Wednesday 21 February 2018

Monday Outlook: Ruby heroics help Many Clouds to enjoy silver lining in National

Many Clouds and Leighton Aspell touch down ahead of Tony McCoy and Shutthefrontdoor en route to victory in the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree
Many Clouds and Leighton Aspell touch down ahead of Tony McCoy and Shutthefrontdoor en route to victory in the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Of the eight horses charged with ending the eight-year drought for Irish horses in the Grand National, Cause Of Causes fared best in eighth for Gordon Elliott, the man who saddled Silver Birch to that last cross-channel victory in 2007.

First Lieutenant’s chance of carrying Nina Carberry to a famous Aintree triumph was undone by his knuckling on landing at the first two fences. Willie Mullins’ Ballycasey got brought down when Balthazar King fell at the Canal Turn and it is remarkable to think that, but for his rider Ruby Walsh, the race might have been halted.

It seems there was no contingency in place for bypassing the Canal Turn fence. Walsh was reportedly among those who took control of the situation, lifting and moving the rail after the fence that was designed to corral loose horses into a holding pen.

With official personnel short due to the stricken Balthazar King, which suffered broken ribs, Walsh also put the no-go tape across the fence and armed himself with a chequered flag to alert the charging field of the diversion on the second circuit. He could also be seen gesticulating to one of the trailing riders, possibly admonishing an over-eager youngster.

Maybe we are overemphasising Walsh’s intervention, but the extent of his role in the matter is of note.

It was a potentially fraught situation that required clarity of thought and courage of conviction given the potential ramifications, and there is hardly a more assertive human being on the planet than Walsh.

While Ballycasey was unlucky, the most unfortunate of those to exit was surely Neil Mulholland’s The Druids Nephew.

He had assumed the lead around the same point and was travelling comfortably under Aidan Coleman when he slithered to the ground five-out despite jumping the fence perfectly.

Having been 10lbs well in after winning at Cheltenham, it was a galling exit for connections.


He will return with a chance in 2016, as will Shutthefrontdoor, which briefly looked like he might give AP McCoy a fairytale swansong. He tired into fifth, but it was no mean turn for a horse on its first run since November and just its seventh start over fences.

Many Clouds, a 25/1 shot, took over once The Druids Nephew departed. He ran out a decisive winner, clocking a sub-nine-minute finish for a first time since Mr Frisk’s 1990 track record.

Of course, that is immaterial, as the distance is now half-a-furlong shorter.

Surprisingly, Many Clouds is also the first Hennessy Gold Cup hero to win the race.

The National is what it is now, a sanitised version of the dramatic spectacle of old.

Many Clouds, not unlike Neptune Collonges in 2012, is the type of elite winner that chief handicapper Phil Smith set out to attract when he began his crusade to alter the race’s essence.

In the 15 years before Smith took over the National brief in 1999, just one horse carried 11st or more to victory. In the last 11 years, six have done so, pointing to a fundamental change in the fabric of the event.

Most significantly, Many Clouds was five pounds better off than he should have been, benefiting from Smith’s effort to compact the handicap.

In carrying 11st 9lb to victory, he lumped more weight than any winner since Red Rum carried 12st for the second of his three famous triumphs in 1974.

The question that needs asking, then, is would the result have been different had he competed off five-pound worse terms with the strong-finishing Saint Are, which was beaten only a length-and-three quarters?

That, though, is no fault of the winning team. The rejuvenated Oliver Sherwood is as decent a skin as he comes across on television and National fanatic Trevor Hemmings has now had watched his colours carried to glory three times after wins with Hedgehunter (2005) and Ballabriggs (2011).

That is some feat, given that he has never been in the habit of spending massive money on proven stars; Many Clouds was bought for €6,000 at Tattersalls as a foal.

The real star of Saturday’s show, of course, was Leighton Aspell, who at 38 years of age emulated Bryan Marshall, who partnered the first two of Vincent O’Brien’s three winners in 1953 and 1954, by landing successive Nationals on different horses.

The Kilcullen native has enjoyed an incredible renaissance since coming out of a near two-year retirement in 2009. An honest pro and a real horseman, Aspell got off last year’s winner Pineau De Re to maintain his partnership with the Gold Cup sixth.

That in itself was a bold move, though maybe not as bold as some of the leaps he coaxed out of his willing mount.

Even at The Chair, Many Clouds was incredibly long and brave. In the bygone days of timber bellies, he wouldn’t have got away with reaching so far so often, but it made for a breathtaking exhibition. Aspell displayed all his characteristic calm and composure throughout the race and again afterwards, and he will now go to his grave as a Grand National-winning rider in consecutive years.

He is one of only two people on earth that can claim that distinction, the other being Red Rum’s jockey, Brian Fletcher.

Good company indeed.

Granite measures up for De Bromhead

Saturday’s £1m feature was a wipeout but otherwise it was a fantastic Aintree for the raiders.

Under an exquisite Nina Carberry steer, On The Fringe replicated his Cheltenham heroics in the Foxhunters, while Jezki, Nichols Canyon and Gordon Elliott’s Clarcam and Don Cossack all atoned for defeat in the Cotswolds. There were seven Irish winners, of which Elliott saddled three.

Sizing Granite’s Maghull Novices’ Chase triumph for Henry De Bromhead was significant. A more precocious prospect than the Waterford handler’s 2013 winner of the Grade One, Special Tiara, the seven-year-old is now unbeaten in four completed chasing starts.

Sizing Granite is a handsome, old-fashioned chaser with tremendous scope, and he dominated proceedings on Saturday under the superb Jonathan Burke.

The 19-year-old rides with more polish and composure than someone who is still entitled to claim a three-pound allowance in Britain should, and he possesses a humility not always associated with those promoted at such a young age.

De Bromhead skipped Cheltenham with Sizing Granite, possibly to avoid Un De Sceaux. To that end, he will have been glad to see Mullins’ hell-raiser scratched from Saturday’s race.

Whether Sizing Granite can progress enough to compete with him over two miles next term and help fill the void left by his totemic stablemate Sizing Europe remains to be seen. Either way, he will surely stay further, so he is an exciting individual.

Mullins and Treacy on song at Tramore

Fresh from a first English win aboard Astre De La Cour at Aintree on Saturday, David Mullins was on the mark at Tramore yesterday on Paul Nolan's The Mooch.

The rising star had crashed out on The Mad Well in the hurdle won by Cappacurry Zak, whose rider Ryan Treacy went on to complete a sparkling double in the conditions chase aboard Draycott Place. 

Tweet of the weekend

Tom O’Ryan (@Ballyhurst)

100-up for Brian Hughes at Market Rasen. Some achievement by a northern jump jockey without a major stable behind him. Hats off to hard graft.

- The Racing UK presenter pays tribute to the Armagh-born rider after his win on Warden Hill yesterday

McCoy on award duty

AP McCoy will present trophies to the 10 category winners at the inaugural Irish Stud and Stable Staff Awards.

The event, which will be held in Newbridge’s Keadeen Hotel tomorrow night, is being sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin, and there is €70,000 worth of prizes up for grabs.

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