Sunday 14 September 2014

National winners setting sights on Aintree 2015

A glance at the ante-post market for the 2015 Crabbies Grand National at Aintree, a race worth total prize money of £1 million, shows that last year’s hero Pineau de Re and Shutthefrontdoor, impressive winner of the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, are amongst a number of horses vying for favouritism at around 26.0 with most firms in the Grand National betting, writes Elliot Slater.

There’s a long way to go before the 40 runners will face the starter for “the world’s greatest steeplechase” at Aintree racecourse in the spring, but already connections of the two respective Grand National heroes of last year are laying out their plans for the campaign ahead.

Pineau de Re, trained by Dr Richard Newland, proved a revelation last term and far exceeded even the wildest expectations of his new owner, Mr Provan, who purchased the veteran privately from his previous patrons who had raced the horse over a number of seasons in Ireland under the guidance of trainer Philip Fenton. The French-bred gelding had placed in graded hurdles in his youth but had seemingly plateaued some time ago over fences, yet the change of scene and the new surroundings of Newland’s Warwickshire stables brought about a remarkable transformation in the 11-year-old.

After winning a veterans handicap chase at Exeter in January he switched to hurdles and very nearly pulled off an amazing win in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final at the Cheltenham Festival before taking his chance over the still awesome Aintree fences, being sent off at Grand National betting odds of 25/1. The rest is history, as Leighton Aspell’s mount galloped to a superb five-length victory over Balthazar King, catapulting his handler into the international sporting spotlight.

Dr Newland is hopeful that despite the certainty of having to carry more weight in the big race this year Pineau de Re (26.0) has a sporting chance of getting involved at the business end of the contest and is likely to campaign him over hurdles for most of the season, keeping the old horse fresh for another assault on the £1 million Crabbies-sponsored showcase event

On the other side of the Irish Sea another smart staying handicap chaser made a big name for himself last term and could be one to definitely keep on the right side in the season ahead with his ambitious owner JP McManus, trainer Jonjo O’Neill, and jockey Tony McCoy eyeing a crack at the Aintree marathon on the spring.

Shutthefrontdoor achieved a tremendous amount in his first season over fences having previously shown ability over hurdles. There’s no doubt that the gelded son of Accordion exceeded expectations with the rapid progress he made over fences, culminating in a famous victory in the Irish Grand National when getting the better of a tremendous tussle with Golden Wonder to score by three-quarters-of-a-length under a great ride from Barry Geraghty.

Tony McCoy had ridden Shutthefrontdoor on most of his outings over fences - with the exception of his previous outing at Cheltenham in the Terry Biddlecombe National Hunt Chase (for amateur riders) - but he was unable to travel to Ireland for the big race and Geraghty proved a more than able substitute at Fairyhouse.

At just seven years old the Irish National winner is likely still improving and hopes are understandably high that a horse with his stamina and attitude could well have something to offer at Aintree in the spring when he could well be amongst the market principals, especially if McCoy, very much a housewives favourite these days, is back on board.