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Six weeks after his death, can Old Vic become a star in the John Smith’s Grand National?


In the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National, the late stallion Old Vic, who died in February at the age of 25, will bid to join a club so exclusive it has only five current members.

That is the number of horses who have sired the winners of more than two of the 163 Grand Nationals run so far.

Heading the roll of honour on four is My Prince, with Gregalach (1929), Reynoldstown (1935-

36) and Royal Mail (1937). Ascetic is responsible for three individual winners – Cloister (1893), Drumcree (1903) and Ascetic’s Silver – as are Cottage, with Workman (1939), Lovely Cottage (1946) and Sheila’s Cottage (1948), and Vulgan, with Team Spirit (1964), Foinavon (1967) and Gay Trip (1970). And Quorum has triple winner Red Rum (1973-74 and 1977) to his credit.

Old Vic’s first hero of the great Aintree race was Comply Or Die in 2008, followed by Don’t Push It 12 months ago. On that occasion, he also sired the runner-up Black Apalachi, becoming the first to achieve the feat since Gay Trip beat Vulture, both sired by Vulgan. This time Old Vic’s team is likely to comprise his two previous winners, plus Vic Venturi and In Compliance.

When Old Vic won his only sires’ title in 2008, he bucked a trend, being the first champion whose laurels included the Aintree winner since Menelek, with Rag Trade, in 1976.

The John Smith’s Grand National, with a purse of £950,000, may yet have a bearing on this season’s leading jump stallion title. Old Vic is currently out of the top 10 but earnings of less than £450,000 covers the first five on the leaderboard, namely King’s Theatre, Presenting, Oscar, Beneficial and Flemensfirth.

King’s Theatre’s only National entry is King Fontaine. Presenting has Ballabriggs, Niche Market and Killyglen; Oscar should be represented by Oscar Time and Dooneys Gate; Beneficial by Becauseicouldntsee; and Flemensfirth by the current favourite The Midnight Club and Tidal Bay.

A niche market in the National for those who don’t fancy Niche Market: Betfair guru covers the Specials effect

Betfair and Timeform guru Simon Rowlands has a look at niche betting opportunities in the John Smith’s Grand National.

Well worth clicking here to read Simon’s latest blog post.

Nigel Twiston-Davies suffers another blow as head lad leaves

Fergal O’Brien, head lad at Nigel-Twiston Davies’ yard for 16 years, has decided to leave and set up as a trainer in his own right.

O’Brien has already established himself in the local training ranks having been leading point to point trainer in the area for the last three years, and looking set to top the table again this season.

Recently,O’Brien has been sharing head lad duties at Naunton with Richard Bevis due to his point to point commitments.

A major player in the yard’s big successes in recent years, O’Brien’s skills are highly respected by many of the stable’s patrons and by his colleagues. It’s unkown at this stage if any of NTD’s owners will decide to send horses to O’Brien at his new yard, nor if any of the Naunton staff will join him.

This news will come as a blow to Twiston-Davies who recently parted company with stable-jockey Paddy Brennan. The trainer became aware this afternoon that Racing Post reporters were  on to the O’Brien story, and the newspaper is expected to run a piece on this tomorrow.

O’Brien will be leaving behind assistant trainer Carl Llewllyn with whom he worked at Captain Tim Forster’s yard, alongside Richard Bevis – his co-head lad at Naunton.

With the John Smith’s Grand National looming for four of the yard’s horses, and the parting with Brennan still fresh in his mind, Nigel Twiston Davies might find this a trying  week.

John Smith’s Grand National: summary of key horses left in


Don’t Push It, who famously gave owner J P McManus, trainer Jonjo O’Neill and jockey Tony (A P) McCoy a first victory in the John Smith’s Grand National 12 months ago, heads the 65 contenders going forward at today’s five-day confirmation stage for the 2011 renewal of the world’s greatest chase at Aintree on Saturday, April 9.

This year’s race, run over four and a half miles and 30 fences, is due off at 4.15pm and boasts record prize money of £950,000.

There were no surprise withdrawals today and Don’t Push It continues to head the weights on 11st 10lb, meaning that any raising of the weights looks highly unlikely. The McManus/O’Neill combination could also be represented by Quolibet (10st 8lb) and Can’t Buy Time (10st 4lb).

The John Smith’s Grand National is the most obvious omission from the CV of champion trainer Paul Nicholls and the Somerset handler still has four to choose from headed by What A Friend (11st 6lb), who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and finished an excellent fourth in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup last time out. The Tother One (11st), 2009 Irish Grand National winner Niche Market (10st 13lb) and Ornais (10st 4lb) complete the Nicholls quartet.

Irish-trained horses have done spectacularly well in the John Smith’s Grand National in recent years, accounting for six of the 12 winners since 1999. A total of 20 Irish-trained horses remain engaged in this year’s contest including The Midnight Club(10st 13lb), the current 8/1 favourite with totesport, official betting partner of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National meeting. The 10-year-old is trained by Willie Mullins, who sent out Hedgehunter to victory in 2005, and is the likely mount of Ruby Walsh, who is the winning-most current jockey in the John Smith’s Grand National following his two previous triumphs aboard Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2005). Mullins could also be represented by Dooneys Gate (11st 4lb), ridden by the trainer’s amateur rider son Patrick, Arbor Supreme (10st 3lb), Our Monty (10st 3lb) and Pomme Tiepy (9st 9lb), though the last named is very unlikely to get a run as the maximum field is 40.

Other prominent Irish-trained contenders include Oscar Time (10st 9lb), who could give the Waley-Cohen family a dream double following Long Run’s totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup victory last month, the 2010 Irish Grand National heroine Bluesea Cracker (10st 4lb) and Becauseicouldntsee (10st 8lb), who is trained by his owner Noel Glynn with the assistance of Jason Titley, rider of 1995 National hero Royal Athlete. Gordon Elliott, handler of the 2007 winner Silver Birch, is set to be represented by Backstage (10st 12lb), who was going well when unseating his rider at the 20th fence last year and has won his latest two outings in point to points.

It is 32 years since a Scottish-trained horse won the Grand National (Rubstic, 1979) and 50 years since a grey was successful (Nicolaus Silver, 1961). A horse out to buck both these trends is the Lucinda Russell-trained Silver By Nature (10st 12lb), who warmed up for Aintree with success in the Grand National Trial at Haydock Park on February 19.

McCain is a surname synonymous with the John Smith’s Grand National, with Ginger McCain having sent out the legendary Red Rum to three victories (1973, 1974 and 1977) and added a fourth with Amberleigh House (2004). His son Donald has a live contender this year with Ballabriggs (11st), winner of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010 and runner-up to Skippers Brigg (10st 2lb) at Kelso last time out.

Nigel Twiston-Davies is the most successful current trainer in the John Smith’s Grand National, having sent out Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002) to success. In 2011, the Gloucestershire handler has a quartet to choose from including last year’s fifth Hello Bud (10st 5lb), who has already won over the National fences this season having taken the Becher Chase in November. If successful, Hello Bud would be the first 13-year-old to prevail since Sergeant Murphy in 1923. Other runners from the Twiston-Davies yard could include Grand Slam Hero (10st 7lb), Roll Along (10st 7lb), who carries the colours of Bryan Burrough, owner of 1983 victor Corbiere, and Ballyfitz (9st 9lb).

Another previous winner among those going forward is Comply Or Die (10st 8lb), triumphant in 2008 for trainer David Pipe. Comply Or Die was also runner-up in 2009 and 12th in 2010.

A pair of John Smith’s Grand National regulars set to line up again on Saturday are State Of Play (10st 6lb), who finished fourth in 2009 and third in 2010 and Big Fella Thanks (11st 1lb), who was sixth in 2009 and fourth last year. Character Building (10st 4lb), seventh last year, is due to run again with amateur Nina Carberry booked to take the ride on the grey for the second year in succession.

The official elimination order, as decided Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping at the British Horseracing Authority, is as follows (maximum 40 runners)













Make early foals your betting goals

Like the big lads at the school sports blasting the tots, a few weeks’ advantage in age among two-year-old racehorses can be significant.

This blog post by Timeform guru Simon Rowlands, is (appropriately) two years old but there’s no reason to believe the ‘system’ is any less effective today.

Paul Nicholls on his latest plans for Aintree

Paul Nicholls, writing on his Betfair Blog, has announced most of his Aintree targets.  I have skinned them down to a digest – if you want to read the full piece, you’ll find it here.

“Quite a few of my horses have multiple entries – and a couple in particular have got me scratching my head – but I have to get them right, and so I may leave the final decision on them until I have studied all the entries.”


We run Big Buck’s and Gwanako in the opening Grade 1 hurdle.  Zarkandar– may be my only runner in the juvenile hurdle, though Empire Levant is still a possible.

Denman goes for the Totesport Bowl and I have three others in the race. What a Friend goes in the National, but Mon Parrain has two other entries (Topham, and a handicap on the Saturday). I will have to speak to Mr Hales about Neptune Collonges; ideally he would want plenty of rain, and if he is to get cut in the ground, it will be on the Thursday.

Blu Teen is entered in the Fox Hunters’ but I suspect he will run in a handicap at Ascot at the weekend.

Woolcombe Folly and Tchico Polos run in the 2m handicap chase and Ghizao steps up in trip for the Grade 2 2m4f novices’ chase.

We have four entries in the 2m4f handicap hurdle but it could be that I rely on just Sire Collonges if he gets in.


I have four entries in the opening novices’ hurdle, and none has been ruled out yet. But providing the ground isn’t too quick, it could be that Brampour is my main hope here. I could run Polisky too, but he is very much a horse for next year.

In the Grade 2 novices’ chase I rely on Robinson Collonges.  The Minack, goes for the Scottish National.

Master Minded will be my only runner in the Melling.

Fistral Beach and Free World go for the Topham, and Mon Parrain has that option too.

In the Grade 1 3m novices’ hurdle, I am coming round to thinking that Indian Daudaie could be suited to this race. It is a Grade 1 race and it could cut up and I can see Ruby giving him one of his “creep rides” and going well. He also has the option of the 2m4f handicap on the Thursday but that trip could be on the sharp side round here. We also have the option of the 3m handicap hurdle on this day; Pistolet Noir will run in that.


It could be that Sam Winner will join Rock On Ruby in the race if the ground isn’t too firm.

There were only eight entries in the Maghull, so that will be re-opened. I put two in; Ghizao, targeted for the Thursday, and Pepe Simo. The latter is a clearly a possible, and the return to a smaller field could suit him better.

Celestial Halo will run in the Aintree Hurdle

Mon Parrain and Take The Breeze are entered in the 3m1f handicap chase, and  I have my four in the Grand National, headed by What A Friend.

I have three in the conditional handicap hurdle; Tito Bustillo, Rock Of Deauville and Empire Levant. This race is probably my preferred Aintree race for the latter if he gets in; I would be keen to see him race off his current mark with Ryan taking 5lb off.

John Smith’s Grand National 5 day decs list Top 40 individually listed

Don’t Push It (IRE)

Tidal Bay (IRE)

Vic Venturi (IRE)

What A Friend (GB)

Majestic Concorde (IRE)

Or Noir de Somoza (FR)

Dooneys Gate (IRE)

Big Fella Thanks (GB)

Ballabriggs (IRE)

The Tother One (IRE)

Niche Market (IRE)

The Midnight Club (IRE)

Backstage (FR)

Chief Dan George (IRE)

Silver By Nature (GB)

Calgary Bay (IRE)

Killyglen (IRE)

Oscar Time (IRE)

Becauseicouldntsee (IRE)

Comply Or Die (IRE)

Northern Alliance (IRE)

Quinz (FR)

Quolibet (FR)

Grand Slam Hero (IRE)

Roll Along (IRE)

King Fontaine (IRE)

State of Play (GB)

Hello Bud (IRE)

In Compliance (IRE)

Santa’s Son (IRE)

West End Rocker (IRE)

Bluesea Cracker (IRE)

Can’t Buy Time (IRE)

Character Building (IRE)

Ornais (FR)

Piraya (FR)

Surface To Air (GB)

That’s Rhythm (FR)

Arbor Supreme (IRE)

Our Monty

(IRE) Royal Rosa (FR) Always Waining (IRE) Golden Kite (IRE) Skippers Brig (IRE) Belon Gale (IRE) Faasel (IRE) Le Beau Bai (FR) Merigo (FR) Putney Bridge (GB) Askthemaster (IRE) Giles Cross (IRE) Saddlers Storm (IRE) Starzaan (IRE) Ambobo (USA) Duers (IRE) Sagalyrique (FR) Toby Jug (GB) Galant Nuit (FR) Junior (GB) The Sawyer (BEL) Ballyfitz (GB) I’moncloudnine (IRE) Pomme Tiepy (FR) Treacle (IRE) Regal Heights (IRE)



Key withdrawals from John Smith’s Grand National

Midnight Chase and Synchronised are the most notable absentees following the confirmation stage for the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.

Welsh National winner Synchronised was last seen finishing third in the Midlands equivalent at Uttoxeter, while Cheltenham Gold Cup fifth Midnight Chase is instead likely to take his chance in Thursday’s totesport Bowl.

Last year’s National hero Don’t Push It heads 65 remaining entries, with Scotsirish, Notre Pere, Ballytrim and Nedzer’s Return the other horses who were in the race proper to have been withdrawn


Go racing for free this month

25 of Britain’s 60 racecourses are offering a number of free entry tickets during April. On twenty eight racedays in all – from Perth to Brighton – many racegoers will pay nothing for admission.

The initiative, the brainchild of Racing For Change, is an ideal way to introduce friends to racing and more than 70,000 tickets have already been ordered.  There are still some available though so choose your course from the map below then  click here for full details.

For weight watchers; how the National’s unique handicap has raised quality and rewarded those with the ‘Aintree factor’

Don’t Push It became the first horse to carry 11st 5lb to victory since Grittar in 1982 and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained chaser boasted some top-class form previously, most notably during his novice campaign over fences in 2006/07, when he posted three wins. He was also beaten three quarters of a length by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman in a novices’ chase and was still very much in contention when falling at the penultimate fence in the Grade One Arkle Chase at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival.

While previous results suggested that horses towards the head of the handicap struggle to win the John Smith’s Grand National, Don’t Push It’s was the third in the past six renewals to triumph in the world’s greatest chase with a weight of 11st or more. Hedgehunter carried 11st 1lb to victory in 2005, while Mon Mome shouldered 11st when he scored four years later. Both horses went on to prove themselves among the best of their generation away from Aintree, with Hedgehunter taking second in the 2006 Cheltenham GoldCup and Mon Mome coming home third in the same race in 2010.

Last year also saw a full field of 40 horses race off their correct weight for the sixth consecutive year, further demonstrating the rise in quality. The John Smith’s Grand National is unique in British horseracing because it has its own handicap, with every entry in the race receiving a rating partly based on any previous experience over the Aintree fences. This “Aintree factor” has allowed horses who have shown good form on the Grand National course to line up whereas they might have been denied a run in previous years.

Phil Smith’s role

The British Horseracing Authority’s Head of Handicapping Phil Smith, who has been responsible for framing the weights for the JohnSmith’s Grand National since 1999, has been instrumental in ensuring that horses who have excelled around Aintree are given the chance to run in the John Smith’s Grand National

A prime example of this came in 2004, when Amberleigh House gave Red Rum’s trainer Donald McCain a fourth victory in the great race. The 12-year-old had been denied his chance to line up in the race in 2002, when he was eliminated despite having won the Becher Chase earlier the same season. Mr Smith’s assertion that Amberleigh House was a different horse around Aintree was vindicated as the veteran chaser beat Clan Royal by three lengths.

Mr Smith has also helped attract the best staying chasers by giving top-class horses a more lenient mark than their official rating. This is because there are very few Graded chases in the racing calendar that are contested over marathon distances and that it would be unfair to expect a horse to replicate a level of form achieved over far shorter than the four and a half miles of the John Smith’s Grand National.

Recent modifications to the race conditions have also helped improve the competitive nature of the National over the past decade. The top-weight was lowered from 12st to 11st 12lb in 2002, then dropped a further 2lb in 2009; reserves were introduced in 2000. In the past 11 years, a maximum field of 40 has started every year except 2004, when 39 went to post. Such measures have seen the quality of runners improve.

Dramatic rise in quality

The number of horses officially rated over 135 at the entry stages has risen dramatically from 55 in 2004 to 94 in 2010, while horses rated below 139 have failed to make the final field for the past two years, whereas the lowest-rated horse to take part in 1999 did so off a mark of 110.

In the 1990s and earlier, it was not unusual for horses who were racing from out of the handicap to run far better races than their handicap ratings would suggest. Just So was second to PartyPolitics in 1992 despite being rated 22lb below the 10st cut-off, with jockey Simon Burrough putting up a further 3lb overweight. Encore Un Peu also finished second when lining up out of the handicap as he went down by a length and a quarter to Rough Quest in 1996 despite being 9lb “wrong” at the weights.

The same year, Sir Peter Lely came home fourth despite being 12lb out of the handicap, while Three Brownies finished sixth after carrying 22lb more than his correct mark. Of the 27 runners, only nine raced in the handicap proper. The 1998 renewal also highlighted the disparity between the top and bottom of the handicap as the runner-up Suny Bay was rated 48lb better than the third Samlee, while Bobbyjo won the following year despite being a stone out of the handicap.

But perhaps the biggest change to the John Smith’s Grand National in recent times has been the massive injection of prize money. The contest carried total prize money of £250,000 when Lord Gyllene triumphed on a Monday in 1997, whereas last year’s winner Don’t Push It collected more than double that as the race had a total prize fund of £925,000. That amount has risen by a further £25,000 to a record £950,000 for 2011. Such a rise has allowed Aintree, thanks to the continued support of John Smith’s, to attract the best staying chasers and the John Smith’s Grand National is by far the richest chase outside of Japan.

There is more to come as it is the declared ambition to increase prize money to £1 million while the race is backed by John Smith’s.

My thanks to Racenews for the content