Horses To Follow » Backstage


As ever, there were plenty of hard luck stories in the Grand National. Every time you look at the video you seem to discover another horse who might have gone close but for suffering whatever mis-hap befell him. Arbor Supreme was getting into a nice rhythm before Irish Raptor fell in front of him at the fence before the Chair, with the result that he seemed to be a little wary of what might be waiting for him on the landing side of the Chair itself when he unseated his rider, Maljimar was travelling really well, just making nice ground, when he came down at Becher’s second time, and Big Fella Thanks ran a cracker to finish fourth as an eight-year-old, while State Of Play made up an acre of ground from the third last and may have done better had he been asked for his effort earlier. However, gun to the head, one horse to take out of the race for me with next year in mind, it is Backstage. The Gordon Elliott-trained gelding was a little cautious over the first couple of fences, but he was more careful than ponderous, and careful is no bad thing when you are talking about the Grand National. By the time they had gone a circuit, however, it seemed that he had figured out these strange big fences, and he had settled into a lovely rhythm for Davy Condon. He was travelling sweetly towards the inside, just in the second tier of the group that chased breakaway leaders Conna Castle and Black Apalachi, about two lengths behind eventual winner Don’t Push It when, at the fourth fence on the second circuit, a loose horse fell in front of him and he had no chance, cannoned into him and came down.

Of course these things happen in National Hunt racing, and they are much more apt to happen in the Grand National than in any other race, but it had to have been wholly frustrating for Elliott and Condon and connections. It was very early in the piece, but he was travelling and jumping well, he actually jumped the fence well, and through no fault of his own his race is over. Elliott was patience personified with Backstage this season. After he won a handicap chase at Ffos Las in August, the trainer nominated the Grand National as the race for Backstage, and put him away for the winter, bringing him back to contest a hurdle race at Musselburgh in February. On one hand, it was a long time to wait, foresaking a chunk of the season for the horse to be taken out of it so mercilessly. On the other, however, Backstage is at his best on good ground, so the opportunity cost may not have been that high.

In order to win the Grand National these days, you probably have to hide your light under a bushel for at least a little while, away from the prying eyes of the handicapper, and it would not be at all surprising if Elliott decided to train Backstage specifically for the Grand National again next season. He will be nine years old then, the ideal age for the race, stronger and better equipped for a four-and-a-half-mile test than he was this year even as an eight-year-old. We know that he likes the place now, we know that he can jump the fences, and he has his handicap mark of 148, which is fine and which really can’t be touched now unless he runs over fences again. It is early days of course, but the 40/1 that some of the firms are quoting about him now looks big.

10th April 2010

© The Irish Field, 17th April 2010