Thursday 14 December 2017

Hughes takes ups and downs of Aintree in his stride

Chris McGrath

So many hazards lie beyond the control of even the most nimble horse or rider in the Grand National that it may well make sense to seek safety in numbers at Aintree on Saturday.

Certainly, odds of 9/4 against an Irish winner look a very palatable alternative to the bigger odds available against various individual fancies, in what looks a formidable collective challenge this year. Since winning four Nationals between 2003 and 2007, Irish raiders have endured a three-year hiatus.

But they have just celebrated a record-breaking Cheltenham and account for 13 of the 40 horses currently guaranteed a run. These include three of the first four in the betting -- The Midnight Club, Backstage and Oscar Time -- as well as a series of very feasible outsiders.

Admittedly, the pair sent over from Kildare by Dessie Hughes might not be obviously eligible for that latter group, but it would be typical of Aintree were he finally to crack it when it looks as though his moment might have passed. As a jockey, he never made it even as far as Becher's Brook.

As a trainer, he has come a good deal closer. Black Apalachi ran his heart out to be second to Don't Push It last year, 20 lengths clear of the third; and had been tanking along in the lead when discarding his rider at Becher's second time round the previous year. But he has suffered a tendon injury and, though Hughes hopes he will be back.

"He was probably very unlucky two years ago," Hughes says. "But in fairness the Grand National wouldn't really be a lucky race for too many people. And I'm lucky to have two more to run this time."

At 11, Vic Venturi and In Compliance are both seasoned campaigners -- and both ran over the big fences at last year's meeting. Vic Venturi did not get round in the National, but had won the Becher Chase the previous autumn, while In Compliance took really well to the obstacles when sixth in the Topham Chase.

"They're ready," Hughes said. "Vic Venturi was going well when he was brought down last year and has been trained for nothing else but this since. We ran him at the Maze five weeks ago and he ran well on the heavy ground, as he'd want it good. In Compliance is on a fair mark, if he found his form."

Leighton Aspell rides In Compliance, while Andrew Lynch is on Vic Venturi (11st 6lb). (© Independent News Service)

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