Reaction from connections as weights unveiled for 2020 Randox Health Grand National
The weights were unveiled today for the £1-million Randox Health Grand National, the world's greatest and richest chase, which is run for the 173rd time at Aintree on Saturday, 4 April.
The Weights Lunch was held at the historic St George's Hall in Liverpool and hosted by Ed Chamberlin of ITV Racing, with connections of several leading contenders for the 2020 Randox Health Grand National present.
Trainer Gordon Elliott is keen to target a historic third Randox Health Grand National triumph with Tiger Roll.
Tiger Roll has the chance to emulate the great Red Rum as a three-time winner of the Randox Health Grand National and, if successful, he would become the first horse to do so in successive years.
Tiger Roll has been allotted top weight of 11st 10lb alongside stablemate Delta Work, who is a dual G1 winner in Ireland this season, latterly taking the G1 Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on 2 February.
The 10-year-old Tiger Roll, owned like Delta Work by Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, is set to reappear this Sunday, 16 February, in the G2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan, a contest he captured in 2019.
Elliott said: "If it is left down to me, Tiger Roll will definitely be running in the Randox Health Grand National. He is a household name, and this is the most famous race in the world. I am very keen to run him.
"Tiger Roll is only 4lb worse off with the second horse from last year (Magic Of Light, 10st 12lb). Martin [Greenwood, handicapper] and his team have a job to do, and I respect everything that he does. I think Martin has done his job well.
"Tiger Roll will go for the Boyne Hurdle on Sunday. He has been back cantering since the 1 January, so he will come on from the run. Cheltenham is the plan and then hopefully, with Michael O'Leary's blessing, the Randox Health Grand National.
"Tiger Roll is the horse of a lifetime. Everybody who comes into the yard, the first horse they want to see is Tiger Roll, whether it's a 90-year-old man or 10-year-old child. We are very lucky to have him.
"He gets quite low [over his fences], he just measures them. In his early days you would not have said that he is going to be a Grand National horse. As Donald McCain says, "he might not have got around in Red Rum's day," but as long as Donald is alive, Ginger will never be dead!
"The cut off to qualify for the Grand National is 16 March, so if Tiger Roll doesn't run at Cheltenham, it will be a disaster as he won't be qualified. There is a maybe a race in Down Royal the same week that he could be entered for, but all being well it will be Cheltenham."
Native River (11st 6lb), winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018, could attempt to become the first horse since L'Escargot in the 1970s to win the two biggest prizes in Jump racing.
Trained by Colin Tizzard, 10-year-old Native River is unbeaten in two starts this season, most recently landing the G2 Denman Chase at Newbury on 8 February.
Colin's son and assistant Joe Tizzard said: "We have not tried to hide the fact that myself and dad are keen to run Native River in the Grand National. But it is not just down to us and we have to have 100 per cent support from Garth Broom and Brocade Racing, who are coming around to the idea.
"To be honest, it is all about the Gold Cup with him. With the blinkers back on this season, he has looked very good and he deserves to take his chance in the Gold Cup again, and then we will take stock after that.
"If he was mine right now, I would perhaps skip Cheltenham and go straight to Aintree, but fair play to the owners, they own the horse and he has every right to line up in the Gold Cup.
"He is a tough boy, although I think his win the Gold Cup against Might Bite left its toll on both of them last season. But with the blinkers on, Native River seems in the form of his life again. He is an old-fashioned horse and old fashion rules say that the Gold Cup is a good prep for the Grand National.
"Elegant Escape (11st 2lb) has been placed in two Ladbrokes Trophys and has won a Welsh National. He probably hasn't got the class for a Gold Cup, so he will probably run at Haydock this weekend, skip Cheltenham, and then roll up at Aintree. If he got into a good rhythm, he stays really well. I actually think his Welsh National run this year was not his true running as he faded from four out."
Last year's runner-up Magic Of Light has been allotted 10st 12lb. Nickel Coin in 1951 is the most recent mare to win the Aintree spectacular.
Her trainer Jessica Harrington said: "It was an unbelievable run last year. Magic Of Light was only an eight-year-old, but she took to it like a duck to water. She jumped from fence to fence and, despite making a couple of bad mistakes, she ran totally to the line and stayed brilliantly.
"She was meant to run at Exeter last Sunday when the meeting was abandoned and she is scheduled to hopefully start her journey home tonight. She has an entry at Navan on Sunday and Punchestown next Wednesday. She may go to Cheltenham as well. She loves running so we will keep doing that. She travels very well and thrives on her races.
"She was our first runner in the race and it would be exciting to see if she can go one better."
Harrington is also responsible for Jett (10st 13lb), who finished a fine fourth in the Irish Gold Cup on his latest start at Leopardstown on 2 February. She continued: "Jett is a super jumper. He has been running in G1 races as there is nowhere for him to go. However, he loves jumping and stays very well. If he takes to the fences, which is always a big question, I think he will run a very big race."
Herefordshire handler Tom Lacey is set to saddle his first Randox Health Grand National runner courtesy of J P McManus' Kimberlite Candy (10st 4lb).
Kimberlite Candy chased home Walk In The Mill (Robert Walford, 10st 4lb) in the Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree in December, his first run over the famous fences, and backed that up with a 10-length victory in the G3 Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick on 11 January.
Lacey said: "It was great to see Kimberlite Candy back up his good run in the Becher, as that is something we have not seen from him. He has just come right this year and is very much a different proposition. He is a full of confidence and in great nick.
"We backed off him after the Classic Chase, but he did not miss a day. He just tipped away around the farm doing light canters. He has just started to do a little bit more now, but we will be in no rush.
"10st 4lb is a lovely racing weight. It would be incredible to win the Grand National, as we are a relatively small yard. Like every trainer in the country, we have very good staff who work very hard, and it would be great for everyone."
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls ended his long wait for Aintree glory in 2012 with Neptune Collonges. The Ditcheat handler has six entries to choose from this time around, including Welsh Grand National third Yala Enki (10st 11lb) and Give Me A Copper (10st 1lb), who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Nicholls said: "I have six entered and I would imagine we will run three of four if they all get there. It is just nice to have some nice entries - Yala Enki and Give Me A Copper are probably the best two.
"Yala Enki has nice weight on 10st 11lb. He ran very well in the Welsh National and then won at Taunton recently. He is very much like a Neptune Collonges. I suspect Bryony [Frost] will end up riding him, so that will be a good story as you can imagine.
"Give Me A Copper goes well fresh. He won the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton earlier in the season. He will probably go straight to Aintree, and 10st 1lb looks a lovely racing weight."
Willie Mullins tasted success in the Grand National in 2005 with Hedgehunter and Ireland's champion trainer has nine entries this year, headed by 2019 Irish Grand National winner Burrows Saint (10st 10lb), recent Thyestes Chase scorer Total Recall (10st 13lb) and 2018 Grand National second Pleasant Company (10st 7lb).
Mullins said: "Burrows Saint has been very progressive, and his Irish Grand National form has a strong look to it.
"Pleasant Company has obviously run very well in the race before when second to Tiger Roll in 2018. He was travelling very well in it last year too before he came down (four out). Age is probably not going to be on his chance, but he has been given a fair mark and we have been given a chance.
"Total Recall returned to form nicely when winning the Thyestes Chase, which can be a good trial for this race. He is not a super jumper but he gets from A to B. Crucially, he is horse who is going to keep improving stepped up in trip.
"The three horses I have mentioned are the same. Once they get into staying trips, beyond three and a quarter miles, they are progressing the whole time."
Glamorgan trainer Christian Williams enjoyed a success in his native Wales when Potters Corner landed the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in December under 17-year-old rider Jack Tudor.
Potters Corner has been allotted 10st 6lb for the Randox Health Grand National as he attempts to complete a famous double. Tudor also needs to ride three more winners over fences before the race if he were to take the mount.
Williams said: "It was very special to win the Welsh National and it was a brilliant day at Chepstow. We will hope for the same celebrations at Aintree.
"We are all loving the journey and it was great to see Jack ride him with his family there. It was great for a Welsh-trained horse to win and it was brilliant.
"Potters Corner backs up his runs quite well so we will keep the same pattern. Before he won the Welsh National, he had run three weeks beforehand so he doesn't need a big gap between his races. Looking at the weights and the entries, he doesn't however necessarily have to go to France and we'll see nearer the time.
"As to whether Jack rides, it is a tricky one really. It is exciting to have a horse like him in the race, but Jack firstly needs to have three more winners over fences between now and then before we can even decide if he can ride him. We will see if Jack can ride the winners and we will see what is best and who is available at the time of the race. Jack is a special talent and it's been brilliant to share a victory like that in the Welsh National with him."
Ted Walsh landed the 2000 Grand National with Papillon and his daughter Katie, an ambassador for Aintree Racecourse, was third in the 2012 contest aboard Seabass, also trained by her father. This year Ted is hoping to saddle Any Second Now (10st 6lb), who captured Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019.
Katie Walsh said: "We are really looking forward to running him. He ran well at Leopardstown last time out and he is also a Kim Muir winner. He stays and jumps very well and hopefully for Dad and for the yard, he could run a big race. He is definitely one I will be roaring for after the last."
Opening the Weights Lunch, Aintree Racecourse Chairman Rose Paterson said: "I am delighted to see so many of you here today, despite the best efforts of Storm Ciara.
"At is point, I must thank the trainers who continue to support us magnificently and also the owners, for whom April 4 this year will be their chance to join a select and historic club. I would also like to extend thanks in particular to all our friends from Ireland, even if you are here like your Viking ancestors to plunder.
"We are of course on the brink of creating history. If 'The Tiger' returns, as we hope he will, and if he were to win this would be the biggest racing event of all-time - bigger than Arkle, Nijinsky, Frankel or Enable - and equal only to Red Rum. It would hit every front page and every bulletin across the globe. Above all, it would remind us that racing is all about its equine heroes.
"Not at all that we would want to pressurise you Gordon (Elliott, trainer) or Michael and Eddie (of owners Gigginstown House Stud). Just so you know, we are planning extra media facilities just in case and we expect to see a sea of stripes on the day. 'The Tiger' is only one of over 100 horses of unequal talent in the modern era of the Grand National. The handicapper tells me that the modern era began with L'Escargot (1975). "We know that whoever triumphs in a few weeks' time, there will be a fantastic story and as usual we will all say afterwards with hindsight how obvious it was.
"It is exactly 60 years since the National was first broadcast live in TV, so this seems a good moment to thank Ed and the whole ITV team, both before and behind the camera, for their superbly professional, creative and sympathetic presentation of our sport.
"Finally, a huge thank you to Dr Peter FitzGerald and his team from Randox Health for their immensely generous and ongoing support. Peter, it is the greatest pleasure to be working with you in our fourth year together."