Matt Tombs / Tuesday 8th April 2014 / 16:30
There was no significant change in the ground for Grand National day. The big race often provides a wider public story but this year the story was a racing one surrounding a remarkable trainer, Dr Richard Newland. He limits himself to training only 12 horses at any one time because of his commitments in the medical profession, and specialises in taking cast offs and improving them.
As if Philip Fenton and Barry Connell hadn’t had enough troubles recently, they had to watch their old horse win the National. Pineau De Re had been 7th in the Festival Bumper and 2nd in the Royal Bond in his younger days but hadn’t lived up to expectations over fences in Ireland. Acquired by Newland last summer he’s been kept on the go since, (he’s a great advertisment for running your horses regularly, having run 12 times last year.)
He was an eye-catcher at the Festival when ¼l 3rd to Fingal Bay in the Pertemps Final, finishing really strongly. Having suggested then he’d be an interesting long shot for the National, sadly I didn’t follow up on that thought. Pineau De Re will be 12 next year so it may be a stretch to imagine him winning again, but it was great for connections to enjoy their day in the sun.
Jumping was the question mark for Pineau De Re and he wasn’t fluent at a few, making a bad mistake at the 13th, which it’s hard to imagine he’d have survived before the fences were softened.
Balthazar King has had a wonderful season, winning at Cheltenham over both the park fences and the cross-country course and he ran a great race to be 2nd here. Ridden more conservatively than last year, (yard also in better form), he saw out the trip better but not as well as the winner.
Philip Hobbs said he may miss the Festival cross-country next year as he’d be handicapped out of it – he’d then be fresh for the National. On the basis of handicapping alone, I’d argue the opposite. With weight not seeming to matter too much in the cross-country races because they go so slowly, he should take a lot of beating in those when the ground is decent. However, with his mark likely to be in the high 150s I suspect he’d be handicapped out of it in the National. All that said, it’s great that connections want to target Aintree.
With the ‘new National’ looking a real lottery, there does look to be one certainty – that Paul Moloney will ride one of the Ruckers horses to snatch some place money having been miles behind, (6th consecutive year that combination have been placed which must be a record). Moloney’s previous placed mounts were State Of Play and Cappa Bleu, and he repeated the trick on Alvarado, who stayed on from a long way back to get 4th. If he was to be ridden more positively, the 9 year old might be the one to take out of the race with next year in mind.
There were inevitably hard luck stories, none more so than Across The Bay who was going well out front when taken out by a loose horse early on the 2nd circuit. He’s only 10, so hopefully will get back for another crack next season, (though stamina looked to give out in the race last season.)
The Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle (extended 3m) was weakened by the defection of World Hurdle winner More Of That, but still looked a fair race for the grade. The gap between top handicap form and Grade 1s is often underestimated – especially with so many Grade 1s now. Whisper had won the Coral Cup off 154, the highest mark a Festival handicap has been won off this century.
That looked Grade 1 form and, in the absence of More Of That, he took the step up to 3m in his stride and fended off World Hurdle 3rd At Fishers Cross on the run in. This was a particularly good effort as the occasion had seemed to get to him beforehand. Whisper has plenty of toe and now having proved his stamina the 6 year old looks a top class prospect for novice chasing next season, (12/1 for the RSA).
At Fishers Cross has improved throughout the season, (had serious jumping issues early on and yard in much better form now), and went down all guns blazing here. His jumping still isn’t the finished article, (jumped right here,) and it may be that he is still suffering from the back problems that dogged him early season. He did rip a shoe off early on here, which might be an excuse. If his jumping improves he’ll be a contender again for the World Hurdle (14/1) next season.
Earlier in the afternoon, Lac Fontana had also made the leap from Festival handicap to Aintree Grade 1, when following up his County Hurdle win off 139, by winning the Mersey Novices Hurdle (2m4f.) He’s only 5 and there should be plenty more to come. He’s not quoted for the World Hurdle but would be interesting tried at 3m.
The two who chased him home had also won big handicaps in the season, Splash Of Ginge (Betfair Hurdle) and Dell’ Arca (Greatwood). They also look good prospects - Splash Of Ginge might be one to follow in novice chases next season. If there was an unlucky horse in the race was Wilde Blue Yonder. He’d fallen twice at the last before a good 5th in the Supreme, (8½l behind Vautour,) when there must have been an element of getting him round in connections minds. He was checked on the last bend, which cost him some momentum, (only beaten 2½l.) If his jumping improves he might be one for graded races next season.
Being the only 2m Grade 1 chase run at this sort of sharp track, (often on decent ground,) the Maghull Novices Chase is usually a great spectacle. It’s been a good guide to the Champion Chase with Sprinter Sacre, Finian’s Rainbow and Well Chief doing the double, whilst Sire De Grugy and Voy Por Ustedes were beaten in the Maghull before winning the Champion Chase.
With Hinterland running much too keen and Ted Veale hardly jumping a fence, the form is hard to weigh up. However, visually it was a taking effort from Balder Succes who jumped really well, (showing the benefit of experience over fences – this was his 7th chase start,) and found plenty at the business end to win in a fast time.
As Alan King said, fences have ‘made a man of him’, (had looked to lose interest over hurdles last season.) I was impressed with the toe he showed here, (already proved his stamina by winning the Pendil over an extended 2m4f,) and he looks right in the mix for the Champion Chase, (16/1 looks too big).
Trifolium was 3rd in the Arkle and filled the same position here, beaten an almost identical 4½l. In theory he adds some Grade 1 substance to the form, but this sharper test didn’t look to obviously suit. He’s 25/1 for the Champion Chase but doesn’t look quite good enough at this stage.
Simply Ned ran a blinder. He’d graduated from handicaps and has been really progressive. He shouldn’t be underestimated next season. Nor should Next Sensation for whom this looked to come too quickly after a hard race under a cut throat ride in the Grand Annual. There will be much worse ante-post bets than the 40/1 available for the Champion Chase.
The handicap hurdle for conditionals and amateurs (extended 2m,) went to top weight Court Minstrel who (including claims) was giving 11lb and upwards to his 21 rivals. He was very confidently ridden by Adam Wedge and won a shade cosily off 147. He’d run well in top novice hurdles last season and rounded off by winning the Scottish Champion Hurdle off 141. He’d been a bit out of sorts this season but might just be a spring horse and shouldn’t be underestimated in graded races when the ground is good.
The other handicap was a chase over 3m1f. It’s often said that cross-country race form has little relevance in conventional races, but with Hey Big Spender already having won over conventional fences since the Festival cross-country, Duke of Lucca returned to form to win here off 134, (Balthazar King also finished 2nd in the National.) He loves good ground and should be competitive in handicaps in the spring, although he’s more likely to return to the cross-country circuit at Punchestown.
Vino Griego is a tricky customer but was on a going day here and just couldn’t get up. He’s not one to be taking a short price about, but equally is the sort who is likely to pop up in a top handicap somewhere over the next year, probably at a big price.
The Champion Bumper often throws up future stars (The New One beat My Tent Or Yours two seasons ago). Nigel Twiston-Davies often does well in this and Ballyboley got up in the dying strides to beat Relic Rock.
The winner comes from the pointing field and should be a cracking jumping prospect, with a step up in trip looking sure to suit. The runner up did everything right and just got nailed on the line. He’s progressing nicely and is one to look forward to over hurdles next season. He got plenty warn enough, although nothing like as badly as 3rd home Aqalim. He was beaten less than 3l and as he matures he should be a good prospect.