Category Archives: Grand National

Safety First: Grand National still a Great Race!

Every year at this exact time the same debate: no – I don’t mean the one the hypocrites from PETA try to stir up; I mean the fiery debate around the challenge – or perceived lack of it – the Grand National provides for horses and jockeys these days.

There seems to be an ever increasing, certainly rather vocal minority of racing fans, that do feel the Grand National has been reduced to a “glorified hurdle”, a race that’s not “what it used to be” and not all that tough to win any more – in summary: the “welfare brigade” has changed the Grand National beyond recognition to a point where it doesn’t provide sufficient spectacle.

Let this sink in: the fact fallers have been greatly reduced in the last number of years – and with that casualties avoided completely up until this year – is cited as a reason to conclude the Grand National has lost its appeal as a spectacle.

Guess what? Nearly 10 million tuned in on Saturday to ITV’s coverage of the Grand National –  peak audience was up by more than a million viewers compared to last year. Sure, those numbers – as always with viewing figures – can’t be taken at face value, but they are a fair indication for the fact that the audience for the Grand National isn’t turned off by the perceived “lack of spectacle”. Much the opposite, it seems.

Racegoers didn’t mind either: a sell-out 50.000 crowd flooded through the gates on Saturday.

Let’s get the most important point straight – from my perspective anyway: yes, the Grand National has changed. Fences have have been altered. They are easier to jump, more forgiving and the race has become much safer for horse and rider. Those in charge of the sport – often slated recently, and more often than not rightly so – made drastic decisions after the infamous 2012 Grand National.

Those safety changes have had the desired outcome: only one fatality (Up For Review, 2019), plus 84% of fences have produced the same or lower rate of fallers/unseated/brought downs since then. Also only seven fallers/unseateds/brought downs in yesterday’s Grand National was one of the smallest numbers ever.

This is good news! The race has become safer. But has it taken away from the spectacle? Absolutely not! Not in my view.

I’m still looking forward to the Grand National every single year. I still rate it as the pinnacle of jump racing. I still adore all those 40 horses and jockeys for their bravery and skills.

And I firmly believe the Grand National remains a fabulous test: a distance of 4 miles & 2 furlongs (6.907 km) & 30 fences of different heights to be negotiated – no exactly a walk in the park.

Mind you, even though the race is safer and slightly “less of a challenge”, it stills is a tough race to complete. Despite all safety measures of recent times, there was one casualty -and less than half the field finished the race on Saturday. So, it clearly isn’t without its challenges, still.

And that brings me to Tiger Roll. The fact he’s completed back-to-back victories in 2019 and not in 1979 doesn’t make it less a remarkable achievement. It IS a remarkable achievement!

I didn’t back the little horse. But as soon as was clear none of my selections wouldn’t get near winning, I was roaring the Tiger home. What a true champion he is. A safer National it might be, but the fact remains it is a tough race to win, let alone do it twice – even in this day and age. Tiger Roll is the king of National Hunt racing!

Preview: Grand National 2019

Aintree Racecourse

Can Tiger Roll become the first multiple winner in 40 years since Red Rum? It’s the question on everyone’s lips and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s not wishing the little horse the very best of luck to achieve the status of a living legend.

For many Tiger Roll is already a legend. A multiple Cheltenham Festival winner, one who’s been around forever – or so it seems – the nine-year-old holding on to win the National twelve months ago; looks even better than ever this season!

He kicked proceedings off with a Grade 2 hurdle success on his way to the Festival where he then slaughtered his rivals in the Cross-Country Chase. A performance which in turn has catapulted him firmly to the front of the market in the 2019 Grand National, more so to one of the shortest priced National favourites of all time.

Given this is the Grand National with 40 runners, where luck or the lack of it, can play a huge role in getting a clear run round the course, Tiger Roll, currently priced at 4/1, is a laughable price.

Or not? The 9 pound hike in the weights does appear to be rather fair, particularly after his Cheltenham demolition job. He’s a good jumper, a classy horse with speed and guts, let’s not forget he’s a previous Triumph Hurdle winner also.

So, if you run this race four times, will Tiger Roll win it at least once?

Possibly. I still struggle to see value in the price, even though I’d absolutely love to see him winning. But I’ve got to look at bigger prices here – thankfully there’re three much bigger prices I’m incredibly excited about.

History tells its own story: a 7-year-old hasn’t won the National for quite a long time. Hence the task on hand for Ramses De Teillee looks a daunting one. Nonetheless, for his age he’s got plenty of experience already – ten runs over fences, including a runner-up performance in the Walsh National and fine 2nd place in the Haydock Grand National Trail when last seen.

Ramses De Teillee is officially 5lb well-in; so, on the weights front he looks a sexy contender. He does that also on both RPR- and TS ratings, given he has improved in each of his last two runs, suggesting the profile of a horse with more to come.

The ground won’t hold any fears, the trip should suit, only his jumping is a slight question mark – but he may get a little wiser with age and experience now.

Ever since romping home in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown at the end of last season the Grand National seemed the target for Step Back. The 9-year-old has relatively few miles on the clock, therefore is clearly another one who could improve quite a bit for this unique test.

He hasn’t done a lot in two starts this season, clearly being minded and connections believing his current handicap mark warrants protection. He certainly stays, acts in soft conditions and despite having only six starts over fences, has strong form in big handicaps as well.

Walk In The Mill is a rare National course winner in the field. He ran away with the Beacher Handicap Chase here last December, so undoubtedly possesses plenty of stamina, given the 3m 2f event was run in deep ground -which was also a career best effort.

A progressive handicapper over the last years, Walk In The Mill has been minded ever since the Beacher run; two fair hurdle efforts brought him along nicely for a big run.

Selections:
3.33pts win – Ramses De Teillee @ 30/1 MB
3.33pts win – Walk In The Mill @ 31/1 MB
3.33pts win – Step Back @ 31/1 MB

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Racing Weekend Review

A weekend of superlatives – nothing less you can call it. The main dish certainly delivered. Aintree the only place you wanted to be on Saturday quarter past five. But summer racing isn’t far away. Leopardstown staged Guineas trials and Naas saw the return of proper Group 1 stars. Here’s a review of the weekend’s action.

Grand National Delivered the Goods

Touted as one of the widest open National fields in a long time, the biggest horse race on the planet didn’t disappoint. It had it all: great build-up, excellent TV coverage on ITV’s National maiden gig, sunshine weather and a dramatic finish to the race. What more can you ask for?

It was 14/1 chance One For Arthur who eventually stayed on incredibly strongly after a voyage through the whole field in the hands of ultra cool Derek Fox. This big, powerful horse, ready made for the war of attrition the Grand National is. A triumph for Scotland they said, a triumph for Irish breeding it is.

One For Arthur was born and raised on the green island. In fact here it was where he also tasted first racing success.  In an Irish point to point that was, where he – what a nice coincidence that is – beat yesterday’s fourth Blacklion.

There is also Derek Fox, the young rider, who now only 24 years of age instantly became a legend of our game. The Sligo man who kept his nerves throughout, who didn’t panic when he still had a lot of ground to make up two out. Did anyone ever check: he must have balls of steel surely?

Safety First, Spectacle Second

The Grand National the way we know it these days may not hold the same fascination for traditionalists due to the modifications of the fences in recent years. It’s something heard often in the days leading up to the race. It would not be as special anymore. It’s not as much of a test as it used to be. It’s just another staying chase.

Well, to some extend that could well be true. But no one can deny the fact that The Grand National is as safe a race for horses as it ever was. And that can only be a good thing. In fact this was already the fifth year since the most drastic changes have been made and it’s no coincidence that it is also the fifth year running without a fatality. That is not by chance, that#s because of wise decisions made in the last number of years.

Becher's Brook

It’s great. I love it. I feel so much more passionate about the race knowing it’s so much safer. And honestly, is it really so much less of a spectacle? Not at all if you ask me. Those fences are still huge! I’ve been there, two years ago, stood in front of them – believe me when I say they are huge! They still warrant plenty of respect and they still provide a true test of jumping ability.

And that’s why it is still a unique race. One that captivates us racing fans but also many people who aren’t big time into the sport. And that is great. It’s great because we as fans can comfortably talk to our non-racing friends about the race, where they are equally as fascinated by the spectacle – and be it only for this one day a year – but where the talk afterwards is not about animal cruelty but about sport.

Big Performances all round 

A massive performance it was by Cause Of Causes who finished runner-up. He didn’t get the smoothest of runs but last month’s Cross-Country Chase hero at the Cheltenham Festival battled his way through under yet another excellent ride by the “Coddfather”.

If there’s anything like moral winners than Blaklion must go down as one. He was heavily backed into 8/1 favouritism before the off and travelled through the race most powerfully! In fact I’d say he probably travelled to well!

Blaklion pulled his way too the front with quite a bit to go and suddenly lead the field by a couple of lengths with still a good mile to go or so. It was inevitable that he would not get home. In the end he finished fourth, around eight lengths beaten. The same margin he was beaten nearly four years ago in an Irish point to point by One For Arthur…. in the aftermath it all looks so obvious.

The Flat Gains Momentum

Guineas trials took place at Leopardstown on Saturday. Aiden O’Brien took first and second in both the Classic trials for the boys and the girls. Most noteworthy was Orderofthegarter’s success who followed up with another impressive performance on his Naas romp a fortnight ago. He seems to be Ballydoyle’s Nr.1 for the Irish 2000 Guineas  – and after these two highly impressive performances he must have a prime chance.

The one to take out is runner-up Taj Mahal, though. First time tongue tied, he found the pace a bit too hot and didn’t get quite a clear run entering the home straight, but once manoeuvred into open space he stayed on very nicely.

He’s has quite allot of experience already, yet only won a Dundalk handicap of a mark of 86 so far, then finished the year on a positive note with a decent fifth only three lengths beaten in the Group 1 Criterium De Saint-Cloud. He looks physically improved over the winter and the tongue tie seems to help. He might be able to win a nice race this year.

Naas on Sunday saw the highly anticipated return of Alice Springs and US Army Ranger. All looks good with the filly. She ran a nice race in second place behind late sweeping Diamond Fields.

The Ranger is a different cattle of fish and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of him. This race doesn’t help. He appears to be hugely talented but after his excellent runner-up effort in last years Derby things have not gone to plan. Is it attitude, did he turn sour because of being rushed to the Derby, or is he simply not as good as previously thought?

He travelled well enough today but was a bit short of room at a crucial point of the race. So you can make an excuse. He did find not as much as hoped once in the clear though. And while that could be down to lack of fitness the fact that he was more than three lenghts beaten by a Group 3 animal is slightly concerning.

Now that the National is behind us the flat finally kicks in. Monday sees the return of the traditional Windsor meeting while Redcar is on offer too. Regular flat racing is back – oh how I missed it!

That says the jumps make a return to our thoughts once or twice again: The Irish Grand National on Easter Monday is here to mention – I’ll be going if work doesn’t prevent it. And then Punchestown of course is not too far down the road either. Great times to be a racing!

…….

One interesting selection for Monday – 5.25 Redcar: The top weight Livella Fella makes plenty of appeal dropping back into class five on her turf reappearance. She didn’t ran badly on the All-Weather over the winter but is clearly much better on the green grass and I suspect she’ll enjoy the conditions here.

A fair pipe opener after a break at Newcastle last month means she should be ready to go over a trip she loves. She has form at Redcar too and judged on past form appears to be on a pretty fair mark.

Livella Fella @ 10/1 bet365

Preview: 2017 Grand National

Who’ll rule the world this year? We gonna find out soon! Last year’s fittingly named Grand National hero does not attempt to defend his crown, but runner-up The Last Samuri tries to go one better this time.

Kim Bailey’s charge has to defy top weight, though – a tough assignment and presumably one that makes it incredibly difficult to win, I’m afraid. Nonetheless Last Samuri looks a very decent each-way shout at the very least.

You could argue there’s half a dozen in the field who’ll have a decent shout too. What quite clearly becomes evident is the number of younger, to some extend less exposed and certainly classier individuals having a go at the huge Aintree Grand National fences.

This is a trend we’ve seen develop over the last of years and one that has certainly not slowed down.

So, who’s going to win? Well, it’s hard enough to pick the winner so I’ll give you three that instead I do feel are overpriced and can outrun the odds – whether that is enough to get the head in front remains to be seen.

Nr. 10 – Blacklion @ 14/1: The eight year old will have to race off a four pound higher mark in the future, that meas he’s potentially well in here. In fact he’s got a near perfect profile for the National, one could say he is some sort of a sexy trend horse.

Fact is he’s got the form in the book, ran really well this season, has come close a number of times and has form that ties in with other very well fancied National contenders. He’ll stay and enjoys decent ground – also he’s never been a faller in his whole career.

Nr. 29 – Vicente @ 25/1: Potentially a smart horse who’s recently been purchased by the connections of previous National winner Many Clouds.

Fair to say things did not quite pan out as hoped this season after a fantastic 15/16 campaign that culminated in a Scottish Grand National success. You have to trust his trainer to have him right for the big day but if that’s the case then Vicente must have a big chance of his weight with conditions sure to suit.

Nr. 7 – Wounded Warrior @ 80/1: had his issues lately and has to be trusted to find back to his best. But apparently schooled well and is in fine order.

Clearly a classy individual on his day with Grade 1 chasing form in the book. He stays all day long and won’t mind the fast ground either. A decent sixth place finish – albeit a long way beaten – in the Theystes Handicap shows there is still some life in him.

………

3.40 Betway Handicap Chase

I loved the run of Potters Legend at Cheltenham in the Kim Muir last month. This progressive first season Novice Chaser won a couple of races earlier this season and then finished with plenty of credit in better grades the next four times.

His Festival run clearly the most eye-catching one. He made a serious mistake three from home and nearly came down, but rallied incredibly strongly to get on terms with the leaders half a furlong out, to eventually fade into 4th place.

The ground and flatter track may suit him well here and if he can hold his form after a long season – and that is in my mind the most pressing question – he’s got to be a serious contender.

Selection:
10pts win – Potters Legend @ 12/1 Betfair SB

…….

4.20 Liverpool Hurdle 

Yanworth comes here with a big reputation. Plenty speaks in his favour if he does what he promises: staying the trip. Question: after a long season and a below par run at Cheltenham, does he still have enough left in the locker? And if he has, is he good enough against some seasoned stayers?

In my book he is a fair price. You can argue that Coral Cup winner Supasundae is probably better value. Equally progressive but stays the trip and acts on the ground.

However this should be the pay day for a previous World Hurdle hero: Cole Harden. He was not favoured by the watering and slower than expected ground at Cheltenham last month, still ran a huge race in fourth.

Blinkers on, good ground here a given and a not overly hard season on the clock; Cole Harden looks primed to run a big race from the front and will take allot of beating.

Selection:
10pts win – Cole Harden @ 11/2 PP

Grand National: Many Clouds the one to Beat

It’s the big one – Grand National Day has arrived! A race that captures the imagination like no other. A worldwide TV audience of over 100 million tunes in for the greatest horse race of them all!

It puts racing on the front pages, it demonstrates the resilience, power and beauty of the race horse and the sport. Yet it can swiftly produce those shocking images of dying horses, asked to do the near impossible, jumping error free those huge fences.

Animal welfare is always a huge concern, a huge issue on this particular day. Those fanatics who want to ban the sport will sit in front of the TV, a mouse click away from publishing their articles on cruelty of the sport, though their conflict of interest, wanting to slate the sport for the “love of the animal”, yet their need for dead horses to fulfil this purpose – I feel sorry for these poor souls.

Let’s focus on what’s important: the race is safer than ever. Through changes made it might have lost some of its brutal spectacle of the past but in my mind it remains the ultimate test for horse and rider – just a bit safer, not necessarily easier.

I’ve been to Aintree myself last year, my first National “in flesh”. Some experience, indeed. I saw the brilliant winner Many Clouds, who was far more superior than the winning margin suggested.

Can he do it again? Possibly! In my mind Many Clouds is the one defending champ who has the best chance in a very long time to actually defend his crown. That is because the conditions are near perfect for him, but more importantly he retained his class and will to race after winning the big one. So many National winners never really came back – he sure did!

Many Clouds has been in excellent form throughout the season, with the National the ultimate aim. He looked brilliant in his final prep run at Kelso. Yes, you could say his handicap mark is five pounds higher than last year, but I say it’s a fair reflection of his improvement and well being and unlikely to stop him. He was easily those five pounds better than the rest last year, and I suspect it does still not reflect his true ability.

I do really fancy his chances! He’s proven over this special test, he’s a good traveller, he jumps really well, has the form in the book – he’s the one to beat, no doubt. At 10/1 I’m in!

There are two other horses I do quite like too: Sir Des Champs is one. Ruby Walsh had to give up the ride due to an injury sustained when he fell on Vautour yesterday. Replacement Nina Carberry is equal to the task.

I always had a soft spot for Sir Des Champes, probably because I won big on him at Cheltenham. But this brute of a horse has an aura…. It was great to see him winning on his comeback this season after a long absence. He was found out for class the last two times, but in fairness you don’t need to be a Grade 1 horse to win the National. You’ve got to have the right attitude, have a good  handicap mark and be a sound jumper.

All that is Sir Des Champs. On a mark off 154 dropped into a handicap he should go close I believe, considering this represents a huge drop in class too. Stamina and jumping are his game, so I would expect him to perform really well. He’s a fine 25/1 shot.

The other one I like is Holywell. It’s really not difficult to see why. He usually comes alive at this time of the year as he prefers the slightly better ground. He proves to be in excellent form after finishing a gallant runner-up in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham. The winner of that particular race has bombed out yesterday, although when thrown into Grade 1 company.

The National could be the right test to bring out the best of Holywell. His mark is clearly fair, could actually underestimate his true class, given he goes so well at Aintree, in spring, on this type of ground. He’s a 16/1 shot.

Both Sir Des Champs and Holywell are available at those prices with Bet365 where you can get half your stake refunded for an each-way bet. That sounds’s pretty fair to me. Good luck – and fingers crossed all horses come home safe.