Sefton starting point for National hope Time To Get Up

Time To Get Up sets off on the road to a potential tilt at the Grand National with a first spin over the famous fences in the Betway Grand Sefton Handicap Chase at Aintree.

Moved from its traditional slot in December, Saturday’s two-mile-five-furlong contest will be the first race to take place over the National fences in front of a full crowd since the Becher Chase two years ago.

Time To Get Up is well fancied to strike gold for Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus, having rounded off last season with victory in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter.

The eight-year-old is already a general 20-1 shot for the world’s most famous steeplechase in early April, and those odds are sure to contract if he can make a successful reappearance on Merseyside.

O’Neill said: “We are having a go over the Grand National fences and we will see how we get on, but the ground looks perfect for him.

“He is in good form at home and hopefully he will run respectably.

“He won the Midlands National last season, and it would be nice to go for the Grand National this season, but we will have to see how he gets on here first.

“He is a big lad and hopefully he will love those fences, but we will find out on Saturday.”

Hogan’s Height on his way to winning the Grand Sefton two years ago
Hogan’s Height on his way to winning the Grand Sefton two years ago (David Davies/PA)

Time To Get Up’s rivals include the 2019 Grand Sefton hero Hogan’s Height, who completed the course for a second time when down the field in the Grand National seven months ago.

The veteran’s trainer Jamie Snowden reports his charge in rude health for his bid to regain his crown, following a recent comeback run over hurdles at Newton Abbot.

He said: “He’s in great shape. It was wonderful when he won the Grand Sefton a couple of years ago, and we never really got lift-off last season when the poor chap ended up with one thing going wrong after another.

“It’s nice to really get him back, and he had a good blow out the other day at Newton Abbot.

“He’s 4lb higher than when he won it in 2019, but he goes there with a chance.”

The Lambourn-based trainer has an interesting second string to his bow in the form of Thomas Macdonagh, who was last seen finishing second in a novice handicap chase at Haydock in March.

“He’s fit and ready to go. We wanted to get a prep run into him, but the ground was too quick,” Snowden added.

“He loves soft ground. I think there’s mileage in his handicap mark, and he’s jumped really well over the National fences in Lambourn.

“So long as there’s plenty of juice in the ground, he goes there with every chance.”

The Alan King-trained Senior Citizen is another horse with previous experience of the fences – having finished seventh behind Beau Bay in last year’s Grand Sefton and third in the Topham Chase in April.

The eight-year-old warmed up for his return to Aintree by winning a valuable handicap chase at Market Rasen three weeks ago.

King said: “The more it dries out the better for him, and it looks like it should be dry up to the race.

“He ran very well in this last year, but didn’t quite get home on heavy ground.

“He ran well in the Topham too, so we know he likes the fences.”

Cat Tiger was third in the Foxhunters’ Chase in the spring for owner-rider David Maxwell, giving trainer Paul Nicholls confidence for this handicap debut.

“He also had entries at Wincanton and Auteuil, but the Grand Sefton was the logical choice after he took to the National fences like a natural in the Foxhunters’,” the Ditcheat handler told Betfair.

“Cat Tiger and his owner rider David Maxwell enjoyed a brilliant spin that day, leading two out and only being caught at the elbow.

“He’s a horse that goes well fresh and must have a fair chance, running off a mark of 135.”

Irish hopes are carried by Edward O’Grady’s The West’s Awake and Spyglass Hill, whose trainer Henry de Bromhead famously teamed up with Rachael Blackmore to win this year’s Grand National with Minella Times.

Henry de Bromhead saddles Spyglass Hill
Henry de Bromhead saddles Spyglass Hill (Brian Lawless/PA)

Of Spyglass Hill, he said: “He’s had a couple of good runs. He ran well in the Munster National the other day, and we just thought maybe the drop back in trip might suit him.

“Hugh (Morgan, jockey) gets a great tune out of him, and it’s a great opportunity for him.

“He’s a great rider – he’s been with us for years and he’s doing really well, so (I’m) delighted for him.

“We’re looking forward to it.”

Time gets up for Midlands National glory

Time To Get Up lived up to his name as he challenged late to grab victory in the Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter.

The 3-1 favourite was still more than a length behind Mighty Thunder at the 24th and final fence in the marathon contest.

But jockey Jonjo O’Neill junior, riding for his father’s yard and owner JP McManus, had timed his telling challenge to perfection as the eight-year-old did get up on the run-in for a length success.

Behind Mighty Thunder, who had taken over at the first in the straight from long-time leader The Two Amigos, was Final Nudge in third and sole Irish challenger Screaming Colours fourth – beaten a further two and a half lengths and length and a half respectively.

The winning rider said: “He’s a huge horse. He was obviously in the Kim Muir, but we just thought a big, flat, galloping track would suit him. He’s a pleasure to ride.

“We’re delighted, this wasn’t necessarily the plan, but he won last time and we just thought, as he’d gone up a bit in the weights, that it looked a nice target for him.

“He’s a gorgeous horse and he had some nice hurdle form back in the day, so he was entitled to take his chance.”

The winning trainer admitted he was not certain his runner would see out the four-mile-two-furlong distance.

He said: “We weren’t sure whether he’d stay, but you don’t know until you try it. The ground was grand, everything was grand – it all came together.

“I’d say, for the trip, the ground was probably better drying out a bit. You don’t want it bog-deep when you’re going a long way and trying to get four miles, but everything went according to plan. He gave him a grand spin and it all went to plan.”

O’Neill trains the favourite for this year’s Randox Grand National in Cloth Cap, and Aintree could be a consideration for this horse next year.

He added: “I would think about the National, maybe next year. He’s a good old jumper and now we know he gets the trip.

“Whether he’ll have the pace for the National I don’t know, the National now is a fairly pacey race. We’ll see how we go.

“That was the plan, and it all sounds so easy when it works out.”

O’Neill was particularly thrilled to give his son a big-race winner.

He said: “It’s great, really. That’s what you dream of, isn’t it? When it all goes according to plan it’s even better.”

As for Time To Get Up, he added: “He’s a lovely looking horse and a grand character – he’s great to do anything with. He jumps very well – and now we know he stays too, so we’re delighted.

Time To Get Up is lightly-raced, but one previous performance on his CV already stood out – when an 11-length second to dual Cheltenham Festival winner Monkfish in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in December 2019, on his last start before joining O’Neill from Joseph O’Brien’s yard.

O’Neill said: “The Monkfish form isn’t too bad! I don’t know how he got that close to him, but he did.

“He’s had leg trouble but has done the job today, and he’s the type of horse that gradually progresses. We’re very happy with him, and hopefully he might be a National horse down the road. He has what is required for Aintree.

Cloth Cap is favourite for this year's Randox Grand National
Cloth Cap is favourite for this year’s Randox Grand National (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He’s in the Irish National, but that might come too soon. He’s one to look forward to next year.”

O’Neill is due to be strongly represented at Aintree next month by Cloth Cap, whose preparation continues to go well.

He said: “I might take him to Lambourn for a school over the National fences, but he’s in good order and if we can keep him that way for the next couple of weeks that will do me.

“It’s a great time for the yard.”