Tuesday 12 December 2017

Teaforthree's touch of class can destroy Katie Walsh's bid for history in Grand National

Evening Herald Cheltenham columnist Jockey Katie Walsh at Naas races.
Photo: Adrian Melia
...08-03-2011 Evening Herald Cheltenham columnist Jockey Katie Walsh at Naas races. Photo: Adrian Melia ...sport

Marcus Armytage

RACING'S fervent hope that Katie Walsh can put the John Smith’s Grand National on the front pages for the right reasons by becoming the first female jockey to win the race on Seabass could be thwarted on Saturday by another member of the same sex, Pembrokeshire trainer Rebecca Curtis.

Curtis, one of the rising stars of the training ranks, is fresh from sending out her second Cheltenham Festival winner, At Fishers Cross, and runs Teaforthree in the world’s greatest race.

The nine-year-old, her first Festival winner when taking last year’s four-mile National Hunt Chase under JT McNamara, the jockey recently paralysed in a fall, looks tailor-made for Aintree as he stays, jumps and he has the requisite touch of class.

Early in the New Year he was just touched off in the Welsh National but, in February, was disappointing when only 10th in Haydock’s Grand National Trial. However, Curtis learned a valuable lesson on that trip that Teaforthree, like my children, does not like sleepovers.

“He’s quite sensitive and didn’t eat, drink or settle that night at Haydock,” explained Curtis, 32, who trains on her father’s dairy farm, five minutes north of Fishguard, which overlooks the Irish Sea. “It’s just as well we found out about it then because we now know to take him up on the day. It’s not too bad, Aintree’s only four hours in the lorry from here.”

She added: “I am glad he hasn’t run since. He’s fresh and exactly where we want him. He jumps and stays and will appreciate the better ground so you would have to be hopeful.”

Teaforthree, who will be a fifth National ride for Nick Scholfield, would be only the second ever Welsh-trained National winner and there will not be many people who remember the last one, the 1905 winner Kirkland, who was trained at Lawrenny Park near Tenby.

So prized was jockey Frank ‘Tich’ Mason’s association with the horse, the owner paid him £300 not to take a ride in the fortnight before the race.

“It would be massive for the yard and this part of Wales,” admitted Curtis, a mother of two and one of seven siblings. “I’m not dreaming of anything more than him getting round safe and sound. After that anything’s a bonus.”

Of the horses with Aintree experience, Seabass presents a potent threat, having finished five lengths third to Neptune Collonges 12 months ago when the race was something of an after-thought for the horse.

This year, Ted Walsh has trained him specifically for the race and last year’s experience will also have stood his jockey in good stead as she bids to emulate her brother, Ruby, by winning on a horse trained by their father.

On a normal park course, two- and-a-half miles is probably the optimum trip for Seabass, but that speed allowed him to travel well throughout last year’s race and he clearly stayed.

“It is hard to see how we can improve from last year,” said Ted Walsh. “Hopefully, training him specifically for the race will make the difference. Last year we had him peaking at Christmas and again in February. This year we’ve only had this race in mind.”


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