Grand National: 6 narratives that will have to wait until 2021
With this weekend's main event at Aintree being cancelled, Chad Yeomans explores some of the potential storylines to keep an eye out for next year.
1. Tiger Roll’s hat-trick
There was only one question on everybody’s lips in the lead-up to this year’s race.
Could Tiger Roll could become the first horse in history to win three consecutive renewals of the world’s most famous steeplechase?
Sadly, we’re going to have to wait to find out, but the good news is that he will be staying in training in order to have a crack in 2021.
Some have doubts as to whether he can win it as an 11-year-old, but I don’t share them.
Horses with double-digit age figures don’t have a bad record in the race, with 11-year-olds winning three on the bounce between 2012 and 2014.
For a small horse, the biggest threat will be the fact that he’ll no doubt have to shoulder near enough top weight again.
But he’ll still have the ultra-experienced Davy Russell on his back, who will position him well and give him every chance to be competitive.
If the fire still burns, then he’ll have every chance.
2. Last chance for Richard Johnson?
Richard Johnson has enjoyed a decorated career that has brought over 3,700 winners and four consecutive Champion Jockey titles.
Yet the one honour to elude him over the last 25 years is the Grand National. In fact, nobody has ever ridden in as many renewals of the race without winning it.
He has twice finished second – including an agonising defeat to Pineau De Re by 1¼ lengths on Balthazar King in 2014 – but, generally, has never had much luck in the race.
This is, of course, a contest that has frustrated plenty of people, so the percentages are always going to be small. But, as the stable jockey for Philip Hobbs, perhaps those struggles should come as no surprise.
When you look deeper at Hobbs’ numbers, his lowest strike rate (11 per cent) comes in races over fences over a distance of 3m3f and above. If you’re not on the right type of horse, then it’s almost impossible to win the Grand National.
Now 42 and with another year to wait until the next renewal, Johnson won’t get many more chances to tick the big one off his list.
3. The hole in Nicky Henderson’s CV
The same goes for Nicky Henderson, who is one of the most successful trainers of all time.
But, whereas his contemporaries at the pinnacle of jump racing such as Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls all boast at least one Grand National to their name, it remains conspicuously absent on his list of achievements.
Again, a look at the stats would suggest this is no anomaly.
Since first starting out, Henderson has trained a whopping 890 winners over hurdles over a distance between 2m and 2m1f and another 272 winners over fences between 2m and 2m2f.
However, in all that time, he has trained just five winners (from 129 runners, at a strike rate of just under four per cent) over fences over distances of 3m3f and above.
Ironically, he finished second in the Grand National in his first season as a trainer in 1979 but hasn’t come close since.
Clearly, his training methods are largely based around speed, but he did think he had a few good chances this year to finally break his duck. He’ll be hoping more than anyone that the likes of Valtor, Beware The Bear and Ok Corral can arrive at Aintree in as fine fettle in 12 months’ time.
4. History repeating itself?
Exactly 20 years on from training his first – and, so far, only – Grand National winner in Papillon, Ted Walsh was set to saddle one of this year’s best-backed horses in Any Second Now.
The son of Oscar has plenty of class, as he proved when winning the Kim Muir at Cheltenham in 2019, and showed his versatility when winning a race over just 2m last time out at Naas.
Interestingly, that was the same race that Walsh’s Seabass entered before his gallant third in the 2012 Grand National, when ridden by Walsh’s daughter and Betway ambassador, Katie.
Of course, it was Walsh’s son, Ruby, who rode Papillon to victory in 2000, who, like Katie, has also since retired.
Ted, however, is not done yet, with plenty of money coming in for Any Second Now at the start of the year.
Owned by JP McManus, he’ll still have a great chance in 2021, even if the symmetry in dates isn’t quite as seductive.
5. Tom Lacey’s first try
Tom Lacey must have been getting pretty excited in the build up to this year’s Grand National.
His mount, Kimberlite Candy, had a fantastic profile for the race – including a comfortable victory in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January by 10 lengths from Captain Chaos, who bolted up by 54 lengths in the Grimthorpe Chase on his next start.
Another horse owned by JP McManus, the son of Flemensfirth also finished second in the Becher Chase on his only start around the Grand National course, with the way he stayed on from the last suggesting the slower pace and the longer trip in the real thing would be right up his street.
At just eight years old, he will still be one to keep an eye on in 2021 as his rookie trainer bids to win the National at his very first attempt.
6. A Welsh winner?
One of the stories of this year’s race was going to be Potters Corner, who was the leading hope for Wales.
Trained by a Welshman in Christian Williams, whose stables are based in Glamorgan, and owned by a group that includes Wales rugby star Jonathan Davies, Potters Corner was coming into the race off the back of a victory in the Welsh Grand National in December.
Having also won the Midlands Grand National in March 2019, he had all the right credentials, and was also handily weighted.
A winner in all ground descriptions, he’ll still have a real chance of giving Wales their first English Grand National winner in more than a century by the time the race returns.
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