FROM Fairyhouse to Aintree, the racing bandwagon continues apace as we prepare for the most famous steeplechase in the world — the Aintree Grand National.
The success of John Hanlon’s £600 purchase Skyace in last Sunday’s Grade 1 Mares Novice Hurdle and the fairytale performance of Freewheelin Dylan in the Irish National, serves to remind us that horses don’t know how much they cost and that dreams can become reality in this sport!
So to that end, who will conquer Liverpool’s Everest tomorrow afternoon?
Four and a quarter-miles, thirty evergreen fences and the market is headed by Jonjo O’Neill’s Ladbroke Trophy winner Cloth Cap, who is theoretically 14lbs “well-in” off his current handicap mark but lacks vital course experience.
Bred locally by Seamus Spillane who himself saddled a double at Mallow races on Easter Monday, Cloth Cap comes from the same family as 2004 winner Amberleigh House and has been extremely progressive this season.
His owner Trevor Hemmings has enjoyed treble success in this iconic race but the same good fortune cannot be applied to the man on his back!
Tom Scudamore has had 18 Grand National rides - his best finish to date is seventh.
His father Peter was champion national hunt jockey on eight occasions in the UK but never managed to win the Aintree showpiece but his father Michael (Tom’s grandfather) did achieve the feat aboard Oxo in 1959.
Tom will be itching to set the record straight, emulate his grandfather's achievements of 62 years ago and it appears he’s on the best horse to gain that elusive win.
Cloth Cap deserves to be favourite but what of his 39 opponents?
Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now leads the Irish challengers after a classy performance over two miles at Navan on his latest start. The former Cheltenham Festival winner was targeting the race last year before it was cancelled due to Covid and this year’s campaign has very much been centered around Liverpool.
He’s a natural jumper and strong stayer who seems to have all the right credentials for the Grand National.
A factor that really adds intrigue to this particular race is how horses adapt to those famous evergreen fences.
If the aforementioned pair fail to find a rhythm then the tide could turn to horses with course form.
We might not have Tiger Roll this year but we do have the mare he denied in 2019, Jessica Harrington’s Magic Of Light.
Fresh from a solid Cheltenham Festival effort in a race that would be much too short in distance for her to be seen to best effect, this Flemensfirth mare jumped superbly for Paddy Kennedy when denied by just over 2 lengths by Tiger Roll.
Still only a 10yo, Magic Of Light will be ridden tomorrow by former winning rider Robbie Power and with Mrs Harrington’s horses striking twice at Fairyhouse last Sunday, the yard form appears to be peaking at the opportune time.
Amongst those behind Magic Of Light in 2019 was the fifth-placed Anibale Fly who will take his chance again as an 11yo for Tony Martin.
A Gold Cup runner-up when at the peak of his powers, Anibale Fly had also placed fourth behind Tiger Roll in the 2018 renewal but having slipped down the handicap, he will carry 12lbs less than he did in 2019.
Like Any Second Now, Anibale Fly represents JP McManus who is also responsible for a horse who will almost certainly be heavily backed on race day.
That horse is Minella Times and the predicted market surge has nothing to do with form, it’s purely due to the popularity of his rider Rachael Blackmore who is likely to have her fair share of supporters after last month’s exploits at Cheltenham.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge was a winner at Listowel in September before finding one too good in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He returned to the Dublin track for a similar race over a shorter distance in February but yielded the same result.
The extended trip is likely to suit tomorrow and he must be considered a serious contender. Blackmore and de Bromhead conquered Cheltenham, now it’s time to face Aintree’s Everest.