Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Speed, danger ... and dreams

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Jockey Jonathan Moore falls from Newsworthy at ‘The Chair’ at Aintree yesterday, a fence which 40 horses and jockeys will have to jump if they are to take glory in the Grand National today. Photo: Getty Images
Jockey Jonathan Moore falls from Newsworthy at ‘The Chair’ at Aintree yesterday, a fence which 40 horses and jockeys will have to jump if they are to take glory in the Grand National today. Photo: Getty Images

Patrick Mullins

It's 179 years since Lottery won the first Grand National while Captain Becher took refuge in his infamous Brook and cursed the taste of water without whiskey.

Queen Victoria's first Opium War with China started the same year and Custer's Battle of Little Big Horn was still 39 years away. Much time has passed since and almost everything in that world of wars over tea and opium and cowboys chasing Indians has moved on, but this race survives and is still a spectacle that fascinates now as it did then.

The speed. Reckless at best. The jumps. Coming at you faster than bullets leaving a gun barrel. The waves of other horses thundering around you, galloping into your view of the next fence or falling in your way after it like fighter jets downed during the Blitz. The danger. It's every jockey's dream to ride in it, not in spite of the above but because of it.

It is a race apart. No other steeplechase has 40 runners, no other steeplechase has 30 jumps over more than four miles that includes parachuting off Bechers Brook, leaping over that vast canyon that is the Chair or handbraking around Canal Turn. There is nothing else in sport like the wild fork lightning charge to the first or the long, unforgiving finish around the Elbow.

We send three to try immortalise themselves in the annals of Aintree history.

Total Recall is our number-one hope. He has plundered three valuable handicaps already this season and was running the race of his life when coming to grief at the tricky downhill third-last in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He will probably be the smallest horse in the line-up and don't be surprised if all you can see is his ears as he approaches the Chair.

However, he is bigger than the '38 winner Battleship which was only 15.2hh! He showed in the Gold Cup he is still ahead of the handicapper and that makes him very dangerous.

He brings high-class form, has proven ability in big-field handicaps, should have sufficient stamina and the ground doesn't pose a problem. He has all the attributes to carve his name into the legendary roll of honour.

Pleasant Company is a horse that caught a lot of eyes last year before almost coming down at Valentines. He recovered to finish a respectable ninth. He comes back here off a pound lower but with two poor runs this season. If Aintree can reignite his spark he would have a strong each-way shout but the softer ground over this extended trip is a worry.

Alpha Des Obeaux catches the eye. He meets Total Recall 17lbs better off than when they finished first and second in the Munster National.

He is ridden by the current champion conditional in Ireland Rachael Blackmore. Blackmore has already surpassed her total of last year's championship-winning season, has ridden her first graded winner and won a valuable handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival for Willie.

She is a jockey with momentum and confidence at the moment.

Anibale Fly won a very valuable handicap chase at Christmas before a brilliant run in the Gold Cup.

Barry Geraghty rode him to run well and I don't think he got as hard a race as he could have. That, coupled with the month break between Cheltenham and Aintree this year, gives him a good chance of recovering in time.

The Gold Cup certainly didn't hamper Might Bite winning on Thursday. Anibale Fly will settle and jump well, two very important attributes for this race in particular, and he should be thereabouts once again.

Irish Independent

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