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Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 1°C
Morgan Treacy/INPHO Longhouse Poet wins at Gowran Park.
# Grand Ambitions
Longhouse Poet is the one to back today in the National
Longhouse Poet is only eight and has raced just six times over fences but proved in the Thyestes Chase that he was well able for the rough and tumble of a big-field handicap.

WELL, IT IS GOING to be different to last year anyway.

The 2022 Randox Grand National will not be anything like the 2021 renewal. The people will be there for starters, lots of them, having fun and making noise, so that the enclosures will be buzzing and the grandstands will not be rattling empty. And when history is made, there will be thousands of witnesses this time. 

It won’t be the same history as last year though, that’s for sure. You can’t make the same history twice. Rachael Blackmore can’t win it for the first time again. She could win it for the second time though, and that would also be historic, albeit in a different way. 

History is against Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times this year again. Said history tells you that Tiger Roll is the only horse since Red Rum in 1973 and 1974 to win back-to-back renewals of the Grand National.

And when Tiger Roll went back to Aintree in 2019 and won it again, 12 months after he had won it for the first time, he was just 9lb higher in the handicap than he had been a year earlier.

Minella Times will race today off a handicap rating that is 15lb higher than last year’s, and that makes it difficult.

davy-russell-on-count-simon-and-niall-philip-madden-on-minella-times Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Minella Times at Punchestown. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

But when did precedent ever limit Rachael Blackmore? Minella Times won relatively easily last year. Henry de Bromhead’s horse left the impression that he had more in hand over his rivals than the six-and-a-half length winning margin.

He hasn’t been in great form this season so far, but he has run just twice since last year, and you know that his trainer will have started with today and worked back, tailored the training regime of JP McManus’ horse so that he would be brought to his peak on Grand National day.

And we know how good Henry de Bromhead is at getting his horses to peak on the big day. Last month, he became the first trainer since Vincent O’Brien in 1949 and 1950 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle in two consecutive years. It will be fascinating to see how Minella Times goes. 

It will also be fascinating to see how Any Second Now goes. Owned, like Minella Times, by JP McManus, the Ted Walsh-trained gelding didn’t have much luck last year, he was badly hampered when Double Shuffle fell in front of him at the 12th fence.

He did well to get back into the race after that, and to stay on as well as he did for Mark Walsh to take third place. 

He is 7lb higher in the handicap than he was last year, but he goes into the race in tremendous form. He stayed on well to get the better of Escaria Ten and win the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last time and, like Henry de Bromhead, Ted Walsh also knows what is required to win a Grand National, having sent out Papillon to win it in 2000. 

The Irish challenge is strong again this year, which is not surprising, given that Irish-trained horses have won four of the last five renewals. More than that, Irish horses filled six of the first eight places in the Grand National in 2016 and in 2018, four of the first five places in 2019 and, remarkably, 10 of the first 11 places last year.

Gordon Elliott fields seven, headed up by Delta Work, the mount of Jack Kennedy. The Gigginstown House Stud horse is a top-class staying chaser, an Irish Gold Cup winner, a quintuple Grade 1 winner, and he was very good at Cheltenham last time in battling on to get the better of his stable companion Tiger Roll in the Cross-Country Chase, the pair of them well clear of their rivals.

gordon-elliot-celebrates-with-winner-delta-work Dan Sheridan / INPHO Gordon Elliot celebrates with Delta Work. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

He gets to race off a handicap rating of 160 on Saturday, 11lb lower than his peak rating, and it is significant that Gordon Elliott’s three previous Grand National winners, Silver Birch once and Tiger Roll twice, all warmed up for Aintree in the Cross-Country Chase at Cheltenham.

Run Wild Fred, who will be partnered by dual Grand National winning-rider Davy Russell, won the Troytown Chase earlier in the season and finished second in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last month, while Escaria Ten is a lightly-raced eight-year-old who has the potential to be better than the handicap rating of 152 off which he will race.

And Mount Ida could out-run big odds over this marathon distance if she can jump a little straighter than she did at Cheltenham, which she may well do in her first-time cheekpieces. It’s a strong challenge from Gordon Elliott, who is bidding to become the first trainer since Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain, and only the fourth trainer in history, to win the Grand National four times. 

Two other Irish-trained horses worth a special mention at this point.  Firstly, Enjoy D’Allen, who progressed through last season for Ciaran Murphy, and who rounded off his campaign by running a big race to finish third in the Irish Grand National in April at a big price. 

He has continued his progression this season, he finished third again in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown in December, and he is a young staying chaser who could progress again.

conor-orr-chloe-lyons-and-ciaran-murphy-after-winning-with-enjoy-dallen Caroline Norris / INPHO Enjoy D'Allen won at Thurles. Caroline Norris / INPHO / INPHO

And secondly, Longhouse Poet.    

A classy novice hurdler, Martin Brassil’s horse progressed nicely last season over fences, staying on well to beat Run Wild Fred and The Big Dog to win his beginners’ chase over an extended three miles at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve.

Off the track for almost a year after that, he stayed on well to win the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January on his second run this season. He was beaten in the Boyne Hurdle last time, but that was his first run over hurdles in almost two years, in a Grade 2 contest, so you can easily allow him that.

It is probable that Martin Brassil has had the Grand National in mind for him for a while, and it is significant that the trainer won the National in 2006 with Numbersixvalverde, who was also a Thyestes Chase winner.

Longhouse Poet is only eight and he has raced just six times over fences in his life, but he proved in the Thyestes Chase that was well able for the rough and tumble of a big-field handicap, and he still has the potential to progress again.

Sean and Bernardine Mulryan’s horse has a touch of class, he beat Monkfish in winning his only bumper and he finished third in two Grade 1 novice hurdles, and he stays well.

He has raced just twice over a distance in excess of three miles, and he has won on both occasions, putting up the two best performances of his life in the process.

There is every chance that he will stay the extreme distance of the Grand National, he may even improve for it and, in Darragh O’Keeffe, he has a highly talented young rider who sits third in the Irish jockeys’ championship. He looks over-priced at around 16/1. 

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The British challenge is obviously headed up by current favourite Snow Leopardess, and she would be some story. No mare has won the Grand National since Nickel Coin won it in 1951, and she is grey. Neptune Collonges is the only grey to win the race since Nicolaus Silver in 1961.  On top of all of that, she has already had a foal – now that would be historic!

Charlie Longsdon’s mare has a real chance too, she won the Becher Chase over the Grand National fences in December, and she warmed up nicely for the National by winning a listed mares’ chase at Exeter in February. The worry is that all her best runs have been on soft ground but, if she handles the ground okay, she could run a big race. Given her back story and her striking colour – you could easily spot her through the gloom in the Becher Chase – it wouldn’t be surprising if she were to be sent off at a relatively short price.

After weeks of uncertainty, Eclair Surf has sneaked into the race, number 39 of 40. Emma Lavelle’s horse was an impressive winner of the Classic Chase over three miles and five furlongs at Warwick in January, and he proved his aptitude for extreme distances when he finished second behind Win My Wings in the Eider Chase at Newcastle in February over almost four and a quarter miles. 

That form was enhanced when Win My Wings spreadeagled her field at Ayr last Saturday in winning the Scottish National. She is now rated 22lb higher than she was when she won the Eider, whereas Eclair Surf gets to compete on Saturday off his Eider handicap rating of 143. He could be a really well-handicapped horse.

Fiddlerontheroof is a classy staying chaser, he finished second behind Monkfish in the Brown Advisory Chase at Cheltenham last season, and he finished second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November, while Two For Gold has been in really good form this season, winning his first two races and running Fakir D’Oudairies close in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase last time.

Kim Bailey’s horse has never been over an extreme distance, but he stays three miles well, and he jumped the big fences fairly well in the Topham Chase last year before he unseated his rider after jumping the Canal Turn. And he is a well handicapped horse, he gets to race off a handicap rating of 154, 5lb lower than his new rating.

It’s an intriguing race, it always is. History tells you that.

Grand National forecast:

1.     Longhouse Poet

2.     Delta Work

3.     Eclair Surf

4.     Any Second Now

5.     Enjoy D’Allen

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