Things We Learned » Grand National watch

Grand National watch

It is interesting that, now that the Grand National weights have been published, trainers are discarding bushels and fearlessly shining lights all over the place.  Remember, not only is the Grand National unique in that the British handicapper has a free hand in framing the weights and talking about them, it is also unusual in that a horse who wins after the weights have been framed is not subject to a penalty.  The weights are cast in cement boots.

A few points worth noting then. For starters, horses who have run poorly since the weights were published, and who have consequently been dropped a couple of pounds by the handicapper – including Corrin Wood, Vics Canvas and Bally Beaufort – will be poorly-in should they get in and should they take their chance in the Grand National.

But the converse is also true.  Improvers are well-in.  Bishops Road won the Grand National Trial at Haydock last Saturday and has been raised 10lb to a mark of 154 as a result, but he will get to race in the National off his old weight of 144, so he will be 10lb well-in.

Silviniaco Conti has been raised 5lb by the handicapper for his Ascot Chase win to a mark of 169, but he will get to race in the National off his originally allocated rating of 163, which was 1lb lower than his official rating at the time.  So, instead of being 1lb well-in, he will be 6lb well-in.

Unioniste and Boston Bob have both won since.  Neither horse has been raised by the handicapper, so neither will be well-in in the National, but at least you know that they go into the race in good form.

Also, Saint Are won the Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Doncaster on Wednesday, and he is surely in for a little rise, so he should be well-in for the National too.  Nobody could begrudge Tom George’s horse a National win, incidentally, given that he was beaten last year by a horse who was racing off a mark that was 5lb lower than his official mark on the day that the weights were published.

Mares may be under-rated

Since the possibility of Augusta Kate running in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham has gathered momentum, it is worthwhile taking stock of the performance of mares in the race.  Just two mares have won the race since its inauguration in 1992: Mucklemeg in 1994 and Total Enjoyment in 2004.  (And no, 2006 winner Hairy Molly was not a mare.)

It is not a great return on the face of it, just two wins in 23 runnings, so just 8.7% of the winners were mares.  The logical conclusion, therefore, is that Augusta Kate is up against it.

But dig a little deeper.  Not many mares run in the Champion Bumper.  In the 23-year history of the race, there have never been more than three mares in one renewal, this in a race that usually boasts between 22 and 25 runners.  In total, 32 mares have run in the race from a total of 535 runners.  That’s under 6%.  So, actually, 8.7% of the wins from under 6% of the runners is a good return.

Also, since 2008, a total of just three mares have run in the race.  There were none in any year between 2010 and 2013 inclusive, there was just one in 2014, Izzini, a 50/1 shot, and just one again in 2015, Montana Belle, another 50/1 shot, who finished eighth.

Finally, when Total Enjoyment won the Champion Bumper in 2004, there were just three mares in the race.  One of the others, Refinement, finished second to Tom Cooper’s mare, and the other, Blazing Liss, fell.  When Mucklemeg won it in 1994, Aries Girl chased her home.  They were the only two mares in the race, and they finished first and second.

So perhaps the task that is facing Augusta Kate is not so daunting after all.

It may pay to keep the faith

It has been a frustrating season for Mala Beach and for his connections Chris Jones and Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell.

Off the track for almost a year, the Beneficial gelding fell early on his seasonal debut in the race that Sir Des Champs won at Thurles in November.  Second in a graduation chase at Ascot in December, he again found one – My Murphy – too good in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last month after looking a likely winner turning for home.

Then on Saturday, it looked like he was travelling like a winner in the Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase when he came down at the second last fence.

It seems like he has been around for a while, but he is only eight and Saturday’s race was just his seventh over fences.  There should still be good days in him.

Easter early

The upside of an early Easter this year – as well as the fact that you get to eat chocolate again earlier in the year than you could ever have imagined – is that Fairyhouse is early, therefore you can have a nice break after running at the Irish National meeting before preparing for Punchestown.  The downside is that it makes Cheltenham and Aintree tricky for Fairyhouse horses.

There are implications.  For example, it means that the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham may not be the Irish National pointer that it often is.  It will be a big ask to run well in both.  Noel Meade has already said that Bonny Kate will probably be kept for the Irish National, for example.  She may still take up her engagement in the National Hunt Chase but, if she does, it will probably be instead of the Irish National, not as well as it.

When Niche Market won the Irish National in 2009 after finishing eighth in the National Hunt Chase, there were almost five weeks between the two races.  When Butler’s Cabin won the Irish National, having won the National Hunt Chase, there were three and a half weeks between the two races.

When Shutthefrontdoor won the Irish National having finished sixth in the National Hunt Chase in 2014, there were almost six weeks between the two races.  And last year, there were almost four weeks between Thunder And Roses’ unseat in the National Hunt Chase and his victory in the Irish National.

This year, there are just 13 days between the two races.  It’s not impossible, but it will take a hardy horse to run in the Cheltenham race and win the Irish National.

Party politics

Fine Gael say that there is no way they will go into coalition with Fianna Fáil.  Fianna Fáil say there is no way that they will go into coalition with Fine Gael.  Paddy Power say 8/13 a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition.

Of the three statements, which do you think is the most accurate assessment of where we stand at present?


© The Irish Field, 27th February 2016