Festival pointers to the National a month hence
If the Festival last week didn’t push back the invasion of Irish winners at Cheltenham, it did, at least, create some pointers toward the other fascinating riddle of the Spring – the Grand National in a little over 4 weeks time. The five week gap between the two key festivals of the Spring should allow more of those that competed at Cheltenham to recover their zest for speed in time for Aintree.
At the top of the handicap are several Cheltenham winners, not least Delta Work, who completed a double in the Glenfarclas Cross Country. The self-same race was a standing dish as prep for the National for one Tiger Roll, in the same ownership of Gigginstown Stud. Gigginstown also has a clutch of other notable entries, not least Conflated, who ran a terrific race to be third behind Galopin des Champs in the Boodles Gold Cup. He is a more likely candidate for the Bowl, or to wait till Punchestown.
The cross country runner-up, Galvin, has been allotted 11st 11lb, but he looks more than capable of carrying weight. Both he and Delta Work carried the 11st 7lb of the 3m 7f in the cross country. He’s among the top-rated horses most likely to be left in the race.
The third, Franco de Port, was a remote third at Cheltenham, but appeared one-paced when the leaders kicked on. Whilst the extra 5f of the National might blunt the speed of others, he looks well held.
Last year’s winner Noble Yeats also ran prominently at Cheltenham, and was putting in his best effort when running on into fourth place in the Gold Cup.
Two standout performers from day one of the Festival are also engaged. Corach Rambler provided a first Festival winner for Lucinda Russell in the Ultima. His neck victory offers more hope to supporters as he was idling at the close. With a handy weight of 10st 5lb, it’s small wonder he is favourite in Grand National Day betting.
Seven year old Gaillard du Mesnil also shone on Cheltenham’s opening day, staying on to win the National Hunt Chase under Patrick Mullins, the second of Willie Mullins 6 Festival successes. The horse has barely put a foot wrong around Cheltenham; his 3 appearances have included a runner-up slot behind Bob Olinger in the Ballymore and a 3rd behind L’Homme Press├® in last year’s Brown Advisory Novices Chase. At 12/1 and carrying 11st, he is more than interesting.
Another class horse among the top weights is Envoi Allen, winner again of the Ryanair. But with other suitable races at his preferred 2m 4f, lining up in the National seems improbable.
Royal Pagaille ran creditably in the Gold Cup, but whilst he was hampered by the fall of bold front runner Ahoy Senor, it would flatter him to think he might otherwise have been in the finish. His sixth place is a fair reflection of his worth against some mighty opponents. If he takes to the National fences, he has the class to be thereabouts against some of the aforementioned handicappers.
In recent years, the National has become much more of a form race. Where rank outsiders once were regular currency among winners and placed horses, this is markedly less so now. The winner is likely to be found among the staying chases in this country and especially in Ireland. But festival performances count for a lot this year. Provided some of the above turn up at Aintree with their exertions well behind them, then we can be assured of yet another top quality 9 minutes on April 15th.