Horses To Follow » Big Fella Thanks

Big Fella Thanks

I have been a big fan of Big Fella Thanks for a good while now, but I couldn’t have had him in the Grand National at all, a seven-year-old, a novice who had run over fences just six times in his life, yet he ran a hell of a race to finish sixth, just 11 lengths off second spot.

Held up out the back in the early stages by Christian Williams, you wouldn’t have said that he took to these fences like a duck to water, he didn’t jump them anywhere near as fluently as, say, Black Apalachi, and he did make a couple of mistakes on the way round, but he did jump out over his fences well when he met them on a right stride, and he never looked like falling.

Williams was ‘busy’ on him for the final circuit, riding him out of his fences, slapping him down the neck and then putting the brakes on when he was running up in behind horses, which is not the type of ride that you want in a National, nor in any staying chase for that matter. If you had put Christian Williams on My Will, who finished nearly 10 lengths in front of Big Fella Thanks, and Ruby Walsh on Williams’s mount, I would have bet Big Fella Thanks at a shade of odds-on to have won the match.

This was really a fine performance from Big Fella Thanks, and he and Offshore Account are the ones to take out of this race for me with next year’s National in mind. Paul Nicholls’s horse can only improve as he gains in experience, and he can only gain in strength as he get older. It is not a coincidence that you have to go back to Bogscar in 1940 to find the last seven-year-old to win the Grand National.

I would be surprised if Paul Nicholls did not campaign Big Fella Thanks next year specifically with the Grand National in mind. He doesn’t need to run him in the Becher Chase in November, and risk ruining his handicap mark, as happened with Mr Pointment in 2007, because he knows that he can jump these fences now. His current rating of 150 is high enough for a National, but Mon Mome has won it now off a mark of 148 and, if Big Fella Thanks can be campaigned next season with one specific goal – and it would be surprising if his owners Paul Barber and Harry Findlay were not wholly in favour of that plan – and arrive there healthy and well on a mark of 150 or thereabouts, he could go off as favourite for the race, and the 33/1 that they are offering now is value in my book.

The other interesting element to this is that the Barber/Findlay/Nicholls triumvirate is also responsible for Denman, who may well be targeted at the National next year. Denman is now rated 181. Let’s say he has been dropped 6lb by the time the National weights are published next February, and let’s say that the BHA handicapper, out of the goodness of his heart and because he can, allows him another 8lb for the National. So a mark of 167 tops the National weights at 11st 10lb. That means that a rating of 150 will get into the race on 10st 7lb. It would be surprising if Team Ditcheat were not thinking along these lines.

4th April 2009