Tag Archives: Rachael Blackmore

2022 Grand National Preview

The 2022 edition of the Grand National a is a highly competitive renewal. Many top-class individuals line up for the biggest price of all in jumps racing. Few can be easily ruled out.

No doubt this is down to the changing nature of the race. Easier fences mean less devastating injuries. The faller rate is significantly down. As a result owners are prepared to run better horses in the National.

Consequently we have seen the average official rating has gone up over the years. Horses that made the cut in the past – even some previous winners – wouldn’t do so today.

Comparing the fences from a few decades ago to what they look like today there’s a fair question to be asked whether this is still the same race. It’s not. Personally I continue to maintain the changes have been for the better, regardless.

Whatever way you’re leaning in this debate, there’s no getting away from the fact how compelling this years renewal is. Class and form in the book are available in remarkable abundance and make the 2022 a vintage edition in my view.

As always, 40 runners will line up this afternoon. Ten horses have made it on to my shortlist:

Perhaps this doesn’t read like an overly original shortlist. Most if not all these horses where more or less prominently mentioned in the various well known Grand National previews on TV, podcasts and blogs.

What I thought was interesting, though, from a personal perspective, after nailing down the ten most compelling contenders, was the fact that unlike in previous years I didn’t end up with a single genuine longshot (bigger than 20/1) on my list.

This is – or so I sense, a direct correlation to the changing nature of the race that favours classier and speedier types, who can race handily, travel well and hold their position. They also tend to measure up well on speed ratings.

And with that in mind it’s no surprise to see that the majority of horses on my list have ran to topspeed ratings of 130 and higher this season, or at the very least in the not too distinct past.

The only exception to the rule is Snow Leopardess. For a simple reason: jumping. She loves to attack and jump the National fences like few others do, as she proved so impressively in last years Beacher Chase.

She loves the unique test these fences provide, she stays and has been in superb form this season. That combination is a highly compelling one and I can see why she is so prominent in the betting, not to mention her incredible fairytale story.

Nonetheless, because she lacks the (proven) class, like nine others of my shortlist do, particularly in the speed department, I can’t back her at comparably skinny odds.

Burrow Saint achieved a career best twelve months ago in the National. He was well fancied and travelled like a good thing. He also emptied really quickly in the closing stages.

This season hasn’t been a good season for him. Perhaps he was minded for today, I reckon. Racing of the same mark, a year older, I won’t expect any improvement, though. That says he remains a solid contender given he’s an Irish Grand National winner. I also think only a classy individual can travel through a Grand National like he did last year. He’ll have to ride without my money today, nonetheless.

I feel it’s difficult to gauge what Minella Times has done this season and what form he’s in. On the surface the form is as poor as it gets, not having completed any of his two races. But he’s the reigning champion. He is a great jumper, he’s done it 12 months ago pretty easily and one has to trust Henry De Bromhead to have him spot on.

It’s not only the negative of the poor form Minella Times has to contend with. But a 15lb hike in his handicap mark is probably too much a burden to overcome in my view.

The Gordon Elliott trained Escaria Ten has been well fancied for quite some time. One can see why. Only narrowly beaten by Any Second Now when last seen, he’s a progressive staying chaser with strong form in the book and a fair handicap mark.

I have reservations about the big field, though. His best performances came in much smaller fields than the 40-runner strong Grand National. That’s too big a risk for my money to invest.

Another of Gordon Elliott’s runners is Run Wild Fred. I like him a lot. 2nd in the 2021 Irish Grand National, he’s still improving and hasn’t been out of the money in four starts this year. That includes a runner-up in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over Christmas, and a most recent 2nd place at Cheltenham behind exciting Stattler.

He has a lot of the characteristics of a modern Grand National horse in my eyes. I have slight reservations about his handicap mark of 158 and whether he well and truly wants this marathon trip, though.

No issues with the trip for Any Second Now. Arguably a desperately unlucky 3rd place finisher twelve months ago, connections must have wondered what would have been with a clear run. Possibly a thrilling head to head finish with Minella Times?

There’s no question that he remains a prime contender. The form is fine, we know he goes well at Aintree, he stays and judged by last years strong performance one can argue the hike in his handicap mark is fully justified and may not stop him.

On the other hand Any Second Now is a year older, unlikely to improve and would need an absolute dream run to win where things have to go wrong for some of the other contenders. He’s short enough in the betting to hope for dreams to come true.

With recent Cheltenham Cross-Country winner Delta Work there’s a genuine Gold Cup horse in the field. If he’d be truly in love with the game again, I feel he could still be a competitive runner in a Gold Cup. He’s that talented.

Cheltenham proved that some appetite for racing has been regained. In my view he won with a lot more authority than the narrow winning margin suggests.

With that in mind I also feel a 160 rating isn’t unreasonable. It surely is a huge ask to win of 11-9, yet Delta Work has the class to do exactly that.

Whether he really wants the National trip is a key question, though. I have reservations. Paired with the fact that for more than two years he hasn’t ran anywhere near a topspeed rating of 130 – even with potential excuses – is enough to put me off at the given prices, regardless of all potential class.

An exciting up and coming staying Chaser is Eclair Surf who made it into this field with a 143 handicap mark – this is as sexy as it gets. He’s been brilliant in his last two staying chases, and particularly the fine runner-up performance in the Eider Handicap Chase behind subsequent super impressive Scottish Grand National winner Win My Wings gives him a prime chance.

He can race off the same mark as back then and you would hope, perhaps even expect, that there’s more improvement to come from this progressive staying chaser. He rates a key contender for me. But there are two horses left with even stronger claims.

I love the relatively unexposed look of Longhouse Poet, in particular. Especially the fact that he keeps improving nearly with every run. Also: in three runs over three miles and beyond he has been in the winners enclosure. He looks a proper stayer who, crucially, doesn’t lack tactical speed, though.

We saw that in the Thyestes Chase back in January when he travelled strongly and kept on really well to land that big Handicap. Therefore he has shown crucial skills required for the modern Grand National: travel, jump, don’t be too far off the pace, hold your position and do all of that in a big field.

We can blissfully ignore his prep run over Hurdles at Navan when last seen. Trainer Martin Brassil will have Longhouse Poet as ready as possible for today. He knows what it needs to win a National.

Of course it’s no easy task to defy a 11lb higher mark compared to his Gowran victory, but it’s fair to assume he can improve again, given the unexposed profile he has and the impressive nature of his Thyestes victory.

Longhouse Poet comes as close to a perfect modern Grand National horse – at this stage at least – as I could envision.

The other one who ticks most boxes is Fiddlerontheroof. He impressed me in two of three runs this season. I think we can forgive the most recent Ascot run – which was below expectations – for the fact it was more likely “just” a run to gain fitness as opposed to be fully tuned up.

The Listed Carlisle win on his seasonal reappearance, but even more so the subsequent runner-up performance in the Ladbrokes Trophy, rate highly on pure form terms. Arguably Fiddlerontheroof was perhaps a shade unlucky at Newbury having to negotiate a faller four fences from home.

Both forms look strong on the ratings front, having been awarded 141 and 142 topspeed respectively at Carlisle and then Newbury. That is consistency on a really high level and reads well alongside his handicap mark – especially if compared to the other more fancied runners in the National this year.

He remains open to further improvement over staying trips, too. Of course that always raises the question whether he truly wants this marathon trip, given he had enough speed to win over much shorter. But it’s exactly this speed in combination with the staying qualities he’s already shown I like.

Summary:

This edition of the Grand National is a uniquely exciting one. The list of potential winners is long – the depth of quality in this years field is impressive.

Yet, truth being told I was surprised post-analysis when I checked the betting yesterday afternoon – and put my money down – that both Longhouse Poet and Fiddlerontheroof were as big in the market as they were – and interestingly still are this morning on various exchanges.

I am surprised because – given this is the Grand National – I feel rather confident both horses will run massive races. Whether it’s good enough to win is another question and will depend more on in-running luck than their quality. Certainly if all goes well neither Longhouse Poet nor Fiddlerontheroof be will be far away.

Fingers crossed for a clear run – but most importantly fingers crossed that all horses and jockey come home safely. That’s truly the one thing I am hoping for the most.

Selections:
5pts win – Longhouse Poet @ 19/1
5pts win – Fiddlerontheroof @ 21/1

Review: Cheltenham 2019 – a Boum Week

A magic week of racing is over – an excellent week from a personal perspective on the betting front: 145pts profit for a 72.50% ROI; but more importantly Cheltenham provided – as is usually does – the stage for incredible stories, memorable moments, tears of joy and sadness – four days full of drama are well and truly behind us!

Gold Cup Joy

Willie Mullins won the Gold Cup – finally! “I’d sort of resigned myself to not winning a Gold Cup” – the Irishman could be forgiven for his negative thinking because with more than a circuit to go it looked like another year of misery  as three of his four horses in the race were already gone!

Thankfully not Al Boum Photo, who was the “last man standing” for the Mullins camp – and my 22/1 selection for the Gold Cup (alongside Shattered Love who faded away in the closing stages) – was always travelling strongly in the hands of Paul Townend.

Sitting at the back of the field initially, Al Boum Photo made smooth progress, jumping well, Townend sitting confidently, letting his mount find a rhythm; turning for home he couldn’t hold him back for much longer as Al Boum Photo was tanking along, still hard on the bridle.

Despite a mistake at the second last, now asked for full effort, Al Boum Photo returned every call to win the Gold Cup a shade cosily!

The seven-year-old proved that his Tremore run on New Years Day wasn’t a fluke and that the glimpses of brilliance he showed last season in fact were real. It was also a hugely rewarding success for Paul Townend after what happened last year at Punchestown when Al Boum Photo looked all but to secure a Grade 1 success, only for Townend to take the horse out before jumping the last.

Can Al Boum Photo defend his crown? We have been here before. It’s such a difficult task as defending champion Native River had to find out.

Many believed he could do it, but there were early signs of concern as Richard Johnson had to encourage his mount from an early stage. In fairness, the brave Native River responded and battled to the line, ultimately finishing in a creditable yet well beaten 4th place.

Colin Tizzard lamented afterward not having used blinkers. Personally I don’t think it would have made a huge deal of a difference, to be honest. Native River didn’t have the legs to go with the three horses in front of him in the end. Neither had Clan Des Obeaux. His bubble burst.

Mitigating factors can be put forward for Presenting Percy’s flat performance. Not so much the preparation, which wasn’t ideal as had been discussed for weeks and weeks, but more so because he was found to be lame after the Gold Cup.

Female Jockeys Rule Over Cheltenham

Rachael Blackmore, Lizzy Kelly, Bryony Frost – three top class female riders who won races at this years Festival. Blackmore scored twice, though it was Bryony Frost who got the girls off the mark in terms of a first Grade 1 Festival winner over hurdles or fences.

Still challenging for the Irish jockey championship, Blackmore with close to 20 rides over the course of the four days, set a new record for female jockeys – the fact female riders achieved a higher strike rate vs. their male counterparts (4-46; 8.7% vs. 5.3%; 24-452) is an interesting side note.

I don’t want to be patronising. Nonetheless, this is a story that goes beyond racing, particularly in these times where equality is such a strong topic.

It shows that if given the opportunity, female riders can be as successful as male jockeys. It shows not everything is about riding the strongest finish but also about riding a smart race: knowing your mount, judging the pace right and finding an advantageous position to challenge when it matters most.

What I loved most about Bryony Frost in particular when she won the Ryanair Chase on Thursday were the words the found after the race speaking to a huge TV audience: emotional, yet smart. The way she spoke about the horse, about adversity, putting her own emotions into words which felt warm and relatable at the same time – a message not all jockeys are equally gifted in transporting to the general public.

One Era Ends Another Begins

Age catches up with anyone. It has caught up with Un De Sceaux and Faugheen. Both eleven-years-old now; the fall has been gradually, nonetheless it’s clear their younger rivals have fresher and faster legs these days.

I fancied Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase, actually. But truth is you knew his time was up when Paul Townend buried the 2017 winner of this very race at the back of the field. What eventual winner Frodon did you would have expected Un De Sceaux to do if at his brilliant best.

Faugheen fared a little bit better. He was there until the last in with a chance. Still, as soon as Paisley Park shifted into 6th gear the former Champion Hurdler was a beaten horse. He finished a creditable third, and he may well be able to go to Punchestown and win another race.

But as far as the Festival is concerned Faugheen won’t have many more stories to write, neither does Un De Sceaux. They don’t have to. Both horses have bee brilliant throughout their respective careers. They owe us nothing.

In saying that, the mentioned Paisley Park looks a staying hurdler for the ages. How he went from appearing briefly in trouble to looking absolutely irresistible within a matter of seconds was one of those “WOW” moments this week.

It can be the start of the new era. Comparisons with Big Bucks have been made. They aren’t far off the truth I reckon.

Thumps Up ITV

Good news on the TV front: average viewing figure rose 18.5% from last year to 993,000, while peak daily viewing numbers and overall share also saw positive rises.

As record crowds flooded trough the gates, record numbers were glued to the telly as well: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of this year’s festival saw  the highest average viewing numbers since records began in 2003.

Having the luxury of choosing between RTV and ITV at home, I chose to stick with ITV after day one. I thoroughly enjoyed their coverage. From the morning show to the coverage of the actual races – it was excellent, with good people before and behind the camera.

Yes, they speak a simpler language on ITV than they do on RTV. Francesa was asking some seemingly ‘dumb’ questions. One shouldn’t forget, though, the audience on ITV is a different one than on RTV. So overall, thumb up for team ITV – my biggest compliment for them: their genuine love for the sport comes across in every shot and every discussion.

0 British-Bred Winners

I only noticed this fact when reading the opening comment in the Irish Field yesterday morning – even though the numbers were low in years before, not a single British-bred winner at this years festival must be a concern.

Contrary, France closed the gap to Ireland. It’s 14-14 for French-vs. Irish-bred winners this time.

The likes of Klassical Dream, Duc De Genievres, Frodon or Al Boum Photo are all French-bred and were some of the most impressive winners of the entire week. Good news for the French breeding industry!

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There is so much more to say. I could go on for hours. So many memorable performances. So many stories to tell. Also a few sad ones – they are unavoidable in our sport.

It’s been a wonderful week of horse racing over all. The sport is as popular as ever, if not even gaining in popularity again! Long may this trend continue.

Back to bred and butter now: class 6 Handicaps on a Wednesday night at Kempton, Wolverhampton or at Southwell, not that Britain’s only fibresand track owns a bunch of floodlights! Butnot for long.

Even though the sky over county Kildare Is rain filled at the moment (and has been for the entire last week pretty much!) spring is around the corner and with that comes the flat season – the Doncaster Lincoln, the Dubai World Cup and also the opening of the new Curragh. It’s gonna be exciting!