Aintree: who was bashing the Bolly and whose bubbles fell a little flat?
The lads and lasses of Liverpool like a bevvy or three. Picking up that glass and running with it, Andrew Dietz reflects on the Grand National meeting's range of performances with a tipple in mind!
When Mark Twain coined the phrase "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog" he could have been thinking about this remarkable horse.
Described by owner Michael O'Leary as a "little rat of a thing", the eight-year-old showed size does not matter in the biggest race of them all as he added a Grand National victory to an impressive haul already featuring three Cheltenham Festival wins.
It's also worth mentioning he is the latest to augment the reputation of the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham as a novice-nurturing contest of the highest order – from 2015 to 2017, it's given us a Gold Cup winner (Native River), now a National winner, plus a runner-up in both races (Minella Rocco and Cause Of Causes). It will be fascinating to see how this year's one-two, Rathvinden and Ms Parfois, progress.
As the oldest jockey riding in Saturday's big race, the 38-year-old put his experience to good use to clinch a first National success at the 14th attempt. It was a triumph for dogged determination by a masterful rider soon to be crowned champion of Ireland for the third time.
The retained jockey for leading owners Isaac Souede and Simon Munir is riding high on confidence and it showed with a Grade 1 treble on Nicky Henderson-trained trio We Have A Dream, L'Ami Serge and Terrefort. His three winners were enough to claim the leading jockey award.
After a war of attrition at Cheltenham, the Gold Cup runner-up could have been forgiven for a less-than-sparkling performance in the Bowl. Instead, the once-quirky chaser showed great constitution and an abundance of resolution to light up the opening day with a stylish victory.
Lalor and Kayley Woollacott
A brave horse and a brave trainer. Lalor delivered on the promise his late trainer Richard Woollacott believed he had when winning the Top Novices' Hurdle. He was delivered perfectly for the big day by Woollacott's widow Kayley, who conducted herself brilliantly afterwards on a hugely emotional occasion.
Long considered a shrewd operator in the pointing field, the red-hot Herefordshire trainer enjoyed a breakthrough meeting following Grade 3 victories with Jester Jet and Thomas Patrick. He saddled four runners across the three days and his other pair, Kateson (second) and Meep Meep (fourth), ran highly creditable races in the two bumpers.
Bring them on! That is what Ultragold says when faced with the formidable National fences, and he once again ate them for breakfast when making all to win the Topham for a second successive season. Matching Always Waining's hat-trick in the race is now within reach.
The former Army captain rides with a prosthetic lower right leg after the vehicle in which he was travelling in Afghanistan was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2009. That has not stopped him living the dream and he became the first amputee to ride over the National fences, finishing a gallant 12th in the Foxhunters'.
With Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott saving many of their big hitters for the climax to their trainers' title duel at Punchestown, Henderson took advantage by claiming top honours at the meeting with five victories. For good measure, that quintet all came in Grade 1s.
You have only to consider the number of inspections and cancelled meetings over the last week to appreciate the tricky task the unsettled weather posed to groundstaff. One jockey described the track on the opening day as "like a carpet". Although conditions eased to heavy, soft in places for the National, nobody seemed to have a bad word to say about the ground. Not for the first time, though, there was the odd gripe about delays in posting information on GoingStick readings.
Compared to the Cheltenham evasion, there was a select raiding party, but they made a splash, with the first four home in the National – and eight of the 12 finishers – trained in Ireland. There were three other victories to cheer as well on what was an improvement on last year, when there was no Irish-trained winner.
After experiencing another Cheltenham Festival blank, northern trainers were aiming to restore some pride on home soil but failed to register a single victory in the 21 races. While undoubtedly disappointing, that should not overshadow what has been a resurgent season for the region, with stars such as Waiting Patiently and Sam Spinner emerging to brighten the outlook.
The leading amateur is likely to have some regrets after being banned for 17 days and fined £400 for overuse of the whip on mares' bumper winner Getaway Katie Mai. The suspension rules him out of the Thursday and Friday of the Punchestown festival.
The National weights system
Was it entirely necessary to put the Grand National weights up 1lb following the withdrawal of topweight Minella Rocco the day before the race? Every pound counts, particularly on heavy ground over a marathon trip, and from a welfare perspective it would have made sense to leave them as they were. The official racecard carried the old weight information as it had already gone to press – a far from ideal situation for the track.
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