The 2022 Grand National Festival Blog
SAM CREATES LASTING IMPRESSION
The Irish domination of the Randox Grand National continued with another one-two-three and seven of the first ten home from just over 50% of the runners. The only comfort for Britain was that they trained the fourth and fifth home plus the fact that the shock winner was owned and ridden by the British based Waley-Cohen’s, writes Martin Greenwood.
In what looked a very open National with only three in single figures in the market, by the time they came to the business end the early pacesetters Two For Gold (far too many errors) and Coko Beach had dropped away and there were only eight realistically in it turning for home though these eight were well bunched at the second last fence. However, Noble Yeats and last year’s unlucky third
Any Second Now soon left Delta Work and the rest behind and they pulled further and further clear up the run in with Noble Yeats responding very gamely after Any Second Now had briefly looked to be on top. With twenty lengths back to the third, it is fairly obvious that the front pair have put up clear personal bests but it is very difficult to know by how much. Any Second Now was 3lb well in here due to his win at Fairyhouse after the National weights had been published so he was already rated 162 rather than the 159 he ran off but he has overtaken that and then some. He is now rated 168 which pitches him into the arena of some of the best Grand National performances of recent times. Noble Yeats had been a never dangerous and ultimately well beaten second to
Ahoy Senor in a novice race at Wetherby and followed that with a lack-lustre effort in last month’s Ultima handicap at Cheltenham. As a seven-year-old novice he had a most unusual profile going into the National but he is further evidence that Irish trainers have reinvented the wheel when it comes to tackling some of the biggest staying handicaps, often targeting horses that are unexposed in general and/or over marathon trips. Gone are the days when a Grand National runner had to conform to the traditional, seasons long plan from yesteryear. Noble Yeats won off 147 but is now rated 158. As is usual nowadays the National was run at a blistering gallop and I am pretty sure that those that raced up with the pace burnt themselves out meaning that several horses shaped much better than their final positions suggest – Longhouse Poet, Freewheelin Dylan and Escaria Ten to name but three.
Earlier in the week, Clan des Obeaux flew the flag for British staying chasers and showed he was as good as ever when winning his second successive Betway Bowl. He was very easy to back following two disappointing efforts this season but he was seemingly perked right up by the application of first-time blinkers. Another previous winner, Kemboy, tried to burn these off and, despite some indifferent jumping, he had all but Conflated and the strong-travelling Clan des Obeaux beaten by the time they approached the third last. Clan des Obeaux ploughed through that fence but it did little to stop his momentum and he quickly shook off the attentions of Conflated and the
weakening Kemboy to forge around five lengths clear approaching the last. That the final winning distance was only a length was simply due to Clan des Obeaux idling in front which completely disguised his superiority. The first three home were the first three in the ratings going in so not a great deal changed post-race. Clan des Obeaux returns to his very best of 172 (from 168), Conflated stays on 168 and Kemboy was eased by 1lb to 165.
Finally, a quick line on the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase which featured four of the best staying novices of the season. The market and pre-race ratings suggested that this looked to be between L’Homme Presse and Bravemansgame, both of whom were unbeaten in chases, and both had already beaten Ahoy Senor fair and square at Cheltenham and Kempton respectively. However, the tables were comprehensively turned here with Ahoy Senor jumping much more fluently than in those previous meetings. He had burned the two market leaders off soon after they turned in and was then able to see off his only remaining challenger, Fury Road, by five lengths. It seems reasonable to suggest that both L’Homme Presse (eased back 1lb to 163) and Bravemansgame (now 161) were not at their best on the day, which makes levelling Ahoy Senor’s performance difficult. In raising him to 161 (from 157) this renewal is on a par with some of the best winners of this race in recent times.
FAKIR FOLLOWS UP
The Grade 1 Marsh Melling Chase was won in emphatic style by Fakir d’Oudairies twelve months ago and he looked the horse to beat again this time around, albeit he was only rated 1lb superior to the others pre-race and had some new rivals to take on this time, writes Michael Harris.
There was an interesting make up to the field with several horses stepping up in trip and the winner coming here fresh having missed the Cheltenham festival this year, so there were a few different factors to deal with but ultimately the result was very similar to last years and the winner confirmed his status as one of the leading horses in the 2m 4f division. Historical race standards suggested a figure in the mid-160s, and I have settled on a figure of 165, a pound higher than his pre-race mark and the same rating he performed to in the 2021 renewal. He is still only a seven-year-old and is a remarkably consistent performer at the highest level. Hitman (remains on 159) looked a threat two out before the winner came clear late on but he has run right up to his best. He is only six and remains a horse with a lot of potential having appeared to see out this longer trip better than he had previously.
It was a relatively open-looking renewal of the Grade 1 Betway Aintree Hurdle with the two highest-rated horses in the field, Epatante and Zanahiyr, both stepping up in trip for the first time having finished second and third behind Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle last month. Taking into account her mares allowance, Epatante was the top-rated horse in the race and she produced a dominant display, travelling smoothly into contention before being left clear at the last and dismissing any stamina concerns there were pre-race by seeing it out strongly all the way to the line. The reopposing Zanahiyr would have been her closest rival but he looked set to come off second best before departing and the distance between them was likely to be similar to what it was at Cheltenham last time. On a line through Monmiral (remains on 149), who was fourteen lengths back in second, I have Epatante replicating her recent Cheltenham figure of 154. Having proven her stamina for 2m 4f it opens some interesting options for her going forward.
The best novice hurdle performance of the meeting came in the Grade 1 Betway Hurdle run over 2m, writes Chris Nash.
It saw a victory for the favourite, Jonbon, but he had to dig mighty deep to hold off the persistent challenge of the runner-up, El Fabiolo, by a neck. These two came nineteen lengths and upwards clear of the rest so there are reasons to be positive about their efforts. Applying race standards to this contest gives a figure in the range of 152-156 for the winner and I settled on the bottom end of that and have him running a figure of 152. Jonbon arrived here with a rating of 147 which was achieved when finishing a distant second to Constitution Hill at the Cheltenham festival, so this rates a career best. El Fabiolo was having just his third run over hurdles, and not only does he record a big career best but you’d have to imagine that he has plenty of scope to progress further yet. This was the first test of the Supreme novice form and it only enhanced the already mighty reputation of Constitution Hill as he was able to beat Jonbon by twenty two lengths at Cheltenham. When it comes to the “pecking order” in the 2m novice hurdle division Constitution Hill tops it on 170, Jonbon now moves upsides Dysart Dynamo on 152 and El Fabiolo slots in alongside State Man and the four-year-old Vauban on 151.
The best novice chase performance of the meeting also came over the 2m trip where Gentleman de Mee managed to beat Edwardstone by four and a half lengths in the Grade 1 Poundland Maghull Chase. Edwardstone was produced to have every chance between the last two fences but he was unable to match Gentleman de Mee up the run-in. The Willie Mullins trained winner had been showing progressive form in novice chases in Ireland without being tested at the top level but he took this step up in class in his stride. The runner-up had won the Arkle at Cheltenham on his last start and arrived here rated 161 which meant he topped this division but the authority with which Gentleman de Mee beat him meant I felt obliged to pass that mantle over to him. Race standards suggested a figure of 161-163 for the winner and I was happy to be at the top end of that range. A figure of 163 for the winner has Edwardstone running a touch below his Cheltenham figure at 158 and further substance was given to this form by the consistent Third Time Lucki who was another eleven lengths away in third. The British handicappers rate all Irish jump races and we have had Gentleman de Mee running progressive figures in all his five chase starts so far (135-146-153-158-163) which marks him down as an exciting prospect given the potential for further improvement. The issue that both he and Edwardstone will have next season is that they will be entering a division with plenty of depth – they may well have to lock horns with the likes of Shishkin, Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene.