Willie Mullins will be four-handed in Saturday's John Smith's Grand National at Aintree, having decided to run Homer Wells after all.
Mullins, who will also be represented by 2005 winner Hedgehunter, plus Livingstonebramble and Bothar Na, did a U-Turn on Homer Wells, following discussions with owner Violet O'Leary, who used to own top-class chaser Florida Pearl.
“They tell me Aintree are watering well, so we have decided to let Homer Wells have a go,” said Mullins. “He won his bumper on good ground, so I don't think the going will be a problem.”
Announcing his jockey plans for the big race, Mullins, confirming that Ruby Walsh would again partner Hedgehunter, said that David Condon would ride Homer Wells, who won the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse, with Davy Russell aboard Livingstonebramble and David Casey on Bothar Na.
Mouse Morris said this evening that Fota Island, declared for Friday’s John Smith’s Melling Chase, will not run because the horse is lame.
TREVOR HEMMING’S RACING MANAGER HAPPY WITH GROUND
HEDGEHUNTER TRAVELS TOMORROW
Horses Arriving At Aintree
Michael Meagher, racing manager to owner Trevor Hemmings, who is due to have 16 runners during the three-day John Smith’s Grand National meeting, described the ground as “good and safe” after walking the course yesterday evening (Tuesday, April 10) with Aintree’s clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch.
Meagher said: “It’s good ground and exactly as described - they’ve done a great job with the watering and it’s good, safe ground.”
Armaturk is one of four horses that Hemmings has entered in the John Smith’s Grand National, together with Hedgehunter, Billyvoddan and Idle Talk, but will take up an alternative engagement on Friday.
“Armaturk will run in the John Smith’s Topham Chase,” revealed Meagher. “There is no news on the three in the John Smith’s Grand National and no news is good news.
“As the ground stands, it will be perfect for Hedgehunter. Last year we felt the rain on Friday and the weight caught him out.
“Billyvoddan will be fine on the ground. Idle Talk is the one of the three who would prefer a bit more cut, but he should be OK.
“It will be the same ground on Saturday as they will keep watering, but it’s safe ground and I can’t see horses getting injured on it.”
The going is Good (watering to maintain). There will be a ground update later today.
HEDGEHUNTER TRAVELS TOMORROW
Hedgehunter, winner of the John Smith’s Grand National in 2005 and runner-up to Numbersixvalverde 12 months ago, will leave his Carlow stable tomorrow morning (Thursday) in readiness for another attempt under top-weight in the big race at Aintree on Saturday.
Trainer Willie Mullins, who will also be represented by Livingstonebramble and Bothar Na, reported his stable-star A1 as he prepared for his trip across the Irish Sea.
Mullins said: “Hedgehunter is in good form, and I could not be more pleased with him.
“He did his final piece of work last weekend and we were all very happy with him, so it is all systems go with fingers and toes crossed that we get the rub of the green.”
Hedgehunter has not raced over fences since last year’s brave effort under the same weight, but Mullins gave him two runs over hurdles and was satisfied how he came out of his prep-race at Limerick earlier this month.
He added: “The trip was too short and the conditions of the race would not have suited us, but it was imperative that we got another run into him before Aintree so it was a case of mission accomplished.
“We get a 9lb pull with Numbersixvalverde, and the drying ground will also be in our favour. Last year Ruby (Walsh) felt that the wet going just anchored us, and obviously it is easier to carry weight when the ground is not so testing.”
David Casey and Davy Condon will ride Mullins’s other two runners, but the trainer won’t decide until later today who partners which.
Mullins said:”The trip is the worry with Livingstonebramble, but he got three miles in the heavy well enough when runner-up to Homer Wells at Gowran Park, and his pedigree suggests that the extra distance won’t be a problem.
“Bothar Na has not run since he pulled up in the Hennessy at Newbury in November, but he had earlier won at Tralee and Listowel and deserves to take his chance.”
Horses Arriving At Aintree
Aintree Racecourse’s stable manager Derek Thompson, celebrating his 40th year at Aintree, expects Numbersixvalverde, winner of the John Smith’s Grand National 12 months ago, to be one of the first big-race runners to arrive later today (Wednesday, April 11, 2007).
Thompson, whose first National was in 1968 when Red Alligator won, has seen a host of changes over the last four decades, but he stressed that the one thing that has remained consistent is the enthusiasm of the boys in green.
“Look around you and listen to the voices - everyone in here is Irish,” said Thompson as he polished off his cooked breakfast in the stable staff canteen this morning.
“Dun Doire is also due to arrive later today, while the remainder of the Irish will either be here tonight or around 3 o’clock tomorrow morning”, he added.
Thompson has reserved Red Rum’s old box for Donald McCain junior’s fancied runner Idle Talk.
He added: “Ginger always made sure that Rummy had the same box and Amberleigh House was also housed there, so with Donald anxious not to upset superstition we have kept it free for Idle Talk.
“So many of the trainers - and jockeys too - are real friends of mine, so I have divided loyalties as to who I would like to win, but, ironically, I do have a strong feeling about Idle Talk. He has the form and I think it could be another fairytale for the McCains, which would climax a fantastic first season for Donald.”
However, Thompson admits that the one result which would please him more than any would be victory for Nicky Henderson’s Liberthine.
He explained: “Nicky is an old mate, and I was saying to him the other day that neither of us are getting any younger and that it was high time that he cracked the race.
“I will never forget Zongalero finishing second for him in 1979, and The Tsarevich was also second in 1987, while he was third with Classified two years earlier.
“Nicky has been the king around Cheltenham for so many years, but he has never had much luck at Aintree. Maybe, this will be his year.”
Some of the season’s best horses will grace Aintree when the John Smith’s Grand National meeting opens tomorrow, Thursday, April 12.
With an emphasis on elite performers, five will go to post for the £150,000 Grade Two Betfair Bowl Chase (2.35pm), headed by Exotic Dancer, a three-time winner this season and the third-highest rated chaser in Britain. The Jonjo O’Neill-trained seven-year-old was second to Kauto Star in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on his latest start.
Turpin Green, who was third in that race, two and a half lengths behind Exotic Dancer, is also in tomorrow’s line-up, as are State Of Play and My Will, who finished sixth and 12th in the Cheltenham race.
My Will was a first-fence faller in the Betfair Bowl last year, and State Of Play was a runaway winner of the betfair.com Handicap Chase the following day, and has since won the prestigious Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury.
Completing the field tomorrow is Our Vic, who was second in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and filled the same spot at that course behind Exotic Dancer in the Letheby & Christopher Chase in January.
Tomorrow’s opening event, the £70,000 Grade 2 John Smith’s Liverpool Hurdle (2pm) over three miles and half a furlong, has attracted six top quality runners who all took part in last month’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. They include the first three, headed by Inglis Drever, the dual winner of that race.
Mighty Man and Blazing Bailey, who were second and third to Inglis Drever, have another crack at the champion, as do Lough Derg and Fire Dragon who were ninth and 11th. The sixth member of the field is no less a horse than Black Jack Ketchum, a faller in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, but a winner of eight successive races to the turn of the year and a fascinating contender for tomorrow’s contest.
Another highlight of the opening card is the Grade One £130,000 John Smith’s Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle (3.10pm) in which the season’s top juvenile hurdler Katchit takes on 11 opponents.
The Alan King-trained Katchit is bidding for a five-timer, having romped home in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. Horses beaten in that race but prepared to take on the winner again are Mobaasher (third), Punjabi (fourth), Lightning Strike (ninth) and Degas Art (12th), while Francois Doumen is sending Grand Bleu from France. Grand Bleu is unbeaten in two outings, having beaten a big field at Fontainebleau in December before scoring at nearby Haydock Park in February.
Liberate, who was second in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, avoids a rematch and runs instead in the Citroen C4 Picasso Mersey Novices’ Hurdle (4.55pm), but his stablemate, Tritonix, will take on Katchit and has Tony McCoy’s assistance in the saddle.
A preview of the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase, the one race over the Grand National fences tomorrow, will be sent later.
Venetia Williams, the trainer of The Outlier (Paul O’Neill) and Sonevafushi (Mr Tom Greenall), confirmed today both will run.
She said: “They’re both in good order and I don't think the ground will be that significant for either of them. Neither has run over the distance and, when you are going four and a half miles, I think good going could well help them.”
POINT BARROW IN GOOD FORM
PHILSON RUN CONFIRMED
Preview Of The John Smith’s Fox Hunters’
PREVIEW OF THE JOHN SMITH’S MELLING CHASE
Pat Hughes, who trains Point Barrow, the ante-post second favourite with Betfair for Saturday's John Smith's Grand National, confessed that he will be disappointed if his stable star does not finish in the money at Aintree.
Hughes, who will be having his first runner in the race, is bullish about the prospects of last year’s Irish National winner completing the double, declaring: “If Point Barrow can avoid trouble, I definitely think he will be in the first four.”
Point Barrow had a run over hurdles at Navan three weeks ago, and Hughes stressed that he could not be happier with his condition.
He added: “He bruised a foot after he won the Pierse Chase at Leopardstown in January, but he was back in work on February 12 and, though he then knocked the same foot which caused him to miss his intended race at Down Royal on St Patrick's Day, we have had a clear run with him since he ran over hurdles at Navan last time, so there are no excuses there.”
Point Barrow has form on testing ground, but the going was almost good when he won his Irish National and Hughes has no worries on that score.
He added: “By all accounts, Aintree have done a great job with the watering and will continue to turn on the taps during racing, and the ground is likely to be better than it was in last year's Irish National and certainly better than it was at Fairyhouse this week.
“Point Barrow is a horse who travels so well that ground is not a problem. He stays and I have no qualms about his jumping, so all we need is luck in running.”
Trainer Nick Williams confirmed that Philson Run will take his chance in Saturday’s John Smith’s Grand National.
He said: “When Philson Run won the 2005 Midlands Grand National the going was good to soft and my absolutely perfect going for the race would be the same.
“The plan was always to get him to Aintree fit and keen, so he's only had the one race at Haydock this term.
“I was a bit disappointed with that run, but he was there until he made a mistake. He may have been a bit tired. I suppose I see Joe's Edge as having a good chance. He's really the only one who's shown improved form since the weights came out. But I'm positive. I'm going there to win.”
The ground remains Good (watering to maintain). All the Grand National course was watered again today. Watering will continue during the meeting on all courses.
Betfair, the official betting partner of the John Smith’s Grand National meeting, bet on Saturday’s John Smith’s Grand National as follows: 9.5-1 Joe's Edge, 10-1 Point Barrow, 15-1 Hedgehunter, 15.5-1 Numbersixvalverde, 17.5-1 Idle Talk, 18.5-1 Dun Doire, 21-1 Simon, 21-1 McKelvey, 21-1 Billyvoddan, 22-1 L'Ami, 22-1 Eurotrek, 24-1 Bothar Na, 27-1 Bewleys Berry, 28-1 Monkerhostin, 28-1 Longshanks, 39-1 Slim Pickings, 43-1 Clan Royal, 45-1 Royal Auclair, 49-1 Liberthine, 49-1 Jack High, 49-1 Kelami, 49-1 Silver Birch, 74-1 Zabenz, 79-1 Ballycassidy, 84-1 Kandjar D'Allier, 99-1 Philson Run, 109-1 Thisthatandtother, 119-1 Le Duc, 139-1 Naunton Brook, 139-1 Puntal, 139-1 Gallant Approach, 159-1 Graphic Approach, 179-1 Homer Wells, 209-1 Tikram, 239-1 The Outlier, 249-1 Celtic Son, 259-1 Undeniable, 319-1 Risk Accessor, 389-1 Dunbrody Millar, 419-1 Parsons Legacy, 659-1 Bar.
PREVIEW OF TOMORROW’S JOHN SMITH'S FOX HUNTERS’ CHASE
Drombeag, winner of the Christie's Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month, bids to complete hunt racing's big double by winning the Aintree version tomorrow.
The nine-year-old is one of 27 horses declared for the £35,000 John Smith's Fox Hunters' Chase (3.45), for amateur riders over two miles and five furlongs on the Grand National course.
Double Silk, in 1993, was the last horse to win both races in the same season, although Elegant Lord won at Cheltenham in 1996 and at Aintree three years later, while Cavalero won at Aintree in 1998 and Cheltenham two years later.
Drombeag, who is owned by J P McManus, trained by Jonjo O'Neill and ridden by Mr J T McNamara, tomorrow faces two rivals that took him on at Cheltenham - third-placed Ned Kelly and Arctic Times who finished sixth, although the latter has since won an open race at Ballynoe point-to-point in Ireland.
Drombeag (fell) and Arctic Times (10th) both ran in the John Smith's Fox Hunters' Chase last year, while other horses having another crack are Beachcomber Bay (third) and Moving Earth (9th).
David Loder, the former trainer who was closely associated with Sheikh Mohammed, has an interest in this year's race as the owner of Pak Jack. The seven-year-old was bought by Loder for 58,000 guineas at Doncaster Sales last year, and, having had one run in a Ludlow hunter chase for trainer Jon Trice-Rolph, has since switched yards to join Dorset-based Richard Barber.
Tom Greenall, son of Aintree chairman Lord Daresbury, rides Le Passing for trainer Paul Nicholls, while Richard Burton, the three-time national point-to-point champion rider, partners Scots Grey for trainer Nicky Henderson. Burton won on the 12-year-old at Newbury recently.
Brothers Luke and Ran Morgan, from Lockerbie in Dumfriesshire, will be looking after number one when the tapes go up. Luke rides the Tom George-trained Eskimo Jack - the horse is owned by his mother, Yda Morgan - while Ran partners Gangsters R Us for trainer Andrew Parker.
Gangsters R Us is owned by a syndicate known as the Ant Hill Mob, which is headed by Lee & Myles McNulty from Newcastle.
The brothers won the Racing Post's Tote ten-to-follow jumps competition two years ago and began planning a dip into racehorse ownership - Gangsters R Us is their first venture, and he won a hunter chase at Sedgefield on his debut in their colours last month.
Tim Edwards, son of former trainer John, rides his own horse Van Ness for Gloucestershire trainer Katie Baimbridge.
PREVIEW OF FRIDAY’S GRADE ONE JOHN SMITH’S MELLING CHASE
Hi Cloy and Fota Island, first and second in the £200,000 John Smith's Melling Chase 12 months ago, will be back at Aintree on Friday bidding for the same race.
The pair face an uphill battle, however, for a high-quality field has been declared for the Grade One contest. Other rivals include the 2006 Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Newmill, high-class Well Chief, and the recent Ryanair Chase winner Taranis.
Hi Cloy, who is trained in Ireland by Michael Hourigan, finished sixth in the Ryanair, but better ground will be in his favour and, despite not winning for 12 months, he has run well in defeat on a number of occasions. Davy Russell has been declared to ride.
Fota Island has also been out of luck lately, but he was only three quarters of a length behind Hi Cloy in last year's race - more recently he was fifth in Ascot's Grade One Commercial First Chase, won by Monet's Garden, who is also a contender on Friday.
Three of the field met in the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on their latest outings. Newmill, who was bidding to win the race for a second year, finished fourth, while Well Chief and Oneway both fell.
Well Chief started the even-money favourite for the race, having hacked up in the totepool Game Spirit Chase on his seasonal debut in February - that was his first run for 22 months following a tendon injury.
Taranis, who represents the formidable combination of trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Ruby Walsh, put in an exaggerated leap at the final fence when winning the Ryanair Chase. That sealed his victory, and he will be hard to beat if in the same form, but Monet's Garden, who finished fourth just over four lengths in arrears, is now 5lb better off.
The Nicky Richards-trained Monet's Garden is high-class at his best, and the easy journey down the M6 from his stables near Penrith will be to his advantage - he has not been suited by longer journeys which meant staying overnight at racecourse yards.
Completing the field for the John Smith's Melling Chase are Crozan, who was leading the Ryanair field until falling four from home, and Cerium, who won a Grade Two chase at Ascot in November.