Tag Archive for: Grand National

O’Neill to consider Cheltenham spin for Monbeg Genius

Jonjo O’Neill is not ruling out a Cheltenham Festival appearance for Monbeg Genius after a disappointing effort at Kelso on Saturday.

The eight-year-old was among the leading lights in the ante-post market for the Randox Grand National prior to his outing in the Premier Chase, which was a first run since finishing third in the Coral Gold Cup back in December.

Minor setbacks scuppered his intended runs since and there was concern his season could be curtailed after assets linked to owners Baroness Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman were made the subject of a restraint order, but the British Horseracing Authority subsequently confirmed Monbeg Genius would not be affected.

Sent off a 5-2 chance at Kelso, Monbeg Genius trailed home in fifth place, beaten 38 lengths by Thunder Rock, and O’Neill could give him a chance to redeem himself in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Tuesday week, a race in which he finished third last year.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s fine but it was disappointing really, we were expecting a better show than that, to be fair.

“He’ll have to come on a lot, but he’s come out of it fine and we might even give him another spin at Cheltenham, we’ll see. It wasn’t the plan but he might come on a bit more.

“The practice might help, he didn’t jump great yesterday, he didn’t do anything that we hoped he would, so let’s see how he is.

“He’s in at Cheltenham, so we’ll have a look and see.”

Monbeg Genius is now a best-priced 33-1 shot for Aintree on April 13.

O’Neill is also keeping his options open with exciting bumper prospect Mister Meggit following his facile success in the Download The Racecourse App Raceday Ready Open NH Flat Race at Doncaster.

Having won by a dozen lengths on his Carlisle debut in November, the six-year-old hacked up by four and three-quarter lengths at 8-15 at Town Moor following a 119-day absence.

Coral cut Mister Meggit from 25-1 to 16-1 for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and O’Neill said: “When I was looking at him in the paddock, I was thinking ‘what are we doing here?’ because he’s a shelly little horse. But he’s obviously got an engine and I was very pleased with that.

“It’s hard to know with a four-runner race, but he did it really sweetly at Carlisle as well. He doesn’t show you up at home or anything like that but when he gets down here, he’s obviously a fair horse.

“We’ll see how he is, there’s Liverpool as well. He’s a very shelly horse, so we’ll just have to see how he comes out of it. He did look good, though.”

Kelso ‘perfect timing’ for National fancy Monbeg Genius

Jonjo O’Neill views Saturday’s bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso as an ideal stepping-stone to Aintree for his leading Grand National contender Monbeg Genius.

The eight-year-old has not been seen in competitive action since finishing third in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in early December, subsequently missing planned engagements in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow and the Classic Chase at Warwick.

There was concern his season could be curtailed after assets linked to owners Baroness Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman were made the subject of a restraint order, but the British Horseracing Authority subsequently confirmed Monbeg Genius would not be affected and he is able to travel to the Scottish Borders this weekend as he looks to enhance his National claims.

Jonjo O'Neill has high hopes for Monbeg Genius
Jonjo O’Neill has high hopes for Monbeg Genius (John Walton/PA)

“He’s had a few little issues, nothing serious but they were enough to make us miss the Welsh National and the Classic Chase at Warwick. He’s back on track now and hopefully all goes well,” said O’Neill.

“This looks a nice race for him, the conditions suit and it’s perfect timing with Aintree in mind – and he’s in good form, so we’re as hopeful as we can be.

“It’s a great race and the rest of the card is brilliant, fair play to Kelso for putting on a card like this.”

Monbeg Genius won three of his five starts as a novice over fences last season and also finished third behind Grand National hero Corach Rambler and leading Gold Cup contender Fastorslow in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He again holds an Ultima entry but appears unlikely to turn up at Prestbury Park in less than a fortnight’s time.

O’Neill added: “He wouldn’t go to Cheltenham now. If everything goes according to plan, it will be straight to Aintree. He’s been left in just in case he tips up early or something on Saturday.”

It is 14 years since the Jackdaws Castle handler claimed Grand National glory with Don’t Push It, who memorably provided perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy with his first and only victory in the race.

O’Neill feels Monbeg Genius ticks plenty of boxes in terms of the world’s most famous steeplechase, even if his stamina needs to be taken on trust.

He said: “You can’t be confident a horse is ever going to stay the National trip until they try it, because there’s no other race like it, but he’s the type to do it if there is one. He’s a grand, simple horse, who just gallops and jumps.

“He might get to the Melling Road and run out of air, as they say, but you take your chance.

“He’s a different type to Don’t Push It, he had a touch of class, whereas this lad is a grand, honest to God horse who just might lack a bit of class, but what he lacks in class, he puts in through energy and he jumps well. You need a good horse now to win the National.

“We were disappointed when he didn’t win the Ultima last year, but it didn’t work out too bad did it!”

The admirable Aye Right is shooting for Kelso glory
The admirable Aye Right is shooting for Kelso glory (PA)

Monbeg Genius’ rivals include the admirable veteran Aye Right, trained in partnership by Harriet Graham and Gary Rutherford.

The 11-year-old has been placed on each of his three starts so far this term and another bold bid is anticipated from his connections.

“He’s in good form and he likes Kelso. It’s not quite level weights, but he’s much better off at the weights against other horses than he normally is, so it will be interesting,” said Graham.

“I’m quite excited about it, no doubt there’ll still be one too good for us – there’s always something!

“I think he has only run two bad races and it’s fairly obvious he likes to dominate the race and make a good pace. We won’t be changing anything on Saturday, as we’ve tried other things like holding up out the back and he does not have much speed at the end of a race, but is fairly relentless through it.”

Thunder Rock represents Olly Murphy
Thunder Rock represents Olly Murphy (John Walton/PA)

Nick Alexander saddles his five-time course winner Elvis Mail, while Olly Murphy is looking forward to giving Thunder Rock another opportunity to prove his stamina over this three-mile distance.

He said: “I’m not so sure he stays three miles, but we want to give it one last go, hopefully on a bit of nicer ground in a smallish field.

“He’ll be dropped in and ridden to run well. If he stays the trip, I think he’ll run well and he’s overpriced, but we’re kind of having a go more so than knowing he’ll definitely stay.

“The way he finishes off over two-and-a-half, you’d think he definitely would stay the trip, but I don’t think he has the couple of times we’ve tried thus far. Maybe he’s a year older and a year stronger and maybe he might do now, and I don’t think the ground is going to be too bad up there.”

Minella Drama (Donald McCain), La Renommee (Dr Richard Newland and Jamie Insole) and Cooper’s Cross (Stuart Coltherd) complete the field.

I Am Maximus has taken Fairyhouse exertions in his stride

Connections are hoping I Am Maximus’ own brand of jumping is not his Achilles heel when he goes for Randox Grand National glory at Aintree.

The reigning Irish Grand National champion put himself in the picture to follow in the footsteps of Rhyme ‘N’ Reason, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde by also adding the Liverpool version with a dominant display in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.

That 14-length victory over last year’s Aintree runner-up Vanillier saw Willie Mullins’ eight-year-old made the general 10-1 joint-favourite for the world’s most famous steeplechase where he will attempt to give his handler a second victory in the race 19 years on from the success of Hedgehunter.

I Am Maximus in action in the Bobbyjo at Fairyhouse
I Am Maximus in action in the Bobbyjo at Fairyhouse (Damien Eagers/PA)

With his stamina assured, it appears the major question I Am Maximus will have to answer when tackling the famous spruce on Merseyside surrounds his jumping.

“He did well (in the Bobbyjo) and he’s got his own technique of jumping,” said owner JP McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“He seems to like Fairyhouse and he did it nicely. I believe he has come out of the race fine.

“He has his own way of getting round so it will be interesting to see how that goes at Aintree, but he’s in good form and the plan will be to go there with him.

“I don’t think stamina will be any problem to him and jumping could be his biggest problem. He will need a bit of luck but they all do round there.”

McManus has won the Grand National with both Don’t Push It (2010) and Minella Times (2021) and I Am Maximus is one of five potential National runners in the famous green and gold silks alongside Closutton stablemates Capodanno and Janidil, Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies and Gavin Cromwell’s Limerick Lace.

Monbeg Genius in line for National prep at Kelso

Monbeg Genius, one of the leading fancies for this year’s Randox Grand National, is among 13 entries for Saturday’s bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso.

The British Horseracing Authority confirmed earlier this month the gelding would be permitted to run as he will not be affected by a restraint order placed on the assets of owners Baroness Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman.

Jonjo O’Neill trains the eight-year-old, who has not run since finishing third in the Coral Gold Cup back in December, with a setback scuppering any plans for a run subsequently.

Monbeg Genius is currently rated a general 16-1 chance for the National on April 13 and could clash with last year’s Premier Chase winner and fellow Aintree entry Empire Steel at Kelso.

Sail Away, Highland Hunter and Kinondo Kwetu also hold engagements for both races, while popular veteran Aye Right also features among the Kelso contenders.

Formby Novices’ Hurdle winner and third, Jango Baie and Cannock Park, headline 23 entries for the Grade Two bet365 Premier Novices’ Hurdle.

Last year’s bet365 Morebattle Hurdle victor Benson is set to carry top weight in this season’s renewal, which still has 26 entries.

Nicky Henderson’s Under Control and the Kerry Lee-trained Black Hawk Eagle currently lead the market.

Henderson downbeat on home hopes of National glory

Nicky Henderson is predicting an uphill task for British handlers in April’s Randox Grand National, with the home team responsible for just seven of the horses currently guaranteed to make the cut for the Aintree showpiece.

Victory for Lucinda Russell’s Corach Rambler last year was the first for UK-based trainers since the Kinross handler struck with One For Arthur in 2017.

And with Irish raiders dominating both the recent roll of honour and this season’s ante-post betting, it is easy to envisage the trophy heading across to the Emerald Isle once more.

Henderson has three entries for this year’s race but only 150-rated Dusart is presently set to make the final line-up, with the Seven Barrows trio all available at odds of 100-1.

Dusart is the only Henderson-trained Grand National entrant certain of a run
Dusart is the only Henderson-trained Grand National entry currently entitled to run (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Fantastic Lady and last year’s eighth Mister Coffey are Henderson’s other two runners, but he hinted that he may not be represented in this year’s race and was clear about what he thought of the home team’s chances when asked about the current make-up.

“We’re not going to win it are we – and I’m not, because I haven’t got one in it,” he said.

“There’s nothing I can do about it and I’ve been trying to win it for 42 years, so I can tell you something about it, but that’s probably how not to win it.”

Leading Irish duo Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott are responsible for over half of the current top 40 in the National, but Henderson is not in favour of limiting the number of runners each trainer or owner can have in the race – something which the British Horseracing Authority were considering for major handicaps earlier in the season.

Nicky Henderson in discussion with one of his owners, JP McManus
Nicky Henderson in discussion with one of his owners, JP McManus (Tim Goode/PA)

“That was crazy,” he added. “I wouldn’t agree with that unless they said Henderson is the only one who can have a runner!”

Henderson is currently putting the finishing touches to his Seven Barrows string ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and believes he is in the fortunate position of having not only a talented bunch of horses at his disposal, but a loyal and supportive network of owners.

“We’ve been very lucky and I have the best bunch of owners anyone can wish for,” he added.

“They are all great guys and great mates and great people.

“We have to enjoy it and that’s our game, this is an entertainment hobby sort of thing – it’s their hobby and I have to make it entertaining.”

I Am Maximus sees off Vanillier in Bobbyjo

I Am Maximus booked his Randox Grand National ticket with an easy victory over last year’s Aintree runner-up Vanillier in the Tote.ie Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.

Trained by Willie Mullins, I Am Maximus was returning to the scene of his finest hour having won the Irish Grand National last season and after this display, he is now a general 12-1 chance for Aintree on April 13.

Mullins used the Bobbjyo as an Aintree prep for Hedgehunter, who went on to win on Merseyside in 2005, but I Am Maximus looked to face a stiff task giving 12lb away to Gavin Cromwell’s Vanillier.

Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus, hears from Jody McGravey, and trainer Willie Mullins
Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus, hears from Jody McGravey, and trainer Willie Mullins (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

Jody McGarvey did the steering on the evens favourite, travelling well throughout the near three-mile-two-furlong affair before thoroughly asserting his authority in the straight, cruising home by 14 lengths.

Mullins said: “I thought it was a magnificent performance considering how badly he jumped going away from the stands.

“He just missed one or two there and Jody left him alone and let him find his own feet.

“When he got half down the back and around the fifth last once he saw the stands, I think he just clicked into a another gear.

“I don’t know how good he is but he’s certainly improving with every run. However, he does love Fairyhouse and maybe this is his track, he certainly has an engine.

“It’s very hard to quicken in this ground, he has a big engine in there.

“I’d imagine he goes for the Grand National, he would look a Gold Cup horse in time but I’d imagine Aintree is his objective.

“I’m not worried about ground for him. I don’t know how good he is yet because he just keeps improving.”

I Am Maximus survived a slight blunder at the last
I Am Maximus survived a slight blunder at the last (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

Sean Flanagan was not too disappointed with Vanillier’s effort in second, with the gelding having finished a half-length second in the race last year to Kemboy before going on to the National itself.

Vanillier will have a reduced 8lb advantage over I Am Maximus at Aintree and his rider is eager for the big day.

He said: “I’m very happy and I think he’s run better in the race this year than he did last year. There were a lot higher quality horses in the race this year.

“He’s probably got going a bit early in the race, but I wanted to get a proper race into him as I didn’t think they were going to go quick. Without forcing him I was trying to force the tempo of the race. I think he’s ran well.

“I’m looking forward to Aintree.”

Vanillier backed to boost Aintree hopes at Fairyhouse

Gavin Cromwell expects Vanillier to take a step forward in the Tote.ie Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday as he builds up towards a return to Aintree.

The grey flew home in the Grand National last year – and passed all bar the winner Corach Rambler.

He has been allotted 4lb more in his quest for National glory this term but first he must take on last season’s Irish National winner I Am Maximus and the Gordon Elliott pair of Fury Road and Minella Crooner.

In three runs to date this season, Vanillier has failed to get anywhere near troubling the judge.

However, Cromwell said in his William Hill blog: “Vanillier is certainly moving in the right direction and I’m happy with him ahead of the Bobbyjo Chase.

“We’re hoping to see a good run here which should set him up well for the Grand National. He’s taken a bit of time to get to where I’d like him to be, but we weighed him on Friday morning and he’s a similar weight to where he was this time last year, which was encouraging to see.

“We were happy with the weight the handicapper gave him for the race at Aintree. It’s a lovely racing weight considering how well he ran in it last year and you can’t really make any excuses on that front.

“It would be amazing to win a Grand National and I do think he’s capable of doing it, as we know he likes the fences and has the stamina. He’s coming along nicely and Saturday will hopefully bring him forward again.”

Aintree officials confident of dealing with any attempt at protest repeat

Officials at Aintree believe they are better prepared to deal with any protests that may occur at this season’s Randox Grand National, after last year’s race was delayed by around 15 minutes.

More than 100 protesters from animal rights group Animal Rising were arrested after some managed to get onto the course.

The Jockey Club, which owns Aintree, was able to put more stringent plans in place by the time of the Derby at Epsom in June, when it secured an injunction which made it illegal for anyone to attempt to get on the track.

Aintree clerk of the course Sulekha Varma said: “We’re lucky that we’ve got a very good relationship with the police and we will take guidance from them.

Animal Rising activists outside the gates ahead of  last year's Grand National
Animal Rising activists outside the gates ahead of last year’s Grand National (Peter Byrne/PA)

“We learned a lot last year, and we saw that at Epsom, so we are going into this year with a different outlook.”

Dickon White, Aintree and North West regional director of the Jockey Club, said: “We’ve had nothing at all (threat of protests).

“We’re still reviewing last year’s incidents, as we would through the normal planning process with Merseyside Police and our security advisers. But there’s nothing at this stage which tells us there is going to be anything different to previous years. At this stage we’re not planning to do anything different.”

Nicholas Wrigley, outgoing chairman at Aintree, felt the incident emphasised just what place the race still holds in the public consciousness.

“What last year showed was how important the Grand National is, not just to racing but to the general public. It triggered a National debate which went on for days,” he said.

“It showed what the future is and what the future may hold for jumps racing. What was clear was the one thing that was at the front of everything was the safety of the horse.

“It’s why we’ve spent so long discussing everything, making everything safer for the horse because that is vital for the future of the race.

Police officers respond to Animal Rising activists attempting to invade the course ahead of the Randox Grand National
Police officers respond to Animal Rising activists attempting to invade the course ahead of the Randox Grand National (Peter Byrne/PA)

“What Sulekha and Dickon and the team have done is so important going forwards and we need all the people to support the changes and what Lucinda (Russell) and Peter (Scudamore) said in the aftermath of last year’s race which they won (with Corach Rmabler) was very helpful.

“We need people to focus on the horse rather than looking back in time at what has gone before so we’ll be asking people to get behind the changes.”

Those changes involve a new start time of 4pm, moving the first fence nearer to the starting tape and perhaps more significantly reducing the field to 34 from 40 runners.

“The changes were made on the back of the review, which happens every year, and my thought is always how do we keep the race moving forwards,” said Varma.

“The biggest change is the reduction to 34 runners and that is down to the way the race is run. Since the changes to the fences 10 years ago as it has altered the speed of the race.

“We couldn’t move the start so we’ve moved the first fence 60 yards closer and that worked in the Becher and Grand Sefton. The change in race time is also helpful as it stops some of the build up of pressure.”

Willie Mullins starting to formulate National plans

Trainer Willie Mullins – Capodanno (11st 4lb), I Am Maximus (11st 2lb), Janidil (11st 2lb), Asterion Forlonge (11st 1lb), Stattler (11st 1lb), Classic Getaway (11st), James Du Berlais (10st 9lb), Bronn (10st 8lb), Mr Incredible (10st 7lb), Adamantly Chosen (10st 5lb), Meetingofthewaters (10st 4lb), Glengouly (10st 3lb) and Ontheropes (10st).

“Once we get a look at the weights in more detail then we’ll be firming up plans for the National. There are some very interesting looking ratings there and we’d love to have horses with real chances for the race.

“It would be an honour to have another winner of the Grand National on our CV (with Hedgehunter), but we’ve already been very lucky to have won it once and been placed a couple of times. It’s a world-renowned race and always a great day out for anyone with a runner in it – it’s the day that Liverpool is on the world map.

“The Grand National is certainly an option for Capodanno, and Mr Incredible (unseated at 24th fence last year and not run since) is one who could come back this year. I’m very happy with his work at home.

“If Meetingofthewaters got in he’d be very interesting.”

Noble Yeats at his homecoming parade
Noble Yeats at his homecoming parade (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sam Waley-Cohen, owner’s son and Grand National-winning jockey – Noble Yeats (11st 8lb)

“Emmet Mullins is rightly called out as a genius and I think if anyone can do it (train Noble Yeats to win a second Grand National) then Emmet can.

“The plan is still to run him at Cheltenham (in the Stayers’ Hurdle) and then at Aintree. He’s obviously got a liking for the course at Aintree and he’s in good form. Everyone likes a nice weight but we’ll see if he can do it again.

“In many ways (his Grand National win in 2022) still feels like yesterday and feels fresh in the memory. It was such a great day. It’s just great to see him running with such enthusiasm and showing what he can do.

“We always get excited weeks before the Grand National so it’s such a privilege to have a horse like him. It’s so hard to have a horse in these races so I’d say we’re already excited and by the time the day arrives everyone will be nearly boiling over!

“It’ll just be a great family day. My kids will come up and my parents will be there. It’ll be great.”

Jonjo O'Neill trains Monbeg Genius
Jonjo O’Neill trains Monbeg Genius (Tim Goode/PA)

Trainer Jonjo O’Neill – Monbeg Genius (10st 4lb)

“I worked him this morning and he went lovely. We’re all set for Kelso (Premier Chase, March 2). It’s a nice prep race and the right timing.

“He’s had a few mishaps, nothing serious, and he missed the Welsh Grand National and the Warwick race (Classic Chase), but he’s in grand form now.

“He’s a good jumper normally and he stays well but whether he has enough class for the Grand National, it’s a classier race now, that would be a bit of a doubt if it came down to the last half-mile.”

Caoilin Quinn and Nassalam after winning the Welsh Grand National
Caoilin Quinn and Nassalam after winning the Welsh Grand National (David Davies/PA)

Trainer Gary Moore – Nassalam (11st 4lb)

“I’d have liked him to be given a bit less (weight), but it could be worse. I did send in an email stating my facts, that while he did win very, very well nothing has come out of the race (the Welsh Grand National) and won since and he’d want to be winning that race if you were even thinking of entering him in the National.

“He overachieved and they underachieved – that’s my thinking. But I guess you need to be that high to get in!

“I’ve never had a Grand National runner before and I’m actually looking forward to training a horse for it. It’s another thing and I’m looking forward to it.

“He had a little break and now we’re starting to try to bring him along slowly. He probably won’t need the ground to be really heavy over four and a half miles.”

Mahler Mission is a leading Grand National contender
Mahler Mission is a leading Grand National contender (Gary Carson/PA)

Trainer John McConnell – Mahler Mission (11st 1lb)

“I knew he got up to 158 after the Coral Gold Cup so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It’s fine isn’t it? It’s a nice weight.

“He’d be my first National runner. It’s very exciting to be going there with a horse and maybe a horse with a chance as well.

“He had a break after that run and he’s back now in full training. There is a possibility that we could give him a hurdle run maybe, but he’s fine and at the minute he’s very well.

“He definitely wouldn’t be going to Cheltenham though. He doesn’t need to be having a hard race before the National.

“Obviously you need an awful lot of luck and you need to be 110 per cent for it, but he certainly ticks a lot of the boxes.”

Handicapper says to expect just a handful of British-trained National starters

British Horseracing Authority handicapper Martin Greenwood is anticipating just a single-figure home representation in this year’s Randox Grand National at Aintree.

A total of 56 of the 87 handicapped entries are trained in Ireland, with the new safety limit of 34 meaning the current minimum rating at the initial weights stage is 149 – with just seven UK runners making that cut as things stand.

Although Greenwood expects the bottom rating to be slightly lower come the day, he does not anticipate a strong British squad numerically. Last year there were 13 British-trained starters, with Lucinda Russell’s Corach Rambler coming home in front for Scotland.

Greenwood said: “If the top 34 stood their ground, there would be seven UK runners. I reckon the cut-off will be about 144, even with a slightly small field. There’s every chance the will be single figures from the UK this year.

“I just get the horses and handicap them, the politics of the sport are nothing to do with me, I just get the horses and give them figures.

“I think the quality is there. Noble Yeats will definitely run, all being well, so the top-weight will be no lower than 165 and who knows with Hewick, they are such a game team. He could run a stormer in the Gold Cup and they might think it is ‘off we go’.”

In previous years the handicapper has taken advantage of what has been termed ‘the Aintree factor’ in allowing some tweaking of the weights, compressing the ratings in the hope of encouraging the best horses to take part.

This year’s top-weight Hewick is off his true mark of 169 following his King George VI Chase success, with Greenwood believing that to be an accurate assessment and a good starting point for the handicap.

Greenwood, who took over handicapping responsibilities from Phil Smith in 2019, said: “There’s no compression at all this year which is the first time, certainly since I’ve been doing the race.

“Hewick was on 169 after the King George and Ireland have rated him the same. I thought the King George flattered him to some extent. We all know his story, it’s a great one but they went flat out at Kempton and it is probably the one race in the calendar year in that division that doesn’t fit in if you like, given the nature of the track.

“We all know he’s a blinking good horse, but 169 is his actual UK rating. I just didn’t think there was any need to tinker.”

Corach Rambler is rated 13lb higher this time around, but Greenwood is far from certain he has got to the bottom of Russell’s charge.

He explained: “Corach Rambler is 159 this year which is the rating Tiger Roll won his second National off for a bit of historical precedence.

“He won off 146 last year but whatever he won by didn’t tell the whole story. He’s an incredible horse, he keeps a lot in the tank, he idles, we all know that and that makes him a handicapper’s nightmare.

“I think he’s going to run a big race and he’s joint-favourite. He ran pretty well on the maths last time in a small field at Haydock (when third in the Betfair Chase in November), he’s got a lot going for him, he’ll be well ridden by Mr (Derek) Fox who knows him very well and that is why he’s joint-favourite.

“(Runner-up) Vanillier ran off 147 last year and this year is 151. You could argue he did everything too late last year but part of that is because Corach Rambler was idling.

“In my eyes nothing would have beaten Corach Rambler last year but Vanillier did shape really well and has been hiding his light under a bushel this year like many do, but I think we know enough about him.”

One horse who does have a sizeable discrepancy in his official rating versus his National weight is the Mouse Morris-trained Foxy Jacks, winner of a cross-country event at Cheltenham in November.

His mark is 147 but he is off 11st in the National, which puts him at a perch of 157, although Greenwood offered his explanation.

He said: “I just have to treat this as any other race, and that is not me being blase. The one horse who sticks out on UK v Ireland ratings is Foxy Jacks but that is because the Irish don’t take into account cross country races so he’s 147 in Ireland and he ran off 149 at Cheltenham in November when he beat Latenightpass. That is why there is 10lb gap.”

Long-term National plan coming together for Cromwell and Vanillier

Last year’s runner-up Vanillier is the ante-post favourite with most bookmakers following the publication of the weights for this year’s Randox Grand National.

Gavin Cromwell’s grey was rated 147 when finishing best of the rest behind Corach Rambler at Aintree last April and will this year compete from a mark of 151, which does at least guaranteed him a starting berth in what will be a reduced field of 34 runners for the first time.

Reflecting on last year’s performance, Cromwell said: “We were obviously thrilled to be second in the Grand National, but when you’re coming home well like that you do think about what could have been.

Gavin Cromwell is looking forward to heading back to Aintree with Vanillier
Gavin Cromwell is looking forward to heading back to Aintree with Vanillier (David Davies/PA)

“But it was a great moment. We had lots of luck last year. He went round on the inside and got all the luck – you need luck in every National.

“It’s every trainer’s dream to win the Grand National and we’ll certainly give it a good shot again this year anyway.”

Assuming top-weight Hewick takes his chance, Vanillier will carry 10st 8lb on his return to Merseyside.

The nine-year-old has been well beaten in three starts so far this season, finishing fifth behind star two miler El Fabiolo in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork, fifth over hurdles at Punchestown and 15th on his most recent outing in a handicap chase at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

However, it is clear Cromwell has had one race in mind all along.

He added: “I’d have to be happy enough with that (rating). It’s a lovely racing weight and having been second last year it’s got to be expected.

“He’s been trained for this race really and it’s a case of him coming in the spring – he is a spring horse.

“He’s going to have to improve plenty but he does have the experience of last year.”

When told that Vanillier is the 12-1 favourite with the Grand National’s official betting partner, William Hill, Cromwell laughed: “I won’t be worrying about that, but I hope they’re right!”

Letsbeclearaboutit is a potential Grand National contender
Letsbeclearaboutit is a potential Grand National contender (Niall Carson/PA)

The County Meath handler has three other potential National contenders in Letsbeclearaboutit (10st 10lb), Limerick Lace (10st 4lb) and Malina Girl (10st 2lb).

He added: “Letsbeclearaboutit is a possible for the race. He needs one more run to qualify. He’s likely to go to Cheltenham and hopefully that’ll qualify him, but the plan is certainly to go to Aintree.

“Limerick Lace will probably go to Cheltenham. We’ll see how that goes as to whether we go to Aintree. Malina Girl, she’s a fair way down the list but I would like to run her if we can.”

Corach Rambler (11st 2lb) is one of several horses just behind Vanillier in the betting with William Hill at 14-1, while Panda Boy has been cut to 16-1 after being allotted 10st 3lb.

Gordon Elliott’s pair of Delta Work (11st) and Galvin (10st 12lb) have also been trimmed to 25-1 from 33-1 and 40-1 respectively, while Mr Incredible (10st 7lb) has been pushed out to 40-1 from 25-1.

Elliott assembling bumper squad in search of fourth National

Gordon Elliott has nominated Galvin as one of his leading hopes as he goes in search of a record-equalling fourth victory in the Randox Grand National at Aintree.

The master of Cullentra had not even trained a winner in Ireland when he first struck National gold with Silver Birch in 2007 and he has, of course, since trained the hugely-popular Tiger Roll to land back-to-back runnings of the world most famous steeplechase in 2018 and 2019.

None of Elliott’s five runners in the 2023 Grand National managed to complete the course, but with 23 horses currently entered and qualified for this year’s renewal – including eight in the top 34 guaranteed a start – he is looking forward to having another crack at the Aintree showpiece on April 13.

Gordon Elliott has a strong hand for Aintree
Gordon Elliott has a strong hand for Aintree (Damien Eagers/PA)

Elliott, who is looking to join Ginger McCain, Fred Rimell and 19th Century trainer George Dockery as a four-time winner of the race, said: “It’s the greatest race in the world, if you’re not in you can’t win and we’ll probably end up running eight or 10 horses.

“We’ve got a great bunch of horses. It’s still a great thrill for us. We’d love to win it again and if we did it would be very special. Tiger Roll winning it for a second time was unbelievable.”

With an allotted weight of 11st 9lb, Conflated is the highest-rated of Elliott’s 2024 squad, while Coko Beach (11st 4lb), Ash Tree Meadow (11st 2lb) and Delta Work (11st) are all above the 11st mark.

Galvin (10st 12lb) unseated Davy Russell at the first fence 12 months ago, but will be carrying nearly a stone less this time around.

“I think Galvin looks well in – he’s below 11st,” Elliott added.

“He went at the first last year, but he’s only been trained with two races in mind this season, the cross-country race at Cheltenham and the English Grand National. I like him with 10st 12lb.

“There’s every chance Conflated could run and Coko Beach will go for the cross country at Cheltenham and then for the National, that’s the plan. Coko Beach would have a great chance if it was soft.

“Ash Tree Meadow is probably not that well handicapped, I don’t know about him.

“Delta Work is a horse we’re forgetting about, he’s been around a couple of times, he’s not getting any younger but he’s coming down in the weights. He has loads of experience.”

Chemical Energy in action at Nava
Chemical Energy in action at Navan (Niall Carson/PA)

Chemical Energy is an interesting contender, having been bought back by Elliott for €215,000 at the recent dispersal sale of owners Andy and Gemma Brown.

The eight-year-old, who will now carry the colours of Noel and Valerie Moran’s Bective Stud, is 38th in the order of entry with a weight of 10st 5lb.

Elliott said: “We’ve been waiting for nice ground for Chemical Energy. The Grand National has been the plan all year. If the ground was nice he could have a massive chance.”

Considering some of his other potential runners, he went on: “Farouk D’Alene (10st 11lb) might go to the Irish National and Salvador Ziggy (10st 11lb) will go for the National Hunt Chase and could go for the Grand National afterwards.

Fury Road and Jack Kennedy
Fury Road and Jack Kennedy (PA)

“All’s good with Fury Road (10st 9lb), he’ll definitely run, and Minella Crooner (10st 6lb) and Run Wild Fred (10st 6lb) will both run if they get in.

“We’ll have to wait and see with Favori de Champdou (10st 4lb) as he might go for the Irish National, but The Goffer (10st 4lb) will definitely run if he gets in.”

Elliott’s other entries are Embittered (10st 3lb), Gevrey (10st 3lb), Fakir D’Alene (10st), Diol Ker (9st 13lb), Riaan (9st 13lb), Samcro (9st 13lb), Dunboyne (9st 11lb), Tullybeg (9st 11lb), Frontal Assault (9st 9lb) and Where It All Began (9st 6lb).

Shark prepping Hewick for National attack – but first is the Gold Cup

Shark Hanlon concedes King George hero Hewick is a worthy top-weight for this year’s Randox Grand National at Aintree.

The last-gasp Kempton winner has been handed 11st 12lb for the April 13 spectacular, putting him at the top of the 87 contenders for the extended four-and-a-quarter-mile contest.

A Cheltenham Gold Cup date awaits next month first, however, with Hanlon dreaming of a big-race hat-trick in the crown jewels of the staying chase calendar.

Hewick swooped late to win the King George at Christmas
Hewick swooped late to win the King George at Christmas (John Walton/PA)

He said: “I knew he’d have top-weight. You have to expect that. He probably deserves top-weight.

“I think the trip will suit him. He’s going for the Gold Cup first and please God he comes out of the Gold Cup safe and if he does he’ll definitely head there (to Aintree).

“It’s a mighty day. It’s one of those days you look forward to all year. The National, the Gold Cup and the King George at Kempton – they’re the three big days in England aren’t they, so it’s great to have a runner there.”

While Hewick – who is one of 56 Irish-trained possibles – has proven himself at Grade One level and numbers the American Grand National on his CV, he is no stranger to major handicaps, with the €850 purchase having prevailed off 11st 7lb in the 2022 Galway Plate after also landing the bet365 Gold Cup off 3lb less.

Hanlon feels conditions rather than weights are key for his contender, with the revised safety limit of 34 meaning there is just 20lb between Hewick and those who would be at the bottom of the field, with Latenightpass, Minella Crooner and Run Wild Fred all sitting on 10st 6lb.

He added: “The most important thing is that he gets good ground. With fewer runners in the race this year, there won’t be quite as much weight between us and the horses at the bottom. In previous years the difference could be a fair bit more and we’d be giving more away.

“He won the Galway Plate off nearly top-weight, he won the bet365 (Oaksey Chase at Sandown Park) off a big weight. It’s not that he’s not used to carrying top-weight and he carries it very well.

“All is great with him and he couldn’t be better. I’m very, very happy with him.”

Corach Rambler won the Grand National last April
Corach Rambler won the Grand National last April (David Davies/PA)

Last year’s winner Corach Rambler is off 11st 2lb this time for Lucinda Russell, having triumphed carrying 10st 5lb, with the second-placed Vanillier allotted 10st 8lb – just 2lb more than in 2023 – as he tries to turn the tables.

Conflated, one of a battalion of Gordon Elliott-trained entries, is second in the handicap on 11st 9lb while 2022 winner Noble Yeats is 1lb lower, with Emmet Mullins plotting a Stayers’ Hurdle spin at Cheltenham before another Aintree challenge.

Cotswold Chase winner Capodanno is the highest-weighted of Willie Mullins’ team on 11st 4lb – the same weight as Gary Moore’s Welsh National winner, Nassalam.

Nassalam could try to add to his Welsh National win at Aintree
Nassalam could try to add to his Welsh National win at Aintree (David Davies/PA)

The John McConnell-trained Mahler Mission has been among the leading contenders for some time and has been given 11st 1lb, with other key names including Henry de Bromead’s pair of 2021 Gold Cup winner Minella Indo (11st 2lb) and Aint That A Shame (10st 9lb), who was a gamble in the race last year but trailed home well beaten.

Six fewer runners will go to post this year as part of safety changes made by Aintree, with the reduction in field size leaving some fancied names already needing a number of runners to drop out.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Monbeg Genius is one of six entries currently sitting on 10st 4lb with a number in the low 40s, which would have been sufficient in many other years to make the final field, while Panda Boy – one of four 14-1 co-second-favourites with William Hill, is rated 1lb below but at a number in the 50s.

Yeah Man stays on stoutly to win Haydock marathon

Yeah Man provided trainer Gavin Cromwell and jockey Sean Flanagan with their first ever success at Haydock with a dour staying performance in the Virgin Bet Grand National Trial.

The Irish raider was a 9-2 joint-favourite for the £100,000 feature, having finished a close second to Victtorino on his most recent trip across the water for Ascot’s Silver Cup in December.

With conditions ultra-testing, the three-and-a-half-mile contest was not for the faint hearted, and in the end it turned into a straight shootout between the bold-jumping grey My Silver Lining and Yeah Man, who stalked the mare into the home straight.

My Silver Lining looked to be travelling the better of the pair three fences from the finish, but Cromwell’s charge started to get on top late on and passed the post with a length and a half in hand.

Yeah Man is not entered in the Randox Grand National at Aintree but Cromwell, who decided against making the trip to Merseyside, is eyeing the Irish equivalent.

He said: “I’m delighted with that and I think he deserved it after a couple of defeats at Ascot.

“We weren’t sure about the ground, but he got through it well. I’d say we’ll go for the Irish Grand National now. He wouldn’t have got into it off his current mark, but he will get in now.

“I think we’ll skip Cheltenham, he may have an entry in the Kim Muir but I’d say he’s most likely to go for the Irish Grand National.

“I’ve never had a winner at Haydock before and I’ve never been. It’s a great result.”

Gavin Cromwell was delighted with Yeah Man's victory
Gavin Cromwell was delighted with Yeah Man’s victory (David Davies/PA)

Flanagan said: “It was a very good performance and I’ve actually fallen off him after the line. He just stood on himself and I went over his head.

“The only worry we had was the ground. He had one run on it last year (and disappointed), but I rode him that day and things just weren’t right for him on the day anyway and he didn’t finish out.

“He was duly rewarded today as he’s been knocking on the door and tipped up (at Ascot) two runs back.

“He jumped really well today, he’s a dour stayer and he’s done it really well.”

Latenightpass making hurdling bow on way to National bid

Latenightpass will chart an unconventional passage to the Randox Grand National when he makes a belated debut over timber in the Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.

The 11-year-old has been a standing dish in the hunter chase sphere for the majority of his career, where point-to-point handler Tom Ellis stewarded the gelding with great success.

However, success over the Aintree fences sparked dreams of a National bid and having finished no worse than fourth in three goes over the famous spruce, connections switched their veteran to nearby Dan Skelton to race under rules and set up a National bid.

It is a move that looks like paying off and having found the scoresheet for Skelton in a cross-country event at Cheltenham in December, Latenightpass finds himself on an official rating of 149 and effectively assured of his place in the line-up for the world’s most famous steeplechase, for which he is as short as 20-1.

To preserve that figure, Skelton has elected to revert to the smaller obstacles for his Aintree tune-up, and with his charge in rude health, is prepared to pitch him into a valuable contest while the iron is hot.

“Not many will debut over hurdles at 11, but he’s a novice because he has gone down an unconventional route,” said Skelton.

“He has lots of experience and he knows how to handle soft ground so we will see how he gets on.

“He could go and run in a £10,000 novice hurdle anywhere, but we thought we would take aim at something a bit better because of his high mark and this will be his prep for the Grand National.”

Isaac Des Obeaux ran with credit at Cheltenham in January
Isaac Des Obeaux ran with credit at Cheltenham in January (PA)

Isaac Des Obeaux may not yet be in line for Grand Nationals but could signal his readiness to compete at the top table if he builds on some encouraging performances this season.

Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old has scored twice over an intermediate trip at Chepstow this term and following a respectable effort in a Cheltenham Grade Two last month, steps up in trip for a race the champion trainer won with Makin’yourmindup 12 months ago.

“He ran a super race at Cheltenham the last day which suggested he wants three miles which this trip is,” said Nicholls.

“He doesn’t mind heavy ground and has won twice at Chepstow this year. Hopefully he is progressive and he will have a chance in a competitive race.”

The Ditcheat handler also holds a strong hand in the Virgin Bet Rendlesham Hurdle where his Red Risk will recommence rivalry with Gary Moore’s Botox Has.

Both finished among the also-rans in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle, but before that were first and second in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby, with Red Risk gunning to reverse the placings this time.

“He will love the ground and he’s a Grade Two horse – we over faced him a little bit the last day,” continued Nicholls.

“He ran very well at Wetherby at the beginning of the season and if he repeats that I think he will be thereabouts.”

Butch (right) in action during The Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day
Butch (right) in action during The Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Six go to post for the Grade Two event which sees Ruth Jefferson’s high-class chaser Sounds Russian sighted for the first time since being brought down in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and Nick Alexander’s 2023 winner Wakool defend his crown.

The Skelton team will be represented by Martha Brae, but the up and coming force could well be Olly Murphy’s Butch who is unbeaten in three starts this term and got the better of a strong cast of rivals when bringing up a hat-trick at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

“He’s in good form and although he looks slightly wrong at the weights with one or two, hopefully he can be the improver in the race,” said Murphy.

“He will handle the ground fine and he’s a horse who is definitely not going to Cheltenham, so this will probably be his main target for the season in terms of it being a graded race before he goes chasing next season. We’re looking forward to him.”