Monthly Archives: April 2013

We owe the sport a fairer portrayal than it’s getting in this steroids case

question_timeThe BHA’s formal statement yesterday on the 8 year ban given to Mahmood Al Zarooni was sadly lacking in a robust defence of  UK racing in general. We should not simply assume that the public will take it for granted that quick and decisive action here means full confidence in the sport’s integrity. That needs driven home in plain language.

Yes we have a ‘rogue trader’ in MAZ, but it’s not as though it was 11 horses from different yards.

In rushing to Hang em High and display a sense of purpose, we should not neglect responsibility for the sport’s importance and image.

When the public see DOPING headlines, steroids will be out of sight of their minds’ eye. What they will see is fizzing syringes full of equine rocket fuel or a concoction that puts a horse to sleep.

The most junior of PR execs would have advised the BHA to ensure the big picture is driven home forcefully. That picture shows UK racing to be, in general, the cleanest in the world. The BHA, the media, and all of us owe the sport more than it’s getting in this case.

The betting shop manager who made millions from FOBTs

binocularsThe article below is reproduced with the kind permission of Chris Pitt at BOS magazine. I met Steve Frater some years ago when he showed me round the Hounslow West shop he mentions here (I was working for the Tote at the time), but I didn’t realise we shared other links – I too worked for the brash new upcomers City Tote, moving from Ladbrokes wages of £12.50 a week to £20 a week at CT.

What struck me about the article was Steve’s ‘feet-on-the-ground’ attitude, right to this day; none of the Billy Big Balls business-speak or bragging.  The other factor this piece highlights, for me, at least, is the importance of having a maverick in a company, someone who sees the big picture long before others and is willing to fight a case for it. And credit to the bosses, like Bob Green, who encouraged such an attitude.

I’m reading a kind of potted psychology book just now. One chapter is entitled ‘Every company needs an Asshole’. Assholes are the guys who won’t shut up when they see something could be done better. They’re the ones who won’t accept ‘we’ve always done it this way’ admonitions. ‘Maverick’ is a more PC term for such people but I know what the author means – they are assholes to those who don’t want the cozy status quo upset.

All organisations could be doing with a maverick, racing in particular. If you’re lucky enough to come across one working for you, look after him or her, because mavericks get pissed off pretty quick from banging against cobwebbed doors and they move on to eventually benefit the more enlightened.

End of rant!

Back to the article . . .I know some readers despise FOBTs. I don’t. I believe their damaging effects have been way overplayed, much like the Anti-Grand National brigade lay it on against that great race.  Yes, there are horror tales from some addicts, but millions play them without any damage.  Also, in my opinion they are crucial to the future of racing in the UK – profits from them are keeping a lot of betting shops open.

 

 

Steve Frater

Steve Frater

STEVE FRATER LEANS back in a comfortable settee in a comfortable room within SG House, in the West London suburb of Feltham. It’s a big, modern-day building, synonymous with big, modern-day achievement.

As co-founder of the first fixed odds betting terminal supplier The Global Draw, in just eight years he oversaw his company grow from a garage in Osterley, near Hounslow, in 1998 to its sale to Scientific Games Corporation for a reported £104m in 2006.

In October last year, he became executive chairman for SG Gaming, an amalgamation of The Global Draw, machines supplier Games Media and content provider Barcrest, all wholly owned subsidiaries of Scientific Games Corporation. The merger saw SG Gaming bring together over 700 employees spread across a dozen nations.

It’s all a far cry from his first day’s work in a betting shop, which left him ruing his decision to leave a cosy office job in the City.

Steve was born in the North London borough of Islington in 1952 but his family moved when he was 11 to a flat in the Highbury area, one minute from the Arsenal ground, thus explaining his lifelong support of the Gunners.

On leaving school he got a job in the City with a publication that produced daily movements and statistics on stocks and shares.

“I did it because I liked maths but it was boring, sitting in an office, looking at figures,” he recalls.

“I had an aunt who worked in the payroll department of Ron Nagle, a turf accountant in North London. They’d just merged with a company called City Tote. Their head office was based in Finsbury Park, two minutes from where I lived. She told me they were looking for trainee managers.

“I was earning £8 a week, whereas trainee managers were getting £20 a week, a big jump. So I went for an interview and got the job. That was in 1972. I was 20.

“The first shop they sent me to was in Harringay. They told me I didn’t need to be there until one o’clock and, as it was my first day, the manager would just let me watch.

“I got there at one o’clock and the shop was packed. The manager said that one of the staff had gone off sick and I’d have to help him out on the tills, so they threw me in at the deep end. I remember coming out at the end of that first day thinking ‘this isn’t for me. I’ve made a mistake. I’ve given up a nice, quiet office in the City to work in betting shops where everyone’s shouting and swearing at you.’

“The next shop they sent me to was much quieter and I settled in. Shortly after that, City Tote and the Nagles sold out to Mecca and the whole group became Mecca Bookmakers.

“A year later I was managing shops all around where I lived. Then I got married and moved down to Ilford, so I began working in that area.”

He slowly progressed up the managerial ladder, working at several Mecca shops, before a vacancy for an assistant claims manager arose at the head office in Finsbury Park.

“I used to play football for Mecca Bookmakers’ football team. The claims manager at that time, a guy named Ernie Oliver, was also the manager of the football team. They had about 200 applicants but because I was in the football team I think I had a bit of an advantage and I got the job.

“Bob Green and all the senior Mecca people were based in that office. I must have done a good job because, after six months, Ernie went off to do something different and they promoted me to claims manager, which was great. In the space of two years I’d gone from a middle grade betting shop manager to working in the head office with the likes of Bob Green.

“In those days, if you had a bet query or a complaint, you had to write in and most ended up going to The Sporting Life Green Seal Service who used to rule on claims. I thought that was ridiculous.

“I went to see Bob Green and said ‘we are spending a fortune refurbishing our shops and yet if people have a complaint in one of them, they can’t speak to anyone.’ I suggested introducing a freephone helpline to give customers an instant response. Bob was all for it but everyone else I spoke to thought I was mad, that we’d have a thousand calls a day with everyone trying to cheat us.

“We introduced a customer helpline. We were the only company to do that and we promoted it in our adverts. It quickly grew from just me to a team of three or four and it became an industry standard. We always had a great reputation for dealing with our customers.

“In 1986 Grand Metropolitan, who owned Mecca, bought William Hill. At the time it seemed likely they would move their head office to Leeds. If they’d done so, I’d have left. But at the last minute they decided to move to Wood Green and stay in London.

“After Bob Green left Mecca/William Hill for the US to take on a racecourse venture in Philadelphia, John Brown took over in charge of the betting shops. He liked our customer relations department and retained it.

“I then began to become involved in the operational side. I got quite interested in that because it gave me an insight into how with some innovation you could make a real difference to the performance of betting shops.

“By the early 1990s I was working for Barry Puttock, a Mecca guy who, as part of Mecca’s international expansion, had been in South Africa. While out there he’d met an Austrian named Walter Grubmuller. They looked at doing business together but didn’t, but they kept in touch.

“One day Barry came into the office and said that Walter wanted to set up large betting shops in Vienna and needed someone to talk to about it. He asked if I’d be interested and arranged for me to go and see him.

“It was October and our son, Dean, was due to be born in December. I’d originally planned the week off on holiday to spend time buying baby furniture and stuff for the bedroom. But my wife said ‘You go to Vienna. You never know.’

“Walter met me at Vienna airport and I spent a week with him. We hit it off immediately. He was very similar to Bob Green, entrepreneurial, and I really liked him. He was one of those guys that made things happen. He was a co-founder of Novamatic and he’d made his money through gaming machines but he liked betting shops. Interestingly his betting shops all had a gaming machine area.

“We kept in touch, and then he suggested we went into betting shops together over here. However, I’d got a reasonable job, I liked what I did, and I didn’t want to go back to being a betting shop manager, even if it was working for Walter.

“When AWPs were allowed in betting shops in 1996, he saw that as his opportunity and persuaded me to go into business with him. Just by chance I knew someone who was selling a betting shop in Hounslow. It was a great shop so Walter and I agreed to buy it. I was still working for William Hill so we put a manager in, put the machines in. Then the guy who’d sold us that shop came back with another shop for sale, in Queensbury (near Wembley), so we bought that too.

“In the end I left William Hill and became a partner in the two betting shops.

“We traded as Admiral. We’d got the name from Novamatic. Admiral was one of their machine brands. I liked the name and Walter talked the owner of Novamatic into letting us use it. Novamatic’s slogan was ‘Admiral: Games of the World’. I adapted it to ‘Admiral: World of Betting’.

“Around that time we’d been to a Betting Shop Show and seen a company called Lottery King trying to promote a keno game for betting shops. That was also the time when betting shops were suffering from the competition of the (recently introduced) National Lottery, and they were just bringing in 49s, which was a live draw twice a day, as a competitive product.

“Every October we used to go to Dubai with our families. Walter had a house there at the time. This particular year I’d gone first with my family; Walter came out a couple of days later. I met him off the plane. As he came through the airport gate he said ‘I’ve got an idea; it’s going to make us rich’. In the car from the airport to the house he told me his idea of having a gaming machine with a central screen in the shop. Instead of having a twice daily draw, we could have a game every thirty minutes.

“At that time you couldn’t have a random number generator in the betting shop; it had to be from a remote location. We went to see Barry Stapeley at SIS. He came up with the idea of having a random number generator based at premises in Bedford and they could beam it to your betting shop, and that’s a remote event.

“We put it in our shop in Hounslow and it did okay, but Walter still wasn’t satisfied. He believed if we could do an automated draw every half an hour, we could do it every five minutes, or every one minute. We got QC’s advice then started to develop the concept.

“Then we came up with the idea of making it every second, as the principle was the same. That’s what led to what became known as fixed odds betting terminals.

“The concept didn’t start as a FOBT. It was about finding an alternative lottery product. The idea was to produce an automated numbers draw in our shops. It developed through the concept of taking the regulations and pushing the boundaries to the limit.

“We’d built up our chain from two to five shops, then in 1998 we found a shop in Hounslow West. We decided to gut it, build it like a cinema and put in a whole bank of terminals, about a dozen. The front part was for the terminals; the back part was the betting shop. It had tiered flip-up seating as well with two giant projector screens.

“It was a massive shop, different to any other betting shop in the country and there is nothing like it even now. It was so big, people would get lost in there. Within a month of opening, business was phenomenal.

“Tax on turnover at that time was 6.75 per cent; our lottery game had a hold of about 10 per cent.

“Within a couple of months the MDs of the big firms were coming in to see what we were doing, as well as the casinos and the arcade people.

“Then there was a swell of activity from the arcade, casino and bingo people claiming it was illegal, whereas the bookmakers were asking ‘can we try this in our shops?’

“Ladbrokes were the first, led by John O’Reilly and Terry Leon but their interest died when Alan Ross was appointed MD. Then Coral tried it, a 10 to 20-shop trial initially but when Coral made Phil Horne head of machines that’s when the Coral relationship really started as he really believed there was a chance of making it work.”

A deal was struck with Coral to increase the number of shops to 200 but nine months into the contract, The Global Draw was struggling to make their share work, as Steve recalls.

“We were trying to find ways of boosting our income. It was about this time that bookmakers were trying to convince the government to change from a turnover tax to a gross profit tax. I discussed it with Walter and we agreed that if it went to a gross profit tax we could develop roulette and put it on the machines. The gross profit tax was accepted and within a few weeks we’d put roulette on all the machines in our own shops, then we rolled it out to the Coral shops.

“From the day we put in roulette, it just went like that,” he says, pointing upwards, through the roof and towards the stars. “When the other bookmakers saw what we and Coral were doing, everybody wanted them.

“Coral went from 200 shops to 400 to 800; we put machines in the Tote, Stanley, Jennings, Betfred and Hills. It snowballed; we expanded from having just a few technicians but we couldn’t keep up with the installation pace.

“Remember that the original idea of all this was that we would have a product in our shops that would give us an advantage over the other bookmakers. When we designed it we never intended it to go anywhere other than in the Admiral shops.

“We’d started Admiral in 1996 and had built that up to around 14 shops in North West London by the end of 2000. In 1999 we’d bought the group of four Krullind shops in Ipswich from Bert Hatcher, a real entrepreneur.

“In 2000 when the business really started to take off, I said to Walter ‘we can’t run our betting shops and compete with our own customers’ so we sold the London shops to Ladbrokes and kept the Krullind shops in Ipswich, which by then had grown from four to seven shops.

“Ladbrokes subsequently made an offer for the shops in Ipswich. It was at the peak of the betting shop market and they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we sold the shops and from that point we were no longer into betting shops.

“Our original office was the kitchen of Walter’s house in Osterley. When we’d had the first machines in our shops we’d converted the dining room into a test room and used the double garage to store the machines.

“Then we found a warehouse but even before we’d moved in we’d got too big for it. We moved to Boston Business Park but outgrew that warehouse and had to take a second one. When we outgrew those we bought a building in Green Lane and converted it, but we eventually outgrew that. Finally we came here to Feltham.

“By 2006 Walter and I had got to the stage where we needed to do something. We were highly profitable but there was no end game and no real business plan. We recruited a guy to help us called Jeff Nash, who I’d met by chance and we talked about me buying the company with a VC to release equity and I’d run it.”

It was around that time that New York-based Scientific Games were looking to gain a foothold in the UK. The Corporation’s chairman and chief executive officer Lorne Weil came to London, met with Steve and Walter and offered to buy the business.

“The deal was that we would stay for three years, Walter as a consultant and me running it. Walter did leave after the three years but I stayed on,” says Steve.

In addition to purchasing The Global Draw, Scientific Games Corporation also acquired Games Media in 2006 and added Barcrest to their portfolio in 2011. Then, in October 2012, Scientific Games combined those three subsidiaries into a single entity, SG Gaming.

“SG Gaming has tied us into the parent company and put everything under one brand,” Steve explains. “We wanted all the staff to feel they’re part of one company, and we want our customers to see us as one company.”

And Phil Horne, who had placed his belief in the machines when working for Coral, is now SG Gaming’s managing director.

As the co-inventor of a product originally designed to counter the effect of the National Lottery, Steve could be excused for thinking that he’d ended up winning the Lottery without even buying a ticket. But he puts it down to circumstances and acknowledges his good fortune in meeting those people who have influenced his career.

“I’ve been lucky to work with three great innovators in Bob Green, Walter Grubmuller and now Lorne Weil. I met Bob again last year for the first time in twenty years and still have great admiration for him. Lorne treats me great and helps shapes my thinking, and in Walter, my greatest influence, I found someone that’s like a brother to me.”

He cites Walter’s understanding of gaming machines and natural desire to think big – as in the name he came up with for the company, The Global Draw – coupled with his own understanding of betting shops as the reason for their combined success.

“But,” he adds swiftly, “I’ve also been incredibly lucky. You think back to all those things that change your life. However much you want to complement yourself and think how bright you are, you need a lot of luck.

“If Mecca had moved to Leeds when they bought William Hill, I’d have left. If my wife had not insisted that I go to Vienna I’d never have met Walter. If the tax hadn’t changed, the machines wouldn’t have been as successful. If I’d stayed at William Hill and played safe rather than going into partnership with Walter…”

He doesn’t finish the sentence. He doesn’t need to.

“One of the things that’s given me the most personal satisfaction is that we’ve been able to create this company from nothing and it’s stayed ahead of the game all the time. And some of the people that were with me on day one in the betting shops are still here now.

“The great satisfaction I get is that all those people have come through it and Global Draw has changed their lives for the good also. We’ve stayed ahead of the game.”

Factfiles for all 40 John Smith’s Grand National runners

national_startThere are several individual factfiles for National runners elsewhere on my blog (see factfile tag at foot of this post).

But all 40 runners are covered in this PDF, kindly provided by Racenews – just click the link below to read it or download it.

ffFINALgnfactfiles2013onFriday5April

My thoughts on the race are here

Good luck to you and to all jockeys and horses in the world’s greatest race.

WarnedOff

Friday’s Aintree tips

The good news . . . I tweeted this today:

239

The bad news is it will probably never happen again. Tartan Snow won at 100/1 – his Betfair SP was 223/1. That tweet got 92 retweets and I got over 100 new followers. If you’re one of those, welcome.

I know that many think some people get ‘inside information’ on horse racing: they do, but it’s almost always useless. Yes, horses are laid out for certain races, not always in an honest fashion, and yes, sometimes they win. But these ‘plots’ are usually very carefully managed. Part of that management means keeping the inside info locked up. If it gets out, the horse’s price shortens and those managing these ‘coups’ suffer. So the plots are jealously guarded.

I used to work at Aintree. On my first big raceday there (the equivalent of today in 1994) I was introduced to 3 owners: each had a runner in the same race, each assured me his was a ‘cert’. None finished in the first three. Owners, trainers and jockeys are the worst tipsters you’ll find. They are extreme optimists by nature or they wouldn’t be in this business, and they almost always think their horse has a better chance than it does. Ignore them.  You’ll miss the occasional winner by doing so but you’ll save stacks by avoiding a barrowload of losers.

My tips

I bet almost exclusively on jump racing, much of it ante-post (well in advance of the race). I don’t study form, as such.  I listen to what pros in the business say – including owners, trainers and jockeys – and disregard about 95% of it. I pick up the odd precious nugget although it is often buried in a comment about a horse’s character rather than its chances in a particular race.

I’m much more interested in a horse’s character, quirks, running style and potential than in any other ‘weapon’ for assessing its chances.

The core of my ‘strategy’ if you can call it such, is to get value. That means betting a horse at a price that is substantially bigger than it should be, in my opinion. That’s why I like ante-post betting; you can often make a pretty accurate long-term analysis of a race that might be a year away and take advantage of the prices now. There are risks, of course; unlike your day to day betting, an ante-post bet, with most bookmakers, is lost if the horse does not run. At the foot of this post, for those still awake, you can read my analysis of the King George Chase which is due to be run on Boxing Day and promises one of the best value bets I’ve ever seen.

But back to the ‘normal’ day-to-day stuff. To give you some idea of how strongly I fancy a horse, I work like this:

I tweet what I fancy if I think it is worthwhile. I often have a bet but won’t tweet about it because it is nothing but a small ‘throw-away’ bet to give me an interest in a race.

At big meetings like Aintree and Cheltenham, if I see something that looks great value – like Tartan Snow – I will tweet along the lines of ‘this is worth a bet’ ‘worth a small bet’, ‘worth an each way’ etc. That will generally mean that I’d have not much more than £5 or £10 on.

Sometimes there is excellent value to be had, as much in the way a horse can be bet as in its price.

For example, the Racing Post have an offer just now that if you bet using their mobile app, you’ll get your stake back as a free bet if your horse is 2nd in any race covered on Channel 4 (I don’t think they are offering this on Saturday).  In today’s big Chase, a horse called First Lieutenant was running. I’ve never backed him before but I know his style and character very well (as important, if not more so than form in my opinion). He is high class and, vitally for today, most consistent, having finished out of the first three just twice in all completed races (even then he was 4th).

I had £25 on using the Racing Post app (the max allowed for the stake-back offer). Before the race I tweeted this:

FL

Now, I tell you this not only so I can show-off a bit, but so you can judge how strongly I fancy something by the way the tweet is worded.

If I really think something should not be missed, I always start the tweet ‘I strongly recommend a bet on…’. That doesn’t mean I think the horse is a cert. It does mean that I think he represents superb value and if you always get value, you will win in the long run.

So, be careful. Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose and never listen to ‘tips’ where the tipster claims inside info. The key reason I like to learn about a horse’s character and running style is that they are all individuals. They are no more dependable than human beings are. They sometimes have to go to the races feeling as pissed off as you do about going to work.

Finally, I often don’t tweet a tip until about 5 minutes or so before the off. I don’t charge for tips because I tip plenty of losers too.

So, on to tomorrow.

Third Intention in the 2.30 at Aintree is what is known to betting folk as a ‘cliff horse’ for me (I’d follow him off a cliff). He’s cost me plenty, but I’m convinced he has the ability to win a decent race. He’s around 16/1 tomorrow and I’ll be backing him through sheer dogged determination that I am going to get it right at some point.

Sprinter Sacre & B Geraghty

Sprinter Sacre & B Geraghty

In the 3.05, jump racing’s wonderful Sprinter Sacre runs. A fantastic horse who many think unbeatable, and his price will reflect that at around 1/3. I love the horse but he might lose tomorrow. He won by a long way at Cheltenham but I think that race could have taken more out of him than some think. Many call him a great jumper; I don’t think he is. Spectacular, yes, but his style is, I believe, inefficient, using up a fair bit of energy, sometimes unbalancing him too. His jumping performance at Cheltenham was sloppy in places and I wouldn’t back him in any race at 1/3 let alone this hot one, until I’d seen a good clear round from him.

Followers of my blog/tweets know what’s coming next…Cue Card. Since I saw this horse win his first chase, I’ve thought him very special. He’s the opposite of Sprinter Sacre in that many people don’t like him. They crab his performances and criticise his attitude. But I think he’s a hell of a horse with a superb engine.

Cue Card wins the Ryanair

Cue Card wins the Ryanair

I agree that he looks a bit quirky with his slightly high head carriage, and his jumping style is all his own, a strange, cat-backed hop at times, miles from the huge leaps Sprinter Scare can throw. But handsome is as handsome does. We know he will stay this trip while SS is trying it over fences for the first time. SS trounced CC over 2 miles last season but I expect CC to be much closer over this 20 furlong trip. If Sprinter Sacre is to be beaten, Cue Card is the horse who will do it.  Last week I recommended an EW bet on him at 7/1, even though only the first 2 qualify for payouts in EW bets because of the number of runners (a minimum of 8 needed for three places EW).

I believe the worst CC will be is 2nd, so the value bet tomorrow is once again through the Racing Post app. I strongly recommend a bet on Cue Card through the app. He could pull off a victory and, if not, I’m very hopeful you’ll get your stake back as a free bet if you use the RP app (an appropriate time to say I take no payment of any kind from anyone or any business for what I write here).

That’s it for tomorrow though if you are on twitter I might tweet a small bet. My Grand National tips are here.  My analysis of the King George is below. If you want to take my advice on the KG bet,  you should do so before the 3.05 on Friday. If he beats Sprinter Sacre, he could very well be favourite for the Boxing Day race.

King George VI Chase, Boxing Day, Kempton

Cue Card is available at 12/1 for this race with a number of bookmakers and, if you are happy to accept the risks that come with ante-post betting (money lost if the horse doesn’t run) I strongly recommend that you bet him.

I tipped CC him for this race last year and had my biggest bet for a long time on him. But he made a bad mistake at the first, where he was on his nose, and another blunder at the third. Some claim he did not stay the trip, but I believe those early errors were much more debilitating than the 3 miles he was trying for the first time. Also, the race was run on the heaviest ground for a KG since 1937. Cue Card’s blunders and the glue-like going cost him all chance, I think (he finished 5th, beaten 20 lengths).

Since then he has won easily at Ascot and over 2m 5f at the Cheltenham festival (The Ryanair Chase). His trainer was recently reported as being keen to have another crack at the King George and if he runs, and I’m pretty confident he will, he’ll be a lot shorter than 12/1, especially if he gives Sprinter Sacre a tough race at Aintree in The Melling Chase.

Leaving aside Cue Card’s considerable talent, the King George looks to me like it won’t resemble the current structure as the bookies see it.

Some have Simonsig as favourite: his trainer thinks him a two-miler so he must be a doubtful runner. If he does turn up, he doesn’t jump well enough to win it imo and will need to prove he stays the trip (I have a suspicion he will return to hurdling next season).

Others have Sprinter Sacre as favourite. It’s not beyond possibility that he could stay the trip and The Melling chase will add some info on his stamina. But at the moment I think he’d need to be considered a doubtful runner.

Bobs Worth: another fine horse who’s won me a fair bit but he needs a stern stamina test, the kind Cheltenham brings (he’s unbeaten there and loves the hill). He’s another who might not even run and if he does, will probably struggle to go the pace, finding himself with too much to do in the later stages.

Long Run: lovely horse but woefully one-paced. He needs an even stiffer test than Bobs Worth these days.

Dynaste: overrated by quite some way and a doubtful stayer to boot.

Al Ferof: I’d fear him a bit if he returned to his best after a long time off injured. But horses with any history of serious injuries are seldom worth depending on in ante-post betting. Even at his best, Cue Card should beat him.

Flemenstar: judgement best reserved till after The Melling Chase, but he finished his last race like a horse with a problem and was later reported to be suffering from a lung infection. Still, he’s been involved in a couple of tight finishes and lost both. His trainer is also on record as saying the horse might be upset by travelling from Ireland. The Melling should tell us a lot more about him.

Silviniaco Conti: exposed today as probably a bit below top class.

First Lieutenant: a very likable horse and a good bet for a place but Cue Card thrashed him at Cheltenham and I don’t think the extra 660 yards of the KG will help him in his quest for revenge.

So, not only is Cue Card a highly talented horse, there are valid doubts about many of his potential opponents. The bookies have made a big mistake here. Cue Card should be no more than 5/1 in my book and he is a steal at 12/1.

Good luck

Joe

WarnedOff

Join Together should outstay the other 39 and win the National

spyglassRacing’s the last game to be in if you are one for tempting fate so it is with a hopeful ‘touch wood’ that I say the National has always been one of my best betting races. It’s the only race I’ll back 5 or 6 different horses in but more often than not such a ‘system’ will bring profits.

If you just want the selections, here they are in order of preference with prices at the time of writing. The prices are from Betvictor.com who is paying out on each way bets if your horse finishes in the first 6 (most bookies pay only on the first 4). If you want to bet win only, you will find better prices for these horses by googling Easyodds or Oddschecker:

Join Together 16/1

Teaforthree 14/1

Ballabriggs 16/1

Quel Esprit 40/1

Saint Are 50/1

Edited on Friday to add a couple who are quite a bit bigger than they should be and, if your budget stretches. will be worth small additional bets: Soll at around 50/1 and Viking Blond who is way too big on Betfair at 200/1 – probably too big even at 100/1 with the normal bookies

Before you go, remember to take a price, especially in the betting shop. Don’t just write the slip out and hand over your cash – ask for the price the horse is when you put it on. You’ll almost certainly get bad value if you don’t. You can see why here.

Most think of the race as a complete lottery. It’s far from it. It takes an unusual type of horse to win the National – it’s the longest race of the season – 90 yards short of four-and-a-half-miles. The Aintree management are watering the track to soften the going and try to make it safer – horses run slower on easy ground, blunting the headlong speed which causes many of the falls. And if they do tumble, the watered surface is more forgiving. But it adds to the stamina requirements too, and stamina is the first thing I look for when picking horses for the National.

Many go for jumping ability first but a horse could clear every fence by a foot and still lose if it hasn’t got staying power. On the other side, I’ve seen some horses who were not noted as fine jumpers run great races in the National – Sunnyhillboy, beaten a nose last year (weighed down by my money), Don’t Push It who won in 2010 and a few others. The Aintree fences are so unusual in look and size (at every other track the fences are of black birch), that many horses see them and simply say the equine equivalent of “F*#k me!” and realise they need to pick their feet up to survive. Others do the opposite and lose confidence, blunder along for a while then pull up or refuse.

Those blunderers and topplers are the ones which can cause ‘our’ horses problems. Sometimes you get stuck behind one and trip over him as he rolls in front of you. Or they’ll come sideways and bump you off balance or knock the jock from the saddle. There’ll be a few hard luck stories on Saturday, there always are.

Apart from those who’ve already completed the course in past Nationals, there are two horses running who will relish every yard of this trip they’ll be trying for the  first time – Join Together and Teaforthree.

Join Together is a nicely balanced horse, strong but not that tall. There have been some big horses who’ve won the National – Party Politics was huge, over 17 hands (a hand is about four inches and horses are measured to the top of their shoulders), but big horses can be clumsy round Aintree and their body mass can, I think, be a drawback over such a distance with drops on some of the big fences jarring that half-ton bulk as they land. Red Rum was under 16 hands, but he was a beautifully balanced horse, and I favour horses close to his build. Join Together’s not quite as symmetrical as that great horse but he will do.Join T

He’s trained by Paul Nicholls, one of the best, who trained last year’s winner Neptune Collonges. Ruby Walsh, who has first choice of Paul’s horses has decided not to ride Join Together – Ruby has yet to confirm which of two Irish horses he will ride and he will, as ever, leave Ruby Choose Day as late as possible – most seem to think he will pick On His Own. But he could have chosen Neptune Collonges last year and did not do so (albeit a late injury kept Ruby out of the race anyway).

Join Together ran over these fences in December on heavy ground over a distance about a mile short of Saturday’s. He just failed to catch Hello Bud after coming with a sustained run (you can see the race here – scroll forward to about 6 minutes 30 to see him finish).

He jumped with confidence and seemed to enjoy the fences (touching wood again here!) and unless he trips over something, he should reel them all in on the run from the last fence at about 4.25pm on Saturday.

Next time out, his trainer, for some crazy reason sent him over 3 miles at Doncaster one of the easiest tracks in the UK and very undemanding from a stamina viewpoint. He met some trouble in running there and was pulled up but would, in my opinion, have needed 5 miles at Doncaster to win, such is his need for a stamina test.

t43Teaforthree is another stout stayer and fine jumper. I’ve bet him too but was a wee bit concerned at his poor display at Haydock last time. His trainer put that down to the horse fretting at being away from home overnight (see, they are all individuals like us: some hate sleepovers) and he will travel up on Saturday morning to try and keep him  settled. Other than that last disappointment, Teaforthree has been very consistent. He’s won over 4 miles at Cheltenham and he almost certainly still has improvement in him. He jumps well and I backed him to win the Welsh Grand National: he was 2nd giving plenty weight to a pretty decent horse.

It was a close choice between the two but there is just a chance that Teaforthree might not take to these fences while I know that JT has no problem with them – that decided it for me.

Ballabriggs has been in and out of my mind. He won the National two years ago and was 6th last year. None of the last ten NationalBallabriggs winners has, so far, won another race of any kind. It’s massively taxing and Ballabriggs won in sweltering conditions under very strong driving (J Maguire hit him 15 times after the last, at least half of those unnecessary and bad for the race’s image but I’ll say no more on that). I thought Ballabriggs would never recover from his victory and his 6th last year surprised me. He ran well at Kelso this year and has 8lbs less to carry than in 2012. If he stays on his feet (and he’s managed that twice in this race) he will be very very hard to keep out of the first 6.

binocularsOthers I’ll be betting are Quel Esprit, a classy grey horse who, in the main, jumps very well and, importantly, can slot into a rhythm quickly in his races; that is so important at Aintree. A horse galloping well within himself in a settled rhythmical fashion can save an awful lot of energy. Quel Esprit has never tried this long trip but his breeding suggests he has a fair chance of staying it and he has a considerable measure of class which can count for an awful lot in these handicap races. He is ridiculously overpriced at 50/1 (with other bookies) and well worth a couple of quid each way, even at 40s with Betvictor.

Saint Are is another 50/1 chance who could run well. Some horses love a certain track and Saint Are loves Aintree. From 3 runs here he’s won two and been second in the other one. Now those were over the smaller Mildmay course, not the Grand National course. But his trainer reckons it is the flatness of Aintree that suits him and maybe the time of year sparking him off. He’s one for making the odd mistake (Saint Are, not his trainer), but the very type I mentioned earlier who’ll go “WTF!?” and either jump them all clean or pack in early.

That’s it. Good luck, and remember, there’s no such thing as ‘good inside information’ getting out. If it is so good, those concerned keep it to themselves, otherwise the horse’s price collapses. Trainers, owners and jockeys are the worst tipsters in the world because they are born optimists who favour their own horses. Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose. Enjoy the race and let’s hope all come home safe.

Joe

WarnedOff

Gingertipster’s horse-by-horse guide to the Grand National

binocularsGingertipster writes frequently on The Racing Forum. He produces the best big race guides I’ve seen outside of the pro publications and he’s been kind enough to allow me to republish here.  Soll, who is a late sub, will be added tomorrow by Ginger.

The figure to the left of each horse’s name is its official handicap rating. The higher the rating the better the horse, although that is supposed to be equalised by the better horses carrying more weight. It doesn’t work out exactly in the National – for example Imperial Commander is rated 158 and should be carrying 10lbs more than Forpadydeplasterer, rated 148. But the handicapper makes special allowance for better horses in the National.

GRAND NATIONAL Aintree 4m3½f

158 Imperial Commander 12 11-10 Nigel Twiston Davis 1U1P/2
Despite top weight is well handicapped on 2010 Gold Cup win. Encouraging first run for year and ten months in January. On the face it Imperial Commander can be expected to come on for the run, ½ length 2nd to Cape Tribulation (who gave 6lbs) in Argento Chase. However, has excellent record fresh/at Cheltenham and now a veteran; it’s possible won’t improve significantly from reappearance. Cape Tribulation went on to be 21¾ lengths 5th to Bobs Worth in Cheltenham Gold Cup next start; a race Imperial Commander missed with an infection. Yet to race at extreme distances but stays on at the finish of races to suggest he’ll get the trip. Usually jumps well and races at or near the pace.
Sam Twiston-Davies

157 What A Friend 10 11-9 Paul Nicholls P/33F7-8
Never dangerous 8th in Racing Plus Chase only start this term. Winner at Aintree over normal obstacles, but didn’t appear to take to these fences when pulled up in 2011 Grand National. Increasingly looks temperamental and difficult to win with. Run style (held up/dropped out) doesn’t generally lend itself to this race. Likely to stay this trip. Part owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sam Thomas

156 Weird Al 10 11-8 Donald McCain PF-4PP
Seems an Autumn horse, winner of Charlie Hall and good 10 lengths 3rd to Kauto Star in Oct/Nov 2011. Only form this season 4th of 5 runners in same race. Intermittent breathing problems probably a reason for a loss of form/enthusiasm. Usually travels well when on song; never going and pulled up last time out in Denman (Aon) Chase last time. Fell 4 out in Grand National when already beaten last year and just 3 lbs better in now. Possibly best with give in the ground and yet to prove stamina.
Timmy Murphy

155 Quel Esprit 9 11-7 Willie Mullins (Ire) 113-04
Likes to get on with things, Quel Esprit usually races to the fore and unlikely to be suited by this test. First run for 9 months in February, bad mistake 5 out and bit below best; 25¼ lengths last of 4 finishers behind Sir Des Champs in Grade 1 Irish Hennessey. Seemingly outstayed when 11½ lengths 3rd to China Rock in 3m1f (heavy) Punchestown Gold Cup last season. Quel Esprit has disappointed on good ground, but soft/heavy will place even more emphasis on stamina.

154 Big Fella Thanks 11 11-6 Tom George 7/U312
Part owned by Seb Coe, Big Fella Thanks may be one for the back to lay traders, 7th or better in three Grand Nationals. Comes there travelling like a winner but failing to get home. In fairness his finishing effort at shorter trips can leave a lot to be desired too; so it may not be purely down to stamina. Looked winner off a 6 lbs lower mark in Becher Chase (3m2f heavy) in November, only to once again fold on run-in for 3rd. Despite beaten 1¾ lengths is now 7 lbs worse off with fast finishing 2nd Join Together. Big Fella Thanks today runs off a higher mark than he’s previously carried around here, same one as when 5 lengths 2nd (giving 12 lbs) to Pacha Du Polder at Newbury (2½m) last time out. Won penultimate start off 9 lbs lower mark. Short run-in from last at Wincanton helping his idling tendency. Suspect temperament is holding Big Fella Thanks back.
Denis O’Regan

154 Seabass 10 11-6 Ted Walsh (Ire) 1113-23

Seabass with Ted and Katie Walsh

Seabass with Ted and Katie Walsh

Could this be the year of a true National Velvet? With Seabass as The Pie and trainer’s daughter Katy Walsh taking Liz Taylor’s role. Seabass came close 12 months ago when 3rd off 5 lbs lower mark than today. Now 5 lbs better off for beaten 5 lengths by 2nd Sunnyhillboy. 7 lbs worse off with 4th Cappa Bleu for 7 lengths, 13 lbs with 6th Ballabriggs for 12¼ lengths and 5 lbs with On His Own, who was going well when coming down at second Bechers. Seabass had looked to be going best between last two fences and 90 yards shorter trip this year may work in his favour. Couple of prep races have gone well; 2nd over inadequate 2 miles over hurdles and good 3rd to Roi Du Mee (winner since) in Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase (3m1f) last time. Seabass a bit better than distance beaten suggest, winner having run of the race out in front. Consistent, equally effective on soft or good ground and jumps well; Seabass is a likeable individual who may have more improvement in him.

154 Roberto Goldback 11 11-6 Nicky Henderson 7-1U355
Seemed at least as good as ever first start for present trainer in November off 4 lbs lower mark of 150; giving 6 lbs and a 9 lengths beating to Duke Of Lucca. Race not worked out well, first five home failing to win since. May flatter Roberto Goldback and form doesn’t look as good now as it did at the time. Not given hard races in last three starts with this as a known target. Last time out gave 14 lbs and beaten 14 lengths 5th to Opening Batsman in Racing Plus Chase off this same mark. Unseated in Hennessey at Newbury but generally jumps well. Yet to prove stamina beyond 3m1f.

152 Sunnyhillboy 10 11-4 Jonjo O’Neil P912-5P
Quickened in to a clear lead on run-in of Grand National until pegged back and headed on line. Sunnyhillboy is 5 lbs worse off for 5 lengths back to 3rd Seabass; 12 lbs worse off for 12 lengths with 4th Cappa Bleu and 19 lbs worse with 6th Ballabriggs for 17¼ lengths. In good form at time of 2nd place; running off the same 142 mark as when successful on previous start in Kim Muir at Cheltenham; full 10 lbs higher today. Jumped better than previously for his best two performances, both on good ground. More improvement can not be ruled out and chance could be enhanced if AP McCoy decides to ride. McLernon became unbalanced after Aintree elbow and less forcefully ridden close home than winner Neptune Collonges. However, Sunnyhillboy reportedly returned with an injured tendon; so there’s also a chance he’s not be up to producing 2012 form. Poor form of two hurdle races this season don’t mean anything, trained specifically for the Grand National.

152 Ballabriggs 12 11-4 Donald McCain 1/46-P73
Dropped 8 lbs since 6th last year, making more mistakes than when victorious. Now 19 lbs better off with runner-up Sunnyhillboy for 17¼ lengths, 13 lbs better off with 12¼ lengths to make up on 3rd Seabass, 6 lbs better with 4th Cappa Bleu for 5¼ lengths. Three runs this season told us little, with this race the one and only target. Pulled up in Becher Chase on reappearance. 2 lbs worse off with Oscar Time for beating him 2¼ lengths in 2011. Ballabriggs always prominent that day, reportedly thinking of holding him up today. Fairly handicapped and shouldn’t be dismissed entirely. But although both Amberleigh House and Red Rum won as 12 year old veterans for trainer’s father Ginger; it’s asking a lot for Ballabriggs to regain the trophy off a 2 lbs higher mark than in 2011.
Jason Maguire

151 Teaforthree 9 11-3 Rebecca Curtis 11-8620
Ever since an always prominent slick round of jumping to win 4 mile National Hunt Novice Chase (good) at 2012 Cheltenham Festival, this big horse has looked an ideal Grand National candidate. Although now 11 lbs worse off with 2nd Harry The Viking for just 2 lengths, Teaforthree has improved since. Best run ½ length runner-up to Monbeg Dude in Welsh National (3m5½f heavy), first two 11 lengths clear of the field. Previously showed he’s no sluggard, not persevered with once beaten in Newbury’s Hennessey Gold Cup. 26¾ lengths 6th, getting 14 lbs from subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth. Trainer said Teaforthree did not take to being away from home overnight and failed to eat up when below form in Haydock Grand National Trial last time out. Will travel on the day to Aintree. Type to bounce back, progressive before Haydock and equally effective on heavy or good ground. Bears repeating Teaforthree is normally an exceptional jumper.

150 Across The Bay 9 11-2 Donald McCain 3-11271
Raced as if extreme distances should suit, but never appealed as a Grand National type. Gives impression needs to lead and even then often hard driven to do so, making mistakes. Probably best allowed to dominate small fields nowadays. Wind operation, blinkered and tongue tied, won substandard Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle (heavy) last time out in typical Across The Bay style. Below form 7th in Welsh National, retreating after mistake and headed. Only 5 lbs worse off for 28 length victory over Cappa Bleu in Carlisle (3m½f heavy) Graduation Chase in November, looks unreliable form, it being runner-up’s reappearance. Across The Bay has shown best on soft ground.
Henry Brooke

150 Join Together 8 11-2 Paul Nicholls 1P3-72P
“Pulled up” last time out, but Join Together possibly has a valid excuse, soon beaten after badly hampered by a runner falling in front of him in Grimthorpe Chase. Only second season chaser but already has Aintree experience. Now on a 2 lbs higher mark than when 2nd to Hello Bud over Aintree fences in Becher Chase (3m2f heavy), jumping impressively and staying on powerfully; in front just after the line. Now 7 lbs better off with 3rd Big Fella Thanks despite beating him 1¾ lengths. Join Together may improve significantly for extreme trip. Acts on both heavy and good ground. Trainer/jockey combination won 2012 Grand National with Neptune Collonges.
Daryl Jacob

149 Colbert Station 9 11-1 Ted Walsh (Ire) 13-5211Colbert
Could be AP McCoy’s ride. Easy winner in December of Leopardstown Paddy Power Chase off 132 Irish mark (now BHA 149). Irish marks are usually lower than BHA, effectively more like a 12 or 14 lb rise than 17 but still a fair rise. Gave 2nd Romanesco 7 lbs and 5½ lengths beating. Runner-up franked form with 3½ lengths 3rd in Kim Muir off 5 lbs “higher” BHA (effectively sameish) mark as Leopardstown. In an attempt to protect Grand National chances, connections of Colbert Station took advantage of a lower hurdles mark last time out. Surprisingly not run since and inexperienced for a Grand National. Only 5 chase starts, but already has a good record in big fields (28 Leopardstown). Recent improvement is on a soft surface although probably equally effective on good. Yet to race further than 3m½f but plenty of stamina in pedigree. Sire Witness Box’s progeny usually stay well, Monbeg Dude, Godsmejudge etc. Unraced dam’s sire Commanche Run won St Leger.

148 Forpadydeplasterer 11 11-0 Thomas Cooper (Ire) 2P1536
Ex-top class 2 miler, on the downgrade nowadays. Below form since winning 6 runner conditions chase at Thurles in November. Slowly run race should not be taken as proof Forpaddytheplasterer stays 3 miles, let alone 4m3½f. Awful win to run ratio for one of his ability/ex-ability; that success a first since 2009 Arkle. Often makes mistakes so all-in-all not the best Grand National prospect.
Andrew J. McNamara

148 On His Own 9 11-0 Willie Mullins (Ire) P1/B1F-1
Justifiably favourite for this after fell at second Becher’s Brook last year. On His Own apparently going best of all at the time and jumped well up to that point. Difficult to imagine him not at least involved in the finish with a clear round. Surprisingly left on same mark by the handicapper, rated as if finishing 4th, 2 lengths in front of Cappa Bleu. On His Own now better off by 10 lbs with 2nd Sunnyhillboy, 5 lbs with 3rd Seabass; worse off by 2 lbs with 4th Cappa Bleu and 8 lbs with 5th Ballabriggs. Protecting his handicap mark – connections only raced him once since Aintree, easily winning 2m5f Grade 2 hurdle when expected to need the race. On His Own probably has more improvement in him, winner of four of five completed starts over fences (brought down on his other uncompleted start). Effective on heavy or good ground and the one they all have to beat here.
Ruby Walsh

147 Joncol 10 10-13 Paul Nolan (Ire) 7-35233
One of the biggest horses in this field. Ex-top class staying chaser, well handicapped on form of 2010 Irish Hennessey victory. Unable to produce that level on recent starts. 24¾ lengths 3rd behind Sir Des Champs last time in latest Hennessey probably sums him up these days. Can jump right-handed which to say the least is not ideal for Aintree, especially the Canal Turn. Connections at pains to avoid Cheltenham/good ground in the past and Joncol seems best on soft/heavy.

146 Balthazar King 9 10-12 Phillip Hobbs P0F1-12
Ignore the “F” in form figures, fell on the flat when colliding with rails, usually jumps well. Stays well too and good record in X-country chases at Cheltenham. 11 lengths 2nd to Uncle Junior (levels) there in November last time out and winner at 2012 Cheltenham Festival. Supposedly a non-runner at latest Festival due to softer ground, but has good form on at least good-soft. No show there may help Balthazar King’s Grand National chance. Not run for 141 days which is undoubtedly a positive. An exceptional record fresh judged from sportinglife.com. Won last 5 starts after a 60+ day break including on reappearance over Cheltenham’s conventional fences, giving Galaxy Rock 2 lbs and a length beating. Balthazar King now on 7 lbs higher mark. Some may look better handicapped or have more improvement in them, but the race could play to Balthazar King’s strengths.

145 Cappa Bleu 11 10-11 Evan Williams 1334-22Cappa Bleu
There are grounds to think Cappa Bleu is better than he’s shown. 4th in Grand National last year. Now 12 lbs better off with 2nd Sunnyhillboy for 12 lengths, 7 lbs better off with 3rd Seabass for 7 lengths and 2 lbs better off with On His Own who was going well when falling at second Bechers Brook. 6 lbs worse off with 6th Ballabriggs for beating him 5¼ lengths. That doesn’t tell the whole story; Jockey Paul Moloney in my opinion late in asking for maximum effort and made up a lot of ground/places on the run-in. Appearing to have running left in him at the line. Wouldn’t have won, but could’ve finished closer. Equally effective on good or heavy ground. Did well to finish 2½ lengths 2nd off today’s mark, giving 7lbs to Vino Griego at Ascot (3m soft). Again not given the best ride; on a horse needing a test at the trip Moloney held Cappa Bleu up for a late run off a slowish pace – not making a move until late. Saint Are and The Rainbow Hunter 6 and a further 1¾ lengths behind in 3rd and 4th, Major Malarkey and Tatenen (well beaten) all off the same marks as today. Winner franked the form when good 1½ lengths 2nd off a 7 lbs higher mark next time out at Cheltenham Festival. Cappa Bleu should be much better suited by Aintree conditions than any of those Ascot rivals.
Paul Moloney

145 Oscar Time 12 10-11 Martin Lynch 2/4-4U60
Now off the same mark as when 2¼ lengths 2nd in 2011 Grand National and 2 lbs better off with winner Ballabriggs. However, missed 2012 race with a tendon strain. Despite the “4”s and “6” in form figures has beaten only 3 horses home out of 42 rivals since Aintree. Last of 17 in March on latest occasion. Now 12 years old and best is probably behind him. Owners son amateur Sam Waley-Cohen rides, unable to draw his 5 lb claim but with a good record over these fences.

144 Always Waining 12 10-10 Peter Bowen 4091-78
Two poor runs this season don’t look encouraging, but trainer has once again hit top form at this time of year and Always Waining loves these fences at this meeting. Winner of the last three Topham Trophies here (2m5½f). However, he’s not getting any younger and on a 6 lbs higher mark than he’s ever been successful off of. Doubtful stayer too, appears to barely get 3 miles and even disappointed even around here over 3m2f (heavy). Although may not have been ideally suited by the ground that day, over 55 lengths behind winner West End Rocker when 4th in Becher Chase.

144 Tatenen 9 10-10 Richard Rowe 15U-676
Tatenen became disappointing for Paul Nicholls after starting favourite for Arkle Chase. New lease of life transferred to Richard Rowe, but still inconsistent and sometimes makes mistakes. Only wins in last 23 starts in same race two years running (2m5½f Ascot good-soft) in 2011/12. Unseated Canal Turn first time around in Grand National. 21½ lengths 6th in Grand Annual to Alderwood who gave 1 lb (2m Soft) last time. Outpaced and unable to get customary prominent position, staying on late past beaten horses. Tatenen needs further than 2 miles these days but it appears not 3m+.

143 Treacle 12 10-9 Tom Taaffe (Ire) 423F-71
Only got as far as 10th, already beaten when fell heavily in last year’s National and off a long time afterwards. Seemingly nowhere near best last time out despite winning 5 runner conditions chase (3m2f heavy). Getting on top at final fence to win by 4 lengths from Ninetieth Minute (who’s now 6 lbs better off). Could look well handicapped if 3rd in 2012 Irish Hennessey (3m good-soft) can be believed. Treacle now 12 lbs better off with winner Quel Esprit for 7½ lengths and 11 lbs better for 2 lengths with 2nd Roberto Golback. However, nothing Treacle’s done before or since suggests he’s capable of repeating the form. Runs as if will stay this trip and best with soft in going description.
A. E. Lynch

142 Lost Glory 8 10-8 Jonjo O’Neil 011611
Prolific winner, gone up 25 lbs winning 4 of last 5 starts between June and October; unraced since. Now on 7 lbs higher mark than when winning soft ground 3 mile handicap chase at Chepstow for latest success, giving 10 lbs and 1¾ lengths beating to Mostly Bob; staying on well. Also won on a firm surface. Progressive chaser but six months break suggests some sort of injury. Only first of his 7 wins have come after a long break, AP McCoy on board for all victories. Below form 2nd for Richie McLernon at furthest trip tackled (3½m good), not jumping as well as he can. However, the way Lost Glory won at 3¼m suggests will stay further.

142 Swing Bill 12 10-8 David Pipe P-P1440
Easy to spot, Swing Bill is almost white. Below best 10th in Grand National last year, now off 2 lbs higher mark. Good close 4th to Hello Bud in Becher Chase (these fences) off this 142 rating. 2 lbs better off for 2 lengths with fast finishing 2nd Join Together and 9 lbs better with 3rd Big Fella Thanks (winner since) for a nose. Swing Bill wasn’t stopping at the end of 3¼m on heavy. Winner of amateurs handicap for second successive year at Cheltenham in November (3m½f good-soft). That came off a mark of 134 and this 12 year old has never been successful off as high a rating as today’s. Disappointing 16th in Kim Muir last time out, possibly not at his very best in the Spring.

142 Saint Are 7 10-8 Tim Vaughn 01-F430
Best performances of each full season to race have come at Aintree, so there’s a chance will show improved form. But those wins have not come over National fences. Saint Are usually belts one or two (fell in Hennessey) and will need to improve his jumping. Although rarely foot perfect, his best rounds seem to be when kept away from others; not easily done amongst 40 horses. Winner of 3m1f (good) listed handicap chase at this meeting last year (now on a 5 lb higher mark) by ½ length from Battle Group (levels), with 16 back to the 3rd. Ran well at Ascot (3m soft) 8½ lengths 3rd to Vino Greigo penultimate start, always up with pace. 6 lengths behind 2nd Cappa Bleu, 1¾ in front of 4th The Rainbow Hunter with Major Malarkey and Tatenen well beaten; due to renew rivalry with all four on same terms. Only 12th of 24, amateur ridden and held up in Kim Muir last time. Should stay further than 3m1f.
Dougie Costello

141 Chicago Grey 10 10-7 Gordon Elliott (Ire) B-0U631Chicago Grey
2011 National Hunt Chase winner (4m Good). Chicago Grey could be well-handicapped; seemed back to form last time despite trip plenty short enough. 25/1 winner of 4 runner (2½m heavy) Grade 2 on February 13th. Looked temperamental in the past but may be that’s changed with a breathing operation. However, race fell apart with favourites Rubi Light and Hidden Cyclone going off too quick, setting it up for the stayer. Neither has reached the racecourse since. 2nd Foildubh (levels, beaten 2½ lengths) ran for first time this Tuesday; franking the form by winning another 4 runner Grade. Take Chicago Grey’s last run out and need to go back some way to find best form. Encouraging though it was, debatable if he should be so short in the betting in the face of a 4 runner race, where just one other might have ran to form. Not his fault brought down at 5th last year, but two unseats and a fall in last 16 races plus numerous mistakes. Usually held up/dropped out the back, not ideal for the National unless a change of tactics or they go off at an overly strong pace. Stable comes in to the meeting in cracking form.

141 Quiscover Fontaine 9 10-7 Willie Mullins (Ire) 10F-685
10½ lengths 4th to Organisedconfusion in 2011 Irish Grand National, gave winner 10 lbs and 3rd Sunnyhillboy (improved significantly since) 3 lbs, 4½ lengths in front. That a first try at staying trip (3m5f Good). Fell 17th in 2012 Grand National and long way below form in three races since. Stays 3m5f when going not too testing, but effective at 2 miles and far from certain to get this trip.

140 Rare Bob 11 10-6 Dessie Hughes (Ire) 3B8-643
Brought down at 5th in last year’s Grand National and remote 5th of 14 in 2011 Becher Chase (3m2f Heavy) Rare Bob lost lot of ground late on. Stays 3m5f under faster conditions, 4th in Irish National (Good) back in 2009. Races prominently but often finishes weakly. Only one win (first time blinkered) in last 21 starts. Good 3rd in Leinster National (only 3m) last time out, again finding little.

140 The Rainbow Hunter 9 10-6 Kim Bailey 4-311P4
Ran well enough at Ascot last time (3m soft). 7¾ lengths to make up on the 2nd Cappa Bleu and 1¾ to 3rd Saint Are all off the same marks as today. Of the three, Rainbow Hunter probably the least capable of adapting to Aintree, often makes mistakes. Three chase wins all in single figure sized fields, two falls in double figure fields. Sire a Chester Cup winner and The Rainbow Hunter runs as if will stay further than 3 miles. Pulled up penultimate start with breathing problem.

140 Becauseicouldntsee 10 10-6 Noel Glyn (Ire) 63PP45
2nd in 2010 National Hunt Chase (4m Good). Hasn’t got past first Canal Turn in two efforts in Grand National. Best form/jumps better/more ethusiastic able to race with at least a share of the lead. Looked as if going to take a hand in finish of Kim Muir at Cheltenham last time but reverted to type and found nothing off bridle. Stays well but difficult to win with. Possibly a Cheltenham specialist.

140 Harry The Viking 8 10-6 Paul Nicholls 12P-P90
Looked ideal Grand National candidate in March last year. 2nd to Teaforthree (much improved since) in 2012 National Hunt Chase (4m Good). Harry The Viking could be reasonably handicapped if able to reproduce that level. Pulled up in Scottish National soon afterwards and largely disappointing since. However, some signs of return to form last time out, 10th of 24 in Kim Muir at Cheltenham. In contention for a long way and possibly needed first run for 3½ months.
Ryan Mahon

139 Mr Moonshine 9 10-5 Sue Smith 360264
Ran well off a 1 lb higher mark than today in Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby in December. 11 lengths 2nd receiving 2 lbs (+3 lbs jockeys claim) from winner Cape Tribulation (winner of Argento Chase since). Mr Moonshine disappointed in two subsequent outings. Won 3¼ mile hurdle earlier in career as if suited by a test of stamina. Runs most of his best races at or near the front.
Peter Buchanan

138 Mumbles Head 12 10-4 Peter Bowen 1133FP
Good 3¾ lengths 3rd to Marufo in veterans chase (conventional fences) at Aintree in October, giving 16 lbs to winner. Mumbles Head fell at first fence in Becher Chase (National fences) there next time. Never travelling only subsequent start in December but stable now in better form. Suited by around 3 miles, not given the impression needs any further. Veteran but was still improving at 11.
Jamie Moore

138 Pearlysteps 10 10-4 Henry Daley F2PP-44
Just 7th in Chicago Grey’s 2011 National Hunt Chase (4m Good) only time Pearlysteps has raced beyond 3m2½f. Jumping is at its best when able to race prominently and it can fall to pieces entirely if in amongst horses. Below form last four starts, including latest occasion, 4th to Ballyoliver at Ludlow (trainer’s local track) where stable companion was a well backed favourite (2nd).

137 Ninetieth Minute 10 10-3 Tom Taaffe (Ire) 3F6042
Not so good over fences as he was over hurdles, Ninetieth Minute won 2009 Coral Cup Hurdle at Cheltenham. Only one win over fences in uncompetitive 6 runner novice by 18 lengths February 2012. 2nd to Treacle last time out (3m2f Heavy). Looking the winner but not for the first time found little. Now 6 lbs better off for 4 lengths, but less likely to be suited by the trip than stable-mate. Fell mid-race in last years Irish National, only race over further than 3¼m (3m5f Good-soft).
Niall Madden

137 Auroras Encore 11 10-3 Sue Smith OP45F5
Three good runs culminated in excellent head 2nd giving 9 lbs to winner Merigo in Scottish National (4m½f Good) in April last year. Auroras Encore raced up with the pace and looked the winner jumping the last, just caught on line. Now off 6 lbs lower mark. Shown very little in 6 starts this season, last one in March. However, vast majority of Auroras Encore’s best lifetime efforts have come in the Spring, including winning over hurdles at this meeting in 2008. Can hit one, but his chance could be under-estimated, more so if stable show signs of a return to form before Saturday.

136 Tarquinius 10 10-2 Gordon Elliott (Ire) P11420
Below form 14th of 17 when joint favourite for Leinster National (3m Soft) latest start in March after 7 weeks off (a long break for him). Type to bounce back. Improved form since moving to Gordon Elliot, winning three races between 2¾m and 3m1f in December/January. Also good 2nd penultimate start in Thyestes Chase (3m1f Heavy) off an Irish handicap mark of 123. Getting 1 lb from enigmatic winner Jadanli; beaten a head staying on well with 13 lengths back to the 3rd. Now on a BHA handicap mark of 136 which looks excessive. However, unexposed as staying chaser for current yard. Best form for previous one Charlie Mann at extreme trips (3m6f) so could yet improve further, particularly as stable are in top form. Genuine and finds plenty under pressure. Going could be a concern, only raced on soft surface but an outsider to consider at three figure prices.

134 Any Currency 10 10-0 Martin Keighley 614U49PARADE
Rare win on first start for 5 months in October (3m3½f Good). Now off 7 lbs higher mark. Unseated at Canal Turn in Becher Chase (3¼m Heavy) over these fences. 9 lengths 4th giving 19 lbs to winner Chac Du Cadran (3¾m Soft) off this 134 mark penultimate start. Under pressure a long way out for AP McCoy. Disappointing 9th in X-Country Chase last time. Sometimes throws the towel in. Out and out stayer these days, suited by a strongly run race.
Ian Popham

134 (133) Poker De Sivola 10 10-0 (9-13) Ferdy Murphy 76U1/-57  NON-RUNNER
Now off 2 lbs lower mark than when winning 2011 Whitbread Gold Cup (3m5½f Good-firm). Nowhere near that form in just two races on possibly unsuitable ground since. Although a bit of encouragement on latest occasion in December, needing the race when last of 7 in Becher Chase over these fences (3¼m Heavy). Also won 2010 National Hunt Chase (4m Good), now 6 lbs better off with runner-up Becauseicouldntsee who was 2¼ lengths back. Best on a sound surface. Well handicapped if back to his best, but that’s a very big IF.

134 (133) Major Malarkey 10 10-0 (9-13) Nigel Twiston-Davis 2P-265P
Good neck 2nd off 1 lb lower mark to Lively Baron in 5 runner uncompetitive handicap on reappearance in December. Major Malarkey has been a long way below form in three races since. Only jumped two fences last time out (March) reportedly lost his action and pulled up. Best effort last season, when 2nd to Master Overseer in Midlands National (4m1½f Good-soft) off a 6 lbs lower mark than today. Inconsistent staying chaser with his own ideas about the game.

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All the latest news for The John Smith’s Grand National meeting

js logoJohn Smith’s Grand National Day at Aintree – Saturday, April 6 – is now sold out in all enclosures which means over 70,000 will watch the 2013 John Smith’s Grand National.

Racegoers can purchase tickets and badges on the gate for the first two days of the John Smith’s Grand National meeting – Grand Opening Day tomorrow, Thursday, April 4 and Ladies’ Day, Friday, April 5.

Advance bookings are 10 per cent up for tomorrow so a new record crowd of more than 30,00 is expected for Grand Opening Day, while the attendance on Friday will be in excess of 50,000

JOHN SMITHS’ GRAND NATIONAL RUNNER TARQUINIUS SOLD TO NEW OWNER

Tarquinius, a runner in the 2013 John Smith’s Grand National, has been sold to a new owner three days before the big race on Saturday

Richard Gilbert, who has horses in training with Lucinda Russell, Chris Grant, Rose Dobbin and Keith Dalgleish, has bought the 10-year-old Turgeon gelding in a deal brokered by bloodstock agent Tom Malone.

Tarquinius is trained by Gordon Elliott in Co Meath, a trainer who knows all about what it takes to win the John Smith’s Grand National, and he will continue to train the horse.

Gilbert said of his purchase today “I don’t have a staying chaser at the moment and the fact that he had an entry in the John Smith’s Grand National was an added bonus.

“I have two other runners at the John Smith’s Grand National meeting – Montoya’s Son (trained by Chris Grant) in the Grade Three John Smith’s Topham Chase and Rathvawn Belle (trained by Lucinda Russell) in the Listed John Smith’s Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race on Friday.

“Tarquinius will run in my name, although my other horses run under my company banner, because I didn’t have a horse in Ireland and I didn’t have time to sort out a company registration with Weatherbys Ire.”

Tom Malone added: “Because he held an entry in the John Smiths’ Grand National as well as being well handicapped over hurdles, we felt we should go for him. He is a horse who could stay in the big chases or go well over hurdles in Ireland. We could have a lot of fun with him.”

Richard Gilbert is the managing director of Straightline Construction Co Ltd, a construction firm based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, which specialises in the external refurbishment of houses throughout the north east. Straightline works in partnership with local authorities and social housing landlords to implement the government’s decent homes standard and modernisation programmes.

Gilbert, 34, was formerly a director of Aroma Wines, a fine wine brokers in the north east, and played rugby as a loose head prop until recently. He said “I found that it didn’t look very good coming into work with a black eye.”.

A lifelong fan of horseracing, Gilbert added: “There is no better spectacle than racing, and even better if you have a horse involved.”

“I have had horses for six to seven years, though I don’t ride myself. As a former prop, I don’t really have the build for it, though my wife Katherine rides. Katherine and I will both be there on Friday and Saturday.”

THE RUNNERS FOR THE 2013 JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL KNOWN TOMORROW MORNINGXChorses

The deadline for trainers and owners to take horses out of the Grand National is tomorrow (Thursday, April 4) at 10am.

There are 46 horses going forward this afternoon following Quinz’s withdrawal today because of a poor scope, Quinz’s scratching late this afternoon because of the same reason and the non-qualification of Romanesco after he ran in the Irish Grand National on Monday.

This means that both Major Malarkey, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, and the Jo Hughes-trained Soll get in the race.

Ruby Walsh has been confirmed as the rider of the 7/1 John Smith’s Grand National favourite with Betfred, official betting partner of the John Smith’s Grand National meeting.

The maximum number of runners is 40 on Saturday in the £975,000 race over 30 fences and four miles, three furlongs and about 110 yards.

There will be 40 declared runners and up to four reserves known before 11am tomorrow. The reserves will be utilised if there any non-runners by 9am on Friday, April 5.

THE 2013 JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONALPARADE

Class 1, Grade 3, £975,000 total prize fund. 4.15pm, Aintree, Saturday, April 6, 2013, about four miles, three and a half furlongs. For seven-year-olds and upwards who, up to and including March 18, 2013, have been placed first, second, third or fourth in a chase of three miles or more and which are allotted a rating of 120 or more by the BHA Head of Handicapping following a review of the horses entered and after taking account of races run up to and including February 10, 2013. Horses who are not qualified for a rating in Great Britain or Ireland at closing may also be entered. Such horses may be eligible for a weight providing the handicapper is satisfied that the horse’s racecourse performances up to and including February 10 would merit a minimum rating of 120. To qualify, horses must have run at least three times in chases run under the Rules of Racing of the same Recognised Racing Authority up to and including February 10, 2013. At the handicapper’s discretion, such horses may be allocated a rating. The decision of the BHA Head of Handicapping shall be final. The British Horseracing Authority has modified Rule (F)42.2.1 for the purposes of this race, such that racecourse performances up to and including Sunday, February 12, may be taken into account. A novice horse shall only be qualified to run in this race if it has run a minimum of three times in chases in Great Britain, Ireland or France in accordance with Rule (F)42.5. Highest weight 11st 10lb – no penalties after publication of the weights. Entries closed January 29, entries revealed January 30 (84 entries), weights revealed February 12, first scratchings’ deadline February 26 (73 go forward, 11 scratched), second scratchings’ deadline March 19 (57 go forward, 16 scratched). Five-day confirmation stage April 1, (49 go forward, 8 scatched) final declaration stage 10.00am, April 4 (two more out beforehand). Maximum field size of 40, plus four reserves. Form figures supplied by Weatherbys and are correct up to and including the racing of Sunday, March 31. Weights raised 4lb since original weights.

Form Horse Age/Wgt Owner Trainer/Probable Jockey

1) 51U/1P/-2 IMPERIAL COMMANDER (IRE) 12-11-10 Our Friends in the North Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies

2) P/33F0-0 WHAT A FRIEND 10-11-09 Ged Mason & Sir Alex Ferguson Paul Nicholls/Sam Thomas

3) 3PF-4PP WEIRD AL (IRE) 10-11-08 Brannon Dick Holden Donald McCain/Timmy Murphy

4) 1113-04 QUEL ESPRIT (FR) 9-11-07 Red Barn Syndicate Willie Mullins IRE

5) 40/-U312 BIG FELLA THANKS 11-11-06 Crossed Fingers Partnership Tom George/Denis O’Regan

6) 1113-23 SEABASS (IRE) 10-11-06 Gunners Syndicate Ted Walsh IRE

7) 0-1U355 ROBERTO GOLDBACK (IRE) 11-11-06 Simon Munir Nicky Henderson

8) P012-5P SUNNYHILLBOY (IRE) 10-11-04 J P McManus Jonjo O’Neill

9) 1/46-P03 BALLABRIGGS (IRE) 12-11-04 Trevor Hemmings Donald McCain/Jason Maguire

10) 11-0620 TEAFORTHREE (IRE) 9-11-03 T437 Rebecca Curtis

11) 3-11201 ACROSS THE BAY (IRE) 9-11-02 Scotch Piper Syndicate Donald McCain/Henry Brooke

12) 1P3-02P JOIN TOGETHER (IRE) 8-11-02 Ian Fogg & Paul Barber Paul Nicholls/Daryl Jacob

13) 413-5211 COLBERT STATION (IRE) 9-11-01 J P McManus Ted Walsh IRE

14) 2P1536 FORPADYDEPLASTERER (IRE) 11-11-00 Goat Racing Syndicate Thomas Cooper IRE/Andrew McNamara

15) P1/B1F-1 ON HIS OWN (IRE) 9-11-00 Andrea & Graham Wylie Willie Mullins IRE/Ruby Walsh

16) 0-35233 JONCOL (IRE) 10-10-13 Kay Browne Paul Nolan IRE

17) P0F1-12 BALTHAZAR KING (IRE) 9-10-12 The Brushmakers Philip Hobbs

18) 1334-22 CAPPA BLEU (IRE) 11-10-11 William & Angela Rucker Evan Williams/Paul Moloney

19) 2/4-4U60 OSCAR TIME (IRE) 12-10-11 Robert Waley-Cohen/Sir Martin & Steve Broughton Martin Lynch IRE

20) 44001-00 ALWAYS WAINING (IRE) 12-10-10 Peter & Linda Douglas Peter Bowen

21) 15U-606 TATENEN (FR) 9-10-10 The Stewart Family Richard Rowe

22) 423F-01 TREACLE (IRE) 12-10-09 Bjorn Nielsen Tom Taaffe IRE/Andrew Lynch

23) 011611 LOST GLORY (NZ) 8-10-08 J P McManus Jonjo O’Neill

24) P-P1440 SWING BILL (FR) 12-10-08 David Johnson David Pipe/Conor O’Farrell

25) U01-F430 SAINT ARE (FR) 7-10-08 David Fox Tim Vaughan/Dougie Costello

26) B-0U631 CHICAGO GREY (IRE) 10-10-07 John Earls Gordon Elliott IRE

27) 010F-605 QUISCOVER FONTAINE (FR) 9-10-07 J P McManus Willie Mullins IRE

28) 3B0-643 RARE BOB (IRE) 11-10-06 D A Syndicate Dessie Hughes IRE/Bryan Cooper

29) 04-311P4 THE RAINBOW HUNTER 9-10-06 May We Never Be Found Out Partnership Kim Bailey

30) F-63PP5 BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE (IRE) 10-10-06 Noel Glynn Noel Glynn IRE/Martin Ferris

31) 12P-P00 HARRY THE VIKING 8-10-06 Sir Alex Ferguson, Ged Mason, Ron Wood & Peter Done Paul Nicholls /Ryan Mahon

32) 2360264 MR MOONSHINE (IRE) 9-10-05 April Strang-Steel, Douglas Pryde & Jim Beaumont Sue Smith/Peter Buchanan

33) 1133FP MUMBLES HEAD (IRE) 12-10-04 Patricia Thompson Peter Bowen/Jamie Moore

34) F2PP-44 PEARLYSTEPS 10-10-04 The Glazeley Partnership Henry Daly

35) 3F6042 NINETIETH MINUTE (IRE) 10-10-03 Dermot Cox Tom Taaffe IRE/Niall Madden

36) 0P45F5 AURORAS ENCORE (IRE) 11-10-03 Douglas Pryde, Jim Beaumont & D P van der Hoeven Sue Smith

37) P11420 TARQUINIUS (FR) 10-10-02 Richard Gilbert Gordon Elliott IRE

38) 614U40 ANY CURRENCY (IRE) 10-10-00 Cash Is King Martin Keighley/Ian Popham

39) 2P-265P MAJOR MALARKEY (IRE) 10-9-13 Baker, Dodd & Cooke Nigel Twiston-Davies/Tom Scudamore

40) 621B-001 SOLL 8-9-12 Derrick Mossop Jo Hughes/Mark Grant

41) /5000/P-P BACKSTAGE (FR) 11-9-12 MPR & Capranny Syndicate Gordon Elliott IRE

42) 023P25 VIKING BLOND (FR) 8-9-11 Caroline Mould Nigel Twiston-Davies

43) 2161-30 CLOUDY LANE 13-9-10 Trevor Hemmings Donald McCain

44) 000165 PENTIFFIC (NZ) 10-9-08 P Sinn, P Lawrence, L Sutcliffe, M Smith Venetia Williams

45) 0/44-060 GULLIBLE GORDON (IRE) 10-9-06 Yeh Man Partnership Peter Bowen

46) P-22150 MORTIMERS CROSS 12-9-06 John Needham John Needham

ROMANESCO (FR) 8-9-11 Gigginstown House Stud Gordon Elliott IRE nq

QUINZ (FR) 9-10-10 Andrew Cohen Philip Hobbs – taken out today

POKER DE SIVOLA (FR) 10-9-13 David Johnson Ferdy Murphy – scratched today

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FANTASTIC JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL MELLING CHASE ON FRIDAY

£200,000 John Smith’s Melling Chase 2m 4f Friday, April 5, 2013

NO. FORM HORSE AGE/WEIGHT TRAINER JOCKEY

1 2-1511 Cue Card 7-11-10 Colin Tizzard Joe Tizzard

2 211-46 Finian´s Rainbow 10-11-10 Nicky Henderson A P McCoy

3 1-1132 Flemenstar 8-11-10 Peter Casey AndrewLynch

4 3-1253 For Non Stop 8-11-10 Nick Williams Noel Fehily

5 R3042R Mad Moose 9-11-10 Nigel Twiston-Davies Sam Twiston-Davies

6 11-111 Sprinter Sacre 7-11-10 Nicky Henderson Barry Geraghty

GOING REMAINS THE SAME

The going remains the same at Aintree after another dry day. Selective watering was carried out today to maintain the current ground descriptions.

Grand National course- Good to Soft, Good in places
Mildmay & Hurdle courses – Good, Good to Soft in places

Andrew Tulloch, Regional Head of Racing North West and Clerk of the Course at Aintree, said this afternoon: “We have watered around fences 13 and 14 on the Grand National course

“It was a warm morning but has clouded over this afternoon. It is likely to be cloudy tomorrow as well.

“We will keep an eye on the ground going forward. If we need to water during the meeting, we can do as we have the necessary facilities. We will monitor everything tomorrow and see how things go. Saturday may be a bit warmer but also cloudier.

“We are not losing a lot of moisure in the ground because of plant growth or through evaporation

“We have had a hard winter and there has been little grass growth because of the low temperatures. The courses are looking great but we would have liked some grass growth.

“The advantage of the Grand National course is that we don’t race down the inside of it in December at the Becher meeting so there is plenty of fresh ground which has not been raced on for a year.”

FIRST HORSES TO ARRIVE FOR THE 2013 JOHN SMITHS’ GRAND NATIONAL MEETING

The first horse to arrive at Aintree for the 2013 John Smiths’ Grand National meeting was Whodoyouthink, trained by Oliver McKiernan on the Curragh, Co Kildare, Ireland.

Whodoyouthink, who reached Aintree yesterday evening (Tuesday), runs in the Grade One Betfred Bowl (2.30pm) tomorrow, Grand Opening Day, Thursday, April 4.

Others at Aintree include Mouse Morris’s charge, First Lieutenant, who also lines up in the Betfred Bowl, along with Quito De La Roque, trained by Colm Murphy, who hails from Gorey in Co Wexford, plus Carlito Briganti, trained by Gordon Elliott in Co Meath, who runs in the Grade One Betfred Manifesto Novices’ Chase (4.50pm, Thursday).

Co Meath trainer Peter Casey’s stable star Flemenstar arrived overnight and takes on Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card in the Grade Two John Smith’s Melling Chase on Ladies’ Day, Friday, April 5 at 3.05pm.

The first John Smiths’ Grand National runners are due to arrive at Aintree this evening.

iStock_000016070653SmallFATHER HOPES DAUGHTERS AVOID EMERGENCY AND DEFY GRAVITY IN JOHN SMITH’S FOX HUNTERS’ AT AINTREE TOMORROW

Bedfordshire farmer Simon Andrews, who won the 1988 John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase on Newnham, will be a proud spectator tomorrow when his two daughters line up in the famous ‘amateurs’ National’.

Gina, 21, takes her second ride in the race and again partners Emergency Cover, on who she was 10th last year, while Bridget, 19, makes her debut over the big fences when teaming up with Defying Gravity.

Their father admits: “Both girls have seen the video of me winning on Newnham a good few times – and no, it’s not in black and white!

“To be honest the girls have little chance of winning, but the same could be said of Newnham, who started as a 50/1 shot, and there was plenty of 66/1 on course. I had won point-to-points on him and we gave him a little practice in a Leicestershire maiden hunter chase when he was third, but he was the most brilliant jumper, and they needed to be at Aintree in those days.

“The following year I rode him in the Grand National and we finished 10th, and we later took him to America for the Maryland Hunt Cup. We fell at the fourth.

“We’ll walk the course in the morning, but there’s not much advice I can give. You just go out there and ride it like it’s another race. You give a horse a kick – rather than take a pull – because the ditches are wide, and if your horse takes to the place you are in for a fantastic ride. Both Gina and Bridget are on horses that have a reasonable chance of getting round and that would be a good achievement.”

Two previous winners are in the line-up among the 25 runners, namely Cloudy Lane, who won last year, and Silver Adonis, who teams up once again with Tom Weston, his rider when successful on 2010. Keenan’s Future, who was fourth last year, and Boxer Georg and Offshore Account, who were second and third in 2011, are others with experience of the contest.

Two riders – Sam Waley-Cohen and Katie Walsh – will be getting their eye in over the spruce fences before riding in Saturday’s John Smith’s Grand National. Walsh, third in last year’s big race on Seabass, rides his stablemate Battlefront – both horses are trained by Katie’s father Ted, while Battlefront is owned by her mother Helen. He had compiled nine straight wins in Irish point-to-points, but his winning sequence was ended when third in a hunter chase at Fairyhouse in February – the winner, Warne, is in opposition again tomorrow for trainer Brian Hamilton.

Waley-Cohen, who rides Oscar Time in the big one having finished runner-up on him to Ballabriggs in 2011, partners Cottage Oak for Cheshire trainer Joe O’Shea in the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase. The 10-year-old has the best recent form among the 25 runners having finished third in last month’s CGA Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival when Paddy Gerety was in the saddle. Waley-Cohen’s Aintree experience and excellent record over the National fences has led to his booking.

John Ferguson, racing and bloodstock advisor to Sheikh Mohammed, saddles Earth Dream who will be a first ride over the fences for the trainer’s son, James, and while champion trainer Paul Nicholls saddles two runners he also faces opposition from his mother-in-law, Fiona Browne. Mrs Browne saddles Bold Addition, a very impressive winner of two hunter chases this season, while Nicholls calls upon Gwanako, the mount of Jody Sole, and Rebel Du Maquis, who is partnered by Britain’s reigning champion point-to-point rider Will Biddick.

Denman’s brother Silverburn, who was runner-up to Bold Addition on his latest outing, represents trainer Evan Williams, while another Welsh runner, Silver Story, is trained by Tim Vaughan’s brother, William.

Aintree chairman Lord Daresbury has an interest in the race via Cool Friend. He owns a leg in the mare and she is trained and ridden by his son Oliver, whose brother Thomas won the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase in 2009 on Trust Fund.

The 2013 John Smith’s Grand Nationalbinoculars

John Baker, Regional Director North West of Jockey Club Racecourses, will welcome the media to Aintree Racecourse at 12.25pm tomorrow in the media centre.

Five minutes later at 12.30pm, he will hold a press conference about the changes made to the Grand National course.

Please find below a summary of the changes and other measures in place for the 2013 John Smith’s Grand National, plus a document which was circulated to jockeys.

The changes Aintree has made to the course, in particular the Grand National fence frames, have received a wealth of positive publicity.

John Smith’s Grand National Key Points

The Grand National is woven into the fabric of British culture and, while the race is designed to be a unique and tough test, Aintree Racecourse ensures it is as fair and as safe as possible.

Nothing has greater importance to Aintree than the safety and welfare of horses and riders. The racecourse constantly strives to improve this further.

Aintree is conscious of the responsibility to ensure the Grand National is run as safely as possible, while maintaining the race as a unique sporting challenge.

The changes and investment made over recent years are good for the race and for racing.

Qualification

The minimum age for entries is seven.

All entries must have been placed first, second, third or fourth in a chase over three miles during their career.

The current rider eligibility criterion has been expanded to require at least 10 of the minimum 15 career wins to have been in chases.

Grand National start

Changes implemented to the Grand National start this year can be summarised as follows:

The start has been moved forward by around 90 yards for this year, away from the crowds and grandstands.

The “no-go” zone defined by a line on the track has been extended from 15 yards to around 30 yards from the starting tape this year.

The starter’s rostrum has moved this year to a position between starting tape and “no-go” zone to reduce potential for horses to get on top of the starting tape prematurely.

More user-friendly start tapes are being used this year, with increased visibility.

The BHA has been working with jockeys since the autumn in a concerted drive to alter jockey behaviour at jump starts, with the aim of redressing the sometimes much faster approaches towards the tape which can occur in bigger races. This has involved a more consistent methodology across the starters’ teams in the application and enforcement of the Rules at the start of a race.

A specific briefing between the starter’s team and jockeys takes place on Grand National day.

Additional measures have been put in place to minimise the possibility of a riderless horse travelling an extended distance before being caught prior to the start.

Fence cores

Aintree and the British Horseracing Authority have been involved in a three-year research and development programme looking at alternative fence construction for the Grand National course. This specifically focused on utilising materials other than the timber and protective rubber padding that used to make up the central frame of a fence.

Following the successful trial of prototype fences with a different frame at the Betfred Becher Chase meeting in December, Aintree now has 12 fences with plastic cores around the Grand National Course. The remaining three fences, which are open ditches, have had the wooden frames replaced by traditional birch.

Fence heights remain unchanged.

Becher’s Brook

Forming part of the racecourse’s on-going programme of works, Becher’s Brook has undergone further levelling of the wider landing zone, correcting the settlement which occurred following works carried out in 2011.

This has not changed either the dimensions or the character of the fences (the current drop, the difference in height between the level of the ground on take-off and landing, will remain at 10 inches on the inside of the course and six inches on the outside of the course).

Landing areas

Following the 2011 Review, the landing area of the first fence was levelled to smooth out undulations existing in the natural terrain. This process has now been extended to fences four, five and 13.

All works were carried out last summer to ensure time for the course to settle before the racing which took place in December of 2012.

Field size

Following the extensive 2011 Review into the Grand National, the BHA agreed to maintain the current safety factor at 40 horses. Detailed analysis in the 2012 annual review found no evidence that horses were unsighted when jumping fences. Through consultation with jockeys and trainers, there was general acknowledgement that the Grand National course is wide enough to accommodate the current number of runners. In fact, evidence does not suggest that changing the number of runners will have a positive effect on the race. During the 1990s, when average field size was 33 runners, a reduced percentage of fallers was not recorded.

Further watering investments

To enable the Aintree team to deliver its commitment to producing the safest jumping ground possible, in addition to the £150,000 invested in 2011, a further £100,000 was invested after last year’s race in further improving the watering system to ensure Aintree continues to deliver the best possible ground for jumping.

Riderless horses

Following investments in 2009 to create bypassing lanes and a catching pen at Canal Turn, an additional catching pen has been created for this year in the region of fence four to assist in the catching of riderless horses and mitigate the risk of injury if running loose.

Parade

There are new arrangements for the parading runners in the John Smith’s Grand National on Saturday (April 6) at Aintree.

In order to reduce the time that horses are saddled and mounted prior to the start, horses will not be sorted into racecard order on the course.

Instead, horses numbered 1-20 will be saddled in the pre-parade ring and horses 21 to 40 in the stables.

There will be Aintree and BHA personnel in the stables and pre-parade ring, assisting to place horses in number order.

This will hopefully mean that horses will enter the parade ring in number order, and then also leave the parade ring in number order. Once on the course, the parade will commence immediately.

Aintree has produced a joint submission in association with the Professional Jockey Association, which is detailed below.

This has been sent to all jockeys in the UK and made available to jockeys in Ireland, including amateurs.

The vital part our Jockeys play in the 2013 John Smith’s Grand National

This year, probably more than ever before, the eyes of the world will be focused on Aintree Racecourse when the tape rises for the start of the 2013 Grand National meeting at Aintree tomorrow.

Aintree Racecourse has consulted owners and trainers too and would now like to detail to jockeys just how vital their role is.

Facts which may surprise you

*An average of 53 per cent of all National falls and 28 per cent of unseats occur before Foinavon first time. That is one and a half minutes into a nine-minute plus race.

*In 2012, the slowest horse to the first fence was the close second Sunnyhillboy and the winner Neptune Collonges was 12th slowest.

*Sunnyhillboy was travelling five mph slower than the fastest horse to the first, Giles Cross.

*Little Josh was the fastest horse to the first in the Topham Chase, yet was travelling at the same speed as the slowest horse in the Grand National, Sunnyhillboy.

*All horses will be carrying speed tags as they did in 2012.

Course Changes

1. The fence frames have all changed from the wooden frames to EasyFix plastic birch dressed, as before with spruce. Open ditches are birch, dressed with spruce. This means that the fences are kinder if a horse makes a mistake.

2. The height and width of all fences is exactly as before so to all intents and purposes they are the same except, as we say, more horse friendly.

PLEASE NOTE:
New Grand National fences have been erected at David Pipe’s, Malton, Lambourn and the Curragh.

3. For the Grand National, the start has been moved forward 90 yards to create a quieter environment and hopefully reduce the tension for all concerned. The line will be well back from the tape and jockeys will be requested to line up at or on the line, prior to the starter starting the race.

4. Running rails have been realigned at Becher’s, Foinavon, and Canal Turn. There will be an additional catching pen at the fourth fence.

Jockeys should note that the shortest route from Becher’s to Foinavon and the Canal Turn is actually mid to outer.

5. One of the beauties of the Grand National course is the width and we encourage all jockeys to walk the course beforehand.

The Parade

The parade concept will change. Horses will not be required to sort themselves out into race card order in front of the stands.

Horses will instead be sorted into number order in the parade ring and this will be facilitated by horses 1-20 being saddled in the pre-parade ring and 21-40 in the stables.

Horses will then leave the parade ring in number order, turn left on to the course and commence the parade immediately. If any horse has lost its place, the parade will continue as is and any horse out of order will stay in the position found.

Horses then parade as normal, canter down to the first and then back behind the start line.

Welfare and other facts to remember

*Six hundred million people watch the race worldwide.

*It is an iconic sporting event and the most watched annual sporting event on TV

*The race is being run for the 166th time and is part of our heritage.

*It is racing’s shop window and we know jockeys do, and need to continue to, show the race great respect.

*Each and every participant – jockeys, trainers and owners – has a personal responsibility

*We know yours and your horse’s welfare is uppermost in your mind -please be aware of public perception.

*At the end of the race all unplaced horses must remain mounted until in the wash down area.

*At the start please respect the starter and his team. False starts – regardless of whose fault they are – suit nobody and create an appalling impression.

*Please remember: the early pace.

Pre-race Briefing

As last year, there will be briefing well before racing starts on Saturday and all jockeys riding in the Grand National will be required to attend.

We are all ambassadors for the race. We all need to savour the day and together you can do your profession and our sport proud.

As  ever, I’m indebted to Racenews for providing the above content