TRAINERS TALK ABOUT JOHN SMITH’S GRAND NATIONAL HOPES
Welsh trainer Peter Bowen is hoping to have three runners in Saturday’s £700,000 John Smith’s Grand National - Ballycassidy, McKelvey and Dunbrody Millar.
The last-named is currently 46th in the weights and therefore needs six to drop out to get a run in the big race at Aintree.
Betfair, the official betting partner of the John Smith’s Grand National meeting, offers 74-1 about Ballycassidy, with McKelvey at 24-1 and Dunbrody Millar on 319-1.
Bowen, aiming to provide the first Welsh-trained winner since Kirkland in 1905, said today: “Ballycassidy ran very well last year and was a bit unlucky to come down [at the 25th fence - Valentine’s second time round] and you do need luck in the John Smith’s Grand National.
“To be honest, though, he hasn't been in quite the same form this year and of course he's an 11-year-old now so that might count against him. He won’t have a problem with the going. At the moment, we don't have a jockey confirmed.
“McKelvey stays very well and jumps great. He took very well to the Grand National fences when we ran him in the totesport.com Becher Chase (sixth to Eurotrek) at Aintree in November and, after that, we laid him out for the race.
“He's had just one spin since over hurdles at Bangor last month, which he won. The ground will suit him perfectly. Tom O'Brien takes the ride.
“There's a few to come out before Dunbrody Millar gets in but, if he does, we know the course brings out the best in him. He ran a very good race in the John Smith’s Topham Chase last year when he was fourth. The ground will prove no problem and if he does get in Seamus Durack will take the ride.”
Trainer David Pipe, based on the Somerset/Devon border, today confirmed that he will run both Celtic Son and Puntal in John Smith’s Grand National.
The trainer, who is having his first runners in the great race, said: “Puntal ran well last year [sixth] and he does rise to the big occasion. The ground won’t bother him at all and the better ground will also suit Celtic Son who is a bit of an in-and-out performer and there has to be a question mark about his stamina too.
“Tom Scudamore rides Puntal and Timmy Murphy is on Celtic Son. I really haven’t had a chance to think about the race yet. The runners are not well fancied and I guess I would be feeling a bit different if they were.”
Puntal is on offer at 239-1 with Betfair, while Celtic Son is priced at 369-1.
Alan King is likely to be double-handed with Kandjar D'Allier and Tikram in Saturday's John Smith's Grand National at Aintree.
The former, who was trading at 119-1 on Betfair today, was well beaten on his last start in the Red Square Vodka Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Haydock in February but won the Sodexho Prestige Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase at the same venue in December by half a length from Wild Cane Ridge.
The trainer said today: “Kandjar D'Allier will run in the John Smith's Grand National and Tikram is pretty certain as well, although he is also in Friday's betfair.com Handicap Chase and I have got to talk to the owners, but the intention is that both will run in the National.”
King believes that the heavy ground was to blame for Kandjar D'Allier's poor run last time out.
“It was awful sticky holding ground last time at Haydock and he never got into the race,” he explained. “He's had a good break and is in good form. It was pretty good ground on his best-ever run when third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2005 and I am not overly worried about the surface.”
Tikram, a 219-1 chance with Betfair, won the Racing Post Plate at the Cheltenham Festival in 2004 when based with Gary Moore, but was a disappointing 12th in the same race last month.
King added: “The ground will be fine for Tikram and a lot will depend upon whether he takes to Aintree or not. He ran no race at Cheltenham where he did not want to play, although he has all the ability in the world.”
The trainer did not want to speculate about which of his representatives holds the greater chance.
He laughed: “I wouldn't really wish to be drawn - it will depend which one takes to Aintree better as both have got plenty of ability.”
Irish trainer Charles Byrnes believes that Cloudy Bays has “an outside chance” in Saturday's John Smith's Grand National.
The 10-year-old was last seen in action when falling at the fifth obstacle in the Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and on Tuesday morning was trading on Betfair at 439-1 for the world’s premier steeplechase.
Byrnes, who has trained for 15 years at Ballynoe in Co. Limerick and has a team of 35 horses, nearly all of which are jumpers, said: “Cloudy Bays is fine after Cheltenham and we schooled him last week over what we call National type fences and he jumped well.”
The handler is unconcerned about the current good ground, despite the fact that seven of Cloudy Bays’ nine career successes have come when the going description has been soft or had heavy in it, although he is not sure whether his charge will stay the four and a half miles.
“Good ground will be OK,” he opined. “I don't know about the trip though - he is a funny type of horse and is a bit quirky and it's difficult to know his trip. I'm hoping for the best.”
Byrnes has already won two major prizes this season with Cailin Alainn and would love to maintain the fine record of Irish-trained horses in the John Smith’s Grand National in recent years.
He added: “It's pot luck but my fellow has an outside chance on Saturday and Davy Russell will ride him.”
Gallant Approach, a 229-1 chance with Betfair, will run on Saturday if the going remains at good.
Trainer Charles Egerton said about the eight-year-old: “He's a maturing horse, a stayer with the speed too when he needs it. He won well at Newbury in November and then I may have bought him out a bit soon when he finished only third at Haydock behind Kandjar D'Allier in the Tommy Whittle Chase. The ground was bad that day, so it could have been the going that beat him.
“The plan was always to go to Aintree, so we gave him a rest then. When he came back at Cheltenham, he ran a decent race behind Joes Edge and was there untill three out. Good ground at Aintree would be fine, but we wouldn't want to run him on anything quicker.”
The ground is still Good (watering to maintain). The going stick readings are as follows - 7.5 on the Grand National course, 7.8 on the Mildmay course and 7.9 on the Hurdle course.
Andrew Tulloch. Aintree’s clerk of the course, said this afternoon: “I am very pleased with the condition of the Grand National, Mildmay and Hurdle courses.
“We have been watering to maintain the good ground and will continue to do so. We can water after racing on Thursday and Friday if we want to. Whether we will need to depends on the weather.
“We have not used the inside of the Grand National course since last year’s John Smith’s Grand National because the horses ran on the outside at the Becher meeting. There is also ground on the Hurdle course which has not been raced on for a year.”
“There is a terrific cover of grass on all courses because we have not had a meeting since November.”
The revised order of horses in the handicap is
42 Joes Edge
43 Le Duc
44 Risk Accessor
46 Dunbrody Millar
47 Joueur d’Estruval
48 Lou Du Moulin Mas
50 Sybellius d’Artax
51 Ivoire De Beaulieu
52 Marble Garden
53 Parsons Legacy
55 Iron Man