IT was the braw lad of Galashiels Ryan Mania who stole the Grand National headlines last year with his stunning 66-1 success on Aurora’s Encore. Today, a native of Hawick could get his hands on the prize at Aintree.
Owner Graham Wylie, who was born in the Borders town but has spent most of his life in Newcastle, went agonisingly close to winning the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month when 16-1 shot On His Own was hampered on the run-in by winner Lord Windermere and then denied by a short head.
Wylie graciously congratulated the winner when the placings remained unaltered following a lengthy and dramatic stewards’ enquiry, but today compensation could await when he launches a two-pronged attack on the world’s most famous horse race, worth £1 million and sponsored by Crabbie’s for the first time.
Wylie’s representatives in the 40-runner field - one of the most open looking contests in years, with some bookmakers going 16-1 the field this morning – are Prince De Beauchene, trained like On His Own by Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins, and Tidal Bay, a fine servant to Mullins’ British counterpart Paul Nicholls.
“Wouldn’t it be great if Tidal Bay was to become the first 13 year-old to win the Grand National since 1923 and also the first to carry top weight since Red Rum? A big task but if any horse can do it, I would love to think it will be him,” an excited Wylie told The Scotsman, just before another of his runners, Boston Bob, won yesterday’s feature race, the Melling Chase. “Tidal Bay has become a family favourite – even my four-year-old twin girls have pictures of him on their walls at home and will be cheering him on during the race.”
Nicholls had an upbeat assessment of his chances. “His form off top weight in his last three handicaps has been very good,” said the trainer, who also saddles Rocky Creek and Hawkes Point. “He is in good shape. I am looking forward to him running. The thing to do is to drop him out and not to rush him.
“I also hope it will be third time lucky for Prince de Beauchene. He has missed the last two runnings due to a niggling injury but is ready to take his chance this year. He has been a bit disappointing this season so far but he is a great jumper and I hope the Grand National fences bring out the best in him”
Jockey Paul Townend, so often in the shadow of Ruby Walsh, scored on Boston Bob yesterday and gets his big chance to make headlines of his own with the potentially plum ride on Prince De Beauchene. “He’s never run over the National fences before and has missed the last two when it’s been his aim,” said former Irish champion Townend. “The trip is a bit of an unknown, but I think he will stay.
“He ran a nice race in the English Hennessy but faded out of it with a big weight, and was running well in the Lexus until he made a mistake. He brings a touch of class, has a lovely racing weight and, if he gets into a rhythm, you never know.”
Mania became an overnight celebrity last year after his success, only to suffer a nasty fall at Hexham the following day and have a spell in hospital. However, he is back at the top of his game and is looking forward to his ride on Mr Moonshine. He has been a man in demand since his National win, and was a guest yesterday on BBC One’s Breakfast. “I think I’ll be a bit more nervous [this time],” Mania told the BBC. “I rate my chances of enjoying myself. He’s been round the fences twice, he knows the track and should go well.”
Owner Robert Waley-Cohen and his jockey-son, Sam – a former Edinburgh Unviersity student – have enjoyed great success over the Aintree fences but it could all pale into insignificance if Long Run wins the first £1 million renewal.
Long Run is searching for his own piece of history as no horse as ever won the King George at Kempton, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the biggest race of them all in Liverpool. The Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old may not be the force of old but there is no doubt he has been given a chance by the handicapper. “Myself and Sam have enjoyed plenty of luck over the fences in the past, but I still get a tingle ahead of the National as it’s a great race,” said Robert Waley-Cohen. “Clearly he has deteriorated since his days of beating Kauto Star and Denman in the Gold Cup, but he has been handicapped accordingly. All you can wish for is a clear run and then take it from there.”
Henderson is four-handed as he seeks to win the great race for the first time with Hennessy winner Triolo D’Alene, Hunt Ball and Shakalakaboomboom completing his party. “It’s a good little squad to come in with. It’s a race that has eluded us, we’ve had a few close shaves but not for a bit,” he said. “We’ve not quite had the right kit for it, but this year there are four boys that fit the bill.”
Tony McCoy chose Double Seven, trained by Martin Brassil, ahead of Ted Walsh’s Colbert Station as his mount for his boss J P McManus. “Everything seems to have gone well with him and we’re happy to be here,” said Brassil. “I just hope they don’t get too much rain. The ground is very important to him and if it went heavy there’d be no point in even running him.”
Teaforthree gave connections a huge thrill when third 12 months ago and ran a respectable race in the Gold Cup. His trainer Rebecca Curtis thinks he heads to Aintree in even better shape than last year. “He took to the Grand National fences last year,” said the Newport handler. “I thought he ran a blinder in the Gold Cup, it was the ideal prep run. We didn’t want to go seven weeks after his run at Ascot and I think it put him spot-on. I’d have to say I think he’s in better form than last year.”
Meanwhile, a number of jockeys, including Paul Carberry, face an anxious wait to see if they will be passed fit to ride. Carberry, who is due to partner leading fancy Monbeg Dude, was one of four riders to come unstuck in the Topham Chase, which is also run over the National fences. He was taken to Fazakerley Hospital for further assessment on what was thought to be a pelvic injury after being unseated by Kauto Stone. Monbeg Dude’s trainer Michael Scudamore said: “The last I heard he was going for an X-ray on his pelvis and we obviously won’t really know where we are until we hear the results of that. Fingers crossed, he’ll be OK.”
Mikey Fogarty, who is scheduled to ride Vesper Bell in the National, was also taken to hospital after parting company with the Willie Mullins-trained Bishopsfurze. Andrew Tinkler and Noel Fehily also came to grief in the race and both will have to be passed fit by the racecourse doctor today if they are to take their National rides on Hunt Ball and Rocky Creek respectively.
1.30 Volnay De Thaix
2.05 Balder Succes
3.25 Victor Hewgo
4.15 (Grand National)
1st Tidal Bay (nap)
2nd The Package
3rd Hawkes Point
4th Monbeg Dude
5th Double Seven