Don’t Push It, who famously gave owner J P McManus, trainer Jonjo O’Neill and jockey Tony (A P) McCoy a first victory in the John Smith’s Grand National 12 months ago, heads the 65 contenders going forward at today’s five-day confirmation stage for the 2011 renewal of the world’s greatest chase at Aintree on Saturday, April 9.
This year’s race, run over four and a half miles and 30 fences, is due off at 4.15pm and boasts record prize money of £950,000.
There were no surprise withdrawals today and Don’t Push It continues to head the weights on 11st 10lb, meaning that any raising of the weights looks highly unlikely. The McManus/O’Neill combination could also be represented by Quolibet (10st 8lb) and Can’t Buy Time (10st 4lb).
The John Smith’s Grand National is the most obvious omission from the CV of champion trainer Paul Nicholls and the Somerset handler still has four to choose from headed by What A Friend (11st 6lb), who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and finished an excellent fourth in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup last time out. The Tother One (11st), 2009 Irish Grand National winner Niche Market (10st 13lb) and Ornais (10st 4lb) complete the Nicholls quartet.
Irish-trained horses have done spectacularly well in the John Smith’s Grand National in recent years, accounting for six of the 12 winners since 1999. A total of 20 Irish-trained horses remain engaged in this year’s contest including The Midnight Club(10st 13lb), the current 8/1 favourite with totesport, official betting partner of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National meeting. The 10-year-old is trained by Willie Mullins, who sent out Hedgehunter to victory in 2005, and is the likely mount of Ruby Walsh, who is the winning-most current jockey in the John Smith’s Grand National following his two previous triumphs aboard Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2005). Mullins could also be represented by Dooneys Gate (11st 4lb), ridden by the trainer’s amateur rider son Patrick, Arbor Supreme (10st 3lb), Our Monty (10st 3lb) and Pomme Tiepy (9st 9lb), though the last named is very unlikely to get a run as the maximum field is 40.
Other prominent Irish-trained contenders include Oscar Time (10st 9lb), who could give the Waley-Cohen family a dream double following Long Run’s totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup victory last month, the 2010 Irish Grand National heroine Bluesea Cracker (10st 4lb) and Becauseicouldntsee (10st 8lb), who is trained by his owner Noel Glynn with the assistance of Jason Titley, rider of 1995 National hero Royal Athlete. Gordon Elliott, handler of the 2007 winner Silver Birch, is set to be represented by Backstage (10st 12lb), who was going well when unseating his rider at the 20th fence last year and has won his latest two outings in point to points.
It is 32 years since a Scottish-trained horse won the Grand National (Rubstic, 1979) and 50 years since a grey was successful (Nicolaus Silver, 1961). A horse out to buck both these trends is the Lucinda Russell-trained Silver By Nature (10st 12lb), who warmed up for Aintree with success in the totesport.com Grand National Trial at Haydock Park on February 19.
McCain is a surname synonymous with the John Smith’s Grand National, with Ginger McCain having sent out the legendary Red Rum to three victories (1973, 1974 and 1977) and added a fourth with Amberleigh House (2004). His son Donald has a live contender this year with Ballabriggs (11st), winner of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010 and runner-up to Skippers Brigg (10st 2lb) at Kelso last time out.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is the most successful current trainer in the John Smith’s Grand National, having sent out Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002) to success. In 2011, the Gloucestershire handler has a quartet to choose from including last year’s fifth Hello Bud (10st 5lb), who has already won over the National fences this season having taken the totesport.com Becher Chase in November. If successful, Hello Bud would be the first 13-year-old to prevail since Sergeant Murphy in 1923. Other runners from the Twiston-Davies yard could include Grand Slam Hero (10st 7lb), Roll Along (10st 7lb), who carries the colours of Bryan Burrough, owner of 1983 victor Corbiere, and Ballyfitz (9st 9lb).
Another previous winner among those going forward is Comply Or Die (10st 8lb), triumphant in 2008 for trainer David Pipe. Comply Or Die was also runner-up in 2009 and 12th in 2010.
A pair of John Smith’s Grand National regulars set to line up again on Saturday are State Of Play (10st 6lb), who finished fourth in 2009 and third in 2010 and Big Fella Thanks (11st 1lb), who was sixth in 2009 and fourth last year. Character Building (10st 4lb), seventh last year, is due to run again with amateur Nina Carberry booked to take the ride on the grey for the second year in succession.
The official elimination order, as decided Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping at the British Horseracing Authority, is as follows (maximum 40 runners)
39) ARBOR SUPREME,
40) OUR MONTY,
41) ROYAL ROSA,
42) SKIPPERS BRIG,
43) GOLDEN KITE,
44) ALWAYS WAINING,
45) PUTNEY BRIDGE,
46) BELON GALE,
48) LE BEAU BAI,