominent runs in the Grand National of 2009, 2010 and 2011.

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The owners now have Alvarado to cheer when Aintree’s main event comes around. He’s finding similar consistency in the World’s greatest steeplechase with a pair of fourth place finishes in 2014 and 2015. Lacking the class of his illustrious predecessor, he is nevertheless a gutsy individual who would probably win the National if it were run over a trip of five and a half miles.

Quite incredibly connections also owned Cappa Bleu who was retired last year at the age of 13. He too had fallen in love with those Aintree fences, also hitting that fourth place slot back in 2012 before a stunning runners-up finish in the 2013 renewal.

Mr William Rucker is the chief executive of Lazard (London), and is also chairman of Crest Nicholson Holdings as well as Quintain Estates & Development. Lazard are recognized as one of the World’s outstanding Independent Investment Banks, competing with the likes of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan in the global marketplace. Starting out as an accountant, Rucker had studied Economics and Politics at Bristol University back in the early 1980’s, and has been with Lazard since 1987.

In 2014 the Jockey Club appointed him to the Cheltenham racecourse committee. Welcoming him to his duties the Chairman Robert Waley-Cohen said: “William Rucker has a wealth of experience both as a racehorse owner and as a businessman.”

With a knack of uncovering Grand National contenders, it will be interesting to follow the progress of their talented novice chaser Padge. Connections would have been encouraged by the gelding’s switch to fences, when winning at Ascot a few weeks back. The son of Flemensfirth, out of an Old Vic mare, is destined to make a far better chaser than hurdler. Indeed, back in 2013 he defeated Very Wood in a point to point in Ireland.

However, those that witnessed the win at Ascot would have seen the eccentricity that almost cost him the race. He’s far from straight forward, yet if Williams can get him to behave on the track he could prove special.

Another exciting prospect in the yard, also owned by the Rucker’s is the five-year-old son of Scorpion, De Bene Esse. He looks set to make his hurdling debut in the next few days, possibly at Exeter on Wednesday. An expensive purchase at £75,000, he won a point at Kilpatrick back in March and had previously run-out when very much in touch with Yorkhill in a similar event at Tattersalls Farm. That fella is now under the care of Willie Mullins, and is expected to take high order as a novice hurdler this winter.

Premier league in the world of finance and asset management, William Rucker will be hopeful that his assets on the racecourse prove just as profitable over the upcoming campaign.

Sunday Supplement: All Weather and Aintree…

Tony Stafford in his Telegaph days...

Tony in his Telegaph days...

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

“Proper” Flat racing has been going a week, mostly not on proper racing ground. Up at Newmarket, the main grass gallops are still not open and I had a morning watching a couple of workouts there on the Al Bahathri Polytrack.

For all that, it’s an exciting time and when I got home after stopping off at my son’s to watch a certain lunchtime football match – I steadfastly will not mention Arsenal’s now ten wins in 11; nine straight home League wins and 21 wins in 26 in all competitions since late November – I collected the late-arriving Racing Calendar. [Ed. Oops, you just did.]

It has fixtures for the week four weeks ahead and I see in that first weekend in May, there is the small matter of the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas. Next Saturday is the Grand National, then there’s Ayr’s Scottish National meeting, the Craven at Newmarket, the last week of the jumps season and McCoy’s final farewell. No wonder we (well me) age so quickly with such a torrent of unstoppable activity.

First things first though. Home-bred horses are reckoned to be a bit of a potential money-leaking pursuit. The best way as the old saying goes: “Of turning a large fortune into a small one”. Fortune certainly comes into it and if the two of the boss’s young colts that I saw turn out yesterday maintain the progress, Ray Tooth’s decision to switch course and breed rather than buy will be looking good.

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His colours gave more than a hint of collecting a chunk of the Lingfield All Weather Championships cash on Friday when the eight-year-old Cousin Khee stayed in contention right until the last 100 yards of the Marathon. He merely stayed on at one pace into sixth, but was beaten less than three lengths by Mymatechris.

There can be little wrong with an event that on a gloomy, generally wet morning still attracts a crowd of 9,000. You can always tell the success or otherwise of a sporting event by the length of the queues outside the ladies’ loos. Before the first race, they were of Royal Ascot proportion. Hate to think how long the good ladies of Liverpool will be required to nurse their drinks waiting for their turn this week. At least they won’t have to be worrying about whether their team is going to make the Champions League.

Godolphin’s three wins including the big one were a decent return on what must have been a long-planned assault on the series of races where qualification required either a win in one of a number of “win and you are in” qualifiers, or three runs in the catchment period. The last condition caught out Jeremy Noseda’s plan to try for a second win in succession for Grandeur in the big race – his third in the Winter Derby rather than a win ended that objective.

For me, the best result though was provided by Gay Kelleway, who upset the big guns with a 20-1 winner. As long as the small stables can win a big race now and then – like Phil McEntee last year in the same series – they can dream and think it worth the uneven battle. Sadly, a very good friend is about to draw stumps on his career, another victim of the appalling finances for trainers, but more of that next week when I can do proper justice to his achievements in adversity.

I’ve had many happy trips up to Aintree. I remember standing next to Bob Champion’s biographer Jonathan Powell in the cramped Press stand as Aldaniti entered into folklore with his rider’s recovery from cancer one of the true miracle stories of the race.

Before I was a regular on-the-spot observer, the race had a real hold on me. When Nicolaus Silver won, I’d just got back from playing in the London Grammar Schools six-a-side football tournament at the Polytechnic ground, Chiswick and cheered on my dad’s bet.

Soon after, I was set to report for the Walthamstow Guardian on a Walthamstow Avenue (one of the great amateur sides but sadly long gone) match, I travelled with the team on the coach to all the away games that season. First we watched the Foinavon race at home – needless to say by then I was betting and landed on the very unlucky second Honey End – and got to the game in time.

But of all the Nationals, the Red Rum years were the best. First – by now I’m at the Daily Telegraph and gave a selection, Pricewise-style, on the day the weights came out. I landed on Red Rum for his first win, but in the next few years I had a conflict as my favourite jumping horse of all time, L’Escargot, was one of his major rivals.

That rivalry was brought back sharply in the memory after 40 years with a great two-page homage to the old horse, who was one of two horses – Rag Trade was the other – who prevented Rummy getting a fourth and fifth win over the then formidable Aintree fences.

The writer was Steve Dennis, one of the less routine scribes at the Racing Post. He brought back all the excitement of a horse who won two Gold Cups before finishing third, second and finally, gloriously first at Liverpool. Add a Gloucestershire Hurdle success, then a champion chaser accolade in the US when still a novice for his owner Raymond Guest, a one-time US ambassador who also owned the great Derby winner Sir Ivor, and you have a true star of the ages who, as Steve so rightly said, rarely gets much of a mention.

Well done Steve for giving deserved generous space to a great of the sport. Not that it will be anything like the hysteria we’ll get if a certain veteran rider makes it two wins in the race this weekend.

I’ll trade being there – and it actually would be quite nice for AP to win it – for another stint on the gallops when the weather’s improvement could see some meaningful grass action. If AP doesn’t win, like Ryan Moore, Frankie Dettori and me, at least his football team is giving him a fair degree of enjoyment. When he packs up, there might not be too much more to keep him interested.

 

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