2014 Grand National Meeting Preview

The big green fences are now built and for the time being they will sit quietly after being delicately made up by the loyal hardworking ground staff that help put this famous show together and make it what it is.

No other event quite captures the emotion than the Grand National in the world of horse racing,year after year the questions of what’s got the best weight?,who will stay the trip? and what will the ground be like? never get boring and it’s a testament to how well this race and indeed meeting has kept itself going and evolved into a festival that is loved by not just jumps fans but sports fans in general.

I have been going to the first two days of Aintree since 2002 and having spent many a good hour reminiscing I am reminded of seeing horses in the flesh such as Florida Pearl,Barton,Monets Garden,Native Upmanship,Moscow Flyer,Big Buck’s,Kauto Star,Denman and The New One as some of the superstars of the winter game that have graced the lush green turf at Aintree,some without actually winning,but still have raced in front of the huge crowds that pour into Aintree for this three day bonanza and the amazing thing is that all these horses named all form part of the support cards of the National!

From the moment you get off the train at Lime Street in the morning on the opening day you realise just what this meetings means to the people of Liverpool, it’s not just a race but a way of life that encapsulates everyone as they welcome the hoards that come to this part of Merseyside for that yearly get together where the class system is firmly broken down,especially on the train which takes you on that six or seven mile journey from the city centre to the course.

Sporting events for me no matter what the sport it is,offer so much in the way of a good story,emotional bonds between fans and competitors and that unique way in a matter of seconds to either have you jumping for joy in sheer elation or brining you back down to earth with a huge thud and no other event does that than the Grand National does it?

The gods that look down on Aintree like to put you through the mangle at the best of times and over the years that certainly has happened,from seeing the mighty Moscow Flyer record his two wins in the Melling Chase to getting a text saying that the lovely Exotic Dancer has just moved on to that great stable in the sky,Yet it is treating things like this as part and parcel of the game that you love in equal measures as being happy and sad all come as one.

Looking ahead to this year meeting and while their is a change of sponsor the event is as strong as ever,the fences may be slightly different than before but they still have to be jumped by the runners to win,Last year saw a tough performance from Auroras Encore to take the lead as he jumped the last to get his head down and fight on up that punishing run in under Ryan Mania, as for this year well no doubt in the various media outlets and especially on Saturday all the pundits will mention a different reason as to why they think a certain horse will win,for my money the two that I like are Battle Group and Lion Na Bearnai.

As ever all I want is for all the horses and jockeys to return safe and sound,of course that always doesn’t happen but it’s still the best thing anybody can ever hope for as we slowly approach the three days of pulsating action in that little suburb Merseyside.

Stratford Races,Saturday 22nd March 2013.

Can one desire too much of a good thing?

Words written by Stratford’s most famous person William Shakespeare,I think if he asked that to fans of jump racing they would quickly say “No” I imagine.

It’s that period of the season which is post Cheltenham and pre Aintree which means the quality of this afternoons seven race card was a bit low but winners were still their to be found on a slightly chilly day at Stratford.

The turf flat is slowly creeping up on us but for lovers of the winter game their is plenty of action left with big festivals at Aintree,Ayr,Fairyhouse,Punchestown,Perth and Sandown still to come.

Below,Stratford’s Waterless Water Jump.

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1.55 Stratford Bookmakers Day Mares Handicap Chase,Class 4,2m4f,14 fences,5yo+ (0-120)

Only four in what looked a trappy contest that was won easily by favourite My Flora for the Dan and Harry Skelton partnership,always going well she jumped nicely and can build from this,Carhue Princess who made most of the running stayed on for second place.

2.25 Bet With Rails Bookmakers Selling Handicap Hurdle,Class 5,2m110yds,8 flights,4-7yo,(0-100)

A poor race which was run at a good clip by early pace setter Douchkirk who set the fractions until getting headed between the final two flights by eventual winner Osgood and runner up Echoes Of Joy with just three quarters of a length separating them at the end.

Osgood used to be with Mick Channon on the flat and spent last year in the pointing field albeit being pulled on all of his four starts,this will boost his confidence although it’s doubtful his trainer Gary Moore thinks he may have a new Sire De Grugy on his hands.

3.00 Bet With The Tattersalls Bookmakers Handicap Chase,Class 4,3m4f,20 fences,5yo+,0-120)

A bold front running display here from Talkonthestreet under Tom O’Brien who put them to the sword from the off and hung on by a neck from Royal Knight who won the Borders National back in December and found the heavy going in the Eider to much for him to handle.

A lot to like from Talkonthestreet here,he relished the step up in trip and could end up at Haydock on Easter Saturday in the Tim Molony and possibly go for the decent staying chases next term.

Royale Knight is probably better getting weight than giving it,I would think the Scottish National could be for him after this.

3.35 Bet With Course Bookmakers Handicap Hurdle,Class 4,2m6f110yds,11 flights,4yo+ (0-120)

A back to form win for Decimus who stayed on strongly to get the better from Halifax who was always in the van guard,he made a couple of mistakes but rallied well when asked,he could be turned out again soon possibly.

Halifax was formerly trained by John Ferguson and in his old flat days was fifth in a Queens Vase at Royal Ascot when Mark Johnston used to have him,he will pick a race up soon.

4.10,Support Your On Course Bookmakers Novices’ Handicap Chase,Class 4,2m5f110yds,15 fences,5yo+(0-110)

A fair if modest contest here which resulted in a second win of the day for the Skelton’s as Ballincurrig who took over at the last fence from long time leader Sure Thing who was making his chasing debut,these in turn where 15 lengths clear from the rest of the field.

This was a much better performance by the winner who will be better when upped to 3m in time,Sure Thing jumped well and ran ok,he will strip fitter for this and can be found a small opening somewhere in time.

4.45 Stratford Bookmakers Day Maiden Hurdle,Class 5,2m3f,9 flights,4yo+

A truly poor contest here with not one of the seven runners offering any semblance of worthwhile form to suggest they had a chance.

No matter how bad a race looks something has to win and it was a front running display from Gaye Memories who was turned out quickly after only beating one home at Warwick on Wednesday,despite being a bit green she clattered the last but had plenty in hand to score here.

Willow Island was well fancied due to his flat form in staying events,he will learn a lot from this but isn’t one to trust.

Sadly their was a fatality in Sammyman who hit the third last and was quickly pulled up.

After the race the stewards called trainer Dan Skelton in who had his third winner of the day here,no doubt to ask the improvement in form,this was a bit odd given as none of the field had any divine right to win at all! Sometimes you wonder if they actually studied this race before the off.

5.30 Get Value On Course At Stratford Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle,Class 5,2m3f,9 flights,4yo+,(0-100)

No doubt they were dancing on the streets of Alvechurch here as local trainer Ian Williams saddled the most facile winner of the day in Watt Broderick who came into this race fit from the flat and has been running credibly over hurdles,travelling sweetly he was held up early and was cruising on the steel over the last flight to win with his head in his chest under Michael Byrne to defeat Polo Springs by five lengths.

He has three entries next week and could be turned out for one of them,worth backing him should the conditions be the same

A nice afternoons sport then and a nice return after a break of a few weeks,I have a busy period coming up with racing at Aintree,Ayr,Haydock and Thirsk coming up as the transition from jumps to flat slowly takes shape.

Today’s card had some good finished with the best race being the long distance steeplechase,Talkonthestreet is a nice looking stayer for next season indeed.

Next up I shall be at the first two days of the Grand National meeting which is always a highlight of my year.

Below,Talkonthestreet posing after his win.

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Below,The Horse and Hound Cup winners wall of fame.

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Below,The stands.

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Below,Horses after the last race.

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Atherton Collieries v 1874 Northwich ,NWCL Division 1,Saturday 8th March 2014

A decent crowd of 236 turned up at Alder House for this maiden meeting between the two clubs,Colls of 98 years or so and 1874 who are in their first season of being a football club since their formation.

Below,Colls Clubhouse.

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It was Michael Brandon’s header on 59 minutes that sealed the three points for 1874 Northwich in a closely fought match, not the prettiest game seen this season by me but it was one of those where the result came first and the performance was only secondary.

The opening twenty minutes or so were trappy with both sides struggling to play any form of flowing football on a very cut up pitch,Paul Atherton got Colls first attempt easily saved with Josh Peet having a long range attempt go wide within the first twenty two minutes.

It all kicked off though around the half hour mark when Michael Ward of Northwich caught Colls forward Jake Atherton, Colls captain Kieran Halliwell waded into the action and along with Ward was given a yellow for his troubles, both teams continued to press but struggled to put the ball into the back of net as half time approached, Northwich then had two more players booked within five minutes as the half time break arrived.

HT Colls 0-1874 0

Below,Even this dog wasn’t impressed with the first half!

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The second half was just that bit better than the first,well in that it had the only goal of the match when Brandon headed from a cross on 57 minutes to put the visitors ahead, from here Colls were always chasing the game while 1874 couldn’t put the result to bed.

More bookings followed as the match progressed,a few were from very petulant reactions and the odd rash challenge,Colls could have made the scores level on around 81 minutes with two missed chances in the box then a few minutes later Jake Patton was unable to put his foot to a cross with five minutes to go which could have levelled the scores.

FT Colls 0-1874 Northwich 1

So an intriguing match then and one in which the ref came in for a fair amount of shouting from the fans,most of their queries seemed to be about calling the quality of his eyesight and parentage into question!

The race for promotion continues for both clubs,Northwich leap over Colls to go third with two games in hand and only a point behind Formby in the second automatic promotion spot who you remember I saw back in October at LR’s ground.

Two spots up for grabs and four teams are in the hunt for promotion,this league is bubbling up nicely as it approaches the business end of the season.