Monthly Archives: April 2014

Rollercoaster Respite Required

The 2013/2014 jumps season is over. Punchestown is still throwing up reminders of why we love it so, but officially in the UK, we’re done.

Starting isn’t easy here. The flat season last year delivered a large handful of awesomeness, culminating in the unbelievable Trêve on Arc Day. The jumps season required a few months to get into fourth gear as we swapped our shorts (well, some of you did) for gloves, hats and much thicker coats. It’s difficult to know when we got aboard the National Hunt rollercoaster this season and without a starting gate we may all have joined in at different times. I know Tony McCoy, for the eighteenth year running, initiated it for me.

Classy horses have passed me by during my eighteen years on this earth, but never have I seen jumps racing lose the stability of Tony McCoy. Every year he comes out and shows us the same magic, the same miracles. Children, like me, seek him out in those familiar yellow and green silks like we’re long for a favourite home-made meal; homing in on the safety of familiarity. No matter what level, what horse, what ability, what race, what colours, you always know you’ll get a good run. I think that’s why his win on Mountain Tunes at Towcester was so perfect. McCoy got his 4,000th win much like he got the majority of his others, with his brilliance. Brilliance not only seen at Cheltenham, Aintree and Ascot, but Chepstow, Cartmel and Plumpton. Simon Holt’s commentary perfectly summed up Tony McCoy’s service to jump racing; ‘another every day miracle’. I’m eighteen, and I still know no other champion.

The season heated up from there, McCoy had once again lit the fire and our old favourites started to reappear. The stories and characters of our sport really are why we love it so. If we had monotonous beasts running around a field to mediocre ability we sure wouldn’t feel as emotional as we do. Without characters like Mad Moose, Tidal Bay and Golan Way would our sport really be any different? Despite our attempt to distance ourselves from animals, recognising our own characteristics in them is infectious. We’ve thrown words around like ‘rogue’ and ‘enigmatic’ before as descriptions but do really mean that? Inside, we’re thinking ‘hilarious’, ‘cheeky’ and ‘special’. They make our sport different to human sports, because no matter how hard we try, horses will always surprise us with their antics. And we love them for it.

Their deaths hit us hard. All fans of the sport mourn the loss of a racehorse, quietly popping out for a walk after Channel 4 or losing the smile they had before the race. It’s the old ones that really stop us though; the ones you’ve followed since their debut or won a lot of money on two years ago. The ones that have specific characteristics which you could recognise a mile off, the ones who wink at you before they leave the paddock. The ones who keep on giving their all no matter what injury they’ve suffered. This season, Master of the Sea at Haydock choked me. As I sit in front of my desk typing this now, my betting slip from that day catches my eye.

HAYDOCK 23/11/2013 RACE 5
Master of the Sea @7/1
£3.50 each-way.
Return Win: £28.00
Return Place: 8.40

I don’t want that money, I want him back. The guilt of backing – and winning –with Sydney Paget in the last still cuts me today

The horses that give everything get everything back from NH enthusiasts. There’s only one horse that should be Horse of the Year this season, and that’s Sire de Grugy. Another desired attribute accorded to him: consistency. He came out seven times, without cotton wool, without a superfluous reputation and did his stuff for us all to see. He did it for the underdog, the small trainer and quiet jockey. But actually, by doing it for them, he really did it for us, because we wanted to believe. We love an underdog, an unbelievable story.

As I Am’s another one who gets the tears flowing. From weak Worcester contests, she became a force to be reckoned with in the Mares’ discipline for Don Cantillon. The one eyed-wonder is another underdog and she’s another perfect champion. How about Davy Russell’s return to the stage at Cheltenham? Not only was it the perfect response to his old employers, but to the young guns themselves.

There’s no point avoiding the monetary side of racing. The euphoria of winning can be doubled by winning money and trebled by tipping it to others. Sharing the winning experience is a feeling craved by the human race; to be part of something. A victory shared is a victory doubled and seeing Quevega storm up that hill, for us all, is another special, unified moment. Who cares about the bookies then? Racing won, little else matters.

Seeing a horse fall like Our Conor did in the Champion Hurdle is something no racing fan wants to see. The desperation and hope of the crowd following the race was intoxicating. The silence was deathly, with all eyes peering across the sunny track looking for an oasis amongst the melancholy. I haven’t seen a replay nor do I ever want to. This year’s Champion Hurdle is not as it was billed, it is one to try and forget.

The rollercoaster started to lift off again then and Balthazar King actually brought me, uncharacteristically, and for the only time this season, to tears. It’s something for Sire de Grugy, at level weights, to put on his best show at the top level, but for a horse to give away over a stone over nearly four miles is an inconceivable achievement. That’s why I will always love handicappers. They come every year to find a race they can win for their loyal connections. They don’t hide behind a reputation or look for excuses. They put their neck on the line and sure hope they’re there in time. Balthazar King won every time this season apart from in the Grand National. Now of all the races to lose, that’s probably the one to do it in.

All horses came back safely in the Grand National. I don’t need to say anymore.

The old stars came back to woo us once again, perhaps for the last time. Hurricane Fly did it for the nineteenth time; Swing Bill finished another Grand National; Cue Card thrilled us in the Betfair; Baby Run ran his heart out in the Becher and Nigel Twiston-Davies and Mad Moose entertained us at Cheltenham. We really do have something to get up for in the morning.

The young guns – horses and jockeys – have whetted our appetite for next season; Faugheen and Vautour must feature highly on the shortlist of any fan, watching their imperious victories at Cheltenham was porn for our eyes. Sam Twiston-Davies takes on the challenging position of number one at Ditcheat while we eagerly await the return of Simonsig and Sprinter Sacre.

It’s the goodbyes now that hurt the most. The familiarity of Tidal Bay, Sizing Europe and Big Bucks will someday be replaced, but the gap left by them, as champions as well as characters, won’t ebb away for a good time to come. Our utterances next year will include ‘Tidal Bay would’ve won that’ or ‘do you remember when Sizing did that?’. We’ll remember them; we just wished we could share them with every generation. And we’ll all have different stories to tell; despite the togetherness at Cheltenham, racing moments are unique to that moment, that day at the races. That shiver when Big Bucks get clapped around the paddock not once, but four, five times. That punch of the air when Holywell wins and you knew it because you know what Jonjo’s like and Holywell was wearing blinkers. That grimace as you face your friends with the news that Red Rocco won’t be back to thrill us next year.

These will always be memories, stories someday, but right now this is it, we are alive and watching the sport we love. Bring on October.

 

Punchestown Day Three Preview 2014

Day two of the Punchestown Festival underlined that we have plenty to look forward to next season with the three mile novice hurdle and the Champion Bumper having plenty of horses to follow. Beat That has the world at his feet after today’s win where he beat Don Poli and Apache Jack showing that he does not lack a turn of foot plus his will to win could not be faulted as he courageously stuck his neck out. Whether he goes chasing or stays hurdling, he is one to definitely keep on side but Don Poli will make a serious chaser next season and will be a name that we will hear plenty more of in the future.

Shaneshill reversed the Cheltenham form with Silver Concorde under a great ride from Jamie Codd with Value At Risk putting in a much improved effort after a disappointing effort at Cheltenham back in third. Shaneshill should make into a leading contender for next season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle whilst it will be interesting to see what connections do with Silver Concorde as to whether he goes hurdling or goes for a campaign on the flat. One that did travel well was Jollyallan for Harry Fry and he will definitely be a nice horse next season. Whilst writing the blog, it was pleasing to see his other bumper runner Fletcher’s Flyer gain a deserved success under a brilliant ride from Derek O’Connor to make all the running.

Next year’s Gold Cup market was made more open with Boston Bob finally taking a prize over three miles showing a strong display of stamina to beat First Lieutenant with Long Run running a cracking race back in third. The winner definitely has to come into the equation for next year’s Gold Cup based on today’s performance but 12/1 does look a bit on the short side. Hearing comments from Mouse Morris after Aintree suggesting that he would like to aim First Lieutenant at next year’s Crabbie’s Grand National, that wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world and if he does go there, he will meet Long Run again who thrilled connections and the aim for him is to return to Aintree.

Tomorrow’s card looks extremely difficult to give out confident selections however, my banker of the week goes in the Ryanair Novice Chase which is the Alan King trained BALDER SUCCES. At the beginning of this season, I questioned whether the horse would jump fences and whether he would take to the discipline. Safe to say he has proved me wrong big time with King admitting that fences have made a man of him which I completely agree with. Although he missed Cheltenham, it paid dividends with him earning a deserved Grade One at Aintree.

He is top rated in the field, has the assistance of Wayne Hutchinson which is fantastic considering he injured himself shortly after the Grand National meeting and has conditions to suit. Although he has won over two and a half miles this season, he is an out and out two miler and I feel he will have too much pace for his main rivals which include Champagne Fever who jumped his opponents silly in the Arkle only to be beaten by Western Warhorse. On reflection, it is possible Champagne Fever ran in the wrong race at the Festival with the longer JLT more than likely to play to his strengths more and this sharper two miles could be an issue plus he did flop at this meeting behind Jezki last year.

The main threat to Balder Succes is the other Willie Mullins runner Felix Yonger who was disappointing at the Festival but a return to two miles on better ground could see an improved performance whilst Trifolium is a useful yardstick within the division currently as he finished a similar distance behind both Balder Succes and Champagne Fever at Aintree and Cheltenham.

Elsewhere on the card, Duke Of Lucca will love the lightning quick ground on the cross country course but the distance is the worry as he didn’t look to see it out at Cheltenham but his class could just help him. Of the rest, hunter chaser Boxer Georg looks interesting on his first go over the banks with Patrick Mullins taking the ride for father Willie. I think FINGAL BAY each way in the World Series Hurdle is a sensible bet after his gutsy win in the Pertemps Final and with the form of that race working out nicely, he can chase home Quevega whilst in the handicap chase, if TANKS FOR THAT is over his experience in the Topham then he would have an each way squeak.

Punchestown Day Two Preview 2014

Words cannot describe how I felt when the twelve year old Sizing Europe rolled back the years to win his second Punchestown Champion Chase and the reaction to his success just warmed the heart. The evergreen veteran has been a model of consistency throughout his career and full credit goes to his connections but mostly to Henry De Bromhead who has kept his enthusiasm and ability at a high level for eight seasons. To see his reaction along with jockey Andrew Lynch and owner Alan Potts just shows how much he means to them and for him to retire at the top level was fitting to a true champion.

Before Sizing Europe, we had Faugheen. His performance was that impressive that I cannot find a superlative good enough to describe it. For Ruby Walsh to press the button between the second last and the last and for him to make absolute mincemeat of Graded novice hurdlers underlines how big an engine he possesses. Wherever he goes next season, he will be impossible to beat and the way he jumped at the pace he went today, the Champion Hurdle would be the ideal target which forces me to eat my words as I thought chasing would be the right way to go.

Carlingford Lough put in a much better display of jumping when taking the Growise Champion Novice Chase to beat Ballycasey. The winner is as tough as nails yet again underlining how much of a handicap good thing he was in the Galway Plate but next season will be tougher to place him as he doesn’t appeal for me as a Gold Cup horse and will be too highly rated for handicaps. The runner up was a non-stayer and will be very hard to beat over two and a half miles next season with the Ryanair looking a perfect target. Morning Assembly ran a cracker considering him and Don Cossack cut each other’s throats up front and definitely has a big prize in him next season.

Onto tomorrow where I will start with the Louis Fitzgerald Rated Hurdle in which Cheltenian is a deserved favourite based on his good run behind Clondaw Kaempfer at Aintree but two at bigger prices deserve a mention. Carraig Mor hasn’t fulfilled the early season promise but is an absolute giant of a horse who will make up into a smart staying novice chaser next season. Whilst he disappointed at Huntingdon, the ground here should be no problem for the son of Old Vic but the selection each way would be the Willie Mullins second string BELUCKYAGAIN who ran the race of her life to be second behind the imposing Adriana Des Mottes in a Grade One last time out. Dropped down in grade, she can definitely outrun her odds.

One of the races of the entire week is the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle in which Beat That the impressive Aintree winner takes on the Gigginstown Cheltenham winners Very Wood and Don Poli plus the Dessie Hughes trained Apache Jack. The step up to three miles looked to suit Beat That down to the ground at Aintree where he beat two very useful horses in Cole Harden and Seeyouatmidnight. This race however looks tougher with Albert Bartlett first and third Very Wood and Apache Jack reopposing after their Cheltenham exploits. That race was a gruelling contest with stamina winning the day for Very Wood. The only concern for him is whether the hard race had at Cheltenham would have left its mark but if it hasn’t, 9/2 is a pretty big price with similar comments applying to Apache Jack.

However, it was hard not to be impressed by DON POLI in the Martin Pipe. Although it was only a handicap, he was outpaced early on over a trip that is probably too sharp for him but was given an excellent ride by Mikey Fogarty who allowed him to take his time and creep into the race. An interesting note is that the Irish handicapper has him top rated compared to his market rivals and he is one that is an exciting prospect for when he goes chasing next season.

The feature of the day is the Punchestown Gold Cup in which the Willie Mullins/Graham Wylie pair of Boston Bob and ON HIS OWN head the betting. The former finally got his season back on track with a good win at Aintree in the Melling Chase but the worry is whether he actually wants this trip with his record over two and a half. Preference is for the latter who ran a superb race in the Gold Cup to be second to Lord Windermere and a return to a right handed track should help him. For an each way alternative, ARGOCAT ran well in the Betfred Bowl behind Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste and is overpriced at 10/1 with AP McCoy booked to ride again. First Lieutenant has first time blinkers which could sharpen him up after a lacklustre Aintree run, Lyreen Legend has the capability to improve on his Gold Cup run and Long Run looks to want more of a stamina test and he would have been better off in something like the Grand Steeple Chase at Auteuil which is ran over three miles five furlongs.

The Champion Bumper looks a cracking race on paper with Cheltenham winner Silver Concorde looking to complete the double and with his flat pedigree on a track with less demand on stamina, he looks the one to beat with the main danger being Shaneshill over Black Hercules with the latter looking to want more of a stamina test. Of those at a bigger price, SEVEN NATION ARMY is worth a second look as you can forget his last run on absolutely dreadful ground at Newbury where he was looked after once beaten. If he returns to the form where he beat Joshua Lane at Ascot then he must outrun his odds of 25/1.

The Guinness Handicap Chase can go the way of the top weight AUPCHARLIE who could be very well treated off his mark of 147. We know connections are in good form after today’s win with Sizing Europe and with the drying ground and trip in his favour, a very bold bid is expected and in the final bumper, the Harry Fry trained FLETCHER’S FLYER can take his first bumper after a good second to Aintree bumper runner up Relic Rock and the step up in trip can only be seen as a positive.

Punchestown Day One 2014 Preview

Although technically the jumps season is over for another year, we still have five days of top quality racing to get through from Punchestown with the majority of the stars still on show, especially those from the Willie Mullins yard where yet again, he holds a strong hand in the majority of the major races.

Mullins kicks off Tuesday with the unbeaten Faugheen who demolished his field in the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival after making three significant errors but the manner in which he brushed them aside was just breath-taking and it takes an unbelievably good horse to do that. He drops back in trip to two miles for the first time since his bumper win over course and distance in which he beat Supreme runner up Josse’s Hill by twenty two lengths and whilst this is the first time all season he has raced over this trip, the gallop they will go will only help him, especially his sketchy jumping which was a big worry before Cheltenham.

He should win with a clear round but THE LIQUIDATOR looks a tad overpriced at 20/1. The winner of last year’s Grade One bumper at this meeting,  he put in an improved effort last time out in the Supreme behind Vautour compared to his Tolworth run at Kempton which was dire. Whilst he had several of today’s rivals in Sgt Reckless, Wicklow Brave,  Western Boy and Valseur Lido finish in front of him, the vibes going into the race were not exactly positive so for him to finish as close as he did was encouraging. If he has come out of the race and has improved from the run then he could easily be second best to Faugheen.

 

The Champion Chase has a disappointing feel to it with the market headed by both Ryanair runner up Hidden Cyclone and Queen Mother Champion Chase runner up Somersby. The former deserves his day in the sun after some excellent efforts in defeat whilst the latter has improved his form from last season with some fine efforts behind Sire De Grugy. They will both give excellent accounts and should both be bang there at the finish. Module and Baily Green both want further than two miles whilst Ballynagour is an interesting runner stepped back in trip after showing for the first time at Aintree that he can string two runs together. But the selection is the legend that is SIZING EUROPE who ran a fantastic race for a long way in the Queen Mother and even though his best days are now behind him, he is still capable of taking this prize and with the cheekpieces on again, he still has the class and ability to win.

 

The final Grade One of the day is the Growise Champion Novice Chase in which Mullins is double handed with Djakadam and Ballycasey, both coming here with points to prove after both falling last time out. The former was unlucky with his inexperience catching him out when travelling well in the JLT at the Festival whilst the latter did something similar to his schooling fall in the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse only nine days ago. One thing in Djakadam’s favour is that he does receive a nine pound weight allowance from the field being a five year old but with him being a horse for next season and beyond, he wouldn’t want a hard race here.

The selection is MORNING ASSEMBLY who ran a cracker in the RSA Chase after getting outpaced coming down the hill before staying on into third. His jumping has been excellent this year and he can take advantage with that with several of his main rivals having question marks over their jumping including Ballycasey and Carlingford Lough who jumped appallingly in the RSA. The ground is no issue and the trip is perfect.  Don Cossack could also be interesting back on a galloping track after his second to Holywell at Aintree.

Martin Smith Weekly Blog

The first couple of weeks of the turf season have flown by for us having a winner with Hillbilly Boy at the Lincoln meeting and last week we had our first jumps winner on a memorable Grand National day.

Just before our race at Chepstow I stood and watched Leighton Aspell win the race every jump jockey dreams of winning. Leighton and I have remained good friends since we worked together at Josh Gifford’s yard when we were 17. We had a lot in common when we first met having both ridden 9 winners on the flat at the time and always had a lot of fun together.

Leighton retried from race riding a few years ago when things weren’t going well for him and he made a big decision to get back in the saddle but I think it’s fair to say he made the right choice!! He also rode Ossie’s Dancer in his first couple of starts over hurdles and has done the majority of his schooling at home for us so seeing him win the Grand National minutes before Ossie’s Dancer won his first race was absolutely amazing!

Steve and Verity Garner who own Ossie’s Dancer were like proud parents at Chepstow. Having owned his mother Nina Ballerina, they have owned Ossie’s Dancer since birth and they have been very patient with him. Even though he showed little promise as a youngster they gave him a second chance by sending him to us and it makes me very happy to see their trust in him and us finally being rewarded.

Looking ahead we have a fantastic week in store with the 2014 turf season coming to Newmarket. Not only do we have one of the most telling 2.000 Guineas trials in the Craven but we also have the Breeze Up sales at Tattersalls. It’s a rare opportunity to watch some of the best racing prospects in action and also get a chance to see some future stars go through the sales ring.

The Craven Breeze Up sales are renowned for turning out future stars, in 2012 Rosdhu Queen was purchased for 65.000 guineas and went on to win the Gr1 Cheveley Park Stakes that same year before being sold for a whopping 2.100.000 guineas in Decmeber 2013!

It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter who you are, you just have to be bold and adventurous in this sport and one day you never know…

You might just win!!!

Apologies for the late upload, Luke takes full credit for that!!! Oops

2014 Irish Grand National Preview

Easter Monday’s traditional standing dish is the Boylesports Irish Grand National from Fairyhouse and with the three main Nationals from Aintree, Chepstow and Ayr all throwing up reasonably big priced winners with odds of 25/1, 20/1 and 40/1, another surprise could be on the cards, especially as this race tends to throw up a longer priced winner. Sadly there are now four non-runners including Tammy’s Hill and one of the selections Los Amigos.

The top of the market is headed by the Arthur Moore trained Home Farm who ran an excellent race in this last year as a six year old behind Liberty Counsel and has ran some nice races this season which includes the Paddy Power Chase where he got left at the start slightly before running on to finish fifth off top weight. His most recent run will have put him spot on for this and he is definitely worthy of the shortlist.

Goonyella missed out by one to get in the Crabbie’s Grand National in which he would have had a decent chance. This former hunter chaser comes here off the back of a useful second behind Cheltenham Festival winner Don Poli in a Grade Three novice hurdle at Clonmel. You can forgive his Welsh National run to an extent as his journey over was terrible with the bad weather and his run in this race a year ago as his tack broke. The main concern is whether the ground is lively enough for him as he seems to be at his best on really testing ground as proven when beating Vesper Bell at Punchestown last April.

JP McManus is responsible for a fifth of the field with Cause Of Causes and SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR looking his main chances. Both horses along with Pendra are novices and they have a good record in the race with McManus taking this race back in 2007 with Butler’s Cabin who was trained by Jonjo O’Neill who is represented by Shutthefrontdoor. O’Neill’s record in staying handicap chases must be taken seriously and although Aintree this year didn’t exactly go to plan with both his runners departing over the first two fences, both Shutthefrontdoor and Alfie Sherrin must go into this with big chances, especially the former but he will need to jump better than in the National Hunt Chase. Barry Geraghty looks a really good booking for the horse as well.

Cause Of Causes has been the bridesmaid in two big handicap chases already this season in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown and in the Kim Muir where Nina Carberry’s stalking ride nearly paid off but for a costly mistake at the last. Stamina would be my main concern plus he has plenty of weight on his back. Pendra is another with stamina concerns although out of Old Vic, a sire that has had success over longer distances; he may see it out but will have to jump better than he did at the Festival whilst Cantlow is here to keep the weights down and is hard to fancy on his last two effort.

The other owner to be represented by more than one runner is Michael O’Leary and he also has three that have their claims headed by FOLSOM BLUE who won the Punchestown National Trial on his first attempt in a handicap over fences. He performed with credit when behind Gallant Oscar in the Leinster National and wasn’t completely disgraced with third behind Touch The Eden last time out. The better ground and the step back up in trip will be in his favour and he can go very close. The other two Rogue Angel and MAKE A TRACK both have each way claims with the latter set to appreciate a big field and to big a price to ignore.

Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins has surprisingly never won the Irish National but came ever so close with Away We Go who represents him again along with Touch The Eden. The former will need to jump much better than he did in the Bet365 Gold Cup to figure whilst the latter is an interesting novice but the trip would be a slight concern.

Gallant Oscar leads the Tony Martin trio having looked well handicapped when taking the Leinster National last time out. There is still potential for improvement up in trip with the same comment applying to both his other runners in Sraid Padraig and Oscars Well. The former will need to jump much better than he did when fancied in the Byrne Group Plate whilst the latter was top class over hurdles and if he returns to that old form then he shouldn’t be discounted.

My fourth and final selection is another novice in LOS AMIGOS who was well fancied for the Thyestes and ran a really good race to be second to On His Own albeit receiving plenty of weight. A promising run then followed behind Gallant Oscar in the Leinster National. This race has looked the plan for a while and he has the scope for improvement required to take this.

Of the rest, My Murphy was a good winner of a novice handicap chase off top weight at Navan last time out and deserves respect. Daring Article was travelling kindly when falling in the Paddy Power Chase over Christmas and will need to be at his very best to take this. Rich Revival would have a squeak if returning to his best form, Letter Of Credit could outrun his odds and this will probably come too quick for the 2012 winner Lion Na Bearnai after his Aintree exploits.

To conclude briefly, the shortlist of four would compile of Home Farm, Shutthefrontdoor, Folsom Blue and Make A Track with the preference of the winner going to Folsom Blue who will appreciate this better ground and has the credentials to win.

1st Folsom Blue

2nd Shutthefrontdoor

3rd Home Farm

4th Make A Track

Good luck if you are having a bet!

Kate O’Brien: Believe in Byron

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Dual Group 1 winner Gordon Lord Byron has given his devoted stable lass, Kate O’Brien, voyages around the world she’ll never forget, and now they ready themselves to take on the best in the TJ Smith Stakes after their tremendous success in the George Ryder two weeks ago.

Kate O’Brien, now aged 23, joined Tom Hogan’s small yard five years ago while she was studying Sports and Exercise Science at Limerick University and acknowledges Gordon Lord Byron is the reason she has stayed since completing her degree.

The two met when Gordon Lord Byron was a two year-old and Kate was the intended pilot on his debut, but as a ten-pound claimer, she was not allowed to ride a two year old debutant so another jockey took the ride. There, Byron’s unbelievable story unravelled further, as he broke his pelvis in the race and didn’t return to the track for over a year.

However, when he did come back in July 2012 he ran another disappointing race and his jockey told Kate and connections he wasn’t any good. Kate simply replied with ‘don’t worry, he is, this horse is a machine, he’s just not right in himself today’. His loyal connections faith was gradually rewarded for their efforts, as he picked up place money later in the season and broke his maiden tag in the November.

Gordon Lord Byron first set his sights on races abroad when winning a York Listed race in 2012 and followed that up with an excellent second in Haydock’s Sprint Cup, a race in which he loves. Already, he’d taken Kate O’Brien to places she’d never been before and she said then, she knew she couldn’t leave it now.

When he won the Group 1 Prix de la Forêt that October, Kate said she’d got ‘such a buzz’ from the whole day, especially walking back into the parade ring leading her champion. When Tom asked Kate ‘How does Hong Kong sound?’ she initially laughed; she was in her final year at Limerick with impending exams and assumed Tom was joking. Fortunately, the Hong Kong Mile was run during her two-week study week and Kate flew off, revision in hand, to watch her star finish an admirable fourth.

The decision to go to Australia was stuff of dreams for any trainer or stable hand, never mind one with less than twenty horses in his yard. After Byron finished fourth once again in Hong Kong, Tom told Kate ‘we’re definitely going, get your visa sorted’.

With her degree now completed, Kate didn’t have to think twice about going with Gordon Lord Byron to another continent. She has family in Melbourne and friends in Sydney that she hopes to see while over but it’s her unmitigated belief in Bryon is what drives her to follow him wherever he goes. ‘If he’s in his top form, he’s definitely in with a chance to win or be placed’.

Bryon’s already done just that, when winning the $1 million George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill last month. On Saturday, he bids to take on the best in the business over six furlongs in the $2.5 million TJ Smith Stakes, won last year by none other than Black Caviar.

It won’t be an easy task for Byron, but this superstar has already shocked the Australians when taking the George Ryder at 18/1, would you be underestimating him again?

The Grand National: Everything It Should Be

Racing needed that. Really, really needed it. The 2014 Aintree Festival showed the world what racing is about in its purest form. This year, racing won on the international stage. This year, it was perfection in festival form.

The build up wasn’t overdone, overanalysed nor overplayed. Racing enthusiasts glanced at the card before trotting onto the course in clothes they felt comfortable in. They joined in with the Scouse rabble; there to have a good time watching the sport they love. Pressure previously put on them as pundits, non-existent; the Aintree Festival is there to enjoy.

We shared Aintree with everyone. No longer did we need to keep the inside information quiet, worry about boring our friends with excessive information; everyone watches the Grand National. It wasn’t an exclusive club anymore… racing opened its doors to the world. The lunatics that backed those hundred to one shots were suddenly equals in the Grand National game. The friends who want to be in your sweepstake, the neighbours who lean over the fence to ask if Threefortea is going to win the National or question why Red Rum isn’t running. For one day, nine minutes a year, the world really does watch us, our spectacle. And boy did our sport deliver, yet again.

The racing fans were sat in front of the television by one. The others ambled in at four. The racing fans already knew all the colours, the others asked for their horse’s number, colour and name. They forgot all of this information within seconds, to be reminded throughout the race by their enthusiast counterparts.

The bets have been placed, the sweepstake drawn. The anticipation and expectation is immense, like a physical ball of uncontrollable energy diving around the room. They’re off. Everyone’s watching.

The thrills and spills are what make the Grand National so sensational. The horses that nearly go, make a mistake or run around having the times of their lives. This year we got the perfect balance. Toe-curling, tear-jerking, shocking Tidal Bay tactics kept everyone glued to our sport; a drug no one knew how to quit.

The horses of the Grand National are the champions of our sport. The handicappers are the ones we see the most, the ones without that cotton wool. They give their all around that track, with or without jockeys, to put on the greatest show on earth. They’re past the post, they’re part of history.

First. Pineau de Re. Euphoria. Ecstasy. The story of the doctor, the retired jockey and the small owner. A win for the underdogs, the empathetic Grand National crowd roared.

Second. Balthazar King. Tears. Thinking about what this horse has achieved brings tears every time. We often give animals human qualities, but every day, we crave the qualities of Balthazar King. To never give up, to give your all and to do it all again. The bravery of Balthazar King will live long in my memory and now the Grand National has given him the platform to touch the lives of others. But don’t get me wrong, the Grand National didn’t need to make a hero out of him; we already knew we had one.

In the immediate aftermath, racing fans could only process one thought, one desire. To hear one thing: the all clear. The cathartic release of the words

“All 40 horses and jockeys are fine”

and racing had won for the second year.

No backlash. No questions. No worries. We could cherish it all. For the first time in years we didn’t come down from cloud nine as we bathed in our sport’s unconditional success. The raw emotions of joy, shock and happiness, no longer mixed with anger, sadness or regret. We could start to look back and enjoy the thrills and spills without guilt, knowing our favourites had had a good run. We laughed at the guy who’d picked Battle Group in the sweepstake and giggled at the cheekiness of the enigmatic Tidal Bay. Balder Succes and Steve Ayres had foreshadowed a special race; tears flowed and smiles broadened over fans faces around the world. And we remembered how special it was to be part of racing, and why we need the great Grand National institution. The Grand National is our inclusive race, where we open our doors to the world and say ‘this is horse racing, don’t you see why we love it?’

This year, on the biggest stage, we got it right.

2014 Crabbie’s Grand National Review

The 2014 Crabbie’s Grand National had a bit of everything. A false start, loose horses running riot and a wonderful result for an underestimated trainer in Dr Richard Newland who trained Pineau De Re to take an extremely popular success with his first ever runner in the race. It was fantastic to witness the outpouring of congratulations from jockeys out on the course to jockey Leighton Aspell and then Sam Twiston-Davies after being brought down on Tidal Bay running over genuinely thrilled for both trainer and jockey just shows how close knit this sport is. The best part though about the race was that all forty horses and jockeys came back fine which underlines that the work Aintree have done to improve safety has paid off and whilst I was slightly skeptical about whether they had gone too far, yesterday proved the race still has its characteristics intact.

PINEAU DE RE was a well-deserved winner of the race yesterday after travelling strongly throughout the whole race but not without making a few mistakes, most notably at the eleventh and the thirteenth with Leighton Aspell doing unbelievably well to stay in the saddle. My only doubt about him was whether he would see out the trip but he dispelled that with a stout staying effort all the way to the line. The plan is to return next season after a campaign over hurdles including another go in the Pertemps Final.

Balthazar King was given a brilliant ride by Richard Johnson. Usually a tearaway front runner, he rode with him a bit more patience and nearly reaped the deserved awards. He was also hampered at the first by Twirling Magnet and by Mountainous at Valentine’s but he jumped with the same enthusiasm that he always does and again showed how much of a credit he is to his connections. His future involves more cross country races and another tilt next year will be prominent in those plans.

Double Seven found the ground slightly tacky for him but has run a great race for Tony McCoy. He did make three significant errors early on at the fifth, at the Foinavon first time and at the tenth but came there with his chance and showed he was the right choice for AP.  Although he has plenty of experience, he is only an eight year old who may still have some improvement to come.

Alvarado was given a very patient ride and was last after jumping the first ditch but crept into the race nicely on the second circuit before he seemingly got outpaced after the Canal Turn before staying on through beaten rivals to get fourth. He is yet another Mr and Mrs Rucker horse to finish in the places and continues their excellent record in the race. He would be one already for the shortlist for next year’s race as would Rocky Creek who for a horse with limited experience jumped and travelled so well through the race with him looking at one stage the likely winner. He faded away to finish fifth and with a better preparation next season and another year to strengthen up and gain more experience, he could potentially be the next winner of the Grand National.

Chance Du Roy made a shocking mistake at the fourth and was given a fantastic ride by Tom O’Brien who patiently crept into the race and looked a major threat going to three out before getting tired and not staying the trip. He should return to defend his Becher Chase crown. Monbeg Dude was actually given a nice ride considering he could have been dropped out and made to work his way into the race however he wasn’t far away going to Becher’s second time but a couple of fiddly mistakes probably cost him a place whilst Raz De Maree looks to need five miles after staying on from a mile back to snatch eighth.

The veteran Swing Bill ran another cracker over these fences and is an absolute credit to his connections whilst Kruzhlinin ran far better than his odds and form suggested finishing tenth. He could be one to keep an eye on in future runnings of the race. Of the rest that completed The Package jumped much better than four years ago but didn’t stay, Vesper Bell was given an unbelievable ride by Katie Walsh as he made some shocking errors on the way round and actually had a chance going to three out, Across The Bay was just unlucky to be carried out but it’s hard to know where he would have finished, both Mr Moonshine and Hunt Ball would be ideal Topham candidates whilst Prince De Beauchene would be a nice horse for the Becher Chase as he jumped great but was a non-stayer.

Whilst eighteen got round out of the thirty nine that started, twenty one didn’t and some of those are worthy of a mention. I have to start with my main selection Teaforthree who made a very rare mistake when unseating Nick Scholfield at the Chair. Whilst it was too far out to call what would have happened, he didn’t exactly travel like he did a year ago and sadly I think his chances of winning the race have probably gone.

The two top weights Tidal Bay and Long Run both departed early with the former being unluckily brought down by Golan Way at the Canal Turn after he had jumped well plus had got into a nice rhythm whilst the latter had really taken to the course and was jumping really well until disrespecting Valentines and paid the price. I think if Long Run comes back next season then he definitely deserves another crack over these fences as he looked to be loving it.

At the same fence, Mountainous who had also jumped nicely got in too close and fell badly hampering The Rainbow Hunter who for the second year in succession had no luck in running and unseated Aidan Coleman. Both could return again next year. One In A Milan is one from the second circuit where you are left to wonder what might have been as he was travelling kindly when falling at second Becher’s. That was put down to inexperience and out of the fallers this year, he could be the one to set the record straight next year. Rose Of The Moon was another to jump nicely but was struggling when coming down and could be one for either the Becher or the Topham next year.

Triolo D’Alene ran no race at all which suggested that his breathing issue is a big problem and will probably have an operation over the summer whilst stablemate Shakalakaboomboom looked out of love with the game before being pulled up at the twentieth. Walkon was one who travelled well for a long way before getting tired and injuring his back leg but thankfully came back.

Michael’s Comprehensive Grand National Guide

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So every year, horse racing suddenly reappears on the national stage as the non-racing population realise it still exists, despite it already being the second biggest spectator sport. Unfortunately for racing fans, we are then required to tip the winner of the most competitive and unpredictable race in the world. Here goes!

This article has:
2x Preview/Selection Videos
Five Amusing Names
Michael’s Tips
Quick Runner-by-Runner Guide

Videos
Funny selection video done by racing fans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYAWZf9sXqo

Grand National Preview video: Watch Live on Youtube from 7pm GMT. Follow @mytentoryours on twitter for video link just before.

Five Amusing Names

SHAKALAKABOOMBOOM is a favourite from the 2012 edition of this race and returns once again for loyal Basil Brush fans.

THE PACKAGE is a well-put together individual and has been popular in the past.

MOUNTAINOUS is for those punters in size denial.

TEAFORTHREE or ‘Ménage à Trois’ as I prefer to call him.

Unfortunately, LOST GLORY is a non-runner, despite the excellent morning glory pun I had lined-up.

My Opinion

Ante-post for the National I’ve backed MONBEG DUDE at 25/1 in February. Due to his royal and rugby connections (he’s owned by Mike Tindall, husband to Zara Philipps), his price has since dropped to around the 12/1 mark and he’s likely to be shorter on the day.

In 2012 he won the Welsh Grand National under this rider, Paul Carberry, who’s well accomplished around the national fences (he won the Grand National in 1999). MONBEG DUDE is a success story for connections; he was bought for only £12,000 and has already racked up winnings of over £100,000. His jumping has always been a problem but two things have helped him on his national tilt, a) the national fences have been lowered due to the safety regulations and b) he’s been schooled by Zara Philipps. His jumping at Cheltenham in December was much better than his usual attempts but errors did creep in last time out in Doncaster, which is a minor worry. He was well beaten that day but the trip was inadequate (3m 2f) and he couldn’t catch a run away winner who led throughout on good ground. He’s not ground dependent (he has won on good ground, as well as heavy) so ante-post bets are safe when it comes to the rain forecast this week.

MONBEG DUDE will be out the back for the majority of the race and he’ll be ridden as Paul Carberry likes to deliver him: at the last moment. From a betting perspective however, I hope he doesn’t try to emulate the 2012 winner, Neptune Collonges, my heart may not take it! *Update Paul Carberry may have been injured on Friday and another jockey may take the ride, such as Tom Scudamore*

Others to consider are DOUBLE SEVEN, PINEAU DE RE, BALTHAZAR KING and BIG SHU.

DOUBLE SEVEN fits all the trends and has won some good races this year, including when beating Cheltenham Festival winner Spring Heeled in October. The only negative would be his lack of experience over further than three miles. He’s shaped like a stayer however and his trainer knows how to win a national – he trained the 2006 winner NUMBERSIXVALVERDE. 18 times Champion Jockey Tony McCoy is likely to take the ride and he won the race in 2010 with DON’T PUSH IT.

PINEAU DE RE has been a long-term fancy of Calum’s who’s very keen on him for the National after hearing the comments from his connections in December. He was third in the Pertemps at Cheltenham last time and horses that ran (but did not win) at Cheltenham have good records here including DON’T PUSH IT in 2010.

This a negative for the legend that is BALTHAZAR KING however, who’s unbeaten this season including when sticking his neck out under top weight at Cheltenham last time. Only one horse has won at the Cheltenham Festival and won this since 1961. He’s only likely to run if the going description is better than soft however, as he only acts on good ground.

BIG SHU was behind BALTHAZAR KING last time at Cheltenham on good ground and will appreciate any rain that arrives. He seems to stay all day and is another one that fits a lot of the trends. GOONYELLA would be interesting from the reserves list, though no seven year old has won this for nearly three-quarters of a century.

A horse I’m little bit worried about at big odds is RAZ DE MAREE who does fit the trends and has had a very quiet season. I will be having a little each way on him on the day, just in case.

Quick Runner-by-Runner Guide

  1. TIDAL BAY – 13 years old + top weight, tough ask but a loveable rogue (finishes second a lot)
  2. LONG RUN – Won Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011 but largely disappointing since. Jockey has good record here.
  3. HUNT BALL – Owned by USA now and here because of the race’s prestige. Unlikely to stay.
  4. TRIOLO D’ALENE – Hennessy winner who won this Topham last year (race over National Fences but over shorter distance). Needs to prove stamina and heavy ground won’t help.
  5. ROCKY CREEK – Second in Hennessy but had problems since including constipation…
  6. QUITO DE LA ROQUE – Also known as ‘Quito de la Slow’, he’ll love the distance and will keep going when nothing else is. Vulnerable to anything with a bit of speed though, such as a snail.
  7. COLBERT STATION – Not a good jumper and unseated Tony McCoy in this race last year. Does fit a lot of trends, however.
  8. WALKON – Grey, but still won’t stay.
  9. BALTHAZAR KING – See Above.
  10. WAYWARD PRINCE – Usually only puts up a few good runs in a season but already done that. Has won here before, but never tried these fences.
  11. MR MOONSHINE – Same connections as last year’s winner AURORAS ENCORE. Second over these fences in December but stamina a question mark.
  12. TEAFORTHREE – Favourite. Third last year and put in splendid display of jumping when second at Ascot last time out. Deserves favouritism.
  13. ACROSS THE BAY – Failed in this race last year and hard to see that changing unfortunately.
  14. DOUBLE SEVEN – See Above.
  15. BATTLE GROUP – Won twice at the Grand National festival last year and obviously loves the track. Has refused to race before and stamina doubts.
  16. BUCKERS BRIDGE – No proof he’ll stay this far, never won over further than 2 ½ miles (this is another 2 miles…).
  17. LION NA BERNAI – Won Irish National few years back and won again recently. Not without a chance.
  18. PRINCE DE BEAUCHENE – Favourite past two years but never took his chance through injury. Should make the line-up this year.
  19. MONBEG DUDE – See Above.
  20. BIG SHU – See Above.
  21. BURTON PORT – Hard to see him winning, gave his all last time out but still beaten.
  22. OUR FATHER – Over-rated performer who’s always failed at the top level and same expected.
  23. MOUNTAINOUS – Won Welsh National this season on heavy ground but didn’t back that up. Only interesting if the it rained cats, dogs and really big elephants.
  24. THE RAINBOW HUNTER – Unseated rider last year through no fault of his own but back to form last time when winning Doncaster Listed race. Can’t discourage you away.
  25. VINTAGE STAR – Owner knows how to win this (HEDGEHUNTER, 2005 & BALLABRIGGS, 2011). Goes well on soft but largely remained under the radar this year.
  26. CHANCE DU ROY – Won Becher Chase in December and well experienced over these fences. Stamina doubts.
  27. HAWKES POINT – Excellent placed form this year when rain in the ground including second in Welsh National. Interesting runner.
  28. KRUZLININ – It’s a no from me.
  29. PINEAU DE RE – Fell in the Becher Chase but will be more experienced here and hails from very shrewd yard.
  30. GOLAN WAY – No ta.
  31. TWIRLING MAGNET – Never shown form required to take this.
  32. VESPER BELL – Fell at first in Becher Chase and trainer’s comments recently didn’t inspire you to back him.
  33. THE PACKAGE – Lightly raced past few years and runs well after a lay-off including third at Cheltenham recently. Unseated rider in 2010 National.
  34. RAZ DE MAREE – Some good form in 2012 but hasn’t inspired since and would require leap of faith.
  35. ROSE OF THE MOON – Back to form when winning last time out but well beaten on previous try at these fences and likely outsider.
  36. SHAKALAKABOOMBOOM – Probably only popular due to name and largely disappointing this season.
  37. ALVARADO – Shock winner at Cheltenham earlier in the season and these colours have good place records (State of Play & Cappa Bleau have both placed in previous years)
  38. LAST TIME D’ALBAIN – Uninspiring form of late, hasn’t won since 2012 and that was a race 2 miles shorter than today’s.
  39. ONE IN A MILAN – Been disappointing in winnable races since good fourth in Welsh National. Would be a surprise winner.
  40. SWING BILL – Highly tried over the national fences (ran six times), and sixth last year. Ageing though and looks up against it for win purposes.

Good Luck!