Aintree Races,Randox Health Grand National Festival Day Two, Friday 13th April 2018

It may have been a wet and gloomy Ladies Day at Aintree but the cloud occupied by the late Richard Woollacott shone down on his wife and current licence owner Kayley to give her one of the biggest wins in her training career as Lalor finally delivered his first success over hurdles when landing the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle much to the delight of friends,family and racegoers alike. 

Everyone in the racing family was stunned when news of Richard’s passing came through and this seemed to be the result everyone would have wanted, winner of last seasons bumper on the card he has had placed efforts over hurdles but the return to Aintree certainly brought about the best in him and he can kick on from here hopefully and go on to much better things. 

Kayley Woollacott (Blue Coat)

On a very emotional day indeed one man who got a win that was most definitely deserved was John Hales, twenty years after One Man’s death in the Melling Chase his current star chaser Politologue just got the better in a titanic battle in the feature Grade 1 Melling Chase from the Willie Mullins trained Min for trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, A top quality race on paper he was behind Min in the Queen Mother but the extra trip brought about his best performance of the season despite winning top races like the Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid Chases. 

Paul Nicholls will have plenty to think about over the summer with this horse, natural targets would probably be races like the Peterborough and Ascot Chases so to avoid Altior in the big two mile events, Min is a top two miler but even more effective at this longer trip too. 

John Hales,Sam Twiston-Davies and Politologue

The Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase over 3m1f was a more than top quality renewal with some top quality staying chasers on show and Nicky Henderson continued his good fortune here with Terrefort putting in an exemplary round of steeplechasing under the steerage of Daryl Jacob to get the better of the gutsy mare Ms Parfois, Already a Grade 1 winner at Sandown in February over shorter he showed no problems about staying the extra trip. 

A lovely looking grey he will make Nicky Henderson wonder what to do now in making sure he doesn’t cross the path of Might Bite next season and he is a serious chaser for next season at the top table, Ms Parfois back in second is a tough mare and she can take a hand in the long distance division next season in races like the Classic Chase and Welsh National. 


The Topham Chase gave the jockeys a chance to get their eye in for the big one tomorrow over one lap of the National course and it was a case of rewind back to last year as Ultragold repeated his win of last year albeit from a 5lb higher mark under Harry Cobden, making most of the running he jumped these fences like he was born to do so and showed that the Aintree factor is very much essential here, back in second spot was Theatre Territory under Sam Waley-Cohen who ran an honest race but still needs dropping a few pounds to get that elusive win. 

A happy Ultragold

Another Henderson winner came to fruition in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices over the marathon 3m trip for young stayers in Santini under Nico De Boinville but it certainly wasn’t easy as the mare Roksana made a race of it with both split across the width of the track towards the end with Santini just getting on top at the end, this is a very good horse in the making and has a top future ahead of him next season wether it be over timber or its just possible that fences could well be called for. 

Ladies Day began with the Alder Hey sponsored hurdle over 2m4f and this race gave a good start for the bookies with a 20-1 surprise in Jester Jet for the Tom Lacey stables, this 8yo mare had missed Cheltenham after a gallant second in a Warwick Mares’ Hurdle back in February and made good use of her featherweight of 10-9, no doubt her paddock value will have had a few extra pounds added on to it after this as will her handicap mark which was 133 before landing this Grade 3. 

In the finale a Grade 2 Open Bumper, that went to the 25-1 shot Portrush Ted who gave Gavin Sheehan a dream ride and dug deep when asked to easily best Kateson and Harambe by just over three lengths, as is the case in a race like this it will be stacked full of potential top quality novice hurdlers for next season and is worth keeping an eye on the form of it. 

In summary Ladies Day was a very emotive one most especially for Kayley Woollacott and John Hales and anyone who follows this sport would have been over the moon for the pair of them, racing has its ups and downs and this was without doubt a huge up for both of them. 

Everyone was shocked in the racing village back in January and to take over the licence and keep the flag flying plus getting a Grade 1 is something that Richard will have been dancing up on his cloud on Friday night.  

Aintree has held another great festival as usual, you can be sure that whenever you come to this place you see that the north west has its own way of doing things. 

So that brings an end to my jumps season for 2017-18, it’s had its ups and downs and now it’s time to concentrate on the flat with hopefully a few more visits to more flat meetings with the first one being the Thirsk Hunt Cup meeting this time being ran at Wetherby so a sort of final fling of the jumps if you like!

Aintree Grand National Meeting Day One,Thursday 4th April 2013

Four Grade Ones,two big field handicaps and a twenty five runner Hunter Chase were the order of the day for day one of this three day jumps bonanza in Merseyside and weather wise it was a mixture of sun with a bit of cold and windy conditions when up in the stands viewing the races. 

Today was Aintree Hurdle day which was transferred from Saturday to give it the centrepiece it so richly deserves and the 2013 running was a race which on paper looked as good and as strong as ever, crowd wise over 30,000 turned up and what a treat for the faithful national hunt die hards and the once a year racegoers who give this meeting their main focal point of the year. 
Also today was the first day of racing with the new design of fence on the Grand National course which is a make up of the traditional spruce from the Lake District and a new plastic core which replaces the old style timber to give a more forgiving yet respectful fence that hopefully won’t cause damage to any horses or jockeys. 
2.00 Matalan Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle 2m 110 yards,9 Flights
The first Grade One of the day and a useful renewal of this race albeit with no Our Connor in the line up but this year the geldings where firmly put in their place by the filly L’Unique who gave trainer Alan King his fourth runner in this race with victories in 2007,09,12 and this filly won well,sitting behind the pace set by Irish Saint and went on to hold off the very progressive Runswick Royal who ran a seasonal best on his fourth start over hurdles with Irish Saint back in third and Flaxen Flare in fourth. 
The winner could well be targeting the Mares Hurdle next season providing she likes the step up in trip and Runswick Royal may well be Fighting Fifth bound in November as he is trained in Newcastle but before could have a crack at the Swinton Hurdle or maybe the Scottish Summer Champion at Perth in August and Irish Saint could be one to take in the 4yo Chases early in November at Warwick. 
2.35 Betfred Bowl Chase 3m1f,19 fences
Another Grade One here and a race with many questions such as could Silviniaco Conti bounce back from his Gold Cup fall and will any Festival form hold up in what can often be a real grave yard for favourites
As it happened it was Ireland who took this years running just like last year albeit with a horse at a much shorter price in First Lieutenant who helped frank the form for Cue Card tomorrow with a battling victory by overtaking Menorah on the run in after being in second at the last fence hold on with Silviniaco Conti back in third after being held up and probably could have ran better had he been more closer to the pace. 
First Lieutenant has kept good form but this was his first win since 2011 and could well be a good type for the Gold Cup next season should he be aimed but will spend most of next season in Ireland no doubt, Menorah is better at 2m4f but ran a lovely race and Silviniaco Conti has probably had enough and will be back next season at Haydock in November. 
3.10 The John Smiths Aintree Hurdle 2m4f, 11 flights. 
A third Grade One and this race which on paper looked a high quality renewal with horse that ran in the Champion Hurdle doing battle over further and even though only two of the nine runners had won over this trip it was a race to savour for national hunt fans.  
The new kid on the block was The New One who won the 2m4f Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham and was having his first crack at dining at the top table but it he went down but not without a fight as Zarkandar fought him tooth and nail up the run in and after making almost all the running to win in what was a titanic battle up the Aintree straight and the sort of finish that makes you realise why you follow this sport in the first place. 
Zarkandar had a real race here and this will be it for his season and next year could be taking them on in the 2m4f division where as The New One will probably end up Champion Hurdle bound and will certainly shake them up a bit and will not be out of place in that league. 
Thousand Stars was back in third and ran is usual honest and gutsy race, he may well end up at Auteuil in May while Oscar Whisky has done enough to warrant a summer holiday,Countrywide Flame never picked up but he has plenty good races left in him and Raya Star who took a crashing fall got up safely. 
3.40 The John Smiths Fox Hunters Chase, 2m5f 110 yards,18 fences. 
Just the Twenty Five for this years running and the first chance to see the new fences in action as these amateur riders had their once a year spin over the big greens going at the usual good gallop from when the tapes went up. 
Now normally with these big jumps festivals we speak about the battle between England and Ireland but of course nothing is normal in racing and like Foinavon and Mon Mome it was a 100-1 winner but this time over Hadrians Wall and into Scotland as the 13yo veteran and Kelso specialist Tartan Snow rallied on the run in under Jamie Hamilton to defeat Cool Friend after a photo finish for trainer Stuart Coltherd in Selkirk. 
Being over the big fences their was a few events, firstly a false start which is nothing new at Aintree with four fallers and one unseated rider but sadly we did suffer the loss of the Ted Walsh trained Battlefront who was pulled up with four to jump and sadly died after suffering a heart attack but this is something that can happen at any race meeting and while it is of course such a shame it occurred and while I offer my commiserations to the owners and connections,the Walsh family themselves are real horse people and know how things like this can happen at any race meeting not just the ones over the Grand National fences. 
Cool Friend was unlucky to get beat but is a useful horse albeit a bit in and out while Warner back in fourth is only nine and can do better when going back up to three miles. 
Cloudy Lane ran in this as his last last race and has been retired,he was Donald McCains first ever winner at the Cheltenham Festival and deserves to put his hooves up and relax after doing his part for the McCain family. 
4.15 The Red Rum Handicap Chase,2m, 12 fences
Always a tricky race,they go fast and furious in this and with Cue Card due to line up tomorrow the Colin Tizzards yard warmed up with the veteran 11yo Oiseau de Nui who has been placed three times in this race finally got his name in the number one spot by beating another older horse in the 10yo Tanks for That as a few major players in this race all ran below par, Kie who is only five for the McCain stable was well to the fore and was running an eye catching race. 
Its fair to say the winner is in the hey day of his career as is the runner up but Kie ran well up with the pace and will be better over a bit further and allowed to settle a bit more but he remains a horse with a lot more to give. 
Favourite Rebel Rebellion found this race a bit to much and was pulled up but he will be back as will Silver Roque who would prefer a much more softer surface than this. 
4.50 The Betfred Manifesto Novices Chase,2m4f, 16 fences 
The last Grade One on the card was won by Captain Conan who resumed winning ways after his flat run at Cheltenham here and did the job well enough despite idling on the run in to give Nicky Henderson another high quality 2m4f performer for next season, he has jumped well this season with all his wins being Grade One or Two so is a high quality steeplechaser and the only problem now will be where to place him especially is Sprinter Sacre wins the Melling tomorrow afternoon but next season is a long time away and his plan of campaign will be thought out but he is one to keep an eye on next season. 
Tap Night ran second and being an Ayr specialist will probably have another run in the Future Champion Novices before being put away but Lucinda Russell has a good warrior here and can fly the flag for Scotland in a lot of the big races next season. 
Back in third was Changing Times who will probably end up handicapping next season so will be interesting to see how he gets treated after this. 
5.25 The Silver Cross Handicap Hurdle Race, 3m 110 yards, 13 flights
Just the twenty one for this race with lots of potential horses for the future in the mix but the younger brigade were given a mighty kicking and they should all be thankful they are geldings because the way in which the winner Battle Group sluiced up if would have hurt them, this eight year old now in the care of Kevin Bishop won this race of a rating of 137 back in 2011 but was down to 131 this afternoon and the change of yard helped as this was his first start and gave Brendan Powell Jr his second winner of the day which takes him to be the top rider at the end of day one. 
Jetson who was well fancied from Ireland could not live with the pace of the winner and went down by 10 lengths with First Fandango back in third.  
Battle Group may go to Haydock next month for a 3m hurdle as will a few of these probably, of the rest I’d nominate Easter Day who ran on into 7th to go and be a decent novice chaser next season as he won the Sidney Banks Hurdle back in February and has a touch of class about him but probably found the extra half mile a bit too far today.  
So a day which promised so much did indeed live up to its billing for day one of this wonderful festival. 
The highlights for myself were walking the course before racing and taking some pictures of the fences including Bechers Brook,seeing top class jumps horses do battle and for me getting my photo with Clare Balding who is as lovely away from the camera as she is on it. 
Tomorrow is Ladies Day with the main highlight being the triple bill between Sprinter Sacre,Cue Card and Flemenstar in what will be the race of the season.  


2013 Grand National Preview

Up in the beautiful setting of the Lake District is an area where the spruce grows that is transported down the M6 for the five races a year run on the famous Grand National course which produces sporting history every year and has done since 1839 when the aptly named Lottery won the first ever running at its current home Aintree albeit with runnings at Gatwick when the two World Wars with Germany got in the way of the fun. 

The Grand National meeting is now a three day bonanza of jump racing which follows on three weeks after the Cheltenham Festival, the racing is equally as competitive and the quality of the card has improved year by year to such a degree that for the 2013 meeting the race that everyone is keen to see is not the National itself but the highly anticipated battle between Sprinter Sacre,Cue Card and Flemenstar in the Melling Chase over 2m4f. 
I was asked in an interview with a friend of mine about how the class system shows in racing after all it has been commonly known as The Sport of Kings since Adam was a lad and while meetings such as Royal Ascot does have a sort of segregation in place with the Royal Enclosure I can genuinely say that things are different at Aintree, the sport of jumps racing has its roots firmly established from the countryside but at this meeting you see a real coming together of anyone and everyone. 
Walking around during the racing you see the richer and more well off in the tweed and funny coloured trousers but you also get the Scousers in their suits and ladies in dresses albeit not made of much material and the high heels which end up being swapped for flip flops after about four races due to novice racegoers not realising you spend about eight hours stood up for the days racing but this is a real sense of everybody in it together and the class barriers are down which makes this meeting what it is, It’s when the town and the countryside unite as one for the love of the sport,the event,the occasion and you can’t help but look and be proud that this is a true British sporting institution. 
This years meeting does see a few changes, for a start the television viewers will be tuning into Channel 4 who are going all out to make everyone know this is the only channel for terrestrial coverage of horse racing, many people including myself will be nervous and excited as to what will no doubt we a different style of coverage but anyone who saw the 2012 Paralympics will know that Channel 4 will do a cracking job and treat it with the respect it deserves. 
The other main changes include the start going forward by 90 yards which may work but trying to get the jockeys to go slower could potentially back fire with a shorter run to the first fence meaning riders could be more in a hurry to get a good sight at the first, I am more worried about this but jockeys are professional riders and hopefully will use their heads and remember to ride the race and not the occasion but only time will tell. 
The last change are the fences themselves, normally the big greens are made with stiff upright timber poles covered with spruce but all of these have now been removed and replaced with a new fixed fence with plastic birch and still covered with spruce so to the once a year viewers they will not notice any changes and to be fair in December at the Becher Chase meeting four of these were trialled and I certainly spotted no difference whatsoever and hopefully while their will still be fallers we all hope nothing bad comes from them. 
Each day of the meeting has a different feel to it,for me I only go to the first two days,I have been to a Grand National back in 2001 when Red Marauder was one of only four finishers in what was the most dramatic National since Foinavon in 1967 and since the 2001 running I have watched them all on the TV apart from 2011 when I was at Bangor on Dee but for me this is a race better to watch on the big telly at home
Day One is now known as Liverpool Day with four Grade One races including the Aintree Hurdle and the Bowl Steeplechase as the two classiest races on the card but oddly they are mearly the warm up acts as the big race for all those on course is the Aintree Foxhunters over 2m5f 110yards of the Grand National course with the horses ridden by Amateur riders who oddly dont get paid and will get no prize money should they earn it for the owners and it gives us our first sighting of the fences, always a brave,brutal and tough race it is an event to savour as these mighty warriors do battle with the winning jockey joining that elite list of being on the scoresheet of the five races held every year on the National course. 
Day Two is Ladies Day which is always a sight in so many ways as the Liverpool ladies go all out to have fun and although its a mixture of high heels,fake tans,outfits that leave little to the imagination and lots of wine mixed in with the fashion show and best dressed competitions the people should also be aware that their is high quality racing on too!
The feature races on Ladies Day are the Melling Chase over 2m4f on the quick Mildmay course which always produces a cracking race and as I alluded to earlier the potential coming together of Sprinter Sacre,Cue Card and Flemenstar will make it the race of the whole meeting, the other biggie is the Topham Chase over the same course and distance as the Foxhunters and this gives jockeys a quick chance to get their eye in for the National the following day,always fast and furious it is a good race and with Always Waining going for the National there will be a new name after his winning the previous three renewals. 
Grand National Day is one of the iconic days in the sporting and racing calendar and those on course will be treated to a real sight of top class horses and jockeys doing battle over those fearsome fences and going into Aintree folklore, The local betting shops as ever will be full of the once a year punters and no doubt asking the usual daft questions like “What’s Dettori riding?” “How much tax do I pay?”  But it is things like this that make the day what it is and we would be much poorer without it occurring. 
The Grand National may be a race which divides opinion, I for one will always defend it as I have grown up with the race and still remember my first ever pick in the race, Durham Edition back in 1988 and being amazed and in awe of Chris Grant as he finished a gallant second in the race which got be hooked on this most beautiful of sports. 
As for the 2013 running well it does look as tricky as ever but if I had to give one horse to hopefully give you a nice run for your money then I would suggest Chicago Grey as a worthy each way bet, he fell last year very early but has form over this marathon trip and warmed up with a win at Navan in February so for me he could go well at a big price. 
Thank you for reading this, I shall be at Aintree for the Thursday and Friday at the meeting and I know full well come Wednesday I will be going to bed feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve knowing what the presents are and getting more and more irritable to open them!

Haydock Park,Grand National Trial Day,Saturday 16th February 2013

The first meeting of 2013 at my local course and a very good card of National Hunt racing to enjoy as many horses have their preparations for the upcoming Cheltenham and Aintree festivals in the months ahead.

Today was a day for lovers of long distance events with four races over three miles and one race over three and a half miles with one race apiece over two miles and two and a half miles respectively.

Race One was the Victor Ludorum Hurdle for 4yo only over 2m,this race went to the Micky Hammond trained Only Orsenfoolsies who followed up his recent Catterick win with a gusty performance to get the better of Zamdy Man by 2.5 lengths,The winner looks fairly useful and has ability but might not be upto Triumph Hurdle winning standards,maybe the Fred Winter if he gets a good weight may be more his thing or possibly a Scottish Champion Hurdle later in the year, Runner up Zamdy Man now qualifies for handicaps but the handicapper may not be that lenient for him to begin with.

Race Two was the Grade Two Rendlesham Hurdle over 3m and this was an all the way victory for Across the Bay from Donald McCains yard and huge win for jockey Henry Brooke to hold off the very good Trustan Times by 1.25 lengths, a winner of two chases at Kelso and Carlisle this season he was going over the smaller obstacles since finishing 7th when carrying top weight in the Welsh National last month, This run will have brought his confidence back but it’s doubtful he will go for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham but he will no doubt be aimed at something, Trustan Times ran a grand race in defeat but could well go for the Liverpool Hurdle which may suit him given the way he travels plus with no Big Buck’s it is possible that race could be for the taking.

Race Three was the feature race of the day, The Grand National Trial over the stamina sapping 3m4f , a field of fourteen long distance specialist faced the starter with two previous winners in the contest also this seasons Welsh,Sussex and London National winners plus the Classic Chase winner from Warwick back in January, it was a good quality field and it went the way of the vastly improved Well Refreshed from Gary Moore’s yard in Lower Beeding,Held up in the early stages he made plenty of ground up down the back straight and turning for home began to extend his lead before a making a real hash of the last fence but this didn’t affect him to much as he went on to record a 10 length victory of previous Warwick scorer Rigadin de Beauchene who tried to follow up a recent Classic Chase win but lost no honour in coming second behind a real quality winner.

In third was the Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude who did stay on but his Gold Cup entry could well be a waste of time and yet again he follows in a long line of Welsh National winners who struggle in their next race as that Chepstow marathon always takes a lot out of them and leaves a mark for the rest of the season, All credit to the winner though as he won his first chase at Fontwell off a rating of 100 and now wins this off 129 so expect the handicapper to give him a real clobbering, not entered in the National it could well be a trip to Fairyhouse or Ayr unless they pop into Uttoxeter next month.

It was The Prestige Novices Hurdle next for Race Four over 3m, just the five runners and a classy performance from the Alan King trained Two Rockers, unbeaten in a Point and two novice events at Towcester this season he traveled well and was still on the bridle at the last flight before being asked to pick up which he duly did to record a 5l win over Ardklilly Witness with Shotgun Paddy back in third being the only ones who finished the race, The winner is a nice likeable type who could end up going Chasing next term and will be one to watch if he does, in the short term connections may go and take their chance in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival and he would have as good a chance as any due to it always being a wide open contest.

The fifth contest was a competitive Novices Handicap Chase over 2m4f and recent Wetherby victor Cloudy Too followed up here with another good performance from this improving 7yo from Sue Smiths yard, travelling and jumping well he defeated favourite Ohio Gold by 8 lengths to give Wayne Hutchinson a double on the card, His jumping has improved in his last two races and he remains on the upgrade so be worth noting where he gets aimed at and if they keep him at this trip or have a go over further later on, Ohio Gold ran well enough but probably needs to be dropped a few pounds before he wins again.

Race Six was another Pertemps Qualifier but oddly this was only a nine runner event as most of the time these races have double figure fields and it was a fourth straight win for Seymour Eric who kept stable mate Mauricetheathlete company for the first circuit before taking over and dotting home by 4.5 lengths from Knock a Hand who ran a personal best for the season with Bouggler back in third who was never able to challenge, Again as with the feature race all eyes will be what the handicapper does to this winner who began the season winning at the now sadly closed Hereford off a rating of 85 and today won on 121, hopefully he should get in the final and very much deserves to as he could be the Hunt Ball of the 2012/13 season.

The final race of the day was the Walrus Hunters Chase or as every Hunter Chase that is run between now and Cheltenham called a Foxhunters Trial. This was again over 3m and named the Walrus due to when this meeting used to be a two day event the first day all had races named with Lewis Carroll connections, anyway back to the race and it was the favourite Cottage Oak who duly obliged seeing off Current Exchange by 13 lengths with former Becher Chase winner Vic Venturi an honourable third, The winner is prominent in the betting for the Cheltenham Foxhunters and if he wins that and goes on to land the Aintree one he will win his owners an extra £25,000 or £10,000 should he land just one of them.

A very enjoyable afternoon of racing was had by all, along with good company which always makes the day even nicer.

Last season this meeting threw up a good few Festival winners including the Grand National winner, doubt any of today’s winners may do the same but then again stranger things to happen in this wonderful sport of ours.