The Grand National is clearly the highlight of the Aintree meeting, now just a week away. However, a Jump Racing purist may point to the quality of winners coming from the feature race on day two, the Melling Chase.
Last year’s race proved to be slightly sub-standard; Willie Mullins’ Boston Bob defeating Rolling Aces; but the previous three renewals had gone to Master Minded, Finian’s Rainbow and Sprinter Sacre.
The race was established in 1991 and is a Grade 1 run over 2m4f. It often attracts horses that have run in the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Though run over a trip half a mile further, the winner at Cheltenham has to stay well up the famous hill, and therefore usually has the required stamina for the Melling. This coupled with Aintree being a tighter track, makes the two races comparable.
Remittance Man followed up at Aintree after winning the Champion Chase back in 1992, and so started a trend that has been repeated on many occasions since. Viking Flagship was one of the great two mile chasers to step-up and win the Melling. He won the ‘big one’ at Cheltenham in 94 and 95 and found success at Aintree in 95 and 96. When in his prime the chaser was trained by David Nicholson. He was very much the dominant force from 1994 to 1996, winning the Game Spirit, Champion Chase and Melling Chase, each on two occasions.
Direct Route came closest to lifting the Queen Mother in 2000, when just edged out in a thrilling finish by Edredon Bleu. He had no such problem winning at Aintree when successful in 99 and 2000. The wonderful Moscow Flyer slaughtered his opponents in the Melling Chases of 2004 and 2005. Jess Harrington’s star is viewed by many as one of the all-time greats.
Master Minded was undoubtedly past his best when winning the Aintree event in 2011 at the age of eight. It seems a strange statement to make, but Nicholls’ talented French chaser was quite incredible at the age of five and six, and for a trainer renowned for keeping his horses at the top for many years, Master Minded proved an exception in many ways.
For many the Melling Chase of 2013 saw one of the most impressive performances of all. Indeed Sprinter Sacre’s rating launched into the stratosphere on the back of his stunning victory. Prior to the race, talk was of whether Henderson’s greatest chaser would manage to stay the extended trip. With the impressive Ryanair winner Cue Card in opposition, along with Ireland’s latest equine hero Flemenstar, the race was set to be a thrilling spectacle. And so it was.
They certainly did their best to take the sting out of Sprinter Sacre, but few will ever forget the way he cruised into contention before galloping to a four length victory. Absolute poetry in motion, a beast created by the Gods and sent down to earth to thrill those privileged enough to be present. It’s fair to say that I’m getting slightly carried away here. But rarely in sport are we left wide-mouthed at a performance of such power and beauty,
For those entered and likely to take part in this year’s race, the bar has been set pretty high over the past few decades. Sire De Grugy is a Champion Chase winner who looks set to take his chance, along with this year’s sensational Ryanair winner Uxizandre. The track and trip may well suit the latter, and he is sure to be ridden forcefully by the greatest jockey on his final visit to Aintree.
Ireland could well have two serious challengers, with Champagne Fever and Don Cossack, both talented horses capable of huge performances. And then there’s Balder Succes, who seems far more at home on the flat track as he proved when winning at the meeting last year in the Maghull Novices’ Chase.
Its brief history has already brought epic feats from legendary chasers. It truly is one of the great spectacles of the Aintree Grand National meeting. Expect another rousing Melling Chase a week on Friday.