Category Archives: The Grand National

Tidal Bay, aged 43 and a half, the choice for Crabbie’s Grand National

Tidal Bay

Tidal Bay

Forty-three-and-a-half?

That’s the age in human years that Tidal Bay is, according to research by equine vets (see table below).

Tidal Bay’s horse age is 13. All racehorses have their official birthday on January 1st.  He was born on May 12th 2001 so is ‘actually still 12 – confusing, eh?).

Tidal Bay first ran in March 2006. Thirty-six horses in the original list of  115 entered to compete against him in the National weren’t even born then.

Tidal Bay has always been in the headlines.  Here’s his form for the first three seasons : 22/111221/111211

And yet it wasn’t long before he was branded with the Timeform squiggle – a symbol denoting unreliability. He’d developed the habit of dropping himself out of contention, no matter how hard his jockey worked to keep him interested. Frequently, he’d decide very late in a race, ‘Oops, time I was cracking on!’ And he’d tear through the field to either win or finish very close. His formline during that period was: 122345/24174/3226U/32541

In many outings, his jumping was suspect, losing ground at fences but always managing to find a way over (he has never fallen).

After unseating his rider in the 2011 Grand National, Tidal Bay  left Howard Johnson to join Paul Nicholls. Mr Nicholls took a few races to find the key to TB’s character: here’s his formline since joining the yard: 32541/121-1532

Tidal Bay, unusually for a  top class horse has always mixed ‘chasing and hurdling. He’s won 8 over fences and 7 over hurdles, among those races, three Grade 1s and three Grade 2s.

So why should he be my choice for the Crabbie’s Grand National? Because if with everything you knew about Tidal Bay, you were to sit down and design the perfect race for him, I believe this is it. The 2014 race will be much different from the 2011 one, where he unseated. Since then, the wooden cores of the fences have been replaced with pliable plastic and the fences are much less punishing.

It’s unlikely that TB will have an error free round, but the loose green spruce which makes these fences look so big, is easily brushed through, these days (rightly so, to preserve the future of the race). Far fewer horses will fall and that means the chances of TB or any other horse being brought down is much reduced.

But the key to him is that he has the class to either lie up with the leaders, or, if the pace is too hot (which I think it will be ), to sit in his favourite position near the back and switch on his cruise control. He’ll drift through the race taking little out of himself and as the last fence looms, cruise control will be switched off. Approaching the Elbow, overdrive will be engaged and I expect to hear the biggest cheer at Aintree since Red Rum’s third National victory in 1977.

If you need further persuading, Tidal Bay will carry half a stone less in the National than he would in any other handicap ‘chase. This is because the Grand National is treated as an extraordinary race by the handicapper. Not reason enough to merit favourable treatment for the best horses, but that’s an argument for another day and in this case, I’m happy to take advantage of it.

Tidal Bay, with top weight of 11.10, is officially the best horse in the race. He will carry 7lbs less than he should in a ‘normal’ handicap. The track and distance are tailor-made. He will need some luck in running but not nearly so much as he’d have needed previously.

Tidal bay can be backed at around 20/1. But Betvictor offer 16/1 with the concession of a free bet to the value of your stake if he is a non runner (in all ante-post bets without special conditions, your money is lost if the horse doesn’t run).

Ladbrokes offer an outstanding 25/1 which is sure to disappear in the next 24 hours, and I think it’s worth taking the chance he’ll definitely run for the sake of grabbing this huge price.

The greatest test of a horse’s popularity is the number of people cheering him home when they haven’t backed him. Don’t be left out, add a bet to the cheer!  Good luck to Tidal Bay and all other horses and jockeys in this great race, the Crabbies Grand National on April 5th.

Horses v Humans age scale

Horses v Humans age scale

Long Run should skip the Gold Cup and be trained for the National

Long_Run_CheltenhamI was pleased to hear that Long Run scoped dirty and that it was nothing physical from that bad blunder he made in yesterday’s Charlie Hall.  His consistency and attitude are rare and he’s still only 8. I don’t think he has gone downhill in the way his mark suggests – he was simply overrated on the two big races he won back to back.

In his King George in 2011, he met a sick Kauto Star, a two mile four horse in Riverside Theatre, then the usual suspects – Nacarat, Planet of Sound etc. He went up 17lbs for that, then three more were added when he ran down a pair in the Gold Cup who’d exhausted themselves battling from three out off a pace that had been hot throughout – SWC arguably outrode the pros that day. Remember too, that the second fav, Imperial Commander, pulled up (bled & lame).

He’s never been a 182 horse for my money. His mark now, 171, is about as good as he’s ever been, though I’d maybe allow a couple of pounds deterioration and put that down to very tough races. The Battle of the Somme he had in winning the 2012 KG would have finished quite a few horses. He’s hellish tough, though I’d find it hard to believe these constant challenges at the top level haven’t taken something out of him.

For me, he is what he’s always been; an out and out stayer. Against top class opposition he needs the desperate ground he got in the KG last year (worst going in the race since 1937), or hara-kiri performances by the other jocks in setting an unsustainable pace. In a fairly run Grade 1 on reasonable ground at 24 to 26 furlongs, he simply hasn’t got the pace at the business end.

As for Harry Topper – there’s a horse with an engine. He travelled farther than everything else in the race yesterday, walked through one fence, clattered a few more and pulled some double-jointed moves to stay upright. He looks as honest as you could wish for and if he can regain his confidence, he’d be a threat at the top level.

He was on the deck in his final two outings last season and went at many of the fences yesterday with obvious trepidation. I think an extreme close-up might have shown him shutting his eyes on take-off and hoping for the best!

K Bailey has a job on his hands in rebuilding  this horse’s belief in himself, but if he achieves it, HT would be a very lively Gold Cup outsider. And if his jumping doesn’t get better, oddly enough, he’d be tailor-made for the National. With the cores gone from those fences now (thankfully), HT would just barrel his way through the loose spruce. And if Long Run were mine, that’s where he’d be going next year. I’d miss the Gold Cup and send him to Aintree. Ninety nine percent of his errors are at his back end, and he’d just pull the spruce down and stay forever. And guess which jockey currently has the best strike rate over the National fences?

Richard Pitman talks about his ride on Crisp in the 1973 Grand National

I finally got round to editing this. It was shot before the 2013 Grand National – the 40th anniversary of Crisp’s heartbreaking defeat by the great Red Rum.  Richard sat with me on a bench outside Uplands, the famous yard he rode for in one of the best eras of National Hunt racing. Uplands had the first Millionaire’s Row (that I can remember, anyway), with horses like Crisp, Pendil, Bula, Lanzarote and Killiney. Richard was stable jockey at the time. He took a lot of stick from some for his ride on Crisp, but has always been his own fiercest critic. In this video he tells his story of the race.

The bench we’re sitting on has a plaque dedicated to Fred Winter. Richard talks about it, and Fred toward the end of the video.

You’ll hear the occasional passing horsebox in the background, although it’s never too intrusive.

Anyway,click here to see it.