HE MAY have mopped up most of National Hunt racing’s biggest prizes, but the Grand National remains the holy grail for leading trainer Nicky Henderson. He has hit the crossbar a few times: remember his first Aintree runner Zongalero coming second to Rubstic in 1979 (I do, I’m that old!) Or The Tsarevich chasing home Maori Venture in 1987? But despite 35 years of trying, Henderson has so far failed to win the big one. In this year’s Crabbie’s-sponsored event, he is going all out to change that…
Henderson is planning to have four runners in the National. He also has another big incentive to win the race as he is just £500,000 behind Paul Nicholls in the trainer’s championship. Winning the big one at the forthcoming Grand National meeting at Aintree would probably be the clincher.
Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run has been trained for the race and is generally a 20-1 shot. Will he stay? I reckon so. Will he enjoy the fences? Mmm, not sure. But probably. He certainly has the class to win and Sam Waley-Cohen has an enviable record around the big fences.
Triolo D’Alene won the Hennessy and, more importantly, was impressive in beating Walkon in last year’s Topham. I worry that his run in the Gold Cup may have just taken the edge off him but he is certainly good enough.
Shakalakaboomboom has Aintree experience but I don’t think he stays while Hunt Ball could be the fly in the ointment. He ran a blinder in the Ryanair Chase and a mark of 155 is fair. He would love decent ground but a lack of stamina would be the only worry.
Henderson admitted that Hunt Ball’s stamina would be tested in the National: “He’s run a great race at Cheltenham and an extra half mile’s going to help him. But this is an extra two miles.”
Meanwhile no further changes will be made to Aintree’s iconic fences for the 2014 race. Last year’s event was considered a big success after alterations to the course helped every runner and rider avoid injury.
Millions of pounds has been spent on safety improvements and last year the fences were built with foam padded rails rather than timber. The race was also made half a furlong shorter after the start was moved.
John Baker, North West regional director of The Jockey Club, said: “The fences jumped well [last year]. We looked at the number of fences and amount of spruce coming off the fences and the feedback was positive – there is no need to change that.
“We think 40 runners, the fences and distance make it the toughest challenge for horses and jockeys in the world and that is what the Grand National is all about.”