Things We Learned » Consolation National

Consolation National

There have been lots of well-thought-out and well-intentioned ideas going around this week on how to make the Grand National better.  That is a good thing, to stand still these days is to regress.  However, just because a new kite has been flown, it doesn’t mean that it should be allowed soar, and there is a lot of not-broke-don’t-fix about the modern day Grand National.  A new idea is not necessarily a good idea, it is just a new idea.

One that is good, however – and I’m not sure how new it is – is the idea of a consolation Grand National, a race for those horses who do not get into the National.

It is difficult to see a downside to a consolation National.  There were 87 horses left in the Grand National at the five-day declaration stage.  The top 40 stood their ground for today, so it is probable that there would have been close enough to a full field for a consolation race as well.  And as it gained traction, like the Ayr Silver Cup and now the Ayr Bronze Cup, trainers would be more inclined to enter horses who would not have a realistic chance of getting into the Grand National itself, in the knowledge that they would probably have a realistic chance of getting to run in a consolation race.

You could run the race on the Friday, after declarations for the National on Thursday, on the same day as the Topham Chase or the Foxhunters’.  The fences can be re-built and re-dressed these days on the same day, so a consolation National would not mean that one of those races would have to be shelved.

It shouldn’t take horses from those races either.  One is for hunter chasers, the other is for two-and-three-quarter-mile chasers.

There should be good public interest and a sponsor would surely be easy enough to find.  It could probably be incorporated into the headline sponsor’s deal.

And it would be a dress rehearsal for the big day, staged on a day when the whole world isn’t watching.  The Foxhunters’ and the Topham Chase serve that purpose at present, but this could be a full-on dress rehearsal, a full 10-minute show, not a six-minute truncated version.

It would be a consolation for sure, it would not be the real thing, but it would be a positive for connections of horses who miss out, it would be a day out for them, a chance to see their horse race at Aintree over the National fences, even if the spoils either financially or reputationally would obviously not be anything like they are for the real thing.  But it could be a springboard and a pointer to the real thing 12 months thence.

Cheltenham feel

There was a Cheltenham feel about Aintree on Thursday, and it was all Willie Mullins’ fault.

We are used to Aintree going ahead with merely peripheral involvement from the Irish champion.  Maybe a Nichols Canyon here, a Hedgehunter there.  The Mullins battalions usually retreat after Cheltenham, re-group, and rally again at Punchestown.  Not this year though.

Wins for the mares Annie Power and Apple’s Jade on Thursday, together with places for Nichols Canyon and Don Poli and Djakadam and Augusta Kate left Willie just 25 grand behind Paul Nicholls in the trainers’ championship, despite the fact that the current British champion had two winners at Taunton, and 25 grand is nothing when you are talking about totals of a couple of million.

There is still plenty of prize money to be won in Britain this season even after today, and it would not be surprising if the horse boxes start leaving Closutton soon and heading to Ayr and Perth and Sandown.

Of course, it could all be over if one of the Paul Nicholls horses wins the Grand National today.  You have to win a lot of 50 grand races to make up 560 grand.  (11.2, in case you are interested.)  But it would be some achievement if Mullins were to win it, given that no Irish trainer has won the British National Hunt trainers’ championship since the peerless Vincent O’Brien did it 62 years ago.

Army Ranger reputation is sky high

There was a bit of an ‘Ivanovich Gorbatov’ feel about US Army Ranger’s victory in the 10-furlong maiden at The Curragh on Sunday.

Not that US Army Ranger is a live candidate for the Triumph Hurdle, but for Triumph Hurdle, insert ‘Derby’, and you can leave most other things as they are.

Both trained by Aidan O’Brien, both well-regarded before their seasonal debut, but both weak in the pre-race market, both second favourite behind another well-touted horse from a big yard.  Both impressive in victory, both beating the favourite into second place with the pair of them nicely clear.

And then the aftermath.  It was a matter of minutes before the 14/1 that was available about Ivanovich Gorbatov for the Triumph Hurdle became 8/1, and it was a matter of days before the 8/1 became 9/2.  Similarly on Sunday, the 20/1 and 25/1 that had been available about US Army Ranger for the Derby was quickly cut to 16/1, then 14/1, then 12/1. The best you could have done on Monday morning was 10/1, and even that came under pressure early.  Now, the best you will get is 6/1, and, all things being equal, there is only one way that that price is going to go.

There is one major difference, mind you.  On the day on which Ivanovich Gorbatov won his maiden hurdle, there were three other two-mile hurdle races run, and Aidan O’Brien’s horse clocked the fastest time of the four.  On Sunday at The Curragh, there were two other races run over 10 furlongs, and US Army Ranger clocked the slowest time of the four.

In mitigation, Ivanovich Gorbatov’s race was the first race of the day, probably run on the best of the ground, whereas US Army Ranger’s race was the last race on the day, probably run on the worst of the ground.  Of course, we will learn more after the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial or the Chester Vase, whatever route his trainer chooses for the Galileo colt, but, if you are taking the 6/1 now, you are late to the party, and you are betting more on his breeding and the regard in which he appears to be held by Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore than you are on what he did on Sunday.

Another stat

Here’s another stat: seven of the last 10 National winners raced between 10 and 14 times over fences.  That means that, statistically, there is a 70% chance that the winner will come from this group: Wonderful Charm, Ballynagour, Buywise, Gallant Oscar, Rule The World, Vics Canvas, Black Thunder, Ballycasey, Hadrian’s Approach, Home Farm, The Romford Pele, and Bishops Road or Knock House if they get in.

Radical thoughts

Everybody seems to have an opinion these days on how to change the approach to framing the weights for the Grand National.

Here’s a novel idea: let each horse race off his true handicap mark.

Nah, too radical.


© The Irish Field, 9th April 2016