Grand National 2012
Talented young journalist Neil Dennehy is back at the Horse Racing Tavern with his take on the highly publicised 2012 Grand National at Aintree.
“After the race we saw the loose horses running in and we were looking for him, but he never came.”
What a fantastic Grand National. While the deaths of the Gold Cup winner Synchronised and the admirable According to Pete were very sad and unfortunate, we should not allow ourselves to say that they marred an amazing race and one of the greatest finishes ever witnessed in the Aintree marathon. Don’t Push it, Ballabriggs and now Neptune Collognes ridden expertly by Daryl Jacob have done much to bury the old eleven stone rule and it seems that the compression of the weights has meant that the Grand National is now a far more compelling spectacle for the purist. The sight of a Gold Cup horse who had lost a bit of his old kick chasing down a high class handicapper in Sunnyhillboy who had plied his trade at chasings sharp end for the previous three seasons gave the race a sense of the substantial which was added to by the effort of the now graded level Irish performer Seabass and one time Cheltenham Foxhunters winner Cappa Bleu further back in third and fourth. The result looked classy enough that it could have been that of a Newbury Hennessey where the second season chasers haven’t come up to scratch. This edition of the National declared emphatically that Aintree’s marathon spectacular could accommodate class horses and that weight can be given away. Messrs Nicholls and Henderson must be licking their lips in anticipation of next year already and surely the sound jumping sturdy citizens at Gigginstown can provide something for it after the exploits of the unfancied Tharawat in eighth and given the number of Grade 1 calibre chasers they currently boast. If Neptune Collognes off 11st 6lbs can give give the weight then surely with a top weight of 11st 10lbs, other Gold Cup horses ex and current will give it a twist. John Hales’ grey now heads off into the sunset in a blaze of glory befitting of a horse who won Grade 1s in a very competitive era of staying chasing, who led Denman for a circuit in the 08’ Gold Cup and Kauto Star for all but a furlong in the same race. This exit was as fitting for this old grey warrior as the losses of Synchronised and According to Pete were undeserved. It was a case of two much loved horses chasing glory on the premise that ‘it will always be someone else’s horse,’ such is life and hard as it is there’s not light without dark.
Record crowds and betting turnover, excellent television viewing figures in all probability and a broad acknowledgement that it still holds its position as one of the great occasions in British sport. So what’s the problem with the Grand National? As the above suggests, the executive at Aintree are getting an awful lot right, and if we are honest, what is perceived by some as being wrong is likely to be nigh on impossible to fix if what makes the National essentially the National is to remain. The problem of course is that once again yesterday, two horses died during the course of the race. Distressing as this is, most people who know the sport of National Hunt racing will understand that ameliorating this situation will most likely go hand in hand with neutering the greatest steeplechase in the world. What the British Racing authorities have to ask themselves is whether it would be right to do that. These after all are horses and not human beings, much loved and all as they are. They are doing what they were bred to do and the National Hunt breed of racehorse in itself would not even exist but for horseracing. That is not to say that this gives racing people a right to do whatever they like with these animals, but given the overall picture, the wonderful standard of living and high level of treatment experienced by most racehorses day in day out, I don’t think what happened on Saturday constituted abuse. By and large, racehorse trainers and their establishments are a shining beacon for good animal husbandry and the race last Saturday is one of the essential pursuits that a National Hunt Steeplechaser is bred for.
It is worth mentioning the public policy concerns that surround this race. It is the centrepiece of a meeting over three days that brings tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds of revenue into the Merseyside area every spring. Apologies if bringing money into this sounds vulgar, but it is warranted, as it is an important factor in any decision that will be made over the future of the race. The Grand National meeting has a wide reaching effect and creates revenue streams both directly and indirectly for a significant number of people in the local area. Therefore, it seems appropriate to beg the question as to whether reducing the spectacle of the race by lowering the fences and reducing the field would be in the interest of the British public more generally in this harsh economic climate. If the spectacle is lessened, the crowd over time would naturally dwindle and local businesses would lose a source of revenue they could once hang their hat on. Is tinkering with this race somewhat irresponsible or is that a stretch? These are certainly factors if not deciding ones.
It is not as if the people at Aintree racecourse have not taken heed of the concerns of animal welfare groups in any case. Plenty of changes to the great race have been made in recent times. Racing followers have seen the drops lessened and height taken off of the fences, much to the chagrin of some who wish to see the National as a ‘proper test’ of a chaser preserved. The problem organisers face is that there is always going to be an inherent risk in running a race of the nature of the Grand National and if the race is retain anything of its character, there will likely always be accidents. Part of the issues faced in modifying the National course is that racing mortalities can be very difficult to legislate for. It could be argued that the death of According to Pete who was brought down could have been avoided if there was a smaller field size or perhaps the track been a little wider. However, we see horses being brought down in 10 runner as well as 40 runner fields, it is not as likely to occur but it still happens. How do we know for sure that it was the field size that was material in According to Pete being brought down? Supposing we do have fewer runners and one day we see another horse being brought down, what should the organisers do then? Reduce the field size even further? The fact is that we can mitigate risk but never fully remove it and tinkering is all well and good but eventually the changes will become unsustainable if the race is to retain its essence and what makes it uniquely the Grand National.
Compressing the weights, lowering the fences and raising the prize money has meant that a better calibre of racehorse is coming to the race these days, a kind of horse that can set a strong gallop over the first six fences and keep going. This in itself will bring about a whole new set of challenges. If the saying that speed kills is to be believed, should the fences not be raised again in order to slow down these class horses? It is difficult to say and we will probably have to witness more fatalities in the years immediately coming so that there is a significant enough sample size that the team at Aintree can decide what is best to do. The recent modifications have not seemed to help the situation and it just brings home the dangers of being overly reactionary in situations like this. There is a perpetual sense year on year of a race in transition, yet this is allied with a feeling that everything that can be done to mitigate accidents has been done and with these classier types of horse going for the race, it is possible that the hand of artificiality has made the course more unsafe as faster horses brush breakneck through the top of fences.
It would seem from the immediate post race comments of Paul Nicholls that something about those who are anti Grand National seems to stick in his craw. There is always a feeling with this race that it brings out the ‘Carnival of Death’ readership brigade that are generally keen to jump on any sort of bandwagon. He is probably right to question their bona fides as it is likely that if two horses are killed summer jumping at Cartmel in a few weeks, they will not be heard from as they will have found something else to occupy themselves by then. This isn’t putting a slant or anything, it is just fact. The idea of the BHA ever pointing this fact out however is public relations madness in the cosmetic world we live in it is better to be seen to be open to outside influence, even if that outside influence is uninformed and one is just paying lip service. What is vital is that animal welfare groups do not become the driving force behind the BHA’s policy formulation process as dancing to their tune is a dangerous game in the long term. The RSPCA for example is a charity and should stick with that as it does great work, however as a charity, it has neither the standing nor the expertise to dictate to the BHA the manner in which British Horseracing should be run. It can also be said that some of the comments made by a certain animal welfare organisations during the reformation of the whip rules ranged variously from inappropriate to derogatory towards British horse racing.
With this in mind, if the racing authorities cow tow to these movements with regard to their policy, it is giving them a legitimacy that they do not deserve when set against their recent public outbursts on the whip issue. What is more, it would make the BHA look somewhat toothless. British racing must be careful not to back itself into a corner where they can deal only in black and white and where the arbitrary triumphs. Horseracing is a complex sport and the welfare issues surrounding it even more so. One can lower the National fences by another foot; it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be fewer accidents. Does the BHA want British National Hunt Racing to share the same fate as its Australian counterpart? Change, even by degree always has to finish somewhere. Who wants to preside over the beginning of the end? It’s time to be strong.
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I don’t really know where to start with the Grand National. I suppose childhood memories are the obvious place. I have loved racing since I was a small boy watching the ITV 7 with my Grandad.
As a small boy I would push marbles around the living room floor to replicate a race with each uniquely coloured ‘crystal ball’ assuming the identity of a racehorse of the day. In my world, Night Nurse and Comedy of Errors were allowed to compete with Red Rum and L’Escargot but it was Spanish Steps for some reason that I really wanted to win my little races, and with a bit of help from me, he often did.
Of course, as a boy the thought of these heroes being injured never entered my head. To me, the real Spanish Steps was as unbreakable as the marble which represented him.
Hallo Dandy was the first winner I backed and West Tip was another firm favourite in the mid eighties and like the rest of the nation I have followed the race ever since.
In more recent years, my admiration for the human and equine warriors who take part in this event has increased dramatically but at the same time, a part of me has felt a little uneasy about the dangers of the race despite the continued modification to track and fences.
My wife told me a couple of years ago that the only time she watched the race she cried all the way through it as horse after horse suffered undignified and often visually unpleasant falls, but, to me these falls have always been an unwanted though generally unavoidable part of the sport I love.
Last year’s event did change my perception of the event in quite a large way as the loss of Dooneys Gate and Ornais in the race itself coupled with the horrific fall suffered by Peter Toole did leave me with an awful physical feeling in my stomach that I had honestly never felt before in almost 40 years of watching the sport.
Since then, 12 months have passed and like most other lovers of Racing, this year I hoped for an exciting race with no casualties. As we now know my wishes for the former certainly came true as one of the sports unsung stars, Neptune Collonges nicked the race on the line from the JP McManus owned Sunyhillboy (who looked like the winner everywhere up the straight apart from on the line), to land my small each way bet and give champion trainer Paul Nicholls a deserved first national winner.
But as news filtered through of the deaths of Gold Cup champion Synchronised and northern star According To Pete, the feeling of euphoria of finding the winner of the race was almost instantaneously replaced by those gut wrenching feelings of 12 months ago.
Less than a month earlier Synchronised proved himself to be the number one staying chaser in the country when landing the big one at Cheltenham for his amazing Jockey Tony McCoy, his wonderful trainer Jonjo O’Neill, and his racing mad multimillionaire owner McManus.
Malcolm Jefferson on the other hand is a trainer without the big money owners but through his skill and dedication to his horses was able to produce not one but 2 horses from the yard to win not only at Cheltenham in March, but to follow up at Aintree earlier this year, astonishing really for a relatively small yard.
Unlike Mr McManus, The likeable Nelson family who owned According To Pete’s who were featured (and shone) earlier in BBC’s final national coverage, do not have an array of talented animals at their disposal, but as the race started their horse could compete with the gold cup winner for around 10 minutes on relatively equal terms (give or take a few pounds of the handicap).
I haven’t been able to watch the repeat of the race more than once but it seemed that According To Pete accidently collided with another runner after the fence and it is this inadvertent collision which caused his sad demise.
Synchronised on the other hand was able to stand up after his fall and continue running and jumping the Aintree fences without the aid of the Champion jockey, however soon after he set off again he suffered a fatal injury in pursuing his Aintree adventure. Others who study animal behaviour may tell me different (and I am of course prepared to listen) but this seemed like a horse who loved to run and jump and not one who was made to run against his will by the small person with a horrible whip on his back as certain groups would have everyone believe.
If ever the highs and lows of the sport have been shown in one month then the demise of this champion for his connections and the fluctuation in fortunes for the Jefferson team must surely define them.
There are people who say that the sport is cruel and almost barbaric but as owning a part of these animals (and entry to leading stables) has become a lot more accessible I have had the chance to meet a number of horses that I had only previous seen on track including some looked after by Mr Jefferson himself. At the same time I have met some of the lovely staff who not only take care of my hero’s but love them as they would their own children, maybe even more! They are cared for, washed, brushed, fed and treated like royalty by those who are responsible for them, irrespective of their racing ability. I am not sure there are any many other animals in the land which receive such dedicated love and attention.
These great horses are truly loved by their owners, trainer, jockey, the entire stable staff but unlike most other animals on the planet they are also appreciated by a large number of members of the public who whilst having no personal connection to the horse get to know them either on TV or at the racecourse and these horses give the racing public tremendous pleasure just by seeing them try their very best.
The aforementioned 2 were certainly whole hearted and talented performers who will be sadly missed.
Thanks to you both for your efforts over the years, my thoughts are with all those connected to both.
So what of the bigger picture for the National? As I mentioned earlier despite modifications, 4 horses (5% of the runners) in the last 2 years have failed to return to their stable after the race.
Everyone connected with the sport accepts that it has risks for jockeys and horses alike but if this trend continues for the next year or two the pressure to cancel the race will surely grow as these numbers are considerably higher than the fatalities suffered in the sports other high profile races even though it would appear that there may have been little anyone could practically do this year, as from first view this year’s deaths looked predominantly accidental.
I am not sure of the solution, that is for the sport’s governing bodies and interested parties to try and resolve over the next 12 months. Further fence and course modifications could be made whilst reducing the number of runners, may ultimately lead to a safer race at the acceptable price of reducing the spectacle, but greater minds than mine will be tasked with this problem.
At the moment I want the race to continue but with any changes implemented next year having been thought through and planned meticulously. After last year’s events, I am a little surprised that racing wasn’t better prepared for the possibility of this year’s accidents happening. I for one was partly dreading it happening again so am a little shocked that the sport wasn’t ready and waiting with detailed responses to difficult but obvious questions relating to any deaths this time around, however they may have occurred.
Ideas for further improvements together with detailed plans of how these would be tested and implemented in time for 2013 should surely have been waiting in the wings in order to reassure everyone concerned that these issues were the central to the sport. Or maybe I am wrong, forgive me for my optimism and faith in the governing bodies, perhaps I am just losing my marbles.
After some great racing on the opening day of the Aintree Grand National Meeting, our attention turns to Friday at Liverpool, it’s Ladies Day! Alan Hughes singles out his best bets of the day in the hope of helping you on your way whilst on Merseyside!
2.00 TANGLE TEASER TOP NOVICES´ HURDLE GRADE 2 (CLASS 1) 2m110y
The hot favourite Darlan looks a worthy winner based on performance in the Supreme at Cheltenham and he will be tough to beat. My suspicion is he will have more to offer but at 6/4 (PaddyPower) he isn’t worth piling into. The same can be said for the Paul Nicholls-trained Prospect Wells who finished a nice 5th in the same race at the festival. He too is short enough at 7/2 (PaddyPower) and happy to take the pair of them on whilst hoping Cheltenham took a bit out of them. I was really keen on Agent Archie at Cheltenham but he sweated up badly and was employed as a pacemaker for his stable mate and eventual winner Cinders And Ashes. He is certainly some value at 20-1 as the flat track will suit but I’m not sure he’s quite up to winning this. The two against the field from an each-way perspective are Vulcanite and Oscara Dara, both at 10-1 (Stan James). The former ran no sort of race at Prestbury Park after being far too free; before that he was progressive and I think he will suit Aintree. The latter is trained by Nicky Henderson and is the surprise package in this. He a wide margin novice hurdle win to his name as well as a 1st and 2nd in national hunt flat races. This son of Oscar could literally be anything but the fact he is even turning up here must mean he is worth a shot as Henderson has the favourite Darlan and Captain Conan (with stable jockey Barry Geraghty on board) in the line up.
Selection: Vulcanite EW @ 10/1 with Stan James
Alternative: Oscara Dara EW @ 10/1 with Stan James
2.30 JOHN SMITH´S MILDMAY NOVICES´ CHASE GRADE 2 (CLASS 1) 3m1f
Just 5 go to post for this one, but they are a classy bunch and should give the crowd a race to shout about. We’ll start with Champion Court who ran a gallant 2nd to impressive winner Sir Des Champs in the Jewson at Cheltenham. He has been very progressive this season and has the beating of Solix if you take his form literally. The aforementioned Solix disappointed last time out and I feel we never saw the best of him that day, he must surely be seen in a better light and at 6/1 (Stan James) I’d rather be backing him each-way than Champion Court at 2/1 (Ladbrokes). The outsider of the field is Yes Tom at 25/1, he hasn’t got the class for this and is readily overlooked. Two left, and it seems it is between the two Paul Nicholls charges, Cheltenham bomb out Join Together and the talented Silviniaco Conti. The former just didn’t have the pace to keep up the gallop last time out and I’m fearful he may come up short again despite the attractive 11/2 with Stan James. The Old Vic gelding may be better suited to a more testing trip than this in time and on a flat track I think he may be done for speed once again. Silviniaco Conti is partnered by Ruby Walsh and is my idea of the winner. Last seen finishing 4th behind ultra impressive winner Invictus at Ascot, the 6 year old had been performing nicely prior to that, starting his season with a pipe opener finishing 3rd to Cue Card, a wide margin win at Wincanton followed by a 2nd to Grands Crus at Kempton. He will be suited by this trip, ground and flat speedy track and ranks very highly. Silviniaco Conti can be backed at 15/8 with William Hill.
Selection: Silviniaco Conti WIN @ 15/8 with William Hill
Alternative: Champion Court WIN @ 2/1 with Ladbrokes
3.05 JOHN SMITH´S MELLING CHASE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) Good To Soft 2m4f
A superb race in prospect for what is a contest won by some real top-notchers in recent years. Master Minded, Voy Por Ustedes and Moscow Flyer to name just a few of the recent winners. Another previous winner, Albertas Run, is back to reclaim his crown after a brilliant performance at Cheltenham behind Riverside Theatre in the Ryanair. He relishes this trip on fresh spring ground and cannot be discounted at 11/4 (BlueSq) despite the fact he had a hard enough race last time. Nevertheless, he won this in 2010 after also winning at Cheltenham and has Tony McCoy in the saddle doing the steering. Finians Rainbow is the current 11/8 favourite after a scintillating performance in the Champion Chase. The Nicky Henderson gelding goes up in trip for the first time since 2010 and may have questions to answer if there is a serious pace on, but he has good tactical speed and wasn’t stopping last time out so chances are he should see this out. I still can’t quite believe Poquelin is rated 168, I have a disliking for the horse for no apparent reason and as such will be opposing him. Ruby is sticking with him so if he takes the money then good luck to them! Kauto Stone is trying everyone’s patience it seems, showing obvious ability without finding the winning formula recently. He is 12/1 which looks nice enough but if Ruby has lost faith then chances are he may well have done himself. Wishfull Thinking is another who is testing connections but if getting things right on the day he would go close in this. He won here at Aintree over the distance last season when accounting for Medermit in the Novices Grade 2 then followed up at Punchestown in the May. Since then he has been very frustrating, and his heavy fall at Cheltenham last time out won’t have done anything to bolster his confidence. In the hope he can recapture his old form he would be a worthy each-way bet at 10/1 with SkyBet.
Selection: Finian’s Rainbow WIN @ 11/8 with Stan James
Alternative: Wishfull Thinking EW @ 10/1 with SkyBet
4.15 JOHN SMITH´S SEFTON NOVICES´ HURDLE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) 3m110y
A race in which often throws up a big price winner, 19 go to post for a fast and furious novice event over 3 miles. Despite the race trends, my loyalties lie with Fingal Bay and Cotton Mill, the former having my cash on him all season long, and the latter my Cheltenham near miss after veering left and unseating his rider when in contention in the Neptune at Cheltenham. Chances are Simonsig would have won anyway that day but Cotton Mill wouldn’t have been far behind which in itself is a serious level of form. Whether the horse has some issues upstairs remains to be seen but if he behaves this time round then he may be the one to beat at 5/1 with William Hill. Fingal Bay as mentioned above has been filling the coffers for a while, he is 5/5 and remains one of the hottest prospects in the game. The Phillp Hobbs-trained Fingal Bay missed Cheltenham after a training setback but had been ante-post favourite for the Neptune, it likely being he could have outpointed Simonsig as well as Cotton Mill. The trainer reports he is back to his best at home and Punchestown is also on the agenda but at 6/4 can we really get stuck in given this is graveyard for favourites? If you are feeling brave then get the wallet out but I’ll happily watch him win without getting financially involved. The one that does catch the eye is the Tim Vaughn charge Ballyrock. This chap has been aimed at Aintree, missing the festival by design, and represents a trainer who won this last year with Saint Are at 33/1. He finished a close-up 2nd to Fingal Bay at Newbury in the Challow Hurdle on New Year’s Eve and if still improving should go very well. A bit of cut in the ground is ideal and the fact McCoy has been booked is another positive. Ballyrock is available at 14/1 with PaddyPower and looks a cracking each-way bet.
Selection: Ballyrock EW @ 14/1 with PaddyPower
Alternative: Fingal Bay or Cotton Mill WIN
It’s an exciting time for us here at the Horse Racing Tavern, as we’ve had our first ever runner confirmed for the Grand National! It’s not far around the corner, and we thought we’d give you the latest updates on the training regime that our horse will be going through. Just before you run over to racingpost.com to check out his form, he’s an unraced chestnut colt.
Did I mention it was the Mascot Grand National at Kempton too?
We’re delighted to confirm our horse will be running in the Mascot Grand National on May 7th 2012. We’ll be bringing you the latest training updates and all the news in the build up to the big race over one furlong. The race has been switched from Huntingdon to Kempton and it is now in its twelfth year!
Trainer Alan Hughes has admitted his frustration due to the difficulty in finding a race for him – unraced yearlings over a furlong trip doesn’t present many opportunities – you certainly sympathise for trainers when they complain for lack of choices. But Kempton it is for our boy, and his breeding suggests he may have an outside shout in the world record attempt. His bloodlines are closely related to Mark Duncan (good early speed but lacks stamina) and Dan Mansfield (unraced sire but did have entries in a marathon for charity). Both bloodlines are known for lazy homework – alcohol and partying have blighted their racing careers in their later years. However our fella looks to have a nice balance between the two and trainer Alan Hughes seemed pleased after his latest work:
‘He tends to show good early pace and is very head strong. We are unsure about the stamina element, but the main issue is his jumping. We’ve been working hard to improve it, but we’ve still got a bit of time before the race at Kempton. The track will certainly suit, I’d say hopeful at this stage’.
We want your suggestions for a name for our Grand National runner! Get in contact with us via Twitter (@HRacingTavern), our Facebook page (click here) or leave a comment below with your best name suggestions. We’ll be deciding our Grand National runners name from your best entries early next week!
All proceeds from the Mascot Grand National 2012 will go to Have A Heart, a charity set up to improve the lives of disadvantaged children living in our local communities.
I have been looking through the Grand National card over and over recently, and all of the early value across the board has disappeared. I am keen on Ballabriggs to run a big race, and the 14/1 on offer looks about right for him to hit the front four, however it doesn’t take much digging around to find the figures for Grand National horses that win two on the bounce. I was also interested in Chicago Grey to run a big race for the master Gordon Elliot, as well as West End Rocker on weights day, both at 25/1, but both look short enough in the betting now. Therefore I’m inclined to seek out some value in some improving types, and I think there’s a case to be made for Shakalakaboomboom.
The eight year old is trained by Nicky Henderson, whos’ stable was in such rude health at Cheltenham and one can’t help feeling he’s going to carry over that momentum to the Aintree meeting. However it’s one of the races Nicky Henderson has never won, but surely that’s a stat just waiting to be broken? In Shakalakaboomboom he has a progressive type who may just be getting into the race with a light weight.
The eight year old is still lightly raced, with twelve runs so far and a tidy 67% place strike rate, confirming his progressive profile, and he looks an out and out stayer. He has winning form over three miles, beating Beautiful Sound at Punchestown over 3 mile 1 furlongs, needing every yard to get up on the line to win by a short head. He then went on to confirm his promise when winning the Grade 3 Majordomo Hospitality Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in December, beating the well touted Paul Nicholls Mon Parrain back in third and the solid yardstick Knockara Beau. He rubber stamped his ticket to Aintree when coming second in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, when just touched off by the classy but frustrating Calgary Bay. The race looks really solid, especially with Fruity O’Rooney back in third since running an absolute cracker at Cheltenham in the JLT Speciality. Connections clearly identified him as a Grand National horse, and he had a recent spin over hurdles at Warwick. That run will have been to freshen him up for the big one in two weeks.
His jumping has looked solid throughout his races and he looks game when in a battle. He gets into the race with 10 stone 12 pounds which looks a good light weight – he looks weighted to go close to Calgary Bay again and if he has progressed since his last run over the larger obstacles, he could have a solid chance to hit the front five in the race. He appears to travel well on good through to soft ground so the going won’t hinder his chances come the 14th April. He also has form around Aintree which will help his cause – he ran a solid 7th in the Topham Chase. He’s available at 20/1 (Bet365, 5 places paid), and I’d be willing to take the chance on him that he may have progressed sufficiently for a trainer who will desperate to land the national.
Shakalakaboomboom 20/1 EW (Bet with Bet365, 5 places paid)
Black Apalachi 40/1 EW (5 places paid)
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Photo Credit: racingpost.com