Six weeks after his death, can Old Vic become a star in the John Smith’s Grand National?


In the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National, the late stallion Old Vic, who died in February at the age of 25, will bid to join a club so exclusive it has only five current members.

That is the number of horses who have sired the winners of more than two of the 163 Grand Nationals run so far.

Heading the roll of honour on four is My Prince, with Gregalach (1929), Reynoldstown (1935-

36) and Royal Mail (1937). Ascetic is responsible for three individual winners – Cloister (1893), Drumcree (1903) and Ascetic’s Silver – as are Cottage, with Workman (1939), Lovely Cottage (1946) and Sheila’s Cottage (1948), and Vulgan, with Team Spirit (1964), Foinavon (1967) and Gay Trip (1970). And Quorum has triple winner Red Rum (1973-74 and 1977) to his credit.

Old Vic’s first hero of the great Aintree race was Comply Or Die in 2008, followed by Don’t Push It 12 months ago. On that occasion, he also sired the runner-up Black Apalachi, becoming the first to achieve the feat since Gay Trip beat Vulture, both sired by Vulgan. This time Old Vic’s team is likely to comprise his two previous winners, plus Vic Venturi and In Compliance.

When Old Vic won his only sires’ title in 2008, he bucked a trend, being the first champion whose laurels included the Aintree winner since Menelek, with Rag Trade, in 1976.

The John Smith’s Grand National, with a purse of £950,000, may yet have a bearing on this season’s leading jump stallion title. Old Vic is currently out of the top 10 but earnings of less than £450,000 covers the first five on the leaderboard, namely King’s Theatre, Presenting, Oscar, Beneficial and Flemensfirth.

King’s Theatre’s only National entry is King Fontaine. Presenting has Ballabriggs, Niche Market and Killyglen; Oscar should be represented by Oscar Time and Dooneys Gate; Beneficial by Becauseicouldntsee; and Flemensfirth by the current favourite The Midnight Club and Tidal Bay.

Nigel Twiston-Davies suffers another blow as head lad leaves

Fergal O’Brien, head lad at Nigel-Twiston Davies’ yard for 16 years, has decided to leave and set up as a trainer in his own right.

O’Brien has already established himself in the local training ranks having been leading point to point trainer in the area for the last three years, and looking set to top the table again this season.

Recently,O’Brien has been sharing head lad duties at Naunton with Richard Bevis due to his point to point commitments.

A major player in the yard’s big successes in recent years, O’Brien’s skills are highly respected by many of the stable’s patrons and by his colleagues. It’s unkown at this stage if any of NTD’s owners will decide to send horses to O’Brien at his new yard, nor if any of the Naunton staff will join him.

This news will come as a blow to Twiston-Davies who recently parted company with stable-jockey Paddy Brennan. The trainer became aware this afternoon that Racing Post reporters were  on to the O’Brien story, and the newspaper is expected to run a piece on this tomorrow.

O’Brien will be leaving behind assistant trainer Carl Llewllyn with whom he worked at Captain Tim Forster’s yard, alongside Richard Bevis – his co-head lad at Naunton.

With the John Smith’s Grand National looming for four of the yard’s horses, and the parting with Brennan still fresh in his mind, Nigel Twiston Davies might find this a trying  week.

John Smith’s Grand National: summary of key horses left in


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 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 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)













Paul Nicholls on his latest plans for Aintree

Paul Nicholls, writing on his Betfair Blog, has announced most of his Aintree targets.  I have skinned them down to a digest – if you want to read the full piece, you’ll find it here.

“Quite a few of my horses have multiple entries – and a couple in particular have got me scratching my head – but I have to get them right, and so I may leave the final decision on them until I have studied all the entries.”


We run Big Buck’s and Gwanako in the opening Grade 1 hurdle.  Zarkandar– may be my only runner in the juvenile hurdle, though Empire Levant is still a possible.

Denman goes for the Totesport Bowl and I have three others in the race. What a Friend goes in the National, but Mon Parrain has two other entries (Topham, and a handicap on the Saturday). I will have to speak to Mr Hales about Neptune Collonges; ideally he would want plenty of rain, and if he is to get cut in the ground, it will be on the Thursday.

Blu Teen is entered in the Fox Hunters’ but I suspect he will run in a handicap at Ascot at the weekend.

Woolcombe Folly and Tchico Polos run in the 2m handicap chase and Ghizao steps up in trip for the Grade 2 2m4f novices’ chase.

We have four entries in the 2m4f handicap hurdle but it could be that I rely on just Sire Collonges if he gets in.


I have four entries in the opening novices’ hurdle, and none has been ruled out yet. But providing the ground isn’t too quick, it could be that Brampour is my main hope here. I could run Polisky too, but he is very much a horse for next year.

In the Grade 2 novices’ chase I rely on Robinson Collonges.  The Minack, goes for the Scottish National.

Master Minded will be my only runner in the Melling.

Fistral Beach and Free World go for the Topham, and Mon Parrain has that option too.

In the Grade 1 3m novices’ hurdle, I am coming round to thinking that Indian Daudaie could be suited to this race. It is a Grade 1 race and it could cut up and I can see Ruby giving him one of his “creep rides” and going well. He also has the option of the 2m4f handicap on the Thursday but that trip could be on the sharp side round here. We also have the option of the 3m handicap hurdle on this day; Pistolet Noir will run in that.


It could be that Sam Winner will join Rock On Ruby in the race if the ground isn’t too firm.

There were only eight entries in the Maghull, so that will be re-opened. I put two in; Ghizao, targeted for the Thursday, and Pepe Simo. The latter is a clearly a possible, and the return to a smaller field could suit him better.

Celestial Halo will run in the Aintree Hurdle

Mon Parrain and Take The Breeze are entered in the 3m1f handicap chase, and  I have my four in the Grand National, headed by What A Friend.

I have three in the conditional handicap hurdle; Tito Bustillo, Rock Of Deauville and Empire Levant. This race is probably my preferred Aintree race for the latter if he gets in; I would be keen to see him race off his current mark with Ryan taking 5lb off.

John Smith’s Grand National 5 day decs list Top 40 individually listed

Don’t Push It (IRE)

Tidal Bay (IRE)

Vic Venturi (IRE)

What A Friend (GB)

Majestic Concorde (IRE)

Or Noir de Somoza (FR)

Dooneys Gate (IRE)

Big Fella Thanks (GB)

Ballabriggs (IRE)

The Tother One (IRE)

Niche Market (IRE)

The Midnight Club (IRE)

Backstage (FR)

Chief Dan George (IRE)

Silver By Nature (GB)

Calgary Bay (IRE)

Killyglen (IRE)

Oscar Time (IRE)

Becauseicouldntsee (IRE)

Comply Or Die (IRE)

Northern Alliance (IRE)

Quinz (FR)

Quolibet (FR)

Grand Slam Hero (IRE)

Roll Along (IRE)

King Fontaine (IRE)

State of Play (GB)

Hello Bud (IRE)

In Compliance (IRE)

Santa’s Son (IRE)

West End Rocker (IRE)

Bluesea Cracker (IRE)

Can’t Buy Time (IRE)

Character Building (IRE)

Ornais (FR)

Piraya (FR)

Surface To Air (GB)

That’s Rhythm (FR)

Arbor Supreme (IRE)

Our Monty

(IRE) Royal Rosa (FR) Always Waining (IRE) Golden Kite (IRE) Skippers Brig (IRE) Belon Gale (IRE) Faasel (IRE) Le Beau Bai (FR) Merigo (FR) Putney Bridge (GB) Askthemaster (IRE) Giles Cross (IRE) Saddlers Storm (IRE) Starzaan (IRE) Ambobo (USA) Duers (IRE) Sagalyrique (FR) Toby Jug (GB) Galant Nuit (FR) Junior (GB) The Sawyer (BEL) Ballyfitz (GB) I’moncloudnine (IRE) Pomme Tiepy (FR) Treacle (IRE) Regal Heights (IRE)