Tuesday 21 January 2020

Ballycasey can rewrite history while securing trainers' crown

Paul Nicholls. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Paul Nicholls. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Patrick Mullins

There's no race quite like the Aintree Grand National and with dad going hammer and tongs with Paul Nicholls for the British trainers' title, it takes on even more significance than normal as it could make or break our title bid.

I'd always have the National (5.15) ahead of the Gold Cup, it's the ultimate thrill in sport for me. It's a privilege to ride in it, it's race that counts (even more so today). BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith deserves credit for making it a proper handicap.

Every horse now has a fair chance of winning and people target good horses at it, whereas in the Irish National there's no point.

Confidence is high after Bacardys yesterday so hopefully I'll get a good spin aboard On His Own.

I haven't ridden off 11st 1lb in three or four years so I've been watching my diet since Cheltenham and hopefully it'll be worth it. Nina Carberry replaces the injured Ruby on Sir Des Champs, who was second in a Gold Cup. He ticks a lot of boxes and if he can return to anything near his best he's in with a great shout.

Ruby's sister Katie rides Ballycasey, who beat Don Cossack and Carlingford Lough as a novice and I think it's the best chance of our quartet. There's a question mark over his stamina but he jumped particularly well last year until Balthazar King brought him down. Proven National pedigree is huge and they could rewrite the Aintree fairytale at 66/1.

Boston Bob might be a few pounds well in given his win last time out and 10st 10lbs is a reasonable weight for a multiple Grade One winner.

Red Rum won this race with top weight, and defending champion Many Clouds has a great chance of matching that feat. We'd obviously like to win our second National after Hedgehunter in 2005 but a back-to-back winner would be good for the sport.

Of the others, Gilgamboa is a horse with a lot of class and Enda Bolger knows how to ready horses for this type of test. A lot of things are in his favour and he's worth a punt at a big price. With £1m up for grabs this race could settle our duel with Nicholls.

Paul has six runners and combined we have a quarter of the field, and it's an interesting sub-plot to a race full of stories. To emulate the legendary Vincent O'Brien would be very special and we're going to give it one almighty shot because it might never come around again for us.

National aside, it's a frantic day for us with several runners and if Childrens List, who ran deplorably at Cheltenham when fancied, can return to his winter form he has a live chance in the opening Handicap Hurdle (1.45). We've always thought that he was good enough to win a valuable handicap and today could be his day.

Yorkhill oozed class at the Festival and I'd be very disappointed if he doesn't confirm his quality in the Mersey Novices' Hurdle (2.25). Barry Geraghty got trapped wide on Yanworth - a fine horse - at Cheltenham and was possibly unlucky but Yorkhill won with his ears pricked.

It's very rare you see a horse come around the home bend with his mouth wide open and amazingly he had stopped blowing by the time he came back to the parade ring - he was ready to go around again. That suggests he won with a lot in hand and he can prevail again, while our other runner Bello Conti could finish just behind the market principles in third.


Douvan is bouncing since his win in the Arkle and looks impossible to oppose in the Maghull Novices' Chase (3.0). He probably had an easier race than most and we're excited to have this potential superstar back in action again; he's a joy to watch.

We send Shaneshill back over hurdles after a brilliant second in the RSA and his form ties in well with Thistlecrack from Punchestown last year. The prize money on offer is better than the novice chase so it makes sense, even though he's probably playing for second place.

Thistlecrack was out of this world at Cheltenham and will be a big player if he goes chasing. We'd rather the Tizzards kept him hurdling but the World Hurdle route could be a realistic option for Shaneshill in his absence.

I was keen to ride Ivan Grozny in the concluding Handicap Hurdle (6.10) but my cousin David has jocked me off. He was eighth at Cheltenham, beaten less than 12 lengths, and he has a great chance to close out the day with a winner.

Patrick's Picks

1.45 Childrens List

2.25 Yorkhill (Nap)

3.00 Douvan

3.40 Thistlecrack

4.20 Knock House

5.15 1 Ballycasey 2 Gilgamboa 3 Many Clouds 4 Sir Des Champs

6.10 Ivan Grozny

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