Grand National: Zara holds key to Monbeg Dude

zaraTHE Grand National always throws up a good tale. And if Monbeg Dude manages to win on April 5 there will be plenty of angles to go at. There were emotional scenes at Cheltenham last weekend when Tom Scudamore drove Monbeg Dude, trained by his brother Michael, to victory over Theatre Guide. The eight-year-old, winner of the Welsh National last season, is owned by Oydunow, which includes rugby players James Simpson-Daniel, Mike Tindall and Nicky Robinson. But it is the role of Zara Phillips that could be the hub of the success story.

Monbeg Dude lost his way after his Welsh National win and was sent to Zara to try to improve his jumping.

Michael Scudamore said: “His jumping is very much down to Zara. She deserves all the credit for that. The horse has been there four or five times this year. Every time he has gone there, he has just got more and more confidence and more and more reassured. She has done a great job with him, as have the team at home. Aintree is the long-term goal if we can keep everything in one piece.”

But Zara was typically modest: “No credit should be given to me at all. We just taught Monbeg Dude to use his feet a little better and more efficiently. It was just getting him to use his feet a bit quicker and think about it more. He is so much more efficient over his fences and makes the whole race easier.”

Two other Grand National contenders emerged at Cheltenham’s International meeting. Sire Collonges rallied well to take the spoils in the last leg of the 2013 Crystal Cup series of races over Cross Country courses in Europe.

Trainer Paul Nicholls said: “I have been pleading with the owner to let me enter him for the Grand National. I think he will be a great horse to come back to the Festival here for the Cross Country race and then run him in the National. Four and a half miles over those big fences would really suit him well.”

And there was a welcome return to form for Sunnyhillboy, agonisingly beaten by a nose by Neptune Collonges in the 2012 race. Ridden by AP McCoy, he ran out a ready winner of a handicap hurdle and enjoyed the decent ground.

The weights for the 2014 Crabbie’s Grand National will be unveiled at Abbey Road Studios in London on Feruary 11. And for the first time in the race’s history, the Grand National will be worth £1,000,000. The deadline for entries will be at the end of January. It is also well worth checking out the Racing Post’s Grand National site which is up and running.

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