By Richard Hoiles
There's hardly been a chance to gather breath between the Grand National meeting at Aintree and the start of the Craven meeting at Newmarket on Tuesday, where the sun is forecast to also make a welcome appearance.
The absence of such weather on the build-up to last Saturday’s big race had ensured it would be a thorough test and it was again an endorsement of the changes made to the fence design that it produced a thrilling race where all returned safely.
For the majority of the race it looked to be panning out pretty simply for Tiger Roll. The nimbleness of horse, and experience of rider, had resulted in a sidestep of I Just Know at Becher’s first time and the swift regaining of lost irons when Tiger Roll made his only notable error at the 19th.
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Moving smoothly through to take it up over the last from long-time leader Pleasant Company a pretty comfortable success seemed assured at the Elbow only for once again Aintree’s long haul from the last to begin to take its toll.
All of a sudden his diminutive size, which had proved no obstacle over the fences, suddenly began to become an issue as his stride shortened rapidly in the final 50 yards to such an extent that it would only have taken two more strides for Pleasant Company to wrest back the initiative.
Davy Russell shone in the post-race interviews. As well as the grace and composure to mention colleague Pat Smullen, whose battle against the recently discovered tumour has no doubt cast a great shadow over Irish weighing rooms, he then showed that not only had he ‘won the race a thousand times in my mind’ but he had clearly also considered what he would say afterwards.
His words evoked great pictures of a young horse mad lad stacking up mounds of grass cuttings to create his own National course, whilst no doubt at the same time castigating the handicapper that he had given his mount far too much weight.
In the latter stages of his career, Russell’s National record had been nearly as bad as his Cheltenham Festival record is good, but Saturday showed that it would have been a travesty if those many Aintree dreams had never been played out in reality.
Today’s selections start with:
Has the cheekpieces applied after a career best over course and distance last time and runs off the same mark. That was his first try at the trip and the extra test of stamina seemed to suit.
Narrowly beaten at the course last time he has similar conditions and with Onlyfoolsownhorses looking a question mark on ground this soft then a reproduction of that effort could be enough to thwart main danger Crawford’s Mill, whose Point-To-Point form suggests he could improve for the switch to fences.
Returns to fences after a couple of really good efforts over hurdles off a higher mark then he races off here. He could also get a relatively soft time out in front and continue the good recent run of the yard.
5.55 Newmarket – Major Jumbo at 9-2: The stable won this a couple of seasons ago with Brando and so it could be a race that has been in mind for Major Jury who improved steadily throughout last season culminating in an all the way victory at York last September.