Pic: Liverpool Echo
IT would be truly fitting, 40 years after one of sport’s most seminal moments, if a small northern yard was to triumph in Saturday’s 2017 Grand National. When Red Rum careered away from Churchtown Boy on Aintree’s punishing run-in, it sparked scenes of tumult that have rarely been witnessed since in racing, or indeed on any sporting occasion. Ginger McCain’s remarkable horse (spelt murder backwards) even tried to catch the two loose horses that were ahead of him as the finishing post loomed.
Famously, Red Rum had bad feet when he arrived at McCain’s yard at the back of a car dealership in Southport. He was prepared for all his Nationals on the local sandy beach which had a wonderfully healing effect on the horse’s dodgy hooves. Jimmy Moffatt was five at the time of Red Rum’s third National triumph in 1977. Even then he was obsessed with the big race and would ride his Shetland pony around a pretend Aintree course with his brother. Forty years on, Moffatt, who has a handful of horses based at his small stables in Cartmel, Cumbria, has a realistic chance of fulfilling his Aintree dream with the “brute of a horse” that is Highland Lodge.
The 11-year-old, like Red Rum, has found a spiritual home at Aintree. He won the Becher Chase in 2015 under Henry Brooke and almost repeated the feat last year when chinned close home by Vieux Lion Rouge. The latter is now one of the National favourites at around 10/1 while Highland Lodge is as big as 33/1. Moffatt is bullish about his horse’s chance and, no doubt, he would not be the price he is if he was trained by a more fashionable, bigger yard. But, just like McCain, Moffatt is no respecter of reputations and is not deterred by the moneybags operations of Gordon Elliott, Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins.
In what is a good omen, Highland Lodge changed hands just last Friday. He will now race in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud owner Patricia Thompson. She bought the horse for an undisclosed fee from Simon and Julie Wilson. Highland Lodge will remain with Moffatt and Brooke keeps the ride. In 1992, Thompson purchased a certain Party Politics just five days before the Grand National, and that giant horse went on to win.
Highland Lodge will race handily and out of trouble and Moffatt has no doubts about his stamina (he ran over 4m when with Emma Lavelle). In Brooke, he has the right jockey on board, fearless and aggressive, and at 33/1 he is a smashing each-way punt.
Other 2017 Grand National contenders
One For Arthur was behind Highland Lodge in the Becher Chase but not by far. He is a super jumper and looks to have a great chance of giving Scotland its first success in the Grand National since Rubstic. His chance would be aided by some rain but the forecast looks like being predominantly dry. That will count against him but he should run a massive race.
Definitly Red has been well supported in the past week and is second in the market at around 12/1. He will be popular among Liverpool fans and those who will make a connection in the name with Red Rum. But, sentiment aside, he has a serious chance and would be several pounds higher if the weights had been announced a few weeks later. Trained in Malton by Brian Ellison, he arrives with a gilt-edged chance of giving Yorkshire another Grand National winner.
Measureofmydreams a live outsider for 2017 Grand National
Jonjo O’Neill is typically bullish about More Of That and he’s a class horse who cannot be discounted. One outsider worth considering is Measureofmydreams who ran a blinder in the 2016 National Hunt Chase over 4m behind Minella Rocco. He has lost his way a little this season but there were signs of a return to form at Cheltenham in the Ultima Handicap Chase until he was badly hampered at the second last. He is 50/1 and worth an each-way poke.
Saphir Du Rheu ran a cracking race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He is the type of inconsistent, slightly quirky performer who may just like the occasion. However, like Holywell last year, he may hate it. So he is a risky proposition.,
I did fancy Ziga Boy but he has been ruled out with a tendon injury.
2017 Grand National selections
Highland Lodge 33/1 each-way
Measureofmydreams 50/1 each-way
Prices correct at time of going to press