Jockey Paul Moloney is one of the unsung heroes of the Grand National with a remarkable record of having been placed in the race for the last six seasons. It is a record that he shares with the owners, Angela and William Rucker.
Their unique Aintree story started in 2009 when State Of Play finished fourth behind 100-1 winner Mon Mome. State Of Play had shown his class when winning the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in 2006 and the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in 2008.
Trainer Evan Williams set about training the son of Hernando for the Grand National every season after that run. In fact, three of his four subsequent races were in the National. In 2010 he finished third to Don’t Push It and the following year he was fourth to Ballabriggs.
When he made his final appearance at Aintree in 2012, Moloney reluctantly passed him over in favour of his better-fancied stable companion Cappa Bleu. Noel Fehily took over on State Of Play but was unseated at the fifth fence while Cappa Bleu was hampered at the seventh but recovered to finish fourth.
The sequence was extended to five the following season when Cappa Bleu ran on well to finish runner-up to Auroras Encore. Unfortunately the horse was injured in the build-up to last year’s race and the responsibility was passed on to Alvarado, trained by Fergal O’Brien. The chestnut had won at Cheltenham in 2013 but had managed just one race in preparation for Aintree, pulling up behind Mendip Express on New Year’s Day. Starting at odds of 33-1, he ran on into fourth place behind Pineau de Re.
While Moloney seems to be able to routinely jump around the National course, he did confess to a change of plan last year after a false start. Alvarado had gone off at a rate of knots and it was all Moloney could do to prevent him from jumping the first. He hastily changed tactics to drop him in and believes that is why he was able to snatch fourth place last year.
O’Brien has followed a similar path to Aintree this year with Alvarado finishing fifth at Doncaster in February. He has been kept ticking over at his Gloucestershire stable and is a well-backed 20-1 shot for this year’s race.
Despite his fine record, Moloney has never really looked like winning the National. With the exception of State Of Play who was still in contention at the last in 2009, all of his rides have been running on for a place. If Alvarado does the same this year, he will be greeted as if he has just won the race.
Champion jockey Tony McCoy has virtually committed himself to riding Shutthefrontdoor in his last ever Grand National.
The horse has been the subject of a nationwide gamble ever since McCoy announced that he would be retiring at the end of this season. McCoy also raised the prospect of hanging up his riding boots immediately if Shutthefrontdoor passes the post in front on April 11th.
There had been speculation that Cheltenham festival scorer Cause Of Causes, also owned by JP McManus, could be a surprise switch for McCoy but that now seems highly unlikely. McCoy would only ride that horse if something happened to the favourite between now and Aintree.
Shutthefrontdoor is generally available at 8-1, although some firms are now quoting as low as 6-1 about the eight-year-old. The son of Accordion has not run since winning by eight lengths at Carlisle in November but he has been trained specifically for the National by Jonjo O’Neill.
He ended his first season over fences by winning the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in the hands of Barry Geraghty. He was racing off an official rating of 142 that day, receiving 4lbs from Cause Of Causes who finished back in twelfth place. He is set to concede 7lbs to Gordon Elliott’s runner in the National and is now 11lbs higher in the ratings.
Although Shutthefrontdoor won three times over hurdles and was fourth at the Cheltenham festival, his future always looked to be over fences. He made a winning debut over the Mildmay fences at Aintree in October 2013 but was beaten twice in the run up to Cheltenham. O’Neill trained him for the four-mile National Hunt Chase but he made some crucial mistakes late in the race and had to settle for sixth place behind Midnight Prayer.
Geraghty kept him closer to the pace at Fairyhouse and his jumping was much better, responding gamely to pressure to beat Golden Wonder by three-quarters of a length in a driving finish. Despite his lengthy absence from the track, Shutthefrontdoor impressed McCoy over eight fences at Southwell last week when schooled with stable companion Merry King.
McCoy has ruled out riding at the Punchestown Festival and has indicated that Sandown’s closing fixture of the National Hunt season is likely to be his swansong. They have named the valuable Celebration Chase in his honour this year so it seems an appropriate way to finish his remarkable career. Only a fairy-tale winning ride in the Grand National would persuade McCoy to retire during Aintree.
Hennessy Gold Cup winner Many Clouds is set to take his chance in the Grand National on April 11th.
The gelding’s participation had been in doubt since he finished a disappointing sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but Trainer Oliver Sherwood has confirmed that he will start at Aintree. The son of Cloudings will attempt to give owner Trevor Hemmings a third Grand National victory following Hedgehunter (2005) and Ballabriggs (2011).
Last year’s winning rider Leighton Aspell will partner Many Clouds with Daryl Jacob taking over on Pineau De Re for Dr Richard Newland. Jacob rode Pineau De Re in a hurdle race earlier this season and won the National aboard Neptune Collonges for Paul Nicholls in 2012.
Many Clouds was regarded by many as a live Gold Cup contender after his victory over Smad Place in a Grade 2 Chase at Cheltenham in January. He was conceding 8lbs to the runner-up that day and had Dynaste and The Giant Bolster in third and fourth place. The softened ground at Prestbury Park ought to have suited Many Clouds in the Gold Cup but he lost his position with three to jump before staying on into a moderate sixth behind Coneygree.
He is set to race off a mark of 160 at Aintree, 9lbs higher than when successful at Newbury in November. His Hennessy victims included Monbeg Dude (4th), Unioniste (6th) and Rocky Creek (pulled up). Hemmings has always believed that it is possible to run in both the Gold Cup and the National in the same season and the recent work of Many Clouds has persuaded connections to let him take his chance. Hennessy winners have a poor record in the Grand National, although Suny Bay (1997), Whats Up Boys (2001) and State Of Play (2006) all went on to be placed at Aintree.
Newland moved quickly to secure the services of Jacob, once it became clear that Aspell would not be available. Pineau De Re was having his first start of the season when Jacob rode him at Cheltenham in November. He beat only one home that day and was pulled up next time at Carlisle. There were signs of encouragement at Exeter next time and his most recent run at the Cheltenham festival delighted connections. He held a good position until fading to finish eleventh of 23 in the Pertemps Hurdle Final.
When he returns to Aintree, it will be the first time that he has jumped a fence in public since his moment of glory a year ago. It is an increasingly popular method for preparing a horse for the National, successfully employed by Jonjo O’Neill with Don’t Push It. He was pulled up in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham in 2010 before winning the National. The following season he finished tenth in the same race at the festival and third at Aintree.
Thirteen horses were taken out at the latest declaration stage for the 2015 Grand National at Aintree on April 11th.
There were no major surprises with Carlingford Lough, Alderwood, Shotgun Paddy, Boston Bob and Prince De Beauchene the most high profile absentees. 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere still tops the weights for Jim Culloty but the trainer will be looking for a new jockey, should the gelding take his chance.
Davy Russell revealed last week that Culloty had informed him that he would no longer be asked to ride Lord Windermere after his disappointing run in this year’s Cheltenham showpiece. The gelding trailed the field before being pulled up before the second last. Connections initially blamed the softer ground for his poor showing. Russell would not have been able to partner Lord Windermere in any case, having broken his arm in a terrible fall at Gowran Park last weekend. He is likely to be out for several weeks.
Another jockey set to miss the National through injury is Barry Geraghty who suffered a hairline fracture to his left tibia in a fall at Downpatrick. He had been in line to partner either Hadrian’s Approach for Nicky Henderson or the strongly-fancied The Druids Nephew for Neil Mulholland. Gigginstown House Stud’s retained jockey Bryan Cooper also misses Aintree due to a suspension incurred at Cheltenham.
Rolling Aces was the only one of seven Paul Nicholls-trained horses to be withdrawn with the Ditcheat trainer in the process of finalising riding arrangements. Sam Twiston-Davies will ride Rocky Creek, Noel Fehily will be aboard Unioniste and Nick Scholfield will partner Sam Winner. Ryan Mahon has been booked for the ride on recent Newbury winner Rebel Rebellion with Sean Bowen needing one more chase winner before he can partner Mon Parrain. Benvolio completes the Nicholls sextet and no jockey has yet been confirmed for the Welsh National runner-up.
With a maximum field of 40, those requiring further withdrawals include Fergal O’Brien’s Alvarado who was fourth last year for Mr and Mrs William Rucker. His gallant run extended a remarkable sequence of placed horses in the race for his owners. State Of Play and Cappa Bleu had kept the colours in the frame for the previous five years. The chestnut has only raced once this season when finishing fifth at Doncaster in February but O’Brien is happy with his progress. His last run prior to last year’s National was when pulling up at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Irish trainer Mouse Morris saddled Lastofthebrownies to finish fourth behind Little Polveir in the Grand National way back in 1989. The following year he finished fifth behind Mr Frisk and the trainer has never really had a leading contender since.
Morris will forever be associated with the likes of Buck House, Cahervillahow, Trapper John and 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition. The latter was owned by Gigginstown House Stud and missed the National through injury but the trainer is hopeful of a bold run from the classy First Lieutenant in the same colours next month.
The ten-year-old has won seven of his 31 races but Morris is convinced that he is saving a bit for himself as he gets older. He ran him over hurdles at Thurles earlier this month where he jumped big in the lead before fading into third place. He raced without his usual cheek pieces that day but they will be restored at Aintree. Jockey plans are yet to be finalised but three of his regular pilots are already ruled out of the meeting. Davy Russell and Barry Geraghty are injured while Bryan Cooper is suspended.
First Lieutenant was a top class novice hurdler and won the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival in 2011 by a short-head from Rock On Ruby. While the runner-up went on to win a Champion Hurdle, First Lieutenant’s future lay over fences. The following year he was back at the festival to chase home Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase.
He finished third behind the same horse in the Hennessy Gold Cup the following season but missed the Gold Cup in favour of the shorter Ryanair Chase. He again had to settle for second place, this time finding Cue Card much too good. He won the Grade 1 Aintree Bowl in 2013 but that was his last victory.
He ran in the same race last year but finished only fourth behind Silviniaco Conti. Morris tried him in blinkers at Punchestown where he was beaten by Boston Bob but the headgear was abandoned after a lack-lustre display at Down Royal in November.
First Lieutenant was rated as high as 170 at the peak of his powers but races off 154 in the National. He has won on all types of ground but would probably want good ground if he is to stay the marathon trip. Paddy Power are currently offering a top price of 50-1 about the son of Presenting winning on April 11th.
When Neptune Collonges won the photo-finish for the 2012 Grand National, the grey fulfilled a life-long ambition for trainer Paul Nicholls. He was the 53rd horse from the Ditcheat stable to run in the race and the winning margin of a nose was the shortest in National history.
Nicholls is optimistic that it won’t be his only Grand National triumph and he could have several live chances this season, led by Rocky Creek. The nine-year-old had an interrupted preparation last year but gained valuable experience in finishing fifth behind Pineau De Re.
Rocky Creek began this season by chasing home subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup third Road To Riches at Down Royal in a Grade 1 contest. He was fancied to improve on last season’s second in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November but ran disappointingly and was pulled up. He was given a break and brought back for the Grade 3 BetBright Chase at Kempton in February where he readily beat Le Reve by six lengths.
There has been plenty of interest in Unioniste in the ante-post market since the grey won impressively at Sandown in January. He landed a big gamble when beating Bertie Boru by ten lengths and Nicholls has aimed him at Aintree ever since. He performed with credit when third to Gold Cup winner Coneygree at Newbury last month, staying on well in the closing stages. He races in the same colours as Neptune Collonges but may need soft ground to show his best form.
Sam Winner is another high-class chaser but he needs to bounce back from a disappointing run in the Gold Cup. He was entitled to run well there after finishing third in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase over Christmas but was eventually pulled up by Sam Twiston-Davies.
Ten-year-old Rebel Rebellion earned a quote of 33-1 for the National with a game success at Newbury last weekend. Nicholls had originally intended running the gelding in the Topham Chase but is now leaning towards a National bid after he beat Pepite Rose by a length. Jack Sherwood was in the saddle at Newbury but Ryan Mahon is likely to take the ride at Aintree.
Nicholls also has Rolling Aces, Mon Parrain and Benvolio still entered in the Grand National. Rolling Aces was placed three times at Aintree last year including finishing fourth over the National fences in the Grand Sefton in December.
Trainer Peter Bowen expressed himself delighted with the prep run of Scottish National winner Al Co after he was third at Bangor-on-Dee last weekend.
The ten-year-old gelding is on course for the Aintree Grand National next month where he is set to carry 10st 8lb. Al Co stunned punters when winning the Scottish National at odds of 40-1 last April, holding off 2013 winner Godsmejudge by a length and a half. Jamie Moore gave the son of Dom Alco a brilliant ride and narrowly avoided being unseated when the horse swerved approaching the finishing line.
Bowen had been very hopeful of a big run despite his huge starting price, advising everyone to back him each-way. Ayr had been the target all season for the fast ground loving horse and attentions were immediately turned to Aintree this year.
Bowen is no stranger to preparing a horse for Aintree having trained Always Waining to a remarkable hat-trick of victories in the Topham Chase. The gelding became the first horse in history to win the race three times when successful in 2012, a fourth win in the race for Bowen after Dunbrody Millar in 2007. Always Waining returned to Aintree the following year for the Grand National but faded in the closing stages to finish tenth. He was retired in good health to his owner’s retreat in the Midlands.
Al Co did not feature on his final two starts last year but both were on softer ground. He contested the Becher Chase in December to familiarise himself with the Aintree fences but was pulled up before the last. He did not reappear until late February when finishing third in a handicap hurdle behind subsequent Cheltenham winner Call The Cops. Last week’s third to Binge Drinker was just to add the finishing touches to his preparation.
Alan King’s Godsmejudge trailed in at the back of the field but remains a 20-1 shot for the Grand National. He was a late withdrawal from the race last year and was re-routed to Ayr where he narrowly failed to repeat his 2013 victory. He had shown signs of a return to form when fifth behind Rocky Creek at Kempton in February but King was disappointed with his lack-lustre display at Bangor. He plans to run a few tests on the horse before making a decision about his Aintree participation.
The Druids Nephew emerged as a leading candidate for next month’s Aintree Grand National with an impressive victory at the Cheltenham festival. The last horse to win the Festival Handicap Chase and the Grand National in the same year was Seagram in 1991, although Rough Quest (1995) won the race and was successful at Aintree the following season.
Trainer Neil Mulholland had aimed the eight-year-old gelding at the Cheltenham race all season and the plan worked out beautifully as Barry Geraghty steered the horse to a three and three-quarter length victory. It was a fourth win in eighteen starts for the son of King’s Theatre who was winning off his highest ever handicap mark of 146. He was cut to 14-1 from 33-1 for the Grand National immediately after the race.
Mulholland is enjoying his best season to date with fifteen winners already on the board and The Druids Nephew supplied him with his first festival success. His biggest previous win came with Midnight Chase in the Grade 2 Argento Chase in 2012 who went on to finish seventh in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Druids Nephew began his racing career with Andy Turnell and finished sixth to the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2012. He was sent chasing the following season and won at Wincanton after being narrowly beaten by the useful Hadrian’s Approach at Ascot. He won at Huntingdon in October last year under Tony McCoy before finishing a fine second to Sam Winner in a Grade 3 at Cheltenham in November.
He was fancied for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury but faded in the closing stages when seventh behind Many Clouds. Mulholland still felt that the horse was on a winning handicap mark and a plan was hatched for the Cheltenham, having a prep race over hurdles in January. The Festival Chase form could be tested in the Irish National on April 6th with Cheltenham second and third, Grand Jesture and Gallant Oscar, both set to line up.
One horse that will not be starting at Aintree is Gold Cup disappointment Carlingford Lough. John Kiely’s gelding was only ninth at the festival under Tony McCoy and will not be asked to carry top weight in the Grand National. Connections have not ruled out a run in the Punchestown Gold Cup where he could clash with Djakadam and Road To Riches. Carlingford Lough races in the colours of JP McManus who still has the favourite Shutthefrontdoor and National Hunt Chase winner Cause Of Causes on target for Liverpool.
Trainer Gordon Elliot, successful in the Grand National with Silver Birch in 2007, looks to have another leading chance with Cheltenham winner Cause Of Causes.
The seven-year-old gelding provided leading Irish owner JP McManus with a winner on his 64th birthday when winning the National Hunt Chase under Jamie Codd. The son of Dynaformer was tucked in behind the leaders all the way before being driven ahead on the run-in. He held off the late flourish of Katie Walsh aboard Broadway Buffalo to win by a length and a half and earn a 20-1 quote for Aintree.
Codd was later fined £400 and suspended for ten days for using his whip above the permitted level and marking the horse. Cause Of Causes was a smart performer over hurdles, winning the valuable Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot in 2012. It has taken him a long time to get off the mark over fences but he was not winning out of turn.
Last year he finished runner-up in three of the most competitive handicap chases of the season. After just failing to catch Sraid Padraig at Fairyhouse, he was beaten a short-head by Rockaboya in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown. Tony McCoy was in the saddle that day and not even his famous power-packed finish could get him past a determined Ruby Walsh.
Nina Carberry then took over for the Kim Muir at last year’s Cheltenham festival and a last flight blunder cost valuable ground in chasing home Spring Heeled. Cause Of Causes was probably feeling the effects of a long season when only twelfth behind Shutthefrontdoor in the Irish National in April.
National Hunt Chase runner-up Broadway Buffalo also ran a fine trial for Aintree but looks unlikely to get a run in the big race. He is currently down at 65 in the entries for David Pipe who trained Comply Or Die to win in 2008. Pipe and Codd teamed up to win the Kim Muir last week with the 12-year-old The Package, a veteran of two previous Grand Nationals.
The son of Kayf Tara was in mid-division when unseating Graham Lee in Don’t Push It’s National in 2010 and finished twelfth last year behind Pineau De Re. He disappointed when pulled up in the Becher Chase in December but Pipe was confident that he was back to his best for the festival and told Codd that he would win before the race. He also has little chance of making the National field this year as he is currently only number 68 of the remaining 98 entries.
Bookmakers have been hit by well-fancied runners in two of this week’s big handicap hurdles and Tony Martin’s Quick Jack could deliver another blow in Friday’s County Hurdle.
Aux Ptit Soins landed a gamble for the Paul Nicholls stable in Wednesday’s Coral Cup while Call The Cops was very popular in the Pertemps Final after a recent victory at Doncaster. Both horses attracted plenty of ante-post support and returned at 9-1.
Many punters have been holding fire on Quick Jack who was entered for several races this week. He first hit the headlines when landing a huge gamble at Cheltenham in November 2013. Ruby Walsh was on board the son of 2000 Guineas winner Footstepsinthesand as he swept clear to win off a handicap mark of 113.
Tony Martin considered running him in a number of big races that season but felt that the handicapper had been harsh in giving him a rating of 136. The gelding was beaten off a mark of 119 in Ireland when third to Gilgamboa at Leopardstown. Cheltenham was ruled out that season and he did not reappear until winning comfortably on the flat at Galway in July last year.
That set him up nicely for a tilt at the Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket where he again attracted heavy support. Sent off the 5-1 favourite, Richard Hughes took him to the front with a furlong to travel but he could not quite hold off Big Easy and De Rigueur. This will be his first race since but there is still a suspicion that he is better than his current handicap mark suggests.
Joining him in the field is Dr Richard Newland’s Ebony Express who is chasing a £100,000 bonus after winning the Imperial Cup at Sandown last Saturday. The six-year-old put up a brave performance to pull off a 33-1 shock when beating Rayvin Black and Gassin Golf in a thrilling finish. He picks up a 5lbs penalty for that victory as he goes in pursuit of an elusive bonus last paid out in 2007.
On that occasion it was David Pipe’s Gaspara who followed up victory in the Imperial Cup by taking the Fred Winter Hurdle. Pipe’s father, Martin, trained the winner of the bonus twice with Olympian (1993) and Blowing Wind (1998). Dr Newland will have taken great encouragement from the run of Grand National winner Pineau De Re who finished eleventh in the Pertemps Final and now heads to Aintree for a second time.
Champion jockey Tony McCoy rode a brilliant race to make all the running on Uxizandre and win Thursday’s Grade 1 Ryanair Chase. The 16-1 winner was wearing a visor for the first time after a couple of disappointing efforts and was certainly lit up by the new headgear. He jumped superbly to hold off Ma Filleule and the favourite Don Cossack.
The victory was greeted with as much enthusiasm as an odds-on favourite as McCoy saluted the crowd in the winner’s enclosure. It ended a long wait for McCoy’s first winner of the week but he is hoping that it won’t be his last.
He is optimistic of a good ride on Hargam in the opening Triumph Hurdle on Friday for Nicky Henderson, the training have earlier broken his festival duck for the week with Call The Cops in the Pertemps Final. Hargam was impressive when winning at Musselburgh last month and is one of three strongly-fancied runners for the Lambourn trainer in the race.
McCoy then partners Princely Conn for Thomas Mullins in the competitive County Hurdle. The six-year-old has been running consistently in Ireland and was a close second at Leopardstown last month. Fletchers Flyer looks up against it in a top quality renewal of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle but he could have each-way claims on his Wincanton victory over Aqalim in January. The runner-up ran well when finishing fifth on Thursday’s card.
There will be plenty of sentimental support for McCoy’s Gold Cup mount, Carlingford Lough. He booked his place in the field when winning the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown under a typically strong McCoy ride. The gelding did not jump well here last year in the RSA Chase but plenty of punters will put their faith in the champion jockey in his last Gold Cup.
McCoy had a choice of mounts in the finale but has decided to partner last year’s runner-up Ned Buntline for Noel Meade. The son of Refuse To Bend has only raced twice since, most recently finishing down the field in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown.
Ned Buntline has already been the subject of strong support this week and bookmakers will be bracing themselves for a big pay-out if McCoy can deliver the perfect end to the festival meeting. Uxizandre was McCoy’s 31st winner at the Cheltenham festival but it may not necessarily have been his last.
It has already been a great week for Trainer Willie Mullins with an opening day four-timer, a 1-2-3 in the Champion Hurdle and Don Poli’s impressive RSA Chase victory. The County Carlow handler will be looking to add to his tally in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, the penultimate race at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The race was introduced in 2009 and Mullins has already won it twice with Sir Des Champs and Don Poli. He has several entries again this year with Roi Des Francs the clear favourite after winning well at Clonmel last month.
The six-year-old son of Poliglote was beaten by Drumacoo on his hurdling debut at Punchestown in October but made amends at Thurles next time. He races in the familiar colours of Gigginstown House Stud, as did his previous two winners of the two and a half mile contest.
He could be joined in the race by McKinley, a son of Kheleyf out of a Montjeu mare. He sprang a 33-1 shock when winning a Grade 1 hurdle at Naas in January and does not look harshly treated off a mark of 136. He was no match for stable companion Nichols Canyon in the Deloitte Hurdle at Leopardstown last month but has been the subject of each-way support at long odds.
David Pipe would dearly love to win the race named in honour of his father, Martin. He still had eleven entries ahead of the final declaration stage and will be hoping that some of them make the cut. Vieux Lion Rouge was heavily backed in this race last year but faded badly over the closing hurdles to finish in the rear.
He has not raced since Haydock in November while Balgarry, a beaten favourite in the Coral Cup in 2012, needs several to come out above him. The same applies to Dr Richard Newland’s Imperial Cup winner Ebony Express despite a 5lbs penalty.
Paul Nicholls landed one major handicap on Wednesday when Aux Ptit Soins won the Coral Cup. There has plenty of support for the stable’s Le Mercurey here, another French import with very little form in this country.
The son of Nickname was a remote seventh at Newbury on his debut for his new yard but improved to finish third to Baradari in a Grade 2 handicap at Ascot in January. He seemed to hit a flat spot three out that day before running on again at the finish. Sean Bowen has been booked to ride on Friday with the race due off at 4.40.