Blog Archives

Back Silvergrove at 80/1 for the Grand National

national_jumpersSilvergrove was moved to Ben Pauling’s yard last season and should have been 3 from 3 going into the Cheltenham Festival. On his debut for Pauling he unshipped his rider when leading on the run in after the saddle separated from its tree.  He went on to win at Newbury and Kempton then headed to Cheltenham  for the Kim Muir. In that race he disputed the lead throughout, jumping superbly (his trainer says he’s the best jumper he has handled), but paid for being in the van by fading late to finish 3rd of 22 carrying 11.5

Pauling (better know for training Barters Hill) must get him a higher handicap mark to guarantee a run in the National and the trainer says he will attempt to do that in the Becher Chase over the National fences in December. If successful there, Pauling says he will not be seen again until the weights are published.

Silvergrove will be 9 come National day. He has the pace to be up there early and avoid trouble, though will probably need to be ridden more conservatively than in the Kim Muir. His jumping is sound, he is improving (he’s improved, officially, by 23 lbs since joining Pauling) and he’d be too big a price at 40/1 never mind 80/1 – Bet 365.

Good luck, and remember that ante-post betting can be a hazardous pursuit!

Joe

 

Be wise with Buywise at 50/1 in the National

national_jumpersThe Crabbie’s Grand National entries were published today, and Buywise caught my eye. He’s trained by Evan Williams who has a good record of placed horses in the National, and for the romantic among you, Williams has sworn ‘I’ll win the Grand National before I draw my last breath’.

Buywise could be the one. He’s certainly worth betting at 50/1, which is twice the price he should be in my opinion. He’s a talented but, so far, luckless horse who has run well in some really good handicaps. He tends to run into trouble at a crucial point, take a bump or run into the back of something, or just make a bog-standard jumping error. But that seems to be steadily getting ironed out. He was 3rd at Doncaster last Saturday and made no mistakes. He was staying on well at the end and his trainer now believes he might have been running the horse over the wrong trip.

Buywise, like many before him, will be wide-eyed when he sees the Aintree fences for the first time, though they are nowhere near as punishing as they used to be, thankfully. Some horses get scared and can’t or won’t jump them cleanly. Some find it exhilarating and fly round. I’m hoping Buywise is in the latter category.

I’m certain he’ll be much shorter than 50/1 come April 9th, but, as always, much can happen between now and then. If he doesn’t make it to the race (a pre-race injury would rule any potential runner out), your money is lost, so stake accordingly.

Good luck

Joe

 

 

My Grand National Tips

 

national_jumpersFor those in a hurry, the selections are immediately below the next paragraph.

I’ve listed the best odds available for each, and you can check which bookmakers those prices are with at Oddschecker. Make sure you take that price. DO NOT take SP as bookies tend to shorten the price of as many horses as they can to take advantage of novice punters (SP – starting price – is decided on the prices offered by the bookies at the track)

 

 

 

 

 

Tidal Bay – main selection – 16/1

Best of the rest…

Walkon 50/1

Mr Moonshine  50/1

Battle Group  50/1

Prince de Beauchene  20/1

The Rainbow Hunter  33/1

Golan Way 100/1

Rose of the Moon  50/1

Last Time D’Albain  50/1

The Grand National used to be one of my favourite betting races of the year. It was seldom the ‘lottery’ many claimed it was. List the solid stayers and good jumpers and whittle it down into ‘Grand National types’ – horses whose general racing attitude, and often their build – I prefer compact horses over the big rangy ones – give them an advantage. Red Rum was a classic example of a compact, well-balanced horse.

I was often left with just 5 or 6 horses and would back them all and very often land a nice profit. But things changed last year when the fences had their wooden cores removed. Arguably, that should have been done years ago. Their removal has taken much of the danger from the race, and I accept that means some of the ‘spice’ has left with it. But I’d rather have the certain knowledge that the race will continue than risk it being banned as serious casualty numbers mounted.

The removal of those wooden cores (now replaced by plastic) means horses can brush through the loose spruce, often dragging twenty pounds of the greenery off the fence without any noticeable penalty to the horse. Horses can now treat these fences with much less respect than those on a ‘normal’ racecourse like Newbury or Ayr. The Aintree fences still look frightening and that will spook a handful of horses, but once over the first three or four jumps, they will find that there’s nothing to worry about.

An 'undressed' Becher's in the 1990s

An ‘undressed’ Becher’s in the 1990s

The fascination now lies in how the jockeys will ride the race. Back in the old days, many jockeys would ‘hunt round’, meaning they just went a steady pace for the first circuit, before starting to race properly second time around. My suspicion is that this will start happening again. It might take a few years to do so, but I believe it will happen. The new soft fences allied to adrenaline will see many set off as though the devil were on their heels, and these will draw a few others with them, perhaps most of the field. Steadily, horses will run out of energy. They’ll falter and be pulled up and those brave enough to have hunted round the back should be able to pick their way through the stragglers and deliver a challenge jumping the last.

A classic example of a horse who naturally ‘hunts round’ in many of his races is Tidal Bay, my main fancy for the race this year. He’s a top class animal despite his quirky ways. He often drops out early as though he can’t be bothered, only to wake up with a couple of fences left to jump and come with a storming run. The National should suit him perfectly. If you were to sit down to design a race which would give Tidal Bay a real advantage, you’d come up with the modern Grand National. Soft fences (he’s not the best of jumpers at times) and a long, long trip for him to do his customary ‘thing’.

Add to this the fact that the handicapper has allowed him to concede half a stone less than he normally would to his rivals. If this race took place at any other racecourse in Britain, Tidal Bay would be half a stone worse off in the handicap. Think about it…that’s a hell of a lot of weight. It happened because the handicapper (wrongly, in the view of many) allows for what he calls the ‘Aintree Factor’. In essence, this kindness to classy horses is really a bribe to tempt connections to run their horse.

So Tidal Bay is the main selection. I’ll have a few other small bets for fun on the following:

 

Walkon 50/1

Mr Moonshine  50/1

Battle Group  50/1

Prince de Beauchene  20/1

The Rainbow Hunter  33/1

Golan Way 100/1

Rose of the Moon  50/1

Last Time D’Albain  50/1

 

Good luck to you and all horses and jockeys

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Weights, betting and trainer comments for 2013 John Smith’s Grand National

national_start

FAVOURITE SEABASS GIVEN 11st 2lb IN 2013 JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL

The Ted Walsh-trained Seabass, who finished third in last year’s John Smith’s Grand National, has been allotted 11lb 2lb in the 166th running of the great chase, for which the weights are unveiled this morning.

Betfred, betting partner at the John Smith’s Grand National meeting, make Seabass – who carried 10st 12lb in 2012 – one of their 14/1 co-favourites to go two places better this year and Walsh reports the 10-year-old to be bang on course for the £975,000 John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday,April 6.

“Seabass will run somewhere in the next three weeks to a month. There is just over seven weeks toLiverpool so I would like to get a run into him. The Bobbyjo Chase at Naas and the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton are possible targets,” said Walsh.

But, speaking before seeing the full weights, he added: “I don’t know how Seabass can get over 11st this year if Tidal Bay is rated 171 and my horse is rated 154. Whatever Phil Smith does, he does – it is immaterial to me and I can’t change it. You don’t have to be a great mathematician to subtract 54 from 71.”

The weights for Jump racing’s most famous prize were announced at the John Smith’s Grand National Launch in London today. It is the only race for which the weights are specifically framed by the British Horseracing Authority’s Head of Handicapping, Phil Smith.

This year’s weights are headed on 11st 10lb (rated 162) by the mercurial but hugely-talented Tidal Bay(16/1), who boasts three wins over hurdles and fences at Aintree. After saddling 52 beaten horses in the John Smith’s Grand National, Tidal Bay’s handler Paul Nicholls finally saw his luck change last year when Neptune Collonges prevailed.

The champion trainer is also represented by Join Together (10st 12lb, 20/1), who has not been seen since finishing runner-up in the Betfred Becher Chase at Aintree on December 8, and a pair part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson – 2010 Betfred Bowl winner What A Friend (11st 5lb, 33/1) and Harry The Viking (10st 2lb, 25/1).

Tidal Bay’s owners, Andrea and Graham Wylie, boast an enviable hand this year and account for Betfred’s two other 14/1 co-favourites with Seabass. On His Own (10st 10lb) and Prince De Beauchene (11st 3lb) are among seven entries bidding to give Willie Mullins, successful with Hedgehunter in 2005, a second John Smith’s Grand National victory.

A strong Irish-trained entry of 31 includes another top contender from Ted Walsh’s stable in J PMcManus’s Colbert Station (10st 11lb, 20/1), winner of the Paddy Power Handicap Chase over three miles at Leopardstown on December 27 and the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle qualifier at Punchestown
on February 3.

“Like Seabass, Colbert Station will possibly have one more run. I have no idea where he will go at this stage as he only recently ran. I would also be looking at running him in three weeks to a month’s time, which will be ideal timing for the National.”

Nearly all of Colbert Stations’s races have come on soft or heavy ground but this does not concern Walsh: “I wouldn’t be worried about the ground for Colbert Station as it is never anything worse than good jumping ground at Aintree. “He has 10st 6lb in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton and is 3lb higher in England than he is in Ireland, which makes him worse off with Seabass in England.”

Walsh’s daughter Katie achieved the highest-ever John Smith’s Grand National placing for a female rider when third last year on Seabass, while McManus’s retained jockey Tony McCoy has been aboard Colbert Station for his two recent successes. But Walsh, also father of Ruby, stated that there is plenty of time to decide who will ride his duo.

“The question of who will ride both horses is the least of my worries at the moment. My only worry is thetwo horses arrive at Liverpool in good form, healthy and well,” added the trainer. “Who rides them is a question for another day. I am not even thinking about it and there is no pressure on anybody.

“Nobody has to make their mind up until I have to declare for the race – I don’t need to know if Tony McCoy is available or Ruby Walsh is available until they make their minds up and at the declaration stage will do for me.”

Ballabriggs, who won the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National off 11 stone, has been allotted the same weight again this year, having finished sixth under 11st 9lb in 2012. Trainer Donald McCain is happy with the weight given to the 33/1 chance.

“That weight is fine for Ballabriggs and it will be grand if the top horse (Tidal Bay) runs because then wewill have a lovely racing weight,” said McCain. “He has come out of his race at Warwick OK. He will go to Kelso for the Premier Chase as he has done for the past two years and then on to Aintree.”

There has been only one Welsh-trained Grand National winner, Kirkland in 1905, but the principality could field a formidable team this year with eight entries. Leading contenders include Welsh National runner-up Teaforthree (10st 13lb, 20/1), based in Pembrokeshire with Rebecca Curtis, and last year’s fourth, Cappa Bleu (10st 7lb, 25/1), whose trainer Evan Williams has had a runner reach the frame in the last four renewals.

The three-time John Smith’s Topham Chase winner Always Waining (10st 6lb, 50/1) could step up in trip for Peter Bowen, while Tim Vaughan’s 2011 Scottish Grand National winner Beshabar (20/1) has 1lb less on 10st 5lb.

The John Smith’s Grand National now regularly attracts some of the best chasers in training and among those engaged this year are the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander (33/1), who has 11st 6lb, and Albertas Run (11st 8lb, 33/1), winner of the 2010 Grade One John Smith’s Melling Chase at Aintree and two Ryanair Chases at Cheltenham.

The Colm Murphy-trained Quito De La Roque (40/1), who bounced back to form when winning the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles last month, has 11st 5lb.

There is one entry based in France, the Yann Porzier-trained Odysseas, but the 100/1 shot is not certain to make the final line-up with a weight of 9st 3lb. Last year the 72nd horse in the weights at the time of the Launch was the lowest-weighted horse to make the line-up, which would equate to a weight of 9st 8lb this year.

John Baker, Regional Director North West of Jockey Club Racecourses, commented: “The countdown really gets underway today to what promises to be both an ultra-competitive and high-class renewal of the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, April 6.

“Alongside the Aintree specialists and winners of many of the top staying handicaps, we also have some of the top chasers in training engaged, including a Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup victor.

“Irish raiders have won six of the last 14 renewals and there is a particularly strong entry from Ireland that could enhance that record this year while there looks a real chance of a first Welsh-trained winner since 1905.”
LATEST ODDS FROM BETFRED –
OFFICIAL BETTING PARTNER OF THE 2013 JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL
14/1 On His Own, Prince De Beauchene, Seabass; 16/1 Tidal Bay; 20/1 Beshabar, Colbert Station, Join Together, Roi Du Mee,
Sunnyhillboy, Teaforthree; 25/1 Cappa Bleu, Harry The Viking, Katenko, Magnanimity, The Package; 33/1 Across The Bay,
Albertas Run, Alfie Sherrin, Ballabriggs, Balthazar King, Big Fella Thanks, Bostons Angel, Frisco Depot, Imperial Commander,
Lambro, Lion Na Bearnai, Oscar Time, Outlaw Pete, Roberto Goldback, Romanesco, Saint Are, Tofino Bay, Weird Al, What
A Friend, Wyck Hill; 40/1 Call The Police, Chicago Grey, Jessies Dream, Lost Glory, Mister Hyde, Planet of Sound, Quel Esprit,
Quiscover Fontaine, Quito de La Roque, Tarquinius; 50/1 Always Waining, Any Currency, Auroras Encore,
Becauseicouldntsee, Bob Lingo, Forpadydeplasterer, Joncol, Little Josh, Ninetieth Minute, Pandorama, Problema Tic, Quinz,
Rare Bob, Swing Bill, Tartak, The Rainbow Hunter, Treacle; 66/1 Backstage, Calgary Bay, Cloudy Lane, Cross Appeal,
Midnight Chase, Mr Moonshine, Pearlysteps, Poker De Sivola, Shakervilz, Soll, Summery Justice, Viking Blond; 100/1 Fabalu,
Gullible Gordon, Major Malarkey, Matuhi, Mortimers Cross, Mumbles Head, Odysseas, Pentiffic, Tatenen
¼ 1-2-3-4 – All Quoted
BETFRED SPECIALS
Irish-trained winner 6/4
Willie Mullins-trained winner 4/1
Graham & Andrea Wylie-owned winner 5/1
Paul Nicholls-trained winner 6/1
Female Jockey-ridden winner 10/1
Tony Mccoy-ridden winner 12/1
Ruby Walsh-ridden winner 12/1
Barry Geraghty-ridden winner 14/1
Donald McCain-trained winner 14/1
THE 2013 JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL
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, 1 subsequently scratched before publication of the weights), weights revealed February 12, first scratchings’ deadline February 26, second scratchings’ deadline March 19. Five-day confirmation stage April 1, final declaration stage 10.00am, April 4. Maximum field size of 40, plus four reserves. Form figures supplied by Weatherbys and are correct up to and including the
racing of Sunday, February 10.
Form Horse Age/Wgt Owner Trainer
1) 541-121 TIDAL BAY (IRE) 12-11-10 Andrea & Graham Wylie Paul Nicholls
2) P12/123- ALBERTAS RUN (IRE) 12-11-08 Trevor Hemmings Jonjo O’Neill
3) 51U/1P/-2 IMPERIAL COMMANDER (IRE) 12-11-06 Our Friends in the North Nigel Twiston-Davies
4) 13-3361 QUITO DE LA ROQUE (FR) 9-11-05 Gigginstown House Stud Colm Murphy IRE
5) 4P/33F0- WHAT A FRIEND 10-11-05 Ged Mason & Sir Alex Ferguson Paul Nicholls
6) 4-F0211 KATENKO (FR) 7-11-04 Andrew Brooks Venetia Williams
7) 13PF-4PP WEIRD AL (IRE) 10-11-04 Brannon Dick Holden Donald McCain
8) 351/51-1 PRINCE DE BEAUCHENE (FR) 10-11-03 Andrea & Graham Wylie Willie Mullins IRE
9) F1113-04 QUEL ESPRIT (FR) 9-11-03 Red Barn Syndicate Willie Mullins IRE
10) 440/-U31 BIG FELLA THANKS 11-11-02 Crossed Fingers Partnership Tom George
11) 000-1U35 ROBERTO GOLDBACK (IRE) 11-11-02 Simon Munir Nicky Henderson
12) 1//11113-2 SEABASS (IRE) 10-11-02 Gunners Syndicate Ted Walsh IRE
13) 5110-P4 CALGARY BAY (IRE) 10-11-01 Camilla Radford Mick Channon
14) 234-F211 CALL THE POLICE (IRE) 10-11-01 DD Racing Syndicate Willie Mullins IRE
15) 11/P10/-0 PANDORAMA (IRE) 10-11-01 Robert Bagnall Noel Meade IRE
16) 511112 ROI DU MEE (FR) 8-11-01 Gigginstown House Stud Gordon Elliott IRE
17) 121/46-P0 BALLABRIGGS (IRE) 12-11-00 Trevor Hemmings Donald McCain
18) 310-3P4 MIDNIGHT CHASE 11-11-00 Lady Clarke Neil Mulholland
19) P012-5P SUNNYHILLBOY (IRE) 10-11-00 J P McManus Jonjo O’Neill
20) P11-062 TEAFORTHREE (IRE) 9-10-13 T437 Rebecca Curtis
21) P3-1120 ACROSS THE BAY (IRE) 9-10-12 Scotch Piper Syndicate Donald McCain
22) 11P3-02 JOIN TOGETHER (IRE) 8-10-12 Ian Fogg & Paul Barber Paul Nicholls
23) 5/230-53 PLANET OF SOUND 11-10-12 Charles Lloyd-Baker Philip Hobbs
24) 0511306 BOB LINGO (IRE) 11-10-11 J P McManus Tom Mullins IRE
25) 413-5211 COLBERT STATION (IRE) 9-10-11 J P McManus Ted Walsh IRE
26) 6P00-1FP LITTLE JOSH (IRE) 11-10-11 Tony Bloom Nigel Twiston-Davies
27) 1-12141 TOFINO BAY (IRE) 10-10-11 Gigginstown House Stud Dessie Hughes IRE
28) 64-2P153 FORPADYDEPLASTERER (IRE) 11-10-10 Goat Racing Syndicate Thomas Cooper IRE
29) 4P1/B1F- ON HIS OWN (IRE) 9-10-10 Andrea & Graham Wylie Willie Mullins IRE
30) 20-35233 JONCOL (IRE) 10-10-09 Kay Browne Paul Nolan IRE
31) 10511-P LION NA BEARNAI (IRE) 11-10-09 The Lock Syndicate Tom Gibney IRE
32) P0F1-12 BALTHAZAR KING (IRE) 9-10-08 The Brushmakers Philip Hobbs
33) 5/5/4-14P THE PACKAGE 10-10-08 David Johnson David Pipe
34) P-06F226 BOSTONS ANGEL (IRE) 9-10-07 Elder Scouller Jessica Harrington IRE
35) P//1334-2 CAPPA BLEU (IRE) 11-10-07 William & Angela Rucker Evan Williams
36) 632/4-4U OSCAR TIME (IRE) 12-10-07 Robert Waley-Cohen/Sir Martin & Steve Broughton Martin Lynch IRE
37) 044001- ALWAYS WAINING (IRE) 12-10-06 Mr & Mrs Peter Douglas Peter Bowen
38) 01236-14 LAMBRO (IRE) 8-10-06 Byerley Thoroughbred Racing Willie Mullins IRE
39) 131P/PP- QUINZ (FR) 9-10-06 Andrew Cohen Philip Hobbs
40) 0/015U-6 TATENEN (FR) 9-10-06 The Stewart Family Richard Rowe
41) 1/U121/5- BESHABAR (IRE) 11-10-05 Middleham Park Racing X & Ann Burrows Tim Vaughan
42) 30/1122/- JESSIES DREAM (IRE) 10-10-05 David Johnson Gordon Elliott IRE
43) 51423F- TREACLE (IRE) 12-10-05 Bjorn Nielsen Tom Taaffe IRE
44) 011611 LOST GLORY (NZ) 8-10-04 J P McManus Jonjo O’Neill
45) 1211-5F PROBLEMA TIC (FR) 7-10-04 Jo Tracey David Pipe
46) 4U01-F4 SAINT ARE (FR) 7-10-04 David Fox Tim Vaughan
47) 00P-P14 SWING BILL (FR) 12-10-04 David Johnson David Pipe
48) 11F2-11 WYCK HILL (IRE) 9-10-04 SAB Partnership David Bridgwater
49) 2B-0U63 CHICAGO GREY (IRE) 10-10-03 John Earls Gordon Elliott IRE
50) PP-52202 MAGNANIMITY (IRE) 9-10-03 Gigginstown House Stud Dessie Hughes IRE
51) 4010F-60 QUISCOVER FONTAINE (FR) 9-10-03 J P McManus Willie Mullins IRE
52) 2F-63PP BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE (IRE) 10-10-02 Noel Glynn Noel Glynn IRE
53) 21B-4FP FRISCO DEPOT 9-10-02 Waley-Cohen, Burke, Broughton, Broughton Charlie Longsdon
54) 112P-P0 HARRY THE VIKING 8-10-02 Sir Alex Ferguson, Ged Mason, R Wood & P Done Paul Nicholls
55) 053B0-6 RARE BOB (IRE) 11-10-02 D A Syndicate Dessie Hughes IRE
56) 04-311P THE RAINBOW HUNTER 9-10-02 May We Never Be Found Out Partnership Kim Bailey
57) 0-23602 MR MOONSHINE (IRE) 9-10-01 Sue Smith Sue Smith
58) 1133FP MUMBLES HEAD (IRE) 12-10-00 Karen Bowen Peter Bowen
59) 30/F2PP-4 PEARLYSTEPS 10-10-00 The Glazeley Partnership Henry Daly
60) 2-U0P45 AURORAS ENCORE (IRE) 11-9-13 D Pryde, J Beaumont & D P van der Hoeven Sue Smith
61) 1F-3F604 NINETIETH MINUTE (IRE) 10-9-13 Dermot Cox Tom Taaffe IRE
62) 0513-30 ALFIE SHERRIN 10-9-12 J P McManus Jonjo O’Neill
63) 1P1142 TARQUINIUS (FR) 10-9-12 Mary Furlong Gordon Elliott IRE
64) 030U-06 MATUHI 10-9-11 Willsford Racing Incorporated David Pipe
65) 04-13116 MISTER HYDE (IRE) 8-9-11 Bensaranat Club & Bill McLuskey Jonjo O’Neill
66) 3-614U4 ANY CURRENCY (IRE) 10-9-10 Cash Is King Martin Keighley
67) 1P-4PP0 CROSS APPEAL (IRE) 7-9-10 John Corr Noel Meade IRE
68) 50-6440 TARTAK (FR) 10-9-10 Power Panels Electrical Systems Ltd Tim Vaughan
69) 4P2P-26 MAJOR MALARKEY (IRE) 10-9-09 Baker, Dodd & Cooke Nigel Twiston-Davies
70) (0)6U1/-50 POKER DE SIVOLA (FR) 10-9-09 David Johnson Ferdy Murphy
71) 1P/1/401-3 SUMMERY JUSTICE (IRE) 9-9-09 Mrs H Brown Venetia Williams
72) P/5000/P- BACKSTAGE (FR) 11-9-08 MPR & Capranny Syndicate Gordon Elliott IRE
73) 1/21B-00 SOLL 8-9-08 Derrick Mossop Jo Hughes
74) U1F1020 ROMANESCO (FR) 8-9-07 Gigginstown House Stud Gordon Elliott IRE
75) 0-121365 SHAKERVILZ (FR) 10-9-07 Wicklow Bloodstock Limited Willie Mullins IRE
76) FP-023P2 VIKING BLOND (FR) 8-9-07 Caroline Mould Nigel Twiston-Davies
77) 40//2161-3 CLOUDY LANE 13-9-06 Trevor Hemmings Donald McCain
78) 05r316 OUTLAW PETE (IRE) 9-9-06 J P McManus John Halley IRE
79) 120-25F FABALU (IRE) 11-9-05 Tim Leslie Donald McCain
80) 0-000165 PENTIFFIC (NZ) 10-9-04 P Sinn, P Lawrence, L Sutcliffe, M Smith Venetia Williams
81) 33F425 ODYSSEAS (FR) 10-9-03 Mrs Jean Porzier Yann Porzier FR
82) 0/44-060 GULLIBLE GORDON (IRE) 10-9-02 Yeh Man Partnership Peter Bowen
83) 1P-2215 MORTIMERS CROSS 12-9-02 John Needham John Needham
83 entries
31 Irish-trained
1 French-trained
SCRATCHED: ORGANISEDCONFUSION (IRE)

JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL WEIGHTS –
COMPARISON WITH 2012
(at time of weights’ announcement)
Horse Age 2013 2012 Current Trainer
BALLABRIGGS 12 11-00 11-09 Donald McCain
MIDNIGHT CHASE 11 11-00 11-08 Neil Mullholland
WEIRD AL 10 11-04 11-08 Donald McCain
QUEL ESPRIT 9 11-03 11-07 Willie Mullins IRE
CALGARY BAY 10 11-01 11-06 Mick Channon
PLANET OF SOUND 11 10-12 11-05 Philip Hobbs
ROBERTO GOLDBACK 11 11-02 11-04 Nicky Henderson
TARTAK 10 9-10 11-02 Tim Vaughan
LITTLE JOSH 11 10-11 11-01 Nigel Twiston-Davies
CHICAGO GREY 10 10-03 10-13 Gordon Elliott IRE
TATENEN 9 10-06 10-13 Richard Rowe
SEABASS 10 11-02 10-12 Ted Walsh IRE
ON HIS OWN 9 10-10 10-11 Willie Mullins IRE
CAPPA BLEU 11 10-07 10-10 Evan Williams
RARE BOB 11 10-02 10-09 Dessie Hughes IRE
TREACLE 12 10-05 10-08 Tom Taaffe IRE
PEARLYSTEPS 10 10-00 10-06 Henry Daly
PRINCE DE BEAUCHENE 10 11-03 10-06 Willie Mullins IRE
SUNNYHILLBOY 10 11-00 10-05 Jonjo O’Neill
QUISCOVER FONTAINE 9 10-03 10-04 Willie Mullins IRE
ALWAYS WAINING 12 10-06 10-03 Peter Bowen
BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE 10 10-02 10-03 Noel Glynn IRE
SWING BILL 12 10-04 10-03 David Pipe
SHAKERVILZ 10 9-07 10-02 Willie Mullins IRE
THE PACKAGE 10 10-08 10-02 David Pipe
BACKSTAGE 11 9-08 10-01 Gordon Elliott IRE
VIKING BLOND 8 9-07 10-00 Nigel Twiston-Davies
ANY CURRENCY 10 9-10 9-08 Martin Keighley

BREAKDOWN OF ENTRIES BY TRAINER WITH PAST SUCCESSES IN THE JOHN SMITH’S
GRAND NATIONAL
7 Entries
Willie Mullins IRE (2005
Hedgehunter)
Prince de Beauchene 11-03
Quel Esprit 11-03
Call The Police 11-01
On His Own 10-10
Lambro 10-06
Quiscover Fontaine 10-03
Shakervilz 9-07
6 Entries
Gordon Elliott IRE (2007 Silver
Birch)
Roi du Mee 11-01
Jessies Dream 10-05
Chicago Grey 10-03
Tarquinius 9-12
Backstage 9-08
Romanesco 9-07
5 Entries
Donald McCain (2011 Ballabriggs)
Weird Al 11-04
Ballabriggs 11-00
Across The Bay 10-12
Cloudy Lane 9-06
Fabalu 9-05
Jonjo O’Neill (2010 Don’t Push It)
Albertas Run 11-08
Sunnyhillboy 11-00
Lost Glory 10-04
Alfie Sherrin 9-12
Mister Hyde 9-11
4 Entries
Paul Nicholls (2012 Neptune
Collonges)
Tidal Bay 11-10
What A Friend 11-05
Join Together 10-12
Harry The Viking 10-02
David Pipe (2008 Comply Or Die)
The Package 10-08
Problema Tic 10-04
Swing Bill 10-04
Matuhi 9-11
Nigel Twiston-Davies (2002
Bindaree, 1998 Earth Summit)
Imperial Commander 11-06
Little Josh 10-11
Major Malarkey 9-09
Viking Blond 9-07
3 Entries
Peter Bowen
Always Waining 10-06
Mumbles Head 10-00
Gullible Gordon 9-02
Philip Hobbs
Planet of Sound 10-12
Balthazar King 10-08
Quinz 10-06
Dessie Hughes IRE
Tofino Bay 10-11
Magnanimity 10-03
Rare Bob 10-02
Tim Vaughan
Beshabar 10-05
Saint Are 10-04
Tartak 9-10
Venetia Williams (2009 Mon Mome)
Katenko 11-04
Summery Justice 9-09
Pentiffic 9-04
2 Entries
Noel Meade IRE
Pandorama 11-01
Cross Appeal 9-10
Sue Smith
Mr Moonshine 10-01
Auroras Encore 9-13
Tom Taaffe IRE
Treacle 10-05
Ninetieth Minute 9-13
Ted Walsh IRE (2000 Papillon)
Seabass 11-02
Colbert Station 10-11
1 Entry
Kim Bailey (1990 Mr Frisk)
The Rainbow Hunter 10-02
David Bridgwater
Wyck Hill 10-04
Mick Channon
Calgary Bay 11-01
Tom Cooper IRE
Forpadydeplasterer 10-10
Rebecca Curtis
Teaforthree 10-13
Henry Daly
Pearlysteps 10-00
Tom George
Big Fella Thanks 11-02
Tom Gibney IRE
Lion Na Bearnai 10-09
Noel Glynn IRE
Becauseicouldntsee 10-02
John Halley IRE
Outlaw Pete 9-06
Jessica Harrington IRE
Bostons Angel 10-07
Nicky Henderson
Roberto Goldback 11-02
Jo Hughes
Soll 9-08
Martin Keighley
Any Currency 9-10
Charlie Longsdon
Frisco Depot 10-02
Martin Lynch IRE
Oscar Time 10-07
Neil Mullholland
Midnight Chase 11-00
Tom Mullins IRE
Bob Lingo 10-11
Ferdy Murphy
Poker de Sivola 9-09
Colm Murphy IRE
Quito de La Roque 11-05
John Needham
Mortimers Cross 9-02
Paul Nolan IRE
Joncol 10-09
Yann Porzier FR
Odysseas 9-03
Richard Rowe
Tatenen 10-06
Evan Williams
Cappa Bleu 10-07

BREAKDOWN BY SELECTED OWNER WITH PAST
SUCCESSES IN THE JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL
J P McManus (2010 Don’t Push It)
Sunnyhillboy 11-00
Bob Lingo 10-11
Colbert Station 10-11
Lost Glory 10-04
Quiscover Fontaine 10-03
Alfie Sherrin 9-12
Outlaw Pete 9-06
Gigginstown House Stud (Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair)
Quito de La Roque 11-05
Roi du Mee 11-01
Tofino Bay 10-11
Magnanimity 10-03
Romanesco 9-07
David Johnson (2008 Comply Or Die)
The Package 10-08
Jessies Dream 10-05
Swing Bill 10-04
Poker de Sivola 9-09
Trevor Hemmings (2005 Hedgehunter, 2011 Ballabriggs)
Albertas Run 11-08
Ballabriggs 11-00
Cloudy Lane 9-06
Andrea & Graham Wylie
Tidal Bay 11-10
Prince de Beauchene 11-03
On His Own 10-10
Ged Mason & Sir Alex Ferguson/Sir Alex Ferguson , Ged Mason, R Wood & P Done)
What A Friend 11-05
Harry The Viking 10-02
Lady Clarke, widow of Sir Stan Clarke, owner of 1997 winner Lord Gyllene)
Midnight Chase 11-00
William & Angela Rucker
Cappa Bleu 10-07
The Stewart Family
Tatenen 10-06
Top-weighted horses at the John Smith’s
Grand National Launch
2012
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree
Synchronised 9-11-10 Fell 6th
Ballabriggs 11-11-09 6th
Midnight Chase 10-11-08 NR
Weird Al 9-11-08 Fell 27th
Burton Port 8-11-07 NR
Quel Esprit 8-11-07 NR
Calgary Bay 9-11-06 14th
Neptune Collonges 11-11-06 WON
Alfa Beat 8-11-05 Fell 7th
Planet of Sound 10-11-05 12th
Number of entries 82
Number in handicap 69
Weights (at time of weights launch) of first four home
1st Neptune Collonges 11-06
2nd Sunnyhillboy 10-05
3rd Seabass 10-12
4th Cappa Bleu 10-10
2011
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree
Don’t Push it 11-11-10 3rd
Neptune Collonges 10-11-10 NR
Tidal Bay 10-11-09 UR 10th
Midnight Chase 9-11-08 NR
Deep Purple 10-11-07 NR
Tranquil Sea 9-11-07 NR
Synchronised 8-11-06 NR
Vic Venturi 11-11-06 BD 2nd
What A Friend 8-11-06 PU bef 27th
Majestic Concorde 8-11-05 UR 24th
Or Noir De Somoza 9-11-05 Fell 6th
Number of entries 102 (1 scratched before weights calculated)
Number in handicap 82
Weights (at time of weightslaunch) of first four home
1st Ballabriggs 11-00
2nd Oscar Time 10-09
3rd Don’t Push It 11-10
4th State Of Play 10-06
2010
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree
Albertas Run 9-11-10 NR
Madison Du Berlais 9-11-10 Fell 19th
Notre Pere 9-11-10 NR
Taranis 9-11-09 NR
Our Vic 12-11-08 NR
Mon Mome 10-11-07 Fell 26th
Black Apalachi 11-11-06 2nd
Joe Lively 11-11-06 10th
Vic Venturi 10-11-06 UR 20th
Comply Or Die 11-11-05 12th
Number of entries 112 (1 scratched before weights calculated)
Number in handicap 97
Weights (at time of weights launch) of first four home
1st Don’t Push It 11-05
2nd Black Apalachi 11-06
3rd State Of Play 10-11
4th Big Fella Thanks 10-12
2009
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree (weights rose by 8lb)
Exotic Dancer 9-11-10 NR
Madison Du Berlais 8-11-08 NR
Snoopy Loopy 11-11-05 NR
Star De Mohaison 8-11-05 NR
Notre Pere 8-11-04 NR
Nozic 8-11-03 NR
Air Force One 7-11-02 NR
Cloudy Lane 9-11-02 UR 15th
Afistfullofdollars 11-11-01 NR
War of Attrition 10-11-01 NR
Number of entries 120 (3 scratched before weights calculated)
Number in handicap 61
Weights (at time of weights launch) of first four home
1st Mon Mome 10-06
2nd Comply Or Die 10-12
3rd My Will 10-10
4th State Of Play 10-08
2008
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree (weights rose by 3lb)
Beef Or Salmon 12-11-12 NR
Celestial Gold 10-11-10 NR
Turpin Green 9-11-10 NR
Hedgehunter 12-11-09 13th
Hi Cloy 11-11-09 11th
Knowhere 10-11-08 UR 25th
Mr Pointment 9-11-08 PU bef 30
Ollie Magern 10-11-08 NR
Forget The Past 10-11-07 NR
Monkerhostin 11-11-07 NR
Turko 6-11-07 Fell 25th
Number of entries 150
Number in handicap 105
Weights (at time of weights launch) of first four home
1st Comply Or Die 10-06
2nd King Johns Castle 10-08
3rd Snowy Morning 10-12
4th Slim Pickings 11-00
2007
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree (weights did not rise)
Exotic Dancer 7-11-12 NR
Hedgehunter 11-11-12 9th
Forget The Past 9-11-09 NR
Fota Island 11-11-09 NR
Louping D’Ainay 8-11-09 NR
Eurotrek 11-11-08 PU bef 22nd
L’Ami 8-11-08 10th
State Of Play 7-11-08 NR
Ollie Magern 9-11-07 NR
Monkerhostin 10-11-6 REF 7th
Number of entries 119
Number in handicap 87
Weights (at time of weights launch) of first four home
1st Silver Birch 10-06
2nd McKelvey 10-04
3rd Slim Pickings 10-08
4th Philson Run 10-05
2006
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree (weights rose by 2lb)
Monkerhostin 9-11-12 NR
Royal Auclair 9-11-10 Fell 1st
Hedgehunter 10-11-10 2nd
Hi Cloy 9-11-09 NR
Fondmort 10-11-08 NR
Cornish Rebel 9-11-07 PU bef 19th
Therealbandit 9-11-07 PU bef 27th
One Knight 10-11-07 NR
Joaaci 6-11-06 NR
It Takes Time 12-11-06 PU bef 29th
Number of entries 148
Number in handicap 85
Weights (at time of weights launch) of first four home
1st Numbersixvalverde 10-06
2nd Hedgehunter 11-10
3rd Clan Royal 10-08
4th Nil Desperandum 10-05
2005
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree (weights rose by 3lb)
Grey Abbey 11-11-12 NR
Sir Rembrandt 9-11-10 NR
Keen Leader 9-11-09 NR
Le Coudray 11-11-09 PU Bef 21st
Kamillo 7-11-09 NR
First Gold 12-11-08 NR
Seebald 10-11-08 NR
Royal Auclair 8-11-07 2nd
Rince Ri 12-11-07 NR
One Knight 9-11-06 NR
Number of entries 152
Number in handicap 92
Weights (at time of weights launch) of first four home
1st Hedgehunter 10-12
2nd Royal Auclair 11-07
3rd Simply Gifted 10-03
4th It Takes Time 10-08
2004
Horse Age/Weight Position at Aintree (weights rose by 3lb)
First Gold 11-11-12 NR
Rince Ri 11-11-10 NR
Harbour Pilot 9-11-10 NR
Fondmort 8-11-10 NR
Le Coudray 10-11-09 Fell 22nd
Commanche Court 11-11-08 NR
Valley Henry 9-11-08 NR
Monty’s Pass 11-11-07 4th
What’s Up Boys 10-11-06 BD 6th
Iris Royal 8-11-06 NR
Number of entries 122
Number in handicap 66
Weights (at time of weights launch) of first four home
1st Amberleigh House 10-07
2nd Clan Royal 10-02
3rd Lord Atterbury 9-12
4th Monty’s Pass 11-07

JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL WEIGHTS
STATISTICS 2000-2013
AT TIME OF ISSUE OF WEIGHTS
year, no of entries, 11st+, 10st+, no & % in handicap, % 135+
2000 99 24 42 66 67% –
2001 126 7 32 39 31% –
2002 139 9 24 33 24% –
2003 148 18 49 67 45% –
2004 117 23 43 66 59% 47%
2005 152 28 64 92 61% 47%
2006 144 19 66 85 59% 51%
2007 117 25 62 87 74% 62%
2008 149 26 79 105 70% 59%
2009 120 13 48 61 51% 80%
2010 111 30 67 97 87% 85%
2011 101 19 63 82 82% 85%
2012 82 21 48 69 84% 85%
2013 83 19 40 59 71% 78%

ON DAY OF RACE
year runners in handicap out of handicap lowest rated runner
2000 40 33 7 120
2001 40 26 14 123
2002 40 31 9 130
2003 40 36 4 130
2004 39 34 5 116
2005 40 40 0 134
2006 40 40 0 135
2007 40 40 0 134
2008 40 40 0 137
2009 40 40 0 139
2010 40 40 0 139
2011 40 40 0 138
2012 40 39 1 131

MEDIAN RATING OF HORSES ENTERED
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
130 134 135 137 137 142 143 141 144 143

POSITION NEEDED IN WEIGHTS AT ENTRY TO GET RUN IN RACE
year position
2000 81st
2001 79th
2002 68th
2003 77th
2004 95th
2005 75th
2006 76th
2007 75th
2008 71st
2009 74th
2010 79th
2011 70th
2012 72nd

Thanks to my friends at Racenews for the information

WarnedOff

The day we buried Red Rum

Red Rum (nearest) beats Crisp in the 1973 Grand National

I first published this in October 2012. With the National approaching, I thought it worth another ‘outing’

Seventeen years ago today I was having breakfast in Winterborne Cottage where I was living at the time. It was the shortest commute I’d ever had, nestled in the trees about a hundred yards west of the winner’s enclosure at Aintree racecourse. Aintree’s 270 enclosed acres held a few properties and I was fortunate to live in one, at a peppercorn rent. I’d left SiS the year before to become Aintree’s first marketing manager.

At 8.20 my mobile rang. Aintree MD Charles Barnett, perfect diction unruffled as ever said, ‘Joe, Red Rum died this morning. He’s on his way here. We want him under the ground before telling the press. Can you meet me by the winning post in half an hour?’

It was a job. I didn’t stop to reflect on my life or the part Red Rum had played in it, or the path that had led me from a pit village in Lanarkshire to the best racecourse in the world. I was a working class boy whose habitual truancy led to a note from the headmaster to my father eight weeks short of my fifteenth birthday: “If your son dislikes school so much, tell him not to come back.” (Oh those pre-politically correct days!).

And I never went back, considering myself expelled at 14. I rejoiced and headed out into the world without a qualification to my name but armed with a twenty-two carat romantic view of life gained from all the books I’d read, huddled in the corner of warm libraries when I should have been at school.

The only teacher I ever paid attention to was one I’d never met, Dick Francis. I’d got through a book of his a day.

On a patch of old farm land behind St Pat’s school in my village, an optimistic farmer called Jim Barrett trained a dozen horses. I never thought then how incongruous it was, these ten acres or so, surrounded by steelworks and abandoned pits. I never noticed the smoky industry; I saw Uplands, Saxon House, Seven Barrows. But no Lanzarote or Bula was housed there.

Still, third-rate thoroughbreds were racehorses, creatures of unlimited potential and I’d be there in many frozen dawns to groom and muck out and sometimes ride and watch the stable jockey, three years my senior and better known in the village as the son of the owner of the fish and chip shop. His name was Len Lungo and a couple of years later he headed south to ride Martin Pipe’s first ever winner, Hit Parade.

The Guv’nor (oh, how I loved calling him that) used to weigh me once a week and I’d starve in the previous twenty four hours hoping that next day he’d tell me I’d make it as a jockey. But he never did and I never stopped growing. Jim Barrett died a relatively young man and I was cast adrift looking for some way to stay in ‘the sport’.

The best I could manage was a job with Ladbrokes. By the time of Red Rum’s first National I was nineteen and managing a busy betting shop in Hamilton and cursing Red Rum not just for catching the magnificent Crisp in the dying strides of that wonderful race, but for being the best bet for many at 9/1 joint-fav with the runner-up.

Those were the days when settling was done without machines. We worked furiously through around 5,000 betting slips as the queues of happy punters snaked around the shop and out the door.

That was the first of Rummy’s Nationals. It was the first of mine as a bona fide worker in the betting industry. That race, that finish, the particpants were to play a huge part in my life – unplanned, never knowingly sought. Had someone told me that day how it would all pan out, even at my most romantic and optimistic, I’d never have believed it.

Twenty two years later, breakfast abandoned, I sat in Winterborne Cottage drafting the press release to fax to my great friend Nigel Payne who had recruited me to SiS and had been instrumental in me getting the job at Aintree. The plan was to give the old horse a quiet burial without the media swarming all over the track. One of the reasons for the secrecy was, I suppose, the fact that it is almost impossible to bury half a ton of thoroughbred in a dignified manner.

Walking toward the winning post on that fine dry morning, I passed the place where I’d stood with Red Rum on the day of his 30th birthday, five months before.

May 3rd was to be just another meeting at Aintree. We were down to five meetings a year. In the 60s, Aintree had staged about 17 meetings a year, flat and jumps, but as the course fell further into disrepair, Mrs Topham gradually surrendered meetings till we were left with just a handful.

Anyway, preparing for that May meeting, I noticed in Red Rum’s Timeform essay that he’d been born on May 3rd 1965. I suggested to Charles Barnett that we call our meeting Red Rum’s 30th Birthday Meeting. Charles, always open to ideas said “Crack on.”

I rang Ginger to see if the horse would be well enough to attend and, cheery and helpful as ever, he said. “Of course he will, old son.” It didn’t take long to get a buzz going. The BBC and ITV asked if they could send news teams. We were getting calls from the international media and I got kind of carried away and told Charles I was going to create a special racecard and order 10,000 of them. That May meeting had seldom attracted more than 3,000 racegoers.

“You won’t sell them, Joe.”

“We will. Trust me. I’ve got an interview with Ginger in there, a special portrait of Red Rum on the cover. Timeform have agreed to let me publish their full essay on him from Chasers and Hurdlers!”

“There’s no way, you’ll sell close to ten thousand.”

“Trust me, Charles!”

He smiled and gave one of his shrugs (think Hooper in Jaws trying to dissuade the men in the overcrowded boat “They’re all gonna die!”)

When the track emptied after the meeting I was left staring at a stack of unopened boxes holding about 7,000 racecards. But CB never ever said “I told you so,” and the fact that he didn’t meant a lot to me.

Anyway, on that May evening, I’d walked out with Red Rum and his handler from the old stables. We came across behind the stands, Rummy looking splendid in his coat in the fading sun, ambling along quietly. But just as we came around the end of the Queen Mother stand, about thirty yards beyond the winning post, Rummy raised his head quickly and pricked his ears. His eyes became brighter and he stood very still for what seemed a long time, just watching. Lord knows what he was remembering but I will never forget that image.

Twenty four weeks later he was back close to the winning post he loved so well. This time he was lying on his left side, head toward the red and white disk above him, eyes closed, breath gone. No pallbearers, no coffin, no shroud.

Ginger was on my left, Charles on my right beside the only other man there, Bob Dixon, head groundsman whose precious turf had been gouged by the shovel of a yellow JCB which scooped out more than enough earth to make sure there’d be no embarrassing ‘rehearsal’.

Charles turned toward Ginger. Ginger looked at his oldest equine friend one final time and nodded. Charles raised a thumb to the JCB driver and the shovel was lowered to slip slowly below the spine of the finest Grand National horse that had ever galloped those acres since the first National in 1839. Slowly, slowly, slowly, Rummy was pushed toward the edge of his grave until gravity took over. Ginger walked forward and threw in a handful of fresh earth. I turned and went to my office to place an order for his headstone and to write his epitaph for it.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that a square yard of marble was never going to be enough on which to do credit to a true equine legend and I settled for the simplest of words. I showed them to Charles and to Ginger and they agreed there was nothing more to say.

A couple of weeks ago, on a beautiful morning, another player in that 1973 National sat with me on Fred Winter’s memorial bench outside his old yard Uplands, the place I’d dreamed of as a teenager. Richard Pitman and I published our first novel 20 years after Rummy’s first win and Richard’s heart-rending defeat on Crisp.

I’d wanted to go there with Richard. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the great race. From that famous yard behind us, Crisp had been driven north to Liverpool. He came back having endeared himself to anyone who had a heart. His jockey came back with the memory of an experience no other human being would ever have. Richard never claimed to be a great jockey. He wasn’t, but he has always been too modest. There were few who could get a horse jumping the way he could and even fewer who would blame themselves for losing the most famous race in the world when giving 23lbs to what turned out to be the greatest Grand National horse in history.

Sitting on that bench Richard explained to me, “It wasn’t so much picking up my stick before the Elbow that was the mistake, it was taking my hand off the reins to use it.” He has had almost 40 years of being tough on himself. I have had 40 years in a sport I love. I never knew the touchstone for me would turn out to be the 1973 Grand National. I helped bury the winning horse. I wrote novels with the man who rode Crisp. I have not sat on a racehorse these past 40 years but it has turned out a great ride through life for me – no skill required from the pilot, carried safely round the course by Lady Luck.

Joe McNally

Richard and Joe’s first novel Warned Off is on Kindle. Click on the book cover to see details and reviews. Thanks

Why they should have added 3 furlongs to the National

In an attempt to improve safety at the Grand National, one of the solutions offered by the authorities is to move the start farther away from the stands – 90 yards closer to the first fence. The key argument here seems to be to get the horses and jockeys away from the tension that builds around the current start area.

But jockeys already feel they don’t have enough time to get organised at the first fence – how can the solution be to give them an even shorter distance in which to accomplish that?

The first fence is a huge factor in the National’s problems in my opinion. Jockeys feel they don’t have enough time to ‘get a position’ which, effectively, means to be at the front in case the speed of the ones in front causes them to fall and bring down those behind (a vicious circle if ever there was one). Having built that rush to the first, they then have a long straight run down that line of fences in which it is difficult to dilute the momentum built up just because of worries about the first fence.

If they wanted to get the field away from the hubbub of the stands, why not start the race just after the last fence? By my very rough reckoning that would add about 3 furlongs to the National, perhaps a few yards more.

Okay, they’d have a tightish turn down toward the current start, but it’s not as sharp as it looks from TV footage as they’d have the whole of the Mildmay course to use on the first circuit. The issue for jockeys in a hurry would be the elbow first time round; some re-configuring could be done to it, but how many jockeys are going to be in a mad rush that early in a race of almost 5 miles? They’d have a run of about 5 furlongs to the first to get the fizz out of the horses and get themselves organised.

Even at that first bend, although those on the outside would be running farther than horses on the inner, there is plenty of room and I think most wouldn’t be concerned at having to travel wide that early.

Increasing the distance would, I believe, lead to more completions as jockeys would be much more inclined to hunt round the first circuit at a sensible pace like they used to do. For my money it would have been eminently more sensible, and more acceptable from a ‘heritage’ viewpoint, to have made the race longer rather than shorter – not to mention safer.

Initial Grand National report shows a few cracks in the BHA’s logic and weakness in Mr Bittar

The BHA’s findings regarding the deaths of Synchronised and According To Pete, as well as those concerning the start of the 2012 Grand National were published today.

The cause of Synchronised’s injury appears to have been the solid structure around which the National fences are  built – thick wooden stakes which have a rubber-covering applied before being dressed with spruce.  The report does not conclude that these posts caused the fractures to Synchronised but I believe the evidence points very strongly in that direction.

Here is the relevant section

After the fall, the horse got up and carried on running and jumping fences riderless. On review of the footage there is no evidence to suggest he was carrying any sort of injury at this point. This is corroborated by speed sensing data, which shows that the horse was travelling at the same speed both before and after the fall at Becher’s.

The injury that led to Synchronised being put down occurred at Fence 11. He appears to decelerate into the fence and does not jump it cleanly, dragging his hindlegs and hindquarters through the fence. It would appear he fractured his right hind tibia and fibula in the process.

This finding should signal the end for these wooden stakes. Aintree will have to come up with a way of building those famous fences around a material which has sufficient give to keep bones intact.

As for the start, the BHA has managed to find all 40 riders guilty of offences there while enforcing no punishment. They excuse themselves from this by applying discretion:

Despite the apparent breaches of the relevant Rules, it has been decided not to bring charges against any rider. In arriving at this decision the BHA took account of the effect of the delay caused by the late arrival of Synchronised at the start and the complications experienced with re-setting the starting tape.

In taking account of these factors, what logic was applied? Did the delay caused by both events cause the horses to become so difficult to control that the riders could not be blamed?  If so, then how can the jockeys have been guilty of the offence(s)? Or did the delay justify in some odd way the jockeys’ behaviour?  If the latter is the case, then what is on offer is a post-National dispensation from what the riders were instructed to do pre-National, so no offence there either.

The only other conclusion is that the BHA has finally and publicly accepted what we all knew anyway – pre-race briefings to Grand National jockeys are a complete waste of time and breath. The post-2011 BHA GN report carried strong evidence that speed over the first six fences is highly likely to be a factor in the number of casualties.  In light of that it seems foolish to tacitly concede that the jockeys can pretty much behave as they like at the start; why offer them carte-blanche regarding their intended tactics, the most favoured of which seems to be ‘get a good position’ (go fast early)?

If changes are to be implemented effectively, the BHA is going to have to take a much stronger stance on the behaviour of jockeys at the start and perhaps even in the early stages of the race itself.

In this case, the BHA has decided to write to riders ‘expressing disappointment’:

The BHA has written to all the riders concerned and expressed their disappointment at the conduct of riders at the start, especially bearing in mind that considerable emphasis was placed on this aspect of the race during the pre-race Jockey’s Briefing. In showing disregard to the instructions of the Starter, the riders placed those on the ground assisting with the start in a potentially dangerous situation.

Disappointment is a Victorian concept in my opinion. It’s like saying ‘It’s not fair!’ When disappointment occurs, the fault lies with the disappointee not the disappointer.  People will not change their behaviour because you are disappointed; they will change it if the penalty for not doing so is severe enough.

I am not having a go at jockeys here. I suspect that Mr Bittar is a compromiser at heart: in his position, compromise should come in much smaller doses. “We think you’re wrong but we will let you off” is no foundation on which to build anything. Sensible rules, just punishment and a proper understanding of when to apply these will be critical to Mr Bittar’s future at the BHA.  This has been a very woolly start.  I hope the recommendations of the full Grand National report contain no fudge.

The Grand National: a look at last year’s BHA Review Group report. Do we need a speed limit?



The Review process has been balanced, thorough and comprehensive. The Review Group, and the BHA Board, are confident that the 30 recommendations will help achieve the objectives of not only enhancing the safety and welfare of participants but also maintaining public confidence in both the sport, and the Grand National as a race.”

So said Tim Morris, Director of Equine Science and Welfare at the BHA after that organisation’s review of the 2011 Grand National in which 2 horses died and 19 others failed to finish.

Last Saturday 2 horses died and 23 others failed to finish signifying that the enhancement of safety and welfare target was not reached.  A victory could be claimed on the ‘maintaining public confidence’ aspect as attendances, TV viewing and betting turnover was up.

But given that the review was so thorough and comprehensive, what else can be done?  What, if anything, did the review committee miss or get wrong last year?

In this article, I’ve listed selective extracts from the Review Group’s report, concentrating on the aspects most commonly discussed since Saturday:

  • Speed over the first few fences

  • The drops on the landing sides

  • Loose horses

  • Field size

  • The Start

At the end I offer some potential solutions to the speed issue by way of stirring up some creative thinking on the part of reformers.

NB, from here on in this document, any text not in italics is extracted directly from the review document; italicised text represents my comments.

Extracts from  the Grand National: A Review of safety and welfare, published November 2011

Since 2000, the race averages 28.39% fallers, compared to 21.48% for the other four races staged on the Grand National circuit.

The fence-by-fence Grand National faller data since 1990 highlighted that, the first 1 minute 35 secs up to and including jumping Becher’s Brook (Fence 6), accounts for over 53% of all falls in the race and 28% of unseated riders.

Fence 1 appears to exhibit a particular trait inasmuch as when it is jumped as the very first fence in the race its rates of 21.6% of all falls and 8.1% of all unseats compare with 0% for both categories when it is jumped on the second circuit (Fence 17).

Clearly, a significant number of runners will not set out on the second circuit having already fallen or pulled up but the Review Group
believes it is still a striking comparison and feels that it can at least in part be explained by the fact that most of the runners will never have seen an obstacle like a Grand National fence before.

On that basis, it supports a proposal made by the Aintree Executive that they seek to construct an Aintree-style fence at each of the major training centres and encourage trainers to school their runners over it.  This approach was previously adopted after the last major regulatory review of the Grand National in 1998. But there is a need to re-invigorate this practice.

In view of the unique fence design of the Grand National fences, the Aintree Executive shall again liaise with all major Jump training centres to develop the construction and encourage the use of a well maintained Aintree-style schooling fence for trainers to use at each centre.

Was this recommendation adopted post-1998?  If not, who was responsible for policing it?  Have the post-2011 recommendations been put in place at training centres?  You will see later in this piece that the review group were not happy to make decisions based on assumptions and yet they willingly do so here in regard to the ‘surprise’ to some horses of seeing a GN fence for the first time.

This ‘lack of experience factor’ was a view I shared until I read a post on TRF by the forumite known as Venture to Cognac. His research showed that a long list of horses with experience of the fences failed to get round on other occasions. Some, of course, failed at their first attempt, but many found their previous experience to be of little value. That list includes 16 winners of the Grand National. VTC makes the point too that his research highlights the fact that raising the standard of horses by way of ratings, won’t necessarily make much difference to the number of finishers.

Back to the report’s findings . . .

Recurring fall types

It was apparent that there was a recurring type of fall at two particular fences. At Fence 1, where in very recent times there have actually been few Grand National fallers (three in the past five years), those horses that fell had a tendency to overjump the obstacle and crumple on landing some distance further away from where horses would usually be expected to land. The same manner of
landing was not apparent when the runners jumped the fence on the second circuit, as the seventeeth fence of the race.

Reinforcing the possibility of a “first fence jumped” trend is the fact that the 1990 – 2011 Topham races (run on day two of the three-day Grand National Meeting over a distance of 2 miles 5 1/2 furlongs) has produced eighteen fallers at the first in the Topham (i.e. Fence 13 of the Grand National course) out of 112 in total and yet Fence 13 is not at all a higher risk fence when jumped in the Grand National.

Similarly, Fence 1 on the Grand National course – which is jumped as the fifth fence in the Topham – has had no falls or unseated riders whatsoever in the Topham since 1990.

Of further interest to the Review Group when looking at the Topham faller/unseated data is that the Grand National Fence 4 and Becher’s (in particular) again demonstrate faller and unseat percentages that are higher than all but the first in The Topham, i.e. Fence 13 in the Grand National. This is despite the fact that they are jumped as the 8th and 10th Fences respectively in the Topham.

Jockey feedback from the consultation sessions essentially stated that all the Grand National fences looked and rode well, and that very little, if anything, needed to be changed.

When presented by Review Group members with a) the faller statistics for Fences 1, 4 and Becher’s (Fence 6) and b) options for change, the jockeys acknowledged the logic of exploring a possible reduction in the effective drop of these obstacles as they were clearly amongst the fences with the highest faller rates.


Going too fast from the off?

The uniquely long run of 420 yards to the first fence – coupled with its higher than normal percentage of fallers (albeit less in recent years), many of which fell by over-jumping the obstacle – appears to indicate that speed is a risk factor in the early stages of the Grand National.

2000 – 2011 split timings data to each of the first ten fences was compiled for the Review Group with a view to establishing whether there was any clear correlation between the Going, early pace of the race and the number of early fallers/injuries.

However no such clear correlation appears to exist across the relatively small sample size of twelve races.

For instance, the fastest run to the first fence in the data set was 27.44secs in 2000 on Good Going. This resulted in five fallers. Yet the third slowest run to the first (in 2002: 29.00secs, also on Good Going) resulted in eight fallers and one unseated rider. Similarly, the 2000 Grand National was the fastest (of the twelve assessed) to Becher’s Brook and by the time that obstacle had been jumped there had been ten fallers; the 2002 running remained the third slowest to Becher’s but it too had seen ten fallers and two unseats after that fence.

Of the twelve races, the 2011 race holds a middling position of being the fifth slowest to the first and the fifth fastest to Becher’s Brook. In the 2000-2011 period the two renewals (2003 and 2005) with the least fallers/unseats up to and including Becher’s Brook were, respectively, the seventh and fourth fastest to reach the fence. Clear correlations between early speed and the Going and/or fallers are therefore not apparent.

Perhaps the group were seeking too many correlations here and relying heavily on accurate going descriptions for a specific section of the course – the first six fences which, it is worth repeating, have claimed 53% of total race fallers and 28% of total race unseats since 1990.  From a fence-count viewpoint, 20% of the fences here have accounted for a large % of falls/unseats.  On a time basis – duration of the race at standard time – 17.6% of the duration resulted in 53%/28% group of falls/unseats.

Back to the findings . . .

However, the Review Group supports the Aintree Executive’s plan to investigate the introduction of even more irrigation capability along the section of the Grand National course from the Melling Road to Becher’s Brook. The flexibility of being able to apply extra targeted irrigation to soften or slow down the ground, can only be a positive measure.

The Aintree Executive should investigate the feasibility of introducing additional irrigation capability to the section of the Grand National course running from the start along to Becher’s Brook. As long as irrigation is applied judiciously, with a view to providing Going just on the softer side of Good, there is no downside to seeking to implement an even more flexible watering capability along the part of the track where the majority of falls occur.

How would horses react from going from softish ground to good ground after fence 6 and, possibly more importantly, meeting that ground again on circuit 2? Also, were the weather  to take a sudden late turn for the worse, what would the effect be on that section of track?

Sectional timing

Notwithstanding the lack of clear statistical correlation between early speed and number of early fallers, the Review Group is still of the opinion – having reviewed the TV footage of all Grand Nationals from 2000 and listened to participant feedback – that the pace over the initial fences in the race is certainly faster than in any routine long-distance Steeplechase over traditional birch fences.
This pace appeared to be maintained up to and including the jumping of Becher’s Brook (Fence 6).

The Review Group and Aintree Executive concluded that more specific sectional timing research would be helpful in this area to fully understand the effects of early speed on the number of finishers in the race. The Group supports Aintree’s plan to investigate the possible use of speed and positioning technology (i.e. sectional timing equipment carried in the number cloth of every runner) to track the speed of all runners in future. This would improve statistical analysis of the pace of the race so that any correlations can be
drawn from the data.

The race is run just once a year so this seems to me a slightly daft proposal. How long would it take to build reliable data?  Given the furore raised by the last two runnings, we simply do not have time to wait ten years or more.

Currently, the Group can only make a subjective judgement on the basis of a) fairly basic split time data and b) TV footage – that the over-jumping falls at the first fence and high faller rate up to and including Becher’s Brook are due solely to the faster early pace of the Grand National in general when compared to more “routine” staying Steeplechases on other British licensed racecourses.

A blog post by Matt Bisogno featured this observation:

But I think there is a bigger issue that has not yet been adequately addressed, and I have a radical proposal to help address it. The issue is that of speed in the early part of the race. It has long been held that the way to win the Grand National is to be prominent early through a mad gallop, and to cling on late when stamina is running out.

Consider this: Neptune Collonges was last from the start and not prominent until Bechers second time (as the above image shows), so there is no necessity to be close up early.

More importantly, consider this: the first two furlongs of the Listed Further Flight Stakes, a 1m6f flat race, were run in around 27.5 seconds (hand timed) last week.

The approximately two furlong run* from the start of the Grand National to the first fence was completed this year in 26.5 seconds. Last year, it was a slightly more measured 27.6 seconds (all hand timed).

This is patently too fast, and extremely dangerous. And it creates a problem of momentum: once a rider has a horse travelling at that pace, trying to establish a position and a rhythm in the race, that rider must maintain the pace. Or at least feels he must.

*It’s 20 yards short of two furlongs

Matt goes on to suggest moving the start forward by a furlong, therefore reducing the race distance to 4m 3f.  The Review group did consider moving the start . . .

Options for Managing Initial Race Speed

In the meantime, the Review Group still wished to consider whether there were options that could be implemented now to materially reduce the initial speed. These were discussed with the sport’s participants.

The possibility of reducing the run to the existing first fence by bringing forward the start position found no support whatsoever from the jockeys consulted. They believed that to have any effect the start would need to be approximately 110yds from the first fence and this would result in less time for all the runners to find room before the obstacle. They felt that this could have the unintended consequence of increasing the number of incidents at the first fence. Some of the jockeys also felt that the pace would just rise soon after jumping the first if the run to it were reduced. They also pointed out that few runners are ever being vigorously ridden or pushed along “off the bridle” as they approach the first fence.

The majority of trainers consulted believed the start position should remain unchanged. However, there was some support for reducing the distance to the first fence on the basis that this approach was adopted in the Topham Chase from 2005 when the run to the first fence from its then two miles six furlongs start was reduced by half a furlong. There have been four fallers and just one unseated rider at the first fence in the subsequent seven renewals of the Topham Chase from the new start. Albeit it is probably too early to conclude statistically that this improvement is purely due to the new start position.

The trainers also believed that the jockeys had a responsibility to ride the Grand National sensibly at a maintainable gallop and that this should be emphasised at their pre-race briefing.  (Er, I think we know by now folks that this is simply not going to happen and there is plenty of evidence to back that up!)

The members of the Authority’s Course Inspectorate within the Review Group have reservations as to where a substantively shortened start position could be suitably located. Therefore, they did not support a reduced run to the first fence from 2012. Similarly, they do not believe there is real scope to significantly and safely bring forward Fence 1 towards the current start location, due mainly to the position of the Melling Road. Neither of the participant groups had supported that option when consulted.

They didn’t support what seems a very sensible idea because it presents a practical/logistical difficulty?

Sighter fence

The concept of an additional, smaller (but still Aintree-style) fence between the current start position and first fence was also discussed with the participant groups and within the Review Group. This was considered on the basis that it could help to decrease initial speed and then be removed ahead of the runners returning on the second circuit. The idea of a “sighter” fence was not supported, however, with most consultees believing it would simply increase the fundamental level of risk by effectively creating a 31st fence to negotiate, as well as provide less time for the jockeys to find racing room. Course topography also ruled out this option.

Whilst the possibility of bringing the current first fence closer to the current start position (or vice versa) found little support amongst the participant groups and brings with it practical challenges and potentially unintended consequences, both options should remain under close consideration beyond 2012.   The impact of the new changes to Fences 1, 4 and 6 (Becher’s Brook should dictate whether the start/first fence dynamic still needs to be altered in future.

Drop fences

The RSPCA among others, is keen to eliminate drop fences; according to the review group, that means altering almost every fence. Back to the findings . . .

Another unique aspect of the Grand National course fences is that virtually all of the obstacles have a “drop” to some degree when  measuring the height difference between the ground level at the take-off area and the ground level on the (lower) landing side of the obstacle. The professional survey work carried out since this year’s race shows that fourteen of the sixteen fences have an average drop of over four inches, when measured at five metre intervals across the width of the landing area, with the biggest being at Becher’s Brook (thirteen inches).

At Becher’s Brook (i.e. Fence 6 and 22) – the obstacle with the biggest drop on the landing side – the clear reason for most jockeys and horses parting company involved the horse being angled by the rider from a position opposite the middle of the fence towards the inner at take-off and either: • making a mistake and taking a very steep or rotational landing trajectory with the jockey often landing feet first, or; • jumping the fence well but nodding on landing and falling or unseating the jockey whilst sliding to a halt along the
ground.

The Start

At the Review Group’s consultation meeting with the jockeys, they reported that the methodology for starting the Grand National was good and they did not believe there was any need to change it. However, they all agreed that the horses should be on course at the start for as short a time as possible after the official Parade had taken place.

There was no suggestion from any of the participants consulted that the physical size of the start area negatively impacted on fairness or the welfare of the runners. It was noted, however, that the proximity and nature of the grandstands at Aintree contributed to high crowd noise levels as the runners approached the starting tape or if there was any perceived delay. By extension, the position of the start was also considered in relation to whether the initial pace of the race was a contributing factor to falls or injuries.

Loose horses

There is no doubt that loose horses can be a major danger to themselves, other participants or even Emergency Service personnel or spectators at any race meeting. Since 1990, three horses (16% of the total) have died during or very shortly after the Grand National from injuries sustained whilst riderless. Furthermore, it is impossible to plan exactly for what a loose horse might do next.  Consequently, it was important for the Review Group to clearly understand how riderless horses are managed by the Aintree Executive during the Grand National – particularly in the context of such a large footprint of flat land.

The Review Group fully appreciates the difficulties of controlling a unique site like Aintree and trying to catch all the loose horses in a timely manner. Since 2000, on average eighteen horses part company with their jockey during the race. Many will stop immediately and be caught straight away by the jockey, fence attendant, or horse-catcher. However, some do not, and it is important that the Aintree Executive does everything it can in this vital area.

The Aintree Executive informed the Review Group that on Grand National day a team of around 30 local horsemen are allocated sectors of the course, which they patrol to catch loose horses during and after the race.

Limiting the number of runners

It was clear to the Review Group from its analysis of all the TV footage of all the professional races staged on the Grand National course since 2000  that three incidents of multiple fallers/unseats/brought downs/refusals have occurred during the period reviewed:
• Fence 8 (Canal Turn), 2001: Nine horses;
• Fence 1, 2002: Nine horses;
• Fence 6 (Becher’s Brook), 2004: Eight horses
Incidents involving that number of runners are rare at other licensed Jumps racecourses, including Aintree’s Mildmay Course, and could therefore simply be a function of the Grand National fence design. At the same time, injury rates (on the basis of five years of nationwide Jump data) do appear to show an upwards trend as the numbers of runners increase, although this has not been validated by a statistical analysis, probably because of the small sample size.

A number of points suggesting a Safety Factor reduction to between 30-34 were made by the welfare organisations in their feedback to the effect that: • it is logical that if the number of horses exposed to the risk factors of the race is reduced, so too will the number of injuries and the likelihood of loose horses causing incidents; • no other Jumps race has a Safety Factor higher than 30 and yet the
Grand National’s is 33.33% greater than that figure.

The delegations of trainers and jockeys consulted by the Review Group unanimously supported the retention of a Safety Factor of 40. (Turkeys, voting and Christmas are words the review group might have considered on hearing this.)

The Review Group found no recurring trend whatsoever of horses systematically failing to get a clear sight of the fences as they prepared to jump them. Virtually all the fallers reviewed during that period had a clear run to the fence where they fell or unseated their jockey.

Furthermore, the Review Group considered research carried out through its Inspectorate team and established that the average available “width of fence per horse” on the Grand National course was comparable to the averages for all licensed Jumps courses, including the width of fence per horse at other very high profile jumps fixtures.

(NB, from here, my comments are no longer in italics)

So where now for the BHA and for the world’s greatest race?  Pressure from the public/media for a reduction in field size is the change most likely to be resisted by trainers and jockeys. If drop fences are to be altered again, they will need to consider which ones and to what degree they will change them.  The RSPCA seem strongly opposed to these drops and their fairly new Chief Exec, Gavin Grant could well push for the complete elimination of all drops.  Racing should not, I believe, underestimate Mr Grant’s ambition for change.  In a Radio 4 phone-in on April 17th, he said “”Unless the BHA really respond here, and are seen to respond, I think the days of NH racing and the Grand National are numbered”

The Review Group’s suspicion that speed over the first six fences plays a large part in non-completions was not fully reinforced by the 2012 stats (36% of fallers, 16% of unseats) but given that the figures are based on data since 1990, the group will be under pressure now, I believe, to act  ‘on the balance of probabilities’ rather than trying to gather further data by way of technology. With the first 95 seconds of the National accounting for well over 50% of  fallers/URs combined, that part of the race simply must be slowed.  But how?

Well, they might try the selective watering mentioned in the report.  Or they could opt for much more radical solutions like setting speed limits for that section, but how would you enforce any limit?

Maybe a rule could be brought in decreeing that any horse landing over the first in under 33 seconds is disqualified:  touching down over Becher’s in under 1 minute 50 (15 seconds longer than the average), means disqualification. Large digital clocks could be set high above each side of the first six fences . . .

What about replacing the turf on that 420 yard run to the first with a deep all-weather type surface, consistent and resistant to temperature and rain?

Or perhaps running  a lead vehicle on the inside track just after Melling Rd, travelling at a pre-agreed speed with the jockeys instructed not to pass, under penalty of disqualification, till after Becher’s? This is very practical from a logistics viewpoint: the old Grand Prix track at Aintree is still in excellent condition. Its back straight runs close enough to that line of fences for jockeys be to be able to see it easily, without it being a distraction.  In practise, I think the vehicle would need to pull a long trailer – with a large board/sign at the rear (good branding opportunity for the sponsors!)

What would you do? (Please leave your ideas in the Comments section below. Perhaps Aintree will pay a nice fat fee to anyone coming up with the answer!)

The full Review Group report is here

Is radical change the only answer for the long-term survival of the Grand National?

In the last 6 Grand Nationals, including today’s, 6 horses have died. Graphic Approach died some time after being injured in the 2007 race and I have not counted him.

In the same period, 5 horses died in The Topham and 1 in The Foxhunters. Six horses also died over hurdles at Aintree in the same period and two horses died in NH flat races (4 died over fences on The Mildmay course).

I could have carried on and dissected the stats by runner, by comparison to other courses etc., but in the end what will matter is how racing explains itself to the public on days like these and, crucially, how it keeps the welfare organisations on its side. I’ve long thought that the RSPCA’s support for NH racing is a short-head away from being untenable. The whip controversy did substantial damage to racing’s relationship with the RSPCA and I think today’s fatalities will see the boardroom door at RSPCA HQ finally slammed on the Grand National and, sooner rather than later, on NH racing itself.

I suspect there might well be some table-banging going on at the next Heineken board meeting too (they own the John Smith’s brand). And what about Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR)? They hold a prime hand of UK racecourses – Aintree included. JCR put all their profits back into racing but they run a tightly-focused organisation acutely tuned to the commercial impact of their decisions.  They’ll have little doubt that turnstile income won’t be affected by fatalities, but the change to CH4, the sensitivity of sponsors and the vulnerability of their brand to Animal Rights groups will need to be taken into consideration.

“They either take to them or they don’t”

So what is it about the race that causes carnage? Speed, say many professionals, and the temptation to go faster has been heightened by the changes intended to make the fences easier, the elimination of drops and shaving of heights.

Speed contributes, but I think the fences are the main problem.  Steeplechasers spend 99% of their careers jumping park fences (the standard black birch barriers you find everywhere except Aintree and at Cross Country courses).  Did you see Synchronised today when AP let him have a look at the first fence before cantering back to the start? Something spooked him there – it might have been the crowds or a camera or something, but it could have been the fence itself.

Why do some horses run well time and again at Aintree (Always Waining anyone?), while many pull up,  fall or refuse? Could it be simple unfamiliarity or fear?

The Grand National fences are built on a foundation of solid wooden stakes dressed with tons of spruce.  They’re dauntingly big and wide with an unusual colour, from a horse’s viewpoint. Racehorses like routine. Most don’t relish being asked  to face something they’ve never previously encountered.  Some, a rare few, find the experience refreshing and galvanising; others see it as an ordeal.

The performance of horses over Cross Country courses – Cheltenham’s being the only UK example – back up this theory. The same horses do well on these unusual tracks time and time again.

“Lessons will be learned”

Aintree and Racing plc cannot simply keep pleading this argument after each Grand National. Two horses died last year: ‘improvements’ were made: two horses died this year.

What will result from the review of this year’s race?

My opinion is that the only long-term solution will be to strip away the spruce, burn the wooden stakes and build standard steeplechase fences of regular height. A £1m prize will ensure the quality of the race and size of the field is not diluted, The extreme distance will still make it a unique test.  The public will not be discouraged from betting on it, horses will no longer be taken by surprise and more of them will survive the race.

The nostalgia branded on my heart will mourn the passing of these fences (I had the honour of writing the words inscribed on Red Rum’s gravestone and of being present, alongside Ginger at his burial), but I’d sooner see these fences consigned to history than lose the race itself.