My Drogo took his winning run to four with a most convincing performance in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.
Connections of the Dan Skelton-trained six-year-old decided to miss Cheltenham and it proved a wise move, with My Drogo powering home under Harry Skelton.
Pulling away in the closing stages, the 5-4 favourite crossed the line nine and a half lengths clear of Minella Drama, ridden by Skelton’s title rival Brian Hughes. Guard Your Dreams was half a length away in third. The first three were well ahead of Ballyadam in fourth.
My Drogo was held up towards the rear in the early stages as Llandinabo Lad made the running from Striking A Pose.
There was drama at the fourth-last flight, just as the race was warming up, with Lucky One and Striking A Pose both coming down.
Skelton managed to miss all that as he started to ask My Drogo for an effort – and it was plain sailing from there as the son of Milan opened his Grade One account in some style.
Both Harry Cobden and Jonjo O’Neill junior were thankfully on their feet after the spill, but Cobden was subsequently stood down for the day, meaning he missed the ride on Give Me A Copper in the Grand National.
Of the exciting winner, Dan Skelton said: “It’s a little bit of a relief. I felt coming here it was nearly his race to lose given the prep he’d had, missing Cheltenham – it’s such an advantage here.
“We’d always planned to come straight here. To give away a penalty at Kelso, and that form has stood up, gave an indication of what was possible.
“It’s very exciting to be involved with a horse like him, he’s got it all. The plan was always to go chasing next year, despite the lure of better hurdles. Given his breeding, size and the way he jumps it’s now or never if we want to make him a top-class chaser.
“For a moment today I was worried we’d run him in the wrong race given how well he was going, but I always felt he’d get two and a half miles.
“We want to make him a staying chaser – next year he’ll start over shorter, but ultimately he’ll be a staying chaser.”
He added: “He’s going 100 per cent over fences. We’ll start him off over two miles in the autumn somewhere and build up in trip.
“I don’t think we’ll go further than two and a half miles next year. Then ultimately plot a career this time next year for him because his novice chase year is important. We’ve got to get through that prosperously and then look at the future.
Hometown Boy recovered from a scare at the final flight to give trainer Stuart Edmunds a second winner at the Grand National Festival in 24 hours when landing the EFT Systems Handicap Hurdle at Aintree.
The six-year-old, ridden by Ciaran Gethings, was clear of the pack when he blundered at the last and gave away a few lengths.
However, Gethings soon got Hometown Boy back on an even keel and the 6-1 favourite kept on gamely to lift the prize.
Always prominent throughout in this extended three-mile contest, Hometown Boy had led before the third-last obstacle and was in control until he hit the top of the final flight.
J’Ai Froid was beaten three lengths in second place, with Tea Clipper four and three-quarter lengths away in third and Ashtown Lad a further two lengths back in fourth.
Edmunds, who had taken the last race on Friday with Rowland Ward, said: “To be fair this was a long-term (plan). We wanted to come here, but wanted a prep run so went to Kempton beforehand.
“It was a bit of a gamble as he was also in over two and a half-miles, but we thought there were one or two more speedier types in there. He galloped through the line, though, and he couldn’t pull him up.
“I couldn’t repeat what I was thinking at the last! If he was a tired horse his legs would have gone to jelly.”
He added: “There’s nothing else for him this season and I think he’ll be a nice novice chaser next season – he’s schooled plenty over fences at home.”
Happygolucky gained compensation for finishing second at the Cheltenham Festival with a smooth victory in the Betway Handicap Chase.
Kim Bailey’s seven-year-old had to settle for second place behind Vintage Clouds in the Ultima, but he came back strong to take this £31,500 first prize.
He was always travelling well in the hands of David Bass and was in a good position in the early stages, as Kilfilum Cross and Lalor set the pace.
When it came to the business end, Happygolucky (11-4 favourite) proved the strongest from the final fence and held Johnbb by two and three-quarter lengths. Spiritofthegames stayed on for third place, two and a quarter lengths away.
Bailey said: “We were beaten fair and square at Cheltenham by a revitalised horse, but we were staggered we did get beat. That was a great performance today. He’s a novice, but he’s very professional.
“I think we’ll be limited in terms of options for the rest of this season, but we are running out of time, it will be nice if he can come back here this time next year (for the National).
“He jumps so well and seems to stay, (but) I think you could run over shorter on softer ground.
“To start off next year there are the early races at Cheltenham, but if it’s soft we could think of the Paddy Power, maybe the Ladbrokes Trophy.”
Knappers Hill (8-1) stayed on well in the closing stages to land the Grade Two Two Weatherbys hstallions.co.uk Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
The five-year-old, trained by Paul Nicholls, took his unbeaten record to three when scoring by half a length under Megan Nicholls.
Peking Rose put in good late gains to fill second place, a length and a quarter ahead of the winner’s stablemate Stage Star.
The winning rider said: “That was amazing – I’m on cloud nine. I can’t believe what has just happened. I spoke to Rachael (Blackmore) before I came out and she says she was shaking like a leaf and I feel like that now.
“It’s awesome. I’m delighted. Who would have thought I’d have been riding at this meeting? I had a great time pointing then turned to the Flat. I’m just so happy. Dad and the team have really helped and looked after me and when he mentioned about riding some of the bumper horses I was snapping his arm off. You can’t help but be excited riding young gorgeous horses like that.
“I know I’m babbling on, but I’m quite speechless at the same time. It’s awesome. Any bigger meeting whether it is over the Flat or jumps is huge. To be riding on Grand National day is like anyone’s dream. To have a winning chance, let alone be able to ride the winner is just amazing. It’s my first ride in a graded race.”
She added: “This horse has been fantastic. He was my first listed winner and he has now given me a graded winner. Mr Barber and Mr Vogt who own him have been huge supporters of the yard but me as well and to repay them is just incredible. My legs are going underneath me. I’m just ecstatic.”
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The world’s greatest steeplechase will take place in front of empty grandstands this afternoon for the first and hopefully only time in its history.
The Randox Grand National is the natural highlight of the final day of Aintree’s three-day spring meeting – a card which also plays host to three Grade One contests, but was lost last year to the coronavirus pandemic.
And even though only participants, owners and essential personnel will be on track, the one race of the year that really captures the imagination of the wider public is back.
Before the main event, potential stars of the future will do battle in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, while Arkle Chase winner Shishkin undoubtedly takes centre stage in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase.
The Ryanair Stayers Hurdle also promises to be a fascinating affair, with familiar rivals Paisley Park and Thyme Hill meeting again after their Cheltenham Festival clash was scuppered by a setback for the latter.
Then it is the big one, as the afternoon climaxes with the National, where Cloth Cap heads a field of 40 for the famed Aintree marathon and is set to head to the famous start as one of the shortest-priced National runners ever.
Can Ballyadam bounce back?
Ballyadam was well-beaten when taking on Appreciate It in the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but his nemesis is not in the picture this time as he lines up in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle. My Drogo, the mount of title-chasing jockey Harry Skelton, seems to be his chief rival, but Ronan McNally’s Dreal Deal is on a steep upward trajectory that is yet to reach a plateau.
Shishkin set to shine
Shishkin was unchallenged when taking the Arkle at Cheltenham, happily seeing off the likes of Allmankind and Eldorado Allen. Neither will oppose him in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase, with Philip Hobbs’ Gumball looking to be his most worthy rival out of the small field of five contenders. The race seems to be his for the taking.
Paisley and Thyme meet again
Thyme Hill was ruled out of the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham due to a minor muscle strain, but he is back in the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle. He will cross paths with his old foe Paisley Park, who was third in the Cheltenham contest behind Flooring Porter and Sire Du Berlais. The two have met twice before this season, with Thyme Hill coming out on top in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle before Paisley Park exacted his revenge in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. Also in the mix is Dan Skelton’s Roksana, who was third behind the big two at Ascot.
Can Cloth Cap be topped?
Jonjo O’Neill’s Cloth Cap is the red-hot favourite for National glory, but 39 other runners, 30 fences and four and a quarter miles stand in his way. Burrows Saint, Discorama, Any Second Now and Minella Times – the mount of Rachael Blackmore – are bidding to continue the Irish dominance witnessed at the Festival, while Welsh hopes are represented by Potters Corner and the English attack is bolstered by Tom Lacey’s out-and-out stayer Kimberlite Candy.
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Merseyside Police arrested three people on Friday after a drone was spotted being flown near to Aintree racecourse.
The police said three men – a pilot and two spotters – aged 54, 52 and 35 were arrested on Red Rum Close in Aintree on suspicion of offences under the Air Navigation Order. The drone was also seized.
A search of a vehicle linked to one of the men resulted in a large quantity of cash also being seized, police said. Information has been submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority.
Chief Superintendent Paul White said: “We have a team of officers and partners who are monitoring any drone activity around Aintree racecourse to establish if any offences have been committed.
“On this occasion they detected breaches in legislation which resulted in the three men being arrested and the drone being seized.
“Merseyside Police will continue to seek ways to combat the illegal use of drones to keep the communities of Merseyside safe.”
The issue of drone use around racecourses has been going on for some time. It is believed images from drones are used to give in-running punters an unfair advantage on betting exchanges, because the streamed pictures may be a few seconds ahead of TV channels.
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Bookmakers came out marginally on top as the second day of the Grand National meeting produced a mix of favourites and long-shot winners.
In scenes reminiscent of Cheltenham, the Irish were dominant from the off with a 22-1 victory in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle courtesy of Denise Foster’s Tronador, who prevailed by two and a half lengths under Jack Kennedy and left 6-1 favourite Mister Coffey back in fourth.
Belfast Banter then backed up his County Hurdle effort with a triumphant run in the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle at 9-1, whereas joint-favourites Dusart and Third Time Lucki came home in third and fourth respectively.
The next two races went the way of favourites as Chantry House also recorded a Cheltenham-Aintree double when claiming Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase at 11-8 for Nico de Boinville and Nicky Henderson.
It was then the turn of Fakir D’oudairies, who was emphatic in winning the Marsh Chase for Mark Walsh and Joseph O’Brien, by 11 lengths at a price of 2-1.
Livelaughlove was another Irish winner when taking the Randox Topham Handicap Chase for Patrick and Willie Mullins at 15-2, with the 7-1 favourite Caribean Boy pulled up two fences from home.
The closing two contests saw the market leaders beaten, with the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle claimed by 66-1 chance Ahoy Senor, while the highly-fancied 13-8 shot Bravemansgame was seven lengths behind.
The Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle was a similar story as the 9-2 joint-favourite Camprond finished second behind Rowland Ward, who prevailed at 12-1 for Charlie Hammond and Stuart Edmunds.
Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: “It was an up and down day and a score draw between bookies and punters, with the former assisted by the last result and slightly ahead going into National day.
“But, as ever, the final outcome of the meeting will all come down to the Grand National itself.”
Coral’s David Stevens painted a similar picture, saying: “The second day of the meeting started well for us, with Tronador and Belfast Banter both beating better-fancied rivals in the opening two races, but then punters fought back with victories for well-backed favourites Chantry House and Fakir D’oudairies.
“However, although Livelovelaugh was not without his backers in the Topham, that was as good as it got for punters, with Ahoy Senor and Rowland Ward ensuring we ended the day in front, although punters will very much get their revenge if Rachael Blackmore makes history in the National.”
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Kevin Sexton thought he was a lost cause two years ago. Now, after a Cheltenham Festival winner, a first Grade One success and with a good ride in the Randox Grand National he is counting his blessings.
The 30-year-old has regained his love for racing and riding thanks to his family and friends that include trainer Peter Fahey.
So it is wholly appropriate the County Kildare-based handler and Sexton have enjoyed their finest hours thanks to Belfast Banter.
Just a few months ago, Belfast Banter was proving difficult to win with – but he too has been transformed by winning at the two biggest meetings in the jumps calendar.
The County Hurdle was a turning point and now Belfast Banter is the winner of the Grade One Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle.
“It’s my first Grade One, it’s Peter’s first Grade One, so it’s a dream come true for us all,” said Sexton.
“The stable has been so good to me. To repay him with these winners, it’s unbelievable. We’re doing it together and breaking these ducks together.
“I owe most of my career to him. He did his best to keep me going and then got me going again. He does so much for me. Him and his wife Ber have been amazing to me.
“What he’s done in the last few weeks has been amazing and he’s a horse we couldn’t win with.
“I almost gave up riding. I had pretty much given up, but those who helped me I hope they are enjoying it at the minute.
“It’s unbelievable. The last month, it’s hard to believe what has happened.
“It took me a while to digest the County Hurdle so I don’t know how long this is going to take.”
Sexton has forged a real bond with Belfast Banter and he even talked to the horse before the race.
“On the way to the start I was saying ‘if you pull this one off I’ll forgive you if you never win again’ and he’s done it now,” he said.
“He is a good traveller and everything has clicked in the last month. He’s found the will to win. He just wanted to get to the line. He got so much confidence out of winning the last day.
“He’s gone from being in the shadows to being the centre of attention, and he loves it. Ber rides him out most of the time at home. She got a fall last week and hurt herself, so I’ve been riding him out fort the last week. She hurt her shoulder blade, but she’s OK.
“It’s mind-blowing. It’s going to take while to sink in.”
Sexton also cannot believe his luck in getting the ride on Shattered Love for Denise Foster in the Grand National.
“This time last year I was watching myself in the Virtual Grand National, finishing sixth on Peregrine Run having never even rode in one. So much seems to be happening,” he said.
“I don’t think I’d get much sleep without the Grade One winner, so I don’t know how I’m suppose to sleep now.
“Jack Kennedy had a tough decision and chose Farclas. I’m just so lucky.
“It was such a shock to get the ride. I was told I was on the list, but never thought I’d actually get a ride in it.
“To have a ride in it this year is amazing. I said after Cheltenham, anything else that happens is a bonus, but I never expected bonuses like this. I hope it keeps going.
“The plan was to go for the National with Peregrine Run this year, but there was a change of plan. When he wasn’t going for it I never expected to get a run in it. I thought there’s no way, so to ride for Cullentra House is unbelievable, especially the horse it is.”
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Bookmakers expect online turnover on the Randox Grand National to top £100million following its one-year hiatus.
While a virtual race was held 12 months ago – one that proved an extremely popular diversion for many who were experiencing lockdown for the first time – there is nothing like the real thing.
“Although betting shops are still closed, such is the popularity of the Grand National, we are still expecting online turnover across the UK to top £100m, as the nation welcomes back the great race after its absence in 2020,” said Coral’s David Stevens.
“Last year we had to make do with a virtual Grand National, but even that was the most watched televised racing event of the year, and the most bet on, confirming the appeal of this famous sporting contest.”
This year’s race sees Cloth Cap head the betting at a prohibitive price following two imperious wins this season – but that does not necessarily mean bad news for the bookies. Especially as support behind another runner has the potential to snowball.
“While Cloth Cap is certain to start favourite after impressive wins in his last two races, we saw when Tiger Roll won his second National as 4-1 market leader two years ago that, such is the unique nature of the betting on this race, a winning favourite isn’t always bad news for us,” said Stevens.
“That’s because the public can latch on to any runner in great numbers, which soon builds up our liabilities, even on some less obvious contenders. We’re also braced for a significant gamble on Minella Times, the mount of Rachael Blackmore, who made history when becoming the first female rider to be crowned top jockey at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.
“The odds on her big-race mount have already tumbled to 10-1 from 20-1, and while no female rider has ever won the National, Rachael certainly has what it takes to end that run.
“We avoided a multi-million pound hammering when Katie Walsh finished third on hot favourite Seabass eight years ago, but victory for Minella Times on Saturday would spark the biggest ever payout on a female rider in racing history.”
Ladbrokes have reported money for another female jockey, Tabitha Worsley, who rides Sub Lieutenant for her mother, Georgie Howell. Having been 100-1 he is as low as 40s now.
“After Rachael Blackmore claimed top jockey honours at Cheltenham, punters are betting on more history being made in the Grand National,” said Jon Lees of Ladbrokes.
“Not only is Rachael a popular choice to become the first female jockey to win the race, but the less well known Tabitha Worsley has also found favour, with her mount Sub Lieutenant, who is trained by the rider’s mother, also well backed. Tabitha was featured on BBC bulletins this morning and punters have clearly fallen for her bid’s fairytale charm.”
Betfred expect money for two other outsiders – along with Cloth Cap and Minella Times.
Spokesman Matt Hulmes said: “When you think of the Grand National, you can usually expect the unexpected, but all the talk has been of one horse who looks tailor made for Aintree.
“Punters were taking the 5-1 about Tiger Roll two years ago and I expect Cloth Cap will be the most popular selection.
“I can see the money continuing to arrive for Minella Times after Rachael Blackmore was plastered all over the papers after Cheltenham. The horse was 14-1 earlier in the week and is now into single figures. Discorama and Kimberlite Candy are names that could strike a chord with the public.”
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The Grand National-winning team of Lucinda Russell and Derek Fox teamed up at Aintree once more to win the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle with Ahoy Senor at 66-1.
Having just his second start over hurdles, having won at Ayr last month, Ahoy Senor made every yard of the running.
As his challengers dropped away one by one in the straight there was only the favourite, Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame, who brought the strongest form to the table, able to get close before the final flight.
Ahoy Senor was not for stopping, though, and the lightly-raced six-year-old went away again on the run-in to score by seven lengths and his future looks very bright.
Fox, who won the 2017 National with the Russell-trained One For Arthur, said: “It’s unbelievable as he’s only had the one run over hurdles before.
“He works so well at home and everyone thinks a lot of him. I’m delighted.
“He’s a very talented horse. He does everything with so much ease and he’s a pleasure to ride – I’m very lucky to be on him.
“This is my first winner back here since the Grand National on One For Arthur (in 2017). It was brilliant.
“He’s a big horse and you wouldn’t to risk him on ground that was too fast. He does go on good ground. We just want it to be safe enough for him because he’s so big and you don’t want to risk injuring him. That’s why we took him out at Hexham.”
Russell said: “He’s just a super horse who gallops and jumps. I saw him win his point-to-point and he did the same thing there.
“It was only his second hurdle race today, but there was such confidence behind him at home. I just saw he was 66-1.
“I can’t believe we managed to get him beaten in a bumper, but jumping has taken him to another level and I can’t wait for him to go chasing.
“We bought him for £50,000, which is a lot of money, but not for a winning a point-to-pointer.”
She added: “It’s great for Derek to ride another big winner and great for the whole yard at home.
“He’s half-owned by my dad, who is 93. He’s found it hard through lockdown, like many people have. The racing has really kept him going, so it’s nice for him to watch it today.
“He is physically a bigger horse than Brindisi Breeze. He has already schooled over fences and jumps well, so I would hope next year is going to be really exciting.”
Livelovelaugh turned the Randox Topham Handicap Chase into a procession for Patrick and Willie Mullins.
Having set off at what seemed a particularly brisk pace in the early stages, Livelovelaugh had burned everything else off crossing the Melling Road.
Mullins had got his mount into a fantastic rhythm, but when the pursuers began to close up as the field raced back on to the racecourse proper, it was a question of how much was going to be left in the tank.
The 11-year-old briefly looked in trouble – but Mullins had saved plenty on the 15-2 shot and put the race to bed approaching the Elbow.
Livelovelaugh had run in the Grand National itself two years ago and looked a non-stayer in 11th behind Tiger Roll.
Pink Eyed Pedro was second at 33-1, four and a half lengths away, with Senior Citizen third and Snugsborough Hall fourth.
Mullins, who replaced the injured Paul Townend, was emulating his father, who won over the fences aboard the Paddy Mullins-trained Atha Cliath in 1983 Foxhunters.
He steps in for Townend again in the Rich and Susannah Ricci colours on Burrows Saint in the big one on Saturday.
Mullins said: “Incredible. Every jockey wants to win over the Grand National fences. It’s something you’d like to do before you retire. My father did it on Atha Cliath in the Foxhunters’ in 1983. I got some spin there. If I could bottle that I’d take it home.
“It’s great to get one on the board the day before tomorrow. I wanted to get out, get away and over the first four fences near the font rank and get a break before the bend and let him jump and enjoy himself.
“I hadn’t asked him to go forward. He was just enjoying himself.
“When I jumped the third-last I had a look behind and was surprised how far clear I was. I wanted to get a little breather into him, but not give away my advantage altogether.
“The horse was very brave, but he’s a real example of the Aintree factor.”
He added: “It’s indescribable (to ride a winner over those fences). I feel very sorry for anyone who can’t experience it and I feel so lucky to have experienced it.
“As a kid you’re always watching and there is always a horse here every year that does that. You think ‘what must that feel like’.”
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Shishkin bids to crown his faultless campaign with victory in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old has been foot-perfect in winning each of his four starts over fences to date – most recently dominating his rivals to provide his trainer with a seventh success in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.
Shishkin is the latest in a long line of crack two milers off the Seven Barrows conveyor belt, following the likes of Remittance Man, Sprinter Sacre and Altior – but that remarkable lineage is something Henderson does not take for granted.
“We’ve been very, very lucky,” he said.
“Sprinter Sacre was the horse of a lifetime, and no sooner had he retired then Altior turned up.
“Altior hasn’t finished yet, but maybe we have another one in Shishkin – they are properly top-class, two-mile chasers.
“They’re exciting races and exciting horses, but you do get a bit edgy with them.”
Shishkin will be long odds-on to see off four rivals on his first visit to Merseyside on Saturday, with Henderson not expecting the track to pose any problems.
He added: “Shishkin proved he is as good as we thought and hoped (at Cheltenham). He did what everybody was looking for, which does make you sleep better.
“Aintree and Cheltenham couldn’t be more different if you tried. Aintree is much more a speed track – but this is a sharp horse, and I have no desire at the moment to go up in trip.”
Elvis Mail (Nick Alexander), Funambule Sivola (Venetia Williams), Gumball (Philip Hobbs) and Longhouse Sale (Dan Skelton) are Shishkin’s four opponents.
Grade One honours are also up for grabs in the preceding Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.
Leading contenders for the home team include Skelton’s My Drogo and the Donald McCain-trained Minella Drama, while Henry de Bromhead’s Ballyadam and Dreal Deal from Ronan McNally’s yard carry Irish hopes.
Ballyadam steps up to two and a half miles after finishing a distant second behind regular rival Appreciate It in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Chris Richardson, managing director for owners Cheveley Park Stud, said: “We just thought that the ground would be suitable – and while the trip is an unknown, it will hopefully tell us where we should be heading going forward into next year.
“We thought we might be better coming here, rather than going to Punchestown and potentially bumping into Appreciate It for a fourth time this season!
“We’re on a learning curve at the moment. But he’s in good form according to Henry, so we’ll see how we get on.”
Dreal Deal has won his last six starts over hurdles and on the Flat combined, providing McNally with the biggest success of his career in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in February.
The six-year-old missed an intended trip to Cheltenham after McNally’s string was hit by aspergillosis – a reaction caused by a form of mould – and the trainer admits only time will tell whether he is back to his very best.
“We’ll only know after the run. It’s obviously not ideal what’s happened, but he’ll go and take his chance – and we’ll hope for the best,” said the Armagh-based trainer
“His preparation since Punchestown has been poor. But at the same time it was poor going to Punchestown, and he was still very good.
“If he can run up to the Punchestown form it would give him a fair chance.”
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Thyme Hill and Paisley Park belatedly lock horns for a third time in the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree on Saturday.
The Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill was clear-cut winner when the pair first met in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, before Emma Lavelle’s stable star turned the tables in an epic Long Walk at Ascot the following month.
The eagerly-awaited trilogy at the Cheltenham Festival was temporarily postponed after Thyme Hill was ruled out of the Stayers’ Hurdle, in which Paisley Park had to make do with an honourable third in his bid to regain his crown.
Hobbs is hoping Thyme Hill’s freshness could prove key on Merseyside this weekend.
He said: “He pulled a muscle on his right-hand side behind the saddle which meant he had to miss Cheltenham.
“He had a fairly easy week after that, but we have had plenty of time to build him back up and get him ready for Aintree.
“His last run in the Long Walk was good. It was a top end race as you would expect. Obviously he was just beaten by Paisley Park, who has run well in the Stayers’ Hurdle since and he beat the nice mare of Dan Skelton’s (Roksana).
“This was not the original plan (coming straight here) and I definitely think on his best form he would have been up there at Cheltenham.
“Whether coming here without the run there is a good thing I don’t know, but hopefully it will be.”
Lavelle feels Paisley Park is sharper than he was prior to the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
She said: “He’s all set and we’re all excited. He’s fresh and well and definitely a bit sharper, which he’ll need to be on that track.
“As ever it looks a very competitive race, but he’s in good order and we’re just hoping for some luck in running and we’ll see how we go.”
The aforementioned Roksana returns to three miles after finishing third in the two-and-a-half-mile Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, while Kim Bailey believes the application of blinkers could help Vinndication improve on his sixth-placed finish in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
“He ran very well at Cheltenham. He was second of the English horses, but unfortunately there were a few Irish horses in front of them,” said the Andoversford-based trainer.
“I’m going to put a pair of blinkers on him to sharpen him up a bit.”
Nicky Henderson deliberately sidestepped Cheltenham with On The Blind Side, who was last seen finishing third behind Third Wind and Lisnagar Oscar – also in this weekend’s field – in February’s Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.
Henderson said: “He’s had a great season – he’s been very consistent, very tough and game and genuine all the way through.
“We kept him out of Cheltenham thinking Paisley Park and Thyme Hill would be taking each other on.
“Thyme Hill didn’t get to Cheltenham and he will be hard to beat, but On The Blind Side deserves a crack at a race like this.”
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Fakir D’oudairies finally landed the big pot his consistent efforts have deserved in recent seasons when bolting up in the Marsh Chase at Aintree.
Second in six Grade Ones throughout his career, including last time out in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, he was declared to run at Fairyhouse on Monday but pulled out on account of the quick ground.
Connections had been hoping for a softer surface on Merseyside – but the way he travelled and jumped on this occasion suggests there will be no worries in the future.
Master Tommytucker attempted to make all but, as is his wont, made several errors, including a spectacular one on the first circuit which saw Sam Twiston-Davies perform miracles to keep the partnership intact.
Heading to the third-last Politologue moved alongside his stablemate Master Tommytucker, with Nuts Well aiming to squeeze between the pair as Mark Walsh moved on the outside of all of them.
It got very tight with Nuts Well coming off worst, forcing Danny McMenamin to take a pull and by then his chance had gone.
Sent off the 2-1 favourite, Fakir D’oudairies shot clear to give Joseph O’Brien a notable win, with Nuts Well holding off Itchy Feet for second, 11 lengths away.
O’Brien said: “We’re delighted with his win. Mark gave him a great ride, he jumped great and got into a great rhythm today.
“He’s been a very consistent performer for us and deserves another Grade One.
“He’s been running against the best of the best and always runs his race. We’re very proud of his win today.
“He was to run at Fairyhouse on Monday. He was at the track and we weren’t happy with the ground. It’s a touch of luck we sent him to Aintree instead.
“We’ll have a look at Punchestown. We’ll see how he comes home first – it’s a decision for next week.
“We’ll get today out of the way and go from there.”
Walsh said: “He deserved his day in the sun. He’s been running great all season, so I’m delighted he got his head in front.
“He had a hard race at Cheltenham in the Ryanair, but Joseph had him in great shape and he’s done it well today.”
Following the race, the stewards looked into the incident that saw the interference, and deemed Politologue’s jockey Harry Cobden guilty of improper riding. He was suspended for eight days.
Cobden is currently third in the race to be champion jockey behind Brian Hughes and Harry Skelton, and his ban is set to begin on April 23, the penultimate day of the jumps season.
Paul Nicholls also reported that a post-race endoscopic examination of Politologue revealed the gelding had bled.
The Randox Grand National will take place as scheduled on Saturday following discussions between the British Horseracing Authority and Jockey Club Racecourses.
There was speculation after the announcement of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh that there was a chance the meeting could be postponed.
However, shortly before 3pm a statement was issued to confirm the world’s most famous race would take place in its planned slot.
A statement read: “Jockey Club Racecourses has held discussions with the British Horseracing Authority regarding the staging of Randox Grand National Day tomorrow at Aintree Racecourse.
“Following consultation with Government, we can confirm that Randox Grand National Day will go ahead on Saturday 10th April 2021.
“Following the sad news of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh a two-minute silence will be held on course ahead of the 173rd Randox Grand National, jockeys will be invited to wear black armbands and flags will be flown at half-mast at the racecourse.
“ITV will broadcast its coverage of Randox Grand National Day on its main channel as scheduled.”
The BHA confirmed two-minute silences will be held at all meetings on Saturday.
Annamarie Phelps, chair of the BHA, said: “The British Horseracing Authority is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh.
“We owe him a considerable debt of gratitude for his many years of tireless public service and dedication. We offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family.”
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Ted Walsh has already tasted Randox Grand National glory with Papillon – and while he feels this year’s contender Any Second Now compares favourably, he is very wary of the threat posed by favourite Cloth Cap.
Walsh and his son Ruby teamed up to win the 2000 Grand National – and despite the Champion Hurdles and Gold Cups the great jockey went on to win, on his retirement he still hailed Papillon’s triumph as his favourite memory.
Walsh senior also trained Seabass to finish third in the National in 2012, ridden by his daughter Katie, so there is no doubt he knows what is required – and Any Second Now has enjoyed a similar preparation, winning a Grade Two over two miles last time out.
“He’s going there with a good chance if you get the luck that you need to win a National,” said Walsh.
“He has a nice weight, hasn’t had too much racing and had a good run the last day.
“If he jumps a clear round and doesn’t get interfered with then he has a chance. You want plenty of luck.
“He’s similar to Papillon and Seabass in that they were able to win over two miles as well, and get a trip. He’s not as good a jumper as those two, but they were exceptional jumpers.
“I think the favourite will be very hard to beat. He stays and he jumps – he was a good winner in Newbury and he’s 14lb well-in.”
After dominating Cheltenham, the Irish team is strong in numbers and quality on Saturday too.
Willie Mullins fields four – with Acapella Bourgeois, Cabaret Queen and Class Conti joining 2019 Irish National winner Burrows Saint, who now has Patrick Mullins replacing the injured Paul Townend.
“On the stats it was probably a good thing missing the race last year as a seven-year-old,” jockey Mullins said of Burrows Saint.
“I don’t think a seven-year-old has won the National since the 1940s, so it might have been a blessing in disguise.
“He’s still relatively unexposed, and I think he ticks a lot of the boxes.
“Everything has gone pretty much to plan this season. He had a couple of runs over hurdles and a good run in the Bobbyjo.
“I think better ground will bring about more improvement.”
Mullins also doubles up as assistant trainer and said of his father’s other runners: “Acapella is in great form, and Danny (Mullins) gets on very well with him.
“He beat Burrows Saint in the Bobbyjo, so where one is the other shouldn’t be far away. But I suppose Burrows Saint will probably improve more for the better ground, so that might swap the placings there.
“He’s a horse who’s a little bit older as an 11-year-old and probably a bit more exposed, but he has a nice racing weight.
“Class Conti has to have a little squeak of getting placed. I suppose the worry with him is whether he’ll be able to lie up with the early pace, but he’s a safe jumper and will like the ground.
“Cabaret Queen has won a National in Listowel and a couple of good handicap chases. Her form has tapered off a little bit, but I think the drier ground will suit her well. There’s worse long shots than her.”
Nicky Henderson has famously never won the race, and relies on Ok Corral this time.
“He was all teed up for last year’s Grand National, and I was really looking forward to it, I must admit – I thought he was one of our more realistic chances in recent years,” said Henderson.
“It hasn’t been such an easy preparation this year. To be fair, he wasn’t quite ready for Cheltenham, but he’s in good form at the moment and has enjoyed jumping the National fences at home.
“The clock is ticking, and I’m not going to have many more shots at it.
“We all know the Grand National is very special to everybody, and it would be nice to get it on the CV – but if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen.”
Christian Williams has long held the belief Potters Corner is the right type for the race, after he won the 2019 Welsh National.
“His season has been geared towards the Grand National, so fingers crossed,” said Williams.
“It was all about the Welsh National for the whole of last season, and it’s very much Aintree all of this season.”
Paul Nolan went close in the Irish National on Monday with Latest Exhibition and runs Discorama, placed at the Cheltenham Festival on more than one occasion.
“He’s due a bit of luck – he’s been placed at three Cheltenham Festivals,” said Nolan.
“He’s certainly a horse we’d love to get his head in front, but it’s not easy with the way he runs and the way he stays behind the bridle a little bit.
“You have your favourite races, and certainly the English National captures the hearts of millions of people.
“The horse that wins it becomes a household name for a certain bit of time. It would absolutely be a dream come true if he was able to win.”
Nick Alexander runs Lake View Lad – another in the Trevor Hemmings colours, along with Cloth Cap.
“He’s done all his work and he’s ready to go,” said Alexander.
“He’s in very good shape. His last couple of runs were a little disappointing, but we’ve done a few things, so hopefully we can get him back to the form he was in when he won the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree at the beginning of December.
“If he can replicate that form and takes to the fences, he should run a big race, I hope. We go there with optimism.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies calls upon Bristol De Mai as he looks for a third Grand National.
“I was going to run him in last year’s National – and while that never happened, he’s been trained specifically for the race this time,” said Twiston-Davies.
“We decided to give the Gold Cup a miss, and take him fresh to Aintree.
“He’s a very good jumper and has great enjoyed himself schooling over a couple of ‘jumped-up’ fences.
“He pleased me in each of his races this season. To win a third Betfair Chase like that was very special, and I thought he did nothing wrong at Sandown (when chasing home Native River) in the Cotswold Chase.”
Twiston-Davies also runs Ballyoptic – while Jessica Harrington has again sent over the mare Magic Of Light, who chased home Tiger Roll a couple of years ago. She also runs Jett.
“She’s all set and all ready to rock and roll,” said Harrington.
“You’ve got to have a lot of luck. I hope she’s in as good a form as she was two years ago, but it’s hard to tell.
“She’s been in good form all season, and I was delighted with her run at Cheltenham. The trip was too short for her – they went very quick, and she just got going at the end.
“It blew the cobwebs away and should put her right for Saturday, all being well.
“As long as the ground is good, I think Jett will give a good account of himself. He loves those fences, and we’ll hope for the best.”
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