Review of the jumps season 2009/10
With the new winter jumps season about to get under way in a few weeks I will take a look back at some of the performances that caught my eye last season.
Paul Nicholls was again champion trainer and his stable stars will appear later in this review. For now I will concentrate on some of the other trainers that figured prominently last season. Nicky Henderson started under something of a cloud after being banned from making entries for 3 months but the gloom soon lifted and he enjoyed a tremendous season. With Barry Geraghty and AP McCoy riding most of his better horses he maintained a steady flow of winners throughout the campaign.
Nicky Henderson always has an excellent strike rate in bumpers and he had a strong team of bumper winners to go to war with over hurdles. Oscar Whisky, Bellvano, Quantitativeeasing and Candy Creek all came into this category with the latter having been purchased from Ireland after winning the listed mare’s bumper at Aintree. Between the quartet they won 9 races over hurdles during the season. The best performance though was by Oscar Whisky in defeat when he finished 4th in the Supreme Novices at Cheltenham in March. The stable were double handed in the Coral Cup at the Festival with Quantitativeeasing, who finished 5th and Spirit River who was a convincing winner under Barry Geraghty. Spirit River had been purchased from France after winning at Auteil and had already notched a comfortable win at Cheltenham in a handicap before Christmas before missing out in the Totesport Trophy at Newbury when a bad blunder 3 out when travelling well had cost him any chance.
Riverside Theatre, owned by actor Jimmy Nesbitt, was another fancied runner at Cheltenham for the Seven Barrows yard. A smart novice hurdler the previous season she made a winning debut over fences at Newbury before landing the Wayward Lad Novice Chase at Kempton. She then went for the Arkle where she ran a most bizarre race. She was last 2 out but suddenly got going and finished like a train in 5th. The giant Mad Max has always been held in high regard by connections. He was a winner of both his bumpers and his first two starts over hurdles but chasing was always going to be his game and he made a winning start over the larger obstacles at Kempton. At Cheltenham he finished one place in front of stable companion Riverside Theatre but his finest hour came at Aintree’s Grand National meeting. In the Grade 2 chase there he turned the tables on the Arkle runner up Somersby with a bold display of jumping.
One horse from the Henderson stable that I enjoyed following during the season was Carole’s Legacy, a half sister to Mad Max, who won 4 of her 6 starts and was runner up in the other two. She won 3 of her 4 races over fences but reverted to hurdles to chase home the brilliant Irish mare Quevega in the David Nicholson mare’s race at Cheltenham. She ended her season on a winning note when taking a handicap hurdle at Ayr. Andytown had been a 25/1 winner for the stable at the 2009 Festival and I kept him on my list to follow. He eventually came up trumps after struggling in a couple of races and came back to form with a bang to win a handicap hurdle at Ayr.
Philip Hobbs is consistently near the top of the trainer’s table each year and he once again sent out plenty of winners from his Somerset base. Snap Tie has always been a classy individual. I remember his UK debut when he finished second to imperial Commander in a bumper. After a couple of seasons over hurdles where he was not very far behind the best he started his chasing career with a win at Cheltenham in October but then injury sidelined him for the remainder of the campaign. Wishfull Thinking has always been well regarded by the Hobbs camp. He ran up a hat trick of hurdles wins and was fancied for the Coral Cup but he took a crashing fall when in contention.
I tend to remember my winning tips, perhaps because there are not so many of them! The Philip Hobbs trained Clova Island had been running consistently and was certainly not winning out of term when I tipped him at Kempton in February – a nice 6/1 winner! He went on to finish a very creditable 3rd in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys handicap hurdle at Cheltenham.
Philip Hobbs did enjoy Cheltenham success however with both Copper Bleu and Menorah. The former had finished 4th in the 2008 Supreme Novices and won the Jewson under a peach of a ride by Richard Johnson. Menorah had won a 19 runner bumper at Naas in eye-catching style before joining the Hobbs yard from Willie Mullins. He won 2 of his 4 starts over hurdles leading up to Cheltenham but on the last of these he had disappointed slightly when a beaten 1/2 favourite at Ascot. Probably as a result of that reversal he was allowed to go off at 12/1 for the Supreme Novices which he won, again aided by a fine tactical ride from Johnson who got a good jump out of him at the last and made the most of a truncated run in.
Alan King had high hopes for Bakbenscher and Bensalem. The former had been a leading bumper horse and won 2 of his 4 starts in 2008/9. He was again campaigned quite lightly winning twice from 5 attempts, a beginner’s chase at Wincanton and a novice chase at Lingfield. Bensalem had a few problems with his jumping but was arguably a bit unlucky when falling 2 out in the William Hill Trophy when moving nicely. He ended the season back over hurdles finishing runner up in a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival behind Quevega.
In Manyriverstocross and Mille Chief, both recruits from the flat King looked to have a couple capable of playing their part in the top novice events. Manyriverstocross finished the flat season running second to Nanton in the Mallard Stakes at Doncaster and quickly got off the mark over hurdles at Chepstow. After a defeat at Ascot he returned to winning ways in a Grade 2 at Sandown but things didn’t really go right for him after that. He ran well in the Totesport Trophy, finishing 3rd and was hampered in the Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle at the Festival and in the circumstances did well to finish 7th. Mille Chief was brought down on his UK debut at Market Rasen but went on to win his next two starts at Kempton and Huntingdon. He was a strong fancy for the Triumph Hurdle but sustained an injury and missed the rest of the season.
Medermit and Karabak were the stables main hopes for the Champion Hurdle and World Hurdle respectively. Neither quite reached those heights despite putting up some creditable efforts. Medermit had finished 3rd at Cheltenham in both the Greatwood and the Boylesports International and after then beating Punjabi in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock he was fancied by some for the big one. In the event he could only finish 4th.
Karabak had been runner up in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at the 2009 Festival and advertised his World Hurdle claims when runner up to Zaynar in the Coral Ascot Hurdle in November. He was then second to Big Bucks in Newbury’s Long Walk Hurdle before finishing 4th in the World Hurdle itself. In truth though it was a quiet season for the yard.
Donald McCain is certainly a trainer going places and his team gets stronger each year. I had his novice hurdler Cool Mission on my list to follow but managed to miss him when he won at Doncaster at 22/1! He has won twice since and looks the type to go over fences.
Novice chaser Ernst Blofeld enjoyed a consistent season with the only real blot a heavy fall at Cheltenham at the end of January. He notched up wins at Uttoxeter and Carlisle and was runner up on his other two completed starts.
The stable star though was Peddler’s Cross. A winning pointer in Ireland he went from strength to strength during the season winning all his 5 races. He was a comfortable winner of a bumper at Haydock before landing novice hurdles at Bangor and Haydock . He then went to Cheltenham for the Neptune Investment Grade 1 Hurdle where he got the better of the talented Reve de Sivola on the run in. He completed his season with a win at the Aintree Festival in April. Reve de Sivola had an excellent season for trainer Nick Williams, winning the Persian War Novices Hurdle at Chepstow as well as the Challow at Newbury before his excellent run at Cheltenham. He then went to Punchestown where he won their Champion Novice Hurdle beating Fionnegas.
I pencilled in 3 horses trained by Robert and Sally Alner as worth following during the season and they certainly didn’t let me down. Aegean Dawn is a big strapping individual who will come into his own over fences in time; he made quite an impression when winning a Kempton bumper by a wide margin last season. He carried on where he left off over hurdles at the Folkestone scoring by two and a quarter lengths but injury then curtailed his season He is an exciting prospect for years to come when jumping the larger obstacles.
The progressive Master Medic won a listed handicap chase at Ascot while Vodka Brook took a while to get his jumping sorted out but came good in the spring winning novice chases at Taunton and Exeter in March.
Another runner from the Alner yard, Miss Mitch was a little unlucky not to register a win during the season. A consistent mare that stays and jumps well she was far from disgraced when runner up to Our Vic at Warwick in December. She also finished second in a handicap at Ascot in January, a race she had won in 2009, finishing with a wet sail but just failing to catch The Sawyer who won by a neck.
As well as the big guns of the training ranks some of the smaller yards had notable successes. Northern trainer Bill Amos produced his stable star Lie Forrit to win twice in November in decent handicaps at Cheltenham and Newbury while another from the north, James Ewart did well with his handicap chaser SA Suffit winning at Haydock, Wetherby and Kelso. Rose Dobbin, wife of former jockey Tony Dobbin had her first winner as a trainer courtesy of Mirage Dore in a beginners chase at Market Rasen in January. I followed a handicap chaser of Mark Bradstock’s but needed to be patient as his first 4 runs were none too promising. He came good at the 5th attempt however making all in a novice handicap chase at Exeter at 11/2.
As the season got under way, for many the ante post banker was Big Bucks to retain his World Hurdle crown. It was difficult to see what might prevent Paul Nicholls’ star after his clear cut win in the race in 2009 and the general feeling was that Big Bucks could go on to dominate the staying hurdlers division for some years to come. He began his campaign in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury which he won in a canter and he extended his unbeaten run over hurdles in the UK to 6 when winning the Long Walk Hurdle again at Newbury.
He went straight to the Festival where he never gave his backers a moments anxiety winning pretty much as he pleased with only the gallant Time for Rupert making any sort of a race of it. Big Bucks then went to Aintree where he was a comfortable winner of the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle.
Sona Sasta and Tara Taylor both went into my notebook at the start of the season as handicappers to follow and somehow I linked the pair together as the season progressed. Perhaps it was the alliterative names or the fact that they both showed little sign of repaying my faith in them for some while. My patience paid off eventually though as they both won handicap hurdles at Ffos las, Sona Sasta at 8/1 and Tara Taylor at 15/2. The David Pipe trained Sono Sasta went on to win again this time at Huntingdon at 11/4.
Two other horses that I linked together for no obvious reason were the Paul Nicholls pair of Alfie Sherrin and Qozak. A points and bumper winner Alfie Sherrin was made favourite for a handicap hurdle at Newbury in mid February and powered home at odds of 5/2. On the strength of that win he was made favourite for the Pertemps Final at the Festival but was well beaten in 12th. Qozak followed a similar pattern. He bolted up in a handicap at Taunton and was made 15/8 favourite for a big handicap at Ascot but was beaten in 6th in a race won by the evergreen Mamlook from the David Pipe stable.
I had an early season winning tip thanks to Nampour in a handicap hurdle at the Aintree meeting in October where the Philip Hobbs trained 4 year old made full use of conditional jockey Giles Hawkins’ 10 lbs claim.
Sue Smith is always a trainer worth following in handicap chases and Garleton won races at Hexham and Kelso for her before the handicapper caught up with him. Emma Lavelle had some notable success in handicap hurdles. Easter Legend won a mare’s handicap at Ascot in November and ran well all season finishing 5th at the Festival in the David Nicholson. Emma did have a notable success at the Cheltenham Festival when Pause and Clause won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap at odds of 14/1.
Nicky Henderson’s Tasheba had a strange season, running a couple of cracking races interspersed with a few lesser efforts. His only win came in a listed handicap at Sandown where he defied top weight to win at 8/1. Later in the season he ran 2nd in the race won by Mamlook at Ascot. Pause and Clause was 5th.
One of the most impressive handicap hurdle winners of the season was Micheal Flips who turned the usually competitive Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton into something of a rout. He went on to finish 4th in the Coral Cup behind Spirit River and looks a nice chasing prospect.
I want to look at the handicap chasers next and a quintet that I followed during the course of the season. Silver By Nature, trained by Lucinda Russell got off the mark when winning a valuable handicap at Carlisle in testing ground drawing clear of the opposition to win by 9 lengths. Next he went to Chepstow for the Welsh National where once again the ground was heavy. He ran an absolute cracker finishing 2nd to Dream Alliance, in fact he may well have won but for a stumble at the last as he was making ground hand over fist up the run in. After a break of a couple of months he was back on the winning trail taking the Blue Square Gold Cup at Haydock over 3 and a half miles beating Our Vic. Once again the ground was heavy which seems to suit him well.
Kalahari King only missed out by a whisker in the 2009 Arkle and went on to win the Magull Chase at the Aintree Festival. He then pulled some muscles in his back at Sandown and his seasonal reappearance was delayed until early February when he lined up for the Blue Square Handicap at Doncaster. Considering his long absence from the track and the fact that he carried top weight he put in an excellent performance to win at 10/1. He went on to contest Grade 1 events at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals without winning with a 3rd in the Champion Chase his best effort. He may well need further than 2 miles now.
I was rather pleased with my assessment of the Scottish National. I decided to go for Gone to Lunch who had finished second the previous year and went into the race 8 lbs lighter despite having finished 5th in the Hennessy. In the event he was runner up again to the dour stayer Merigo. I am still claiming some credit there as well though as I had given Merigo the following write up, “Merigo stays well as he showed when winning the Eider Chase last season and is on a reasonable mark. He has won twice before at Ayr and although most of his form is on soft ground he has won on good.”
Chief Dan George is trained by James Moffatt up at Cartmel, a very able but unfashionable handler. As he is not one of the established training super stars his horses often start at generous odds and Chief Dan George started at 20/1 when winning the Sefton Novices at Aintree in 2007, beating future Festival stars Wichita Lineman and Imperial Commander. He opened his account for the 2009/10 season by winning a veterans chase at Doncaster, not a bad race of its type with the likes of Tamarinbleu and Trabolgan in the line up. There was even better to follow though as he then headed for Cheltenham and the William Hill Trophy where he rallied gamely to hold off the challenge of the well backed favourite The Package from the David Pipe yard. The starting price? 33/1.
Another big priced winner at Cheltenham in March was David Pipe’s Great Endeavour. He had finished 3rd behind Lie Forrit at Cheltenham in November and then won a small race at Towcester on his chase debut. Disappointing efforts followed though at Fontwell and Lingfield and he was allowed to start at 18/1 for the Byrne Group Plate at the Festival. Given a fine ride by his talented claimer Danny Cook, he worked his way to the front as the race took shape and was firmly on top passing the post.
Denman and Kauto Star
The great rivalry between the two Paul Nicholls chasers was stoked up by the media all year. Denman put himself firmly back in the Gold Cup picture with a spectacular display in the Hennessy carrying 11 stone 12 to victory just as he had done in 2007. A week earlier Kauto Star had prevailed in an epic duel with Imperial Commander to win the Lancashire Chase by the stubbiest of noses.
Kauto’s next appearance was at the King Georg e on Boxing Day. Kauto Star equalled Desert Orchid’s record by winning a fourth King George with another magnificent display. Paul Nicholls’ nine year old toyed with the opposition and never came off the bridle to win by 36 lengths. It was an imperious display.
Denman headed for the AON Chase at Newbury in February a track where he had never tasted defeat. With Ruby Walsh out of action champion jockey AP McCoy took the ride and the dual Hennessy winner went off at 1/6, not surprisingly as he was miles ahead of his rivals on official ratings. Things did not go according to plan however and he was not far ahead of handicapper Niche Market when he made a serious mistake 4 out before going straight through the next and unseating the champ. Paul Nicholls still won the race as Niche Market was collared close home by Tricky Trickster. Once more the Gold Cup balance of power had shifted in favour of Kauto Star.
In the lead up to the Gold Cup the media went to town on the Kauto Star/Denman rivalry. You could buy scarves in the colours of the two contestants and the whole thing was hyped up in the way that a way that is normally associated with a top clash on the football field.
The question would it be Kauto or would it be Denman seemed to exclude the possibility of any other horse getting his nose in front but as things so often do, the “match” never really materialised. Kauto Star has always been prone to the odd serious blunder at a fence, although in the main he had saved these up until jumping the last and he had always managed to stay on his feet and see it out to the winning post. This time though he made his mistake 4 out and suffered a crashing fall. Denman was left to lead the Paul Nicholls challenge but although he battled bravely as ever he could not repel the challenge of Imperial Commander who ran out a worthy winner. With the great benefit of hindsight perhaps we all got sucked into the Kauto Star v Denman thing. Imperial Commander had every right to give Kauto Star a race as he had come as close as you can get to beating that rival at Haydock without actually winning. And Cheltenham is very much Imperial Commander’s track. This was his 10th appearance there and his 6th win.
Imperial Commander reappeared at Aintree where he unseated in the Totesport Bowl after never really jumping well. Denman went to Punchestown for the Guinness Gold Cup but finished 4th on a track and on ground that was never likely to suit him.
The defeat of Denman in the Aon was not the only upset in a major race. When the season began Master Minded was most people’s idea of the Champion Chase winner. He had been awesome when winning in 2008 and had retained his crown in 2009, albeit in a style more workmanlike than brilliant. He began his campaign in a new race, the Connaught Chase at Cheltenham in November and started as a warm 4/7 favourite. Tending to hang right the champion was not himself and was beaten into 3rd place with victory going to the fragile Well Chief who in earlier years had mixed it with Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop.
Master Minded gave his supporters more encouragement in his next run where he accounted for 3 rivals easily enough in the Game Spirit at Newbury and he went into the Champion Chase a 4/5 favourite. Master Minded looked a shade of his former self in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and looked beaten halfway down the back straight. The race went the way of Big Zeb who finally got his act together on this side of the Irish Sea.
The biggest shock of the season though came up at Kelso in February. Only 4 runners contested the Victor Chandler Morebattle hurdle. Zaynar, the 2009 Triumph Hurdle winner had already started the new season well with successes in Grade 2 events at Ascot and Cheltenham and this little race in the Scottish Borders was his prep race before tackling the Champion Hurdle. Of his 3 rivals two could be discounted as their odds of 50/1 and 100/1 indicated. The giant Quwetwo was priced up at 12/1 and was expected to chase home the Nicky Henderson star. Looking back at the race now the odds were silly as Howard Johnson has always though highly of Quwetwo and the giant gelding relished the Kelso mud to win nicely, always holding off the challenge of his celebrated rival.
The Champion Hurdle
Zaynar was one of my main fancies for the Champion Hurdle, a race where Nicky Henderson had a very strong hand with the first and third from 2009 in Punjabi and Binocular. The Irish also had a trio of stars in Solwhit, Hurricane Fly and Go Native.
Solwhit got his season off to a good start with a win at Punchestown in November where Hurricane Fly was only third. The latter than suffered a setback and did not reappear until after the Champion Hurdle.
The first domestic Grade 1 Hurdle was the Fighting Fifth up at Newcastle which was won comfortably by Go Native who was perhaps helped by the modest gallop. Solwhit was 3rd and Binocular 5th. Go Native then went to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle and again came away with spoils beating Binocular into third place. A winner of the Supreme Novices in 2009 Go Native had clearly put himself into the picture for the Champion Hurdle although there were still those who took the view that he was a bridle horse rather in the mould of Harchibald. Over in Ireland Solwhit continued in good form winning Leopardstown Grade 1 races in December and January.
Punjabi was beaten on his first two starts but is known to be a stuffy horse that takes some getting fit and he cruised to a straightforward win at Kempton against inferior opposition at 1/6. Next stop the Festival but could he successfully defend his crown? Meanwhile Binocular, beaten twice by Go Native won his prep race at Sandown beating 2 rivals at odds of 1/7. Zaynar had done nothing wrong until being sunk by Quwetwo but that defeat did nothing for market confidence.
Come the big day it was Binocular who triumphed with a flying leap at the last securing his victory. Zaynar was 3rd and will probably be aimed at the World Hurdle next time. Of the rest Go Native made early mistakes that ruined his chance, Solwhit had scoped badly in the lead up to the race and may not have been 100% while Punjabi was not at his best.
Odds and ends
In this section I want to include some horses that did not readily fit anywhere else.
Den of Iniquity has always had ability as he showed early in his career by winning his first two races in bumpers. Injury problems have hampered his progress but this season he managed a couple of wins, in November a beginner’s chase at Folkestone and a novice handicap chase for the Brown Chamberlain Trophy at Newbury where he came in at the rather juicy price of 12/1. Another horse whose career has been rather stop start as a result of injuries is Money Trix, trained by Nicky Richards. A smart horse on his day he won a graduation chase at Carlisle and a decent handicap, chase at Kelso. He then went to Leopardstown for the Grade 1 Lexus Chase over the Christmas period and only went down by half a length to What a Friend.
Red Harbour is not one of the obvious stable stars from the Paul Nicholls yard but he picked up a nice prize in a tremendous finish in a Grade 3 novices handicap hurdle at Sandown. Another horse that deserves a mention is Knockara Beau who ran 8 times in good company and was never disgraced winning twice, an intermediate chase at Carlisle and a novice chase named after former Scottish National winner Paris Pike at Kelso.
The winner that gave me most pleasure during the season was Kilmackiloge, trained by Martin Todhunter. It is nice to get things right sometimes and I really thought I had spotted something that most of the pundits had missed. The previous 3 seasons Kilmackiloge had won first time out so a small wager seemed reasonable when he made a rather belated seasonal reappearance at Kelso in March. He duly made all under Brian Harding to win at the rewarding price of 16/1.
The Irish Angle
Pandorama was unbeaten over fences but missed the second half of the season through injury. He won the Drinmore Novice Chase under an excellent ride by Davy Condon. It may not have been the strongest renewal but it was still a decent effort by Noel Meade’s gelding as he is much better racing right-handed.
Racegoers were treated to a rousing finish to the Grade 1 staying novice chase at Leopardstown over Christmas with Pandorama maintaining his unbeaten record over fences when holding off Weapon’s Amnesty by a short head. Both the winner and the runner-up were given terrific rides by Davy Condon and Davy Russell respectively.
Both Luska Lad and Quevega served these pages well. Luska Lad won 5 of his 10 races and I think I tipped him on all those winning occasions. Three of his wins came in Grade 2 novice hurdles at Punchestown, Gowran Park and Fairyhouse. Quevega had won the David Nicholson mare’s hurdle at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival and returned to Cheltenham for the same race despite not having run for 10 months and she stormed up the hill to win emphatically. She then went to Punchestown for the World Series Hurdle where she turned in a quality performance to win comfortably.
The Irish Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in April attracted a high quality line up. Hurricane Fly returned after injury while Solwhit and Punjabi, bitterly disappointing at Cheltenham looked for consolation. Favourite though was Dunguib, winner of the Cheltenham and Punchestown festival bumpers in 21009 and a hot favourite for the Supreme Novices after racking up 4 impressive wins in the lead up to the Festival. Dunguib was held up and was arguably given plenty to do by his inexperienced rider but he didn’t pick up late on and was hardly flying after the last. He shouldn’t be written off especially when racing on a slower surface.
The race lived up to its billing. Solwhit went for home from about 3 out but despite battling gallantly he could not hold off the late surge of Hurricane Fly who travelled with consummate ease throughout. He looks a phenomenal talent despite being off the radar for much of the season. Solwhit put in a huge performance while Dunguib was found wanting at this level at least at this stage of his career.
Another race in Ireland to produce a thrilling finish was the Hennessy at Leopardstown in February. Joncol went off 9/4 favourite with Cooldine and Money Trix also well backed. Money Trix lost his chance with a bad mistake two out and the finish was fought out between Joncol and Cooldine with Joncol snatching the spoils on the line by a neck.
As the season got under way it appeared that Tataniano represented Paul Nicholls’ best chance of Arkle success. He began the season with wins at Exeter and Cheltenham but disappointed when a beaten favourite at odds of 2/11 in a 3 horse race at Newbury. He then missed Cheltenham but bounced back to form in fine style trouncing his opponents in the Maghull Novices Chase at Aintree where he clearly relished the good ground.
Somersby was 3rd to Go Native in the 2009 Supreme Novices but as with most of Henrietta Knight’s horses he was always going to be a chaser. An attractive type, even by the standards of the stable, he won on his chase debut at Warwick before winning at Sandown where he overcame his trainer’s fears about the soft ground to pull away from Crack Away Jack, a horse rated 20lb superior over hurdles. He put in a cracking effort in the Arkle but just had to give best to the Irish challenger Sizing Europe.
An irresistible display of slick jumping at high speed swept Sizing Europe to a comprehensive victory.
The eight-year-old, trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Andrew Lynch, dominated a race that was billed as too close to call. He looked the likely winner before the field had reached halfway in this test of mettle for young steeplechasers.
Sizing Europe had too much of it for Somersby, who gave valiant chase to amplify his own rich future over a distance of ground. His day will come but this one belonged to a horse whose two previous visits to the Festival had been nothing short of disastrous.
Diamond Harry started the season with options over both hurdles and fences. After his win in a valuable “fixed brush” handicap hurdle at Haydock in November off a welter burden of 11 stone 12 his odds were shortened for both the RSA Chase and the World Hurdle. He then finished 3rd to Big Bucks in the Long Walk Hurdle and connections decided to go down the RSA Chase route. He won twice over fences at Haydock and at Newbury before heading for Cheltenham as a leading fancy. The Nicky Henderson pair of Punchestowns and Long Run were the pair vying for favouritism in the RSA Chase. The former had finished 2nd to Big Bucks in the 2009 World Hurdle and won his first two starts over hurdles including the Scilly Isles Grade 1 at Sandown. A horse that oozes class and has both speed and stamina he looked a serious contender. His stable companion Long Run had come over from France with a mighty reputation having won 8 times at Auteuil. On his UK debut he cruised to victory in the Feltham Novices Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day despite being a bit chancy with some of his jumping. He then dropped down to 2 miles to take the Kingmaker at Warwick.
In Diamond Harry, Punchestowns and Long Run English trainers looked to hold a winning hand in the RSA but things did not work out that way and the prize went to Ireland in the shape of Weapons Amnesty who stayed on stoutly to win by 7 lengths. He once again showed the value of previous Festival form as he has won the Albert Bartlett in 2009. Of the beaten horses Diamond Harry made jumping errors and was tailed off when pulled up. Punchestowns finished 5th but was afterwards found to be lame behind while the 3rd, Long Run maybe found the 3 miles a little too much for him at this early stage of his career.
Our Vic. Mister McGoldrick and Monet’s Garden have a combined age of 37 but although in the twilight of their careers showed they are no back numbers with some sterling performances during the season.
Our Vic joined the Pipe stable as a winning Irish pointer back in 2002 and has served connections with great distinction. A former winner of the Paddy Power, the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and the Ryanair Chase he is perhaps best remembered for his defeat of Kauto Star at Aintree in 2009. He enjoyed another excellent season with wins at Warwick, where Don’t Push It was 3rd, and the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock where he made all and stayed on gamely. He also put up a cracking effort in the Blue Square Gold Cup at Haydock where he was second to Silver By Nature over a trip a bit too far for him.
Mister McGoldrick – What a star he has proved to be during his illustrious career. A winner on the flat at Haydock way back in September 200 where he beat an odds on shot trained by Sir Michael Stoute he has since won 13 times over the sticks. Eight of his wins have come at Wetherby but his greatest triumph was when winning the Racing Post Plate at the Cheltenham Festival in 2008 at 66/1.
Although he didn’t win in the 2009/10 he put up some typically bold jumping displays that belied his advancing years. He was 3rd twice in valuable handicaps at Cheltenham and filled the same finishing position in a new race, the Daffodil Vase at Haydock. At the Cheltenham Festival he ran a blinder in 4th in the Byrne Group Plate behind Great Endeavour.
To date the ever popular grey Monet’s Garden has won 16 races in his distinguished career. In 2009/10 he won the Old Roan Chase at Aintree for the second successive year jumping his rivals into submission in a scintillating performance. His other win came in the Betfair Ascot Chase, a race he had won in 2007 and he again put in a jumping masterclass. Barry Geraghty maintained his unbeaten record on Nicky Richards’ twelve year old with a performance not too dissimilar to the pair’s win in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree in October. His jumping spectacular and he thoroughly deserved his win.
The most pressing question on Grand National day was; can Tony McCoy do it? McCoy, one of the world’s greatest ever jockeys, winner of more than 3,000 races, champion jockey 13 times but never a National winner after 13 attempts. In a race that throws up more stories of romance, courage and heroism than any other sporting occasion could McCoy write a new chapter?
My selection was State of Play each way. He seemed to tick most of the right boxes. Good enough to win a Hennessy in 2006 he had shown he handles the National fences when 4th in 2009 and was now 5 lbs better off. He goes well fresh and was having his first run since late and he had the ground conditions to suit. In the event he ran well and finished 3rd at 16/1.
The result was the right one though regardless of the horse that you backed with Tony McCoy finally winning the big race when steering the Jonjo O’Neill trained Don’t Push it to Aintree glory. The multiple winning champion jockey who is such a credit to the sport received a thunderous reception when returning to the winner