THE Aintree Grand National is the showpiece event of another brilliant festival which begins at the famous Liverpool track on Thursday.
Cork jockeys have been in the news this week with the inform Davy Russell being booked to ride Saint Are for the biggest race in national hunt racing.
The three day Aintree festival is always extremely competitive with some mouth watering clashes over this unique test.
Although the Grand National itself garners most of the headlines there is plenty of Graded action on the opening two days of the meeting.
Champion Hurdle winning jockey Noel Fehily will resume his partnership with Buveur D’air in a fascinating clash with Apples Jade in the Aintree Hurdle.
The latter showed brilliant battling qualities to see off the challenge of Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag in the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham. Yanworth who ran so disappointing in the Champion Hurdle also holds an entry in arguably the race of the meeting. Significantly, this race is run over two and a half miles which may suit the likes of Yanworth who also holds an entry in the three mile stayers’ hurdle.
The Aintree Bowl Chase sees a number of the Gold Cup field reappear including Native River and Cue Card.
Both horses have enjoyed remarkable seasons but found Sizing John too good in the Gold Cup. His jockey Robbie Power has been appointed as retained rider to the Alan Potts team although he will continue to ride for the hugely successful Jessica Harrington operation.
Local hero Un De Sceaux will wait for the Punchestown Festival so the Aintree equivalent may include Fox Norton, Gods Own, Uxizandre and Sub Lieutenant. On The Fringe was another costly failure at Cheltenham and aims to get his season back on track in the Foxhunters.
Davy Russell is riding with supreme confidence right now and he will relish the prospect of riding for English trainer Tom George in the National. Fellow east Cork man Adrain Heskin is the retained rider for the trainer but he opted to ride the stable’s other runner Double Shuffle.
George said:” Adrian asked me and I was unable to give him any help. It’s Saint Are’s time of year, he loves Aintree and he’s in similar form to when he was second two years ago. He just needs some decent ground. But he’s had two goes and Adrian’s probably asking himself whether he’s going to win it now aged 11. Double Shuffle has not been there and at seven is young. But while he may not be as guaranteed to get round he may have a better chance of actually winning if everything fell into place.”
Heskin has enjoyed a brilliant season since moving to England at the start of the year. His association with Tom George has gone from strength to strength so this was a very difficult decision for the Kilworth native. Nevertheless, Russell has ridden in the Grand National a dozen times without ever threatening the judge. Morning Assembly was travelling very well last year before his challenge petered out in the closing stages. The Youghal jockey rode Presenting Percy to victory at Cheltenham and is looking forward to this week’s Aintree spectacle. Russell said: “I led at the Canal Turn on Chelsea Harbour and was getting a bit of a feel off him and thought he’d be involved but he finished ninth. Its such a difficult race to win. ”
Philip Hobbs gave the Aintree green light for one of Cheltenham week’s most impressive winners when confirming that his Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil will run in the Four-year-old Hurdle.
The JP McManus-owned gelding is unbeaten in six starts since joining the Somerset trainer from France last summer.
However, nowhere has he been more impressive than he was when beating the Davy Russell ridden Mega Fortune five lengths in the Triumph. He looks a horse of serious potential and racing fans everywhere were extremely impressed by the manner of the performance.
Special Tiara was crowned Champion Chaser with Noel Fehily aboard and the pair look set to take on star novice Altior at Sandown. It will be an interesting assignment for Fehily as he has ridden both horses to victories this season.
we're going to give Punchestown a swerve this year and show up at Sandown instead. He seems to absolutely love Sandown. The track seems to suit his style of racing and the fences come thick and fast down the back straight. Altior has looked very good so far. It's hard to fault what he's done, but I'd imagine he'll be going a stride quicker at Sandown than he was at Cheltenham so you never know what might happen.”