Monday, we start at Fairyhouse for Irish Grand National day. It produced a fairytale story. Freewheelin Dylan sprang a massive 150/1 surprise in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. The nine-year-old gelding was having his first start in 173 days and sported cheekpieces for the first time in addition to his tongue-strap. He was down near the bottom of the weights with 10st 8lb on his back. The outsider set the pace under Ricky Doyle and jumped from fence to fence with aplomb. He was pressed three out by Run Wild Fred and held a narrow advantage at the next as the favourite and top-weight Latest Exhibition tried to get into contention on the outer. Freewheelin Dylan was well named, though, as he kept finding for Doyle and actually increased the lead jumping the final fence. He got away from it the better and gamely stayed on to put Run Wild Fred (9/1) away by a length and a quarter. Enjoy D'allen (40/1) was three and a quarter lengths away in third with Latest Exhibition (9/2f) fourth. This was a fantastic story a real dream come through for jockey Ricky Doyle and local trainer Dermot McLoughlin. I thought Latest Exhibition ran really well, my suspicion is he is a better horse going left-handed.
Easy Game came out on top in the Devenish Chase at Fairyhouse. The 11/8 favourite was produced to lead two from home in the two-and-a-half-mile contest but was soon tackled by Castlegrace Paddy. There was nothing between the pair down to the final fence in the Grade 2 contest but the eventual runner-up was untidy jumping the last. Easy Game took full advantage, under Brian Hayes, and battled gamely on the run-in to record a three-parts-of-a-length win. Trainer Willie Mullins was completing a quick Grade 2 double on the card, following the victory of Stormy Ireland, who was having her first run since leaving Paul Nicholls. The Francis Casey-trained Max Flamingo overcame a rather rough passage to run out a convincing winner of the Fairyhouse Steel Handicap Hurdle this afternoon. Denis O'Regan's mount found trouble in running a few times in the two-mile-six but finished off best at the business end.
At Cork, Grand Sefton Chase winner Warriors Tale is an enforced absentee from Aintree this week but won Cork's Jack Tyner Memorial Hunters Chase today, scoring a first win for his new trainer Eugene O'Sullivan and his jockey daughter Maxine O'Sullivan. Afterwards, O'Sullivan revealed “Trevor (Hemmings) loves Aintree and this horse was sent to me to take him to Aintree for the Foxhunters Chase next weekend but wasn't able to qualify with the point to points being called off. At Redcar, there was a double for trainer Tracy Waggott with Ghatanfar and Vindobola. At Kempton, Lavender's Blue took the feature Snowdrop for Benny Andersson.
Tuesday, we start at Pontefract. There was a double for John Gosden with Trawlerman and Waldkonig. At Exeter, Dog Of War was on target for Dan and Harry Skelton. At Bath, Golden Flame was backed as if defeat was out of the question (5/4 -1/3) for Mark Johnston, he duly bolted up by 5 lengths. At Chelmsford, the feature race went to Count Of Amazonia for Marco Botti.
Wednesday, we start at Gowran. Pineapple Express burst through in the final furlong to run out a cosy winner of the concluding race for Andrew Slattery. At Newcastle, there was a double for Sir Michael Stoute with Aerion Power and Bay Bridge who was very impressive in winning by five lengths. At Lingfield, Lost Eden was a nine length winner for Richard Hannon. At Catterick, Seas of Elzaam took the claimer for David O'Meara by six and a half lengths. At Nottingham, Sir Ron Priestly overcame a near two-year absence to win for Mark Johnston.
Thursday, Day one of the Aintree festival. Protektorat gave title-chasing jockey Harry Skelton a flying start to the three-day Grand National meeting by winning the Grade One SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase Skelton delivered the six-year-old, trained by his brother Dan, with a well-timed challenge to lead on the run-in and land the spoils from The Shunter — with Hitman a close third. Hitman was always prominent, with Fusil Raffles making the running until he was pulled up after making a bad mistake down the far side. Protektorat has always threatened to do this, it was a good performance. JP has bought The Shunter it will be intriguing to see what happens with that horse.
Monmiral maintained his unbeaten record over jumps with a convincing victory in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree. The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding oozed class in the hands of Harry Cobden and proved connections right for bypassing the Cheltenham Festival. Monmiral was always travelling sweetly in third place behind Fiveandtwenty and Paros in the early stages, until he took closer order from three out. Main market rival Adagio made his move, but a mistake at the final flight cost the Triumph Hurdle runner-up any chance he had and Monmiral scooted away to score by seven an a half lengths. Despite what was said on TV I thought Adagio was unlucky here. It would have been a serious race but for the mistake at the last.
Clan Des Obeaux made it third time lucky in the Betway Bowl Chase at Aintree with a superb performance. It was also a red-letter day for Sir Alex Ferguson and his fellow owners, after the same colours were earlier carried to victory in the two previous Grade Ones by Protektorat and Monmiral. The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old was third in this race in 2018 and second in 2019. He finally got his just reward in some style to give Nicholls and jockey Harry Cobden a double after Monmiral. Mister Fisher made the running to the 12th fence, where he unseated Nico de Boinville after making a bad mistake. Clan Des Obeaux soon led after that and stretched the opposition. Clondaw Castle was the only horse able to lay down a challenge, but he could not live with the 5-2 favourite, who drew well clear to win by 26 lengths. Clondaw Castle was 18 lengths ahead of Native River. Dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll was fourth, a further 48 lengths away as the field finished well strung out. This was an exceptional effort by Clan Des Obeaux a really brilliant performance, with front running tactics combined with cheekpieces a game-changer.
Abacadabras made amends for crashing out at Cheltenham when taking Grade One honours in the Betway Aintree Hurdle at the Liverpool course. The Denise Foster-trained seven-year-old exited at the third flight in the Champion Hurdle — but bounced back to strike in the hands of Jack Kennedy. Abacadabras (5-1) had the loose Jason The Militant for company in the closing stages and kept on strongly to hold Buzz by a length and a quarter, with Millers Bank two and a quarter lengths in third and Buveur D’Air fourth. The latter was leading when Jason The Militant, who unseated Rachael Blackmore after jumping the seventh flight, went across him at the second-last. Abacadabras was advised 0.75pt each way at 5/1 to our members. Abacadabras was very impressive here, he could be called the winner some way out.
Cousin Pascal provided a 66-1 shock in the Rose Paterson Randox ‘Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase at Aintree. James King — winning the race for the second time — steered the Joe O’Shea-trained outsider to a surprise result over the Grand National fences, as amateur riders were welcomed back to one of their big races of the year after the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. There was drama at the first fence when Kashmir Peak and Dashing Perk fell, while Risk And Roll was another casualty in the early stages. Cousin Pascal was always close to the pace with Golden Tobouggan, Some Man and Cat Tiger up with the leaders. There were many in with chances as they crossed the Melling Road with two fences to jump. Latenightpass held a narrow lead but Cousin Pascal had the far rail to help and crossed the line two and a half lengths to the good over that rival. Cat Tiger was three and a quarter lengths back in third and a nose ahead of Clondaw Westie in fourth.
Editeur Du Gite ran his rivals into the ground with a bold front-running performance to win the Close Brothers Red Rum Handicap Chase. Gary Moore’s seven-year-old, ridden by his son Josh, put in a good round of jumping apart from the last, where he was slow, but he recovered and galloped all the way to the line. Sully D’Oc Aa and Dostal Phil, both owned by JP McManus, tried to close but the post came in time for the 9-1 winner, who was wearing the colours of 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy.
Rachael Blackmore, the leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival got off the mark at Aintree’s big meeting with victory on Me Too Please in the Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race. She had the Arthur Moore-trained five-year-old close to the pace set by Mansoline and Swincombe Fleat before setting sail for home in the straight. Once in front, Me Too Please (14-1) showed her inexperience by veering over to the far side but Blackmore kept the partnership intact. They crossed the line a length and a half to the good over Elle Est Belle, with Miss Lamb third in the Grade Two contest. The Pam Sly-trained Eileendover was sent off the evens favourite but she never looked like adding to her three previous victories and was a never-threatening fourth. This was a brilliant way to finish day one with Arthur Moore one of Irelands great trainers getting a win on the big stage.
Friday, Day two of the Aintree Festival. Jack Kennedy weaved his way through expertly on Tronador to land the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Aintree. The lightly-raced five-year-old was the only runner trained in Ireland — by Denise Foster — among the 22-strong field for the opening race on day two of the Grand National meeting, and his victory showed the travelling contingent’s domination at the Cheltenham Festival is not letting up. Long-time leader Kateson was still in front jumping the last — but Tronador landed with momentum and sprinted clear to beat Dans Le Vent by two and a half lengths, with Edwardstone running on for third. I had really fancied this horse for the Boodles in 2020. Tronador was advised to our members 0.5pt each way at 22/1.
Belfast Banter handled the huge step up to Grade One company from handicaps to win the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. Peter Fahey’s six-year-old only made it into the County Hurdle off bottom-weight, but he enjoyed the slightly better ground at Cheltenham and looked even better on Merseyside. For Pleasure adopted his customary role at the head of affairs, with Nico de Boinville keen not to give him too much rope on the favourite Dusart. Having just his second run, Dusart made several errors and it was to his credit he still had a chance jumping the last. But by then Belfast Banter was still on the bridle. Do Your Job emerged as the biggest threat, although Kevin Sexton had enough in reserve to see him off by a length and a quarter. Dusart was back in third, a further length and a quarter away. Houx Gris was a relatively early faller, sadly losing his life. Another brilliant effort from Belfast Banter who has had a fantastic season.
Chantry House took full advantage of the exit of Espoir De Romay to land victory in the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree. The Marsh Novices’ Chase winner from Cheltenham was two lengths down approaching the second-last when Kim Bailey’s long-time leader crumpled on landing. That left the 11-8 favourite a long way clear of Shan Blue and he went on to provide Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville with a welcome winner having drawn a blank at the meeting up to then. I have no doubt Espoir De Romay would have won, Chantry House was a lucky winner in my view.
Fakir D’oudairies finally landed the big pot his consistent efforts have deserved in recent seasons when bolting up in the Marsh Chase at Aintree. Second in six Grade Ones throughout his career, including last time out in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, he was declared to run at Fairyhouse on Monday but pulled out on account of the quick ground. Connections had been hoping for a softer surface on Merseyside — but the way he travelled and jumped on this occasion suggests there will be no worries in the future. Master Tommytucker attempted to make all but, as is his wont, made several errors, including a spectacular one on the first circuit which saw Sam Twiston-Davies perform miracles to keep the partnership intact. Heading to the third-last Politologue moved alongside his stablemate Master Tommytucker, with Nuts Well aiming to squeeze between the pair as Mark Walsh moved on the outside of all of them. It got very tight with Nuts Well coming off worst, forcing Danny McMenamin to take a pull and by then his chance had gone.Sent off the 2-1 favourite, Fakir D’oudairies shot clear to give Joseph O’Brien a notable win, with Nuts Well holding off Itchy Feet for second, 11 lengths away. I thought this was a deserved Grade one for Fakir D’oudairies he is a really talented horse.
Livelovelaugh turned the Randox Topham Handicap Chase into a procession for Patrick and Willie Mullins. Having set off at what seemed a particularly brisk pace in the early stages, Livelovelaugh had burned everything else off crossing the Melling Road. Mullins had got his mount into a fantastic rhythm, but when the pursuers began to close up as the field raced back on to the racecourse proper, it was a question of how much was going to be left in the tank. The 11-year-old briefly looked in trouble — but Mullins had saved plenty on the 15-2 shot and put the race to bed approaching the Elbow. Livelovelaugh had run in the Grand National itself two years ago and looked a non-stayer in 11th behind Tiger Roll. Pink Eyed Pedro was second at 33-1, four and a half lengths away, with Senior Citizen third and Snugsborough Hall in fourth. Snugsborough Hall was advised 0.5pt each way to our members at 22/1. This was a superb performance from Livelovelaugh once again advertising the strength of form from The Dublin Racing Festival.
The Grand National-winning team of Lucinda Russell and Derek Fox teamed up at Aintree once more to win the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle with Ahoy Senor at 66-1. Having just his second start over hurdles, having won at Ayr last month, Ahoy Senor made every yard of the running. As his challengers dropped away one by one in the straight there was only the favourite, Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame, who brought the strongest form to the table, able to get close before the final flight. Ahoy Senor was not for stopping, though, and the lightly-raced six-year-old went away again on the run-in to score by seven lengths and his future looks very bright. Despite the 66/1 SP there looked to be no fluke about this Ahoy Senor did it the hard way from the front.
Rowland Ward benefitted from the fitting of a first-time tongue-tie to win the closing Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle for Stuart Edmunds. The race changed markedly in complexion at the second-last flight when the strongly-fancied Copperless, who appeared to be going as well as anything else, took a crashing fall. Henry de Bromhead’s Bold Enough had just about given his best, leaving Camprond in the lead, but Rowland Ward was produced beautifully by Charlie Hammond. It took longer than it was maybe expected for him to wear down his rival, but the 12-1 shot won by half a length from the 9-2 favourite.
Saturday, Day three of the Aintree Festival. A day that would see history made. Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner of the Randox Grand National when steering Minella Times to glory at Aintree. The Tipperary rider, 31, was the top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival — where she won the Champion Hurdle — and crowned a fabulous season with a historic triumph in the world’s greatest steeplechase. The writing was on the wall when she took Minella Times into the lead before the final fence, although she had to keep the Henry de Bromhead-trained eight-year-old up to his work as the famous Elbow approached. Blackmore and Minella Times (11-1) were not for stopping, though, and galloped into racing folklore to win in the colours of JP McManus. Balko Des Flos (100-1), ridden by Aidan Coleman, was second to give De Bromhead an incredible one-two. Any Second Now (15-2) was third, with Burrows Saint (9-1) fourth and Farclas (16-1) fifth, as Irish-trained horses filled all those places.
An emotional Blackmore said: “This is the Aintree Grand National. I’m completely blown away.“I got a fantastic passage the whole way. Minella Times was unbelievable, he jumped fantastically, I don’t think he missed a beat anywhere. “He was able to travel into a gap, I seemed to have loads of space everywhere and you couldn’t have wished for a better passage. He was just unbelievable, he really was, his jumping was second to none.“I’m so lucky to be riding these horses for Henry de Bromhead. He trained a one-two there which is incredible. That can’t be forgotten in the whole scheme of things.
“It’s great to win it in these colours, too. It’s always a privilege to ride for JP McManus and to win it for him is unbelievable. They’ve had a tough year so hopefully, this can make things a little easier.“This is a massive deal for me personally, not the fact I’m a female. The thing that hit me when I crossed the line was that I’d won the National, not that I’m the first female to win the National. I’m just delighted.“I don’t feel male or female right now — I don’t even feel human. This is just unbelievable.”
De Bromhead said: “It’s fantastic. Rachael is breaking all records. We’re just delighted.“Balko Des Flos ran a cracker and Chris’s Dream was going very well, but unfortunately he unshipped Darragh O’Keeffe four out. They all ran really well.“It looked like Rachael had the race won at the last, but we all know how that can change. Any Second Now looked a bit unlucky with his passage and he started to come back at us and obviously, Balko was staying on as well.“Rachael got a great passage all the way around, a lot of luck on her side and he winged fences for her. It was brilliant.“She knows the horse very well. We were unfortunate during the winter when having a couple of great runs and just getting beaten, but this made up for it.“We put National-type fences together last week and it seems to have helped, but he’s such a brilliant jumper anyway. He was so good all the way.”
He added: “I thought I was dreaming after Cheltenham so this is amazing, it’s incredible and Rachael was unbelievable. It’s incredible to do it for the McManus’ family and we got a clear run the whole way. “Of course you dream of winning this, but it was a distant dream. Anyone in the jumping game wants to win it, so I’m just so fortunate.“Rachael is brilliant and we’re so lucky to have her, I think they broke the mould with her, what can you say? “It’s a good partnership, you can see from when she joined us how we’ve gone from strength to strength. She’s just a fantastic rider and a lovely person to work with.“I’m back on the ferry tonight so that’s something to look forward to!” There was a sad postscript to the race, with news that the McManus-owned The Long Mile, who was pulled up, had suffered a fatal injury. Bryony Frost, who was unseated from Yala Enki, was taken to the hospital for assessment. Minella Times was advised 0.5pt each way at 11/1. Also advised Farclas 0.5pt each way at 20/1 and Any Second Now 0.5pt each way at 11/1.
Well, where do you start? Rachael Blackmore an incredible talent, a brilliant ambassador for the sport. Blackmore is not an overnight success she is a hard-working jockey, who in the last 18 months has improved to a different level. The first woman to win the worlds greatest race secures Rachael Blackmore's name forever in our sport. I personally cannot wait to see what Rachael does next as I think she is getting better and better. As for the trainer, Henry DeBromhead also not an overnight success. His achievement of winning the Champion Hurdle, The Champion Chase, The Gold Cup and the Aintree Grand National in one season. It is simply astonishing. Henry DeBromhead has long been admired as a trainer. I can only see more big owners gravitating to him. The race itself was a wonderful spectacle a fantastic Grand National. Ireland with 10 of the first 11 home. The Dublin Racing Festival form again heavily advertised. It really is a golden age for Irish Jump racing.
Hometown Boy recovered from a scare at the final flight to give trainer Stuart Edmunds a second winner at the Grand National Festival in 24 hours when landing the EFT Systems Handicap Hurdle at Aintree. The six-year-old, ridden by Ciaran Gethings, was clear of the pack when he blundered at the last and gave away a few lengths. However, Gethings soon got Hometown Boy back on an even keel and the 6-1 favourite kept on gamely to lift the prize. Always prominent throughout in this extended three-mile contest, Hometown Boy had led before the third-last obstacle and was in control until he hit the top of the final flight. J’Ai Froid was beaten three lengths in second place, with Tea Clipper four and three-quarter lengths away in third and Ashtown Lad a further two lengths back in fourth.
My Drogo took his winning run to four with a most convincing performance in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. Connections of the Dan Skelton-trained six-year-old decided to miss Cheltenham and it proved a wise move, with My Drogo powering home under Harry Skelton. Pulling away in the closing stages, the 5-4 favourite crossed the line nine and a half lengths clear of Minella Drama, ridden by Skelton’s title rival Brian Hughes. Guard Your Dreams was half a length away in third. The first three were well ahead of Ballyadam in fourth. My Drogo was held up towards the rear in the early stages as Llandinabo Lad made the running from Striking A Pose. There was drama at the fourth-last flight, just as the race was warming up, with Lucky One and Striking A Pose both coming down. Skelton managed to miss all that as he started to ask My Drogo for an effort — and it was plain sailing from there as the son of Milan opened his Grade One account in some style. Both Harry Cobden and Jonjo O’Neill junior were thankfully on their feet after the spill, but Cobden was subsequently stood down for the day, meaning he missed the ride on Give Me A Copper in the Grand National. I was very impressed with My Drogo who looks like a lovely chasing prospect.
Shishkin maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a workmanlike performance in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree. Nicky Henderson’s exciting prospect may not have been as impressive as in previous races, but the 1-8 favourite got the job done to complete the Cheltenham/Aintree two-mile novice Grade One double after taking the Arkle Trophy last month. Gumball made the running until Nico de Boinville decided to go on some way from home. Funambule Sivola put in a brave bid, but Shishkin was too good and went on to win by three and a quarter lengths in what was a good time. Shishkin was left unchanged as a 6-4 favourite for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase with the sponsors and Coral, while Betfair and Paddy Power kept him at 5-4. The world keeps spinning and Shiskin keeps on winning.
Thyme Hill made up for missing Cheltenham with a gutsy victory in the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree. A minor injury ruled the seven-year-old out of the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival, but he was brought back to fitness in time by his trainer Philip Hobbs. There was also a change of jockey, with Tom O’Brien getting his chance after Richard Johnson’s recent retirement, having last ridden Thyme Hill to victory on his debut in a bumper at Worcester in October 2018. O’Brien rode a copybook race, sitting in the main pack as Vinndication and Emitom set up a big early lead. The former was well clear at one stage, but he could not keep up the gallop. The race changed complexion in the straight and it soon became a duel between Roksana and Thyme Hill. The former held a narrow lead, but she was worn down in the closing stages by a determined Thyme Hill (5-2 favourite), who got the verdict by a neck. Thomas Darby was third, four and a quarter lengths away. Paisley Park was a big disappointment, Emma Lavelle’s nine-year-old being pulled up before the third-last flight without posing a threat. Thyme Hill was advised 1.5pts win at 5/2 to our members. Thyme Hill was good here and deserved his day in the Grade one sun.
Happygolucky gained compensation for finishing second at the Cheltenham Festival with a smooth victory in the Betway Handicap Chase. Kim Bailey’s seven-year-old had to settle for second place behind Vintage Clouds in the Ultima, but he came back strong to take this 31,500 pounds first prize. Knappers Hill (8-1) stayed on well in the closing stages to land the Grade Two Two Weatherbys hstallions.co.uk Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race. The five-year-old, trained by Paul Nicholls, took his unbeaten record to three when scoring by half a length under Megan Nicholls. Peking Rose put in good late gains to fill second place, a length and a quarter ahead of the winner’s stablemate Stage Star. The winning rider said: “That was amazing — I’m on cloud nine. I can’t believe what has just happened. I spoke to Rachael (Blackmore) before I came out and she says she was shaking like a leaf and I feel like that now. This was a brilliant achievement for Paul and Megan Nicholls. I am sure it's a day they both will cherish for many years to come.
Sunday, I will focus on the classic trials at Leopardstown. Poetic Flare was the impressive winner of the Ballylinch Stud 2,000 Guineas Trial Stakes at Leopardstown today, in the process booking a 2,000 Guineas ticket. Una Manning, representing her father Jim Bolger, today stated “he’s in both Guineas along with (stablemate and Futurity Stakes winner) Mac Swiney. He haven’t decided yet whether he’ll go to Newmarket or the Curragh but the two of them won’t run in the same race.”
Keeper Of Time sprang an 80/1 surprise to credit trainer Johnny Feane with a first Group winner today, landing the Group 3 Ballylinch Stud 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes at Leopardstown under jockey Ronan Whelan. Feane later reported “Kevin Manning thought she ran a cracker in the Madrid (Handicap) at the Curragh and she toughed it out well today.“Ronan gave her a lovely ride, settled her in and came with a run. We’re thrilled with her.“The better ground helped and she wants good ground. She’s probably a filly that would suit America or somewhere like that.“There was offers for her before but there will probably be more on the table after this.“We had a Listed winner last year but that would be our biggest winner so far.”
Bolshoi Ballet's price for the Epsom Derby was slashed following an easy win in the Group 3 P.W. McGrath Memorial Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown today, scoring for Ballydoyle and jockey Ryan Moore. Galileo-sired Bolshoi Ballet was fifth on his only Stakes run as a juvenile in October's Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud and today reappeared in fine fettle as he quickened well in the home straight to beat runner-up Flying Visit by two and a quarter lengths. Trainer Aidan O’Brien, winning the race for the fourth consecutive year, stated “you’d be delighted with him as he only ran on soft ground and will have learned a lot today. “He’ll probably come back here for the Derrinstown (Stud Derby Trial) if all goes well. He’s straightforward and, while you’re never sure, he should get 1m4f. He goes to the line well.”