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.
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