Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Brief History of the Grand National


The Grand National was the brainchild of William Lynn, proprietor of the Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool, although Lynn took his inspiration from the existing, and highly successful, Great St. Albans Steeplechase. The inaugural running of the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase took place in 1836, but the first ‘official’ running of the Grand National is recognised as having taken place three years later, in 1839.

Indeed, for the first three years of its existence, the Grand National was a conditions race, in which all the runners carried twelve stone, and did not become a handicap until 1843.

With the exception of the years 1941-1945, when the race was cancelled because of World War II, a Grand National of some sort has been staged every year since. However, during the years 1916-1918, during World War I, the race was transferred to Gatwick Racecourse, where it was run first as the as the ‘Racecourse Association Steeplechase’ and subsequently as the ‘War National’.


In 1993, disaster struck when the majority of the jockeys failed to realise a false start had been called and seven horses completed the course, leading to the race being declared void and going down in history as the ‘National that never was’. A real out there event that wouldn't have been present in anyone's Grand National predictions. Four years later, in 1997, a coded bomb threat from the Irish Republican Army, led to the evacuation of Aintree Racecourse and the running of the one and only ‘Monday National’ 48 hours later.

In the early days, the point where runners cross the Melling Road, near the Anchor Bridge, really did mark the boundary of the ‘racecourse proper’. Beyond that boundary, horses raced over open countryside, including ploughed fields, and jumped a variety of natural obstacles, including banks, brooks, ditches and hedges. Over time, some of the original obstacles, and also a stone wall and two standard brush hurdles, were modified, or done away with altogether, and incorporated into an enclosed National Course. Of course to this day the National is very much known for it's challenging fences. The Chair and Canal Turn especially are notorious for their level of difficulty. Many gifted horses have come a cropper navigating the National course.

Taking us to the present day. The 2020 Grand National will be the 173rd running of the prestigious event, a fact which takes some getting your head around. TV viewing figures in the UK are expected to be around 8-10 million, and worldwide into the hundreds of millions. There may be updates to the record books should Tiger Roll do what many would have won thought impossible. Namely win a third Grand National in a row. His season has gone as expected so far, and predictably he's been made favourite for the race. Tiger Roll has been level pegging it with the legend of racing that is Red Rum, but will he be able to take this achievement to the next level? If he does, I dare say I'll be six feet under before any horse ever beats THAT record.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Katchit

Katchit
Katchit was best known for winning the Triumph Hurdle in 2007 and the Champion Hurdle in 2008. The latter victory made him the first horse since Persian War, in 1968, to complete the Triumph Hurdle - Champion Hurdle double in consecutive years and the first five-year-old since See You Then, in 1985, to win the Champion Hurdle.

Small in stature, but a swift, instinctive hurdler, Katchit was bought by Wiltshire trainer Alan King after he watched him win his only race on the Flat, a 0-75 handicap, over 1 mile 2 furlongs, at Salisbury in June, 2006. Katchit made his hurdling debut at Market Rasen the following September and only had to be pushed clear by Robert “Chocolate” Thornton to win by 9 lengths, eased down. Indeed, Katchit won seven of his eight starts as a novice, culminating with two victories at Grade 1 level. In the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, he led approaching the last flight and was driven clear for an impressive 9-length win, while in the Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, less than a month later, he stayed on strongly to beat Punjabi by 4 lengths.

Katchit reappeared at Aintree the following October, taking revenge on Degas Art, the only horse to have beaten him as a novice, but was beaten the next twice, in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Nevertheless, he resumed winning ways in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in February, running on well to beat Blythe Knight by 5 lengths. In the Champion Hurdle a month later, Katchit started only joint fifth choice in the market in a field of 15 runners, which included Osana, who’d beaten him 8 lengths in the International Hurdle, and Harchibald, who’d beaten him 3¼ lengths in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. However, in the Cheltenham showpiece, Katchit took the lead with two to jump and, although strongly challenged by his old rival Osana at the last flight, stayed on well up the hill to win, all out, with Punjabi a further 5 lengths away in third.

Sadly, Katchit never won again. When he died, as a 10-year-old, in 2013, following colic surgery, Alan King said of him, “He was a marvellous horse. He was just tough. It is definitely up there with my best winners and we will never forget him.”


Thursday, 23 January 2020

Golden Horn


Golden Horn
Bred and owned by Anthony Oppenheimer and trained by John Gosden in Newmarket, Suffolk, Golden Horn was named Cartier Horse of the Year in 2015 after winning the Derby, the Coral-Eclipse, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. All in all, in a career lasting just over a calendar year, he won seven of his nine races and earned over £4.4 million in total prize money.

A March foal, Golden Horn raced just once as a juvenile, overcoming greenness to win a run-of-the-mill maiden stakes race over an extended mile at Nottingham in October, 2014. However, he improved significantly from two to three, winning the Listed Feilden Stakes, over 1 mile 1 furlong, on his reappearance at Newmarket the following April and readily accounting for stable companion Jack Hobbs in the Betfred Dante Stakes, over 1 mile 2½ furlongs, at York a month later.

Golden Horn was supplemented for the Derby, at a cost of £75,000 to connections, and faced 11 rivals, headed by Jack Hobbs and Giovanni Canaletto, trained by Aidan O’Brien, who’d been narrowly beaten in the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh on his previous outing. He was sent off 13/8 favourite and duly collected, running on well in the closing stages to record a comfortable 3½-length victory over his old rival Jack Hobbs.

Winning jockey Frankie Dettori, who’d first won the Derby eight years earlier on Authorized, said afterwards, “When you’re young, you don’t really appreciate the full importance of this Derby, so it means a great deal to win it for a second time.”

Golden Horn took on the older horses for the first time in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown in July and, although involved in a good battle with The Grey Gatsby throughout the last half a mile, stretched clear in the closing stages to win by 3½ lengths. He faced The Grey Gatsby again in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York the following month and, as he had at Sandown, started 4/9 favourite to extend his unbeaten record to six. Golden Horn beat The Grey Gatsby easily enough but, surprisingly, failed to overcome 50/1 outsider Arabian Queen – a three-year-old filly officially rated 21lb inferior – going down by a neck.

Golden Horn resumed winning ways in the Irish Champion Stakes, won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe under a fine ride by Frankie Dettori and finished his career by finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland, Kentucky.


Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Harbinger

Harbinger
According to Timeform ratings, which are widely accepted as a definitive measure of the relative merit of racehorses from different generations, Harbinger was on a par with Shergar, Dancing Brave and Sea The Stars, but raced just once at the highest level.

In the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July, 2010, he beat a field that included Workforce, the Derby winner, Cape Blanco, the Irish Derby winner, Youmzain, second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe the previous October, and Daryakana, winner of the Hong Kong Vase the previous December, by 11 lengths. Sadly, Harbinger suffered a fractured left foreleg in a routine gallop on the Limekilns in Newmarket shortly afterwards and, although the injury wasn’t life-threatening, he never raced again.

Owned by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, Harbinger was a slow maturing type, who didn’t race as a two-year-old and, frankly, didn’t appear to have any aspirations of becoming a bona fide Group 1 contender until he turned four. His three-year-old campaign started promisingly enough, with an impressive win in a maiden, over 1 mile 2 furlongs, at Chester in May on his second start, followed by another convincing victory in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Goodwood, on his first attempt at 1 mile furlongs, when next seen in July.

However, despite starting 13/8 favourite for the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at York the following month, he trailed in last of the seven runners, beaten 27¼ lengths, behind Monitor Closely. Given another short break, he was dropped back into Group 3 company for the St. Simon Stakes at Newbury in October, but could still only finish third of 11, beaten 6¼ lengths.

Harbinger blossomed as a four-year-old, though, striding clear for an impressive 3-length win over subsequent Yorkshire Cup winner Manifest in the John Porter Stakes at Newbury on his reappearance in April, followed by further convincing victories in the Group 3 Ordmonde Stakes at Chester and the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot. Before his injury, he was already hot favourite for the Juddmonte International Stakes at York and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe but was, tragically, the highest rated horse in the world for just two weeks.