Whilst history was made in the Grand National, the overall result was very much in keeping with the general theme this spring which has been one of Irish domination. Only three home-trained runners figured among the 15 who completed the course, with sixth-placed Blaklion, trained by Dan Skelton, the only interloper in an otherwise all-Irish first ten. More specifically, the result was another triumph both for Henry de Bromhead, who matched his Gold Cup feat of saddling the first two home, and of course, for Rachael Blackmore, the first female rider to land the prize, both trainer and jockey having already rewritten the history books with their exploits at Cheltenham last month.
🏆 History in the Grand National@rachaelblackmor becomes the first female rider to win the £750,000 Randox Grand National aboard Minella Times @AintreeRaces— Racing TV (@RacingTV) April 10, 2021
A 1-2 for @HenrydeBromhead too 👏 pic.twitter.com/RRIsIdKFjA
Under another faultless ride from his jockey, winner Minella Times (c155 from c151) made it all seem very routine, taking extremely well to the fences and seeing out the extra distance on his first crack at a marathon trip, further proof that prior course experience is no longer as important as it once was. Whereas Minella Times had strong form recent form in competitive handicaps to his name, Balko des Flos (c156 from c150?) was a surprise package at 100/1 in chasing him home. Last seen struggling in the Cross Country at Cheltenham, he looked a natural on his first time over the Aintree fences having mostly been in the wilderness since his win in the 2018 Ryanair, and he’d be worth returning here for the Becher next winter.
Third-placed Any Second Now (c161 from c159) was the hard-luck story of the race and has been rated accordingly and might well have won had he not almost been brought to a standstill by a faller at the twelfth fence. He made significant ground to get into things between three out and two out and was still disputing second at the elbow before he finally cracked. He’ll be high on the shortlist again next year.
The best effort over the three days at Aintree came from Clan des Obeaux (c170 from c165) who was revitalised in first-time cheekpieces to win the Bowl Chase having been placed in his two previous appearances in the race. But his winning margin of 26 lengths was more a reflection of the fact that he was the only one to give his running in a well-run race rather than him suddenly improving 20 lb or so in the headgear. Beaten a long way in fourth was Tiger Roll (c154+ from c165) who soon lost a prominent pitch and whose performance was the subject of a stewards’ enquiry. He’s now been rated on the form of his latest Cross Country win at Cheltenham, though that is easily his best effort in the last two seasons, and it’s hard to know what to expect from him next time.
Runner-up in his five previous completed starts, Fakir d’Oudairies (c167 from c165), finally got his head in front in the Marsh (Melling) Chase, running just about his best race yet to go one better than he had done in the Ryanair at Cheltenham.
Still only six, he’s been tried from two to three miles this season, but this intermediate trip is clearly his optimum and he paid some complement to Timeform’s highest-rated jumper Allaho (c178) who beat him a dozen lengths last month. Runner-up Nuts Well (c160 from c155) returned from a break since his Old Roan win over course and distance with an excellent effort and, although no match for the wide-margin winner, might have finished a clearer second had he not been squeezed out and forced to switch early in the straight.
Shishkin (c171p from c171P) was the star novice on show over fences in Saturday’s Maghull Novices’ Chase but was little more than workmanlike in landing very short odds, perhaps not fully over his exertions at Cheltenham. But runner-up Funambule Sivola (c154 from c147) emerged with plenty of credit in second, just over three lengths behind, on his first start outside handicap company, briefly looking a threat and sticking to his task without landing a blow. He has stood up well to a busy campaign but will have stiffer tasks wherever he goes next season.
Like Shishkin, stablemate Chantry House (c156) was able to follow up his Cheltenham Festival success, stepped up in trip to do so in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase. Again, he didn’t need to improve his existing rating in coming home a long way clear of only two other finishers, looking tired jumping the last by which time he was in no danger. Chantry House will have to raise his game to be a major player in top company next season, and the result here would likely have been different if Espoir de Romay (c155 from c150) hadn’t fallen two out having jumped well in front until then. He’s been rated the length winner for now, and looks the type to do well back in good handicaps next season.
Chantry House - a dual Grade One hero— Racing TV (@RacingTV) April 9, 2021
🏇 Nine races
🥇 Seven wins
🏆 G1 Marsh Chase
🏆 G1 Mildmay Novices' Chase
💷 Over £165,000 in prize money
Espoir De Romay falls at the second-last & allows Chantry House to score easily at @AintreeRaces for @sevenbarrows & @NdeBoinville pic.twitter.com/lSHQGqFWOV
The Manifesto Novices’ Chase proved a bit more competitive than the meeting’s other two Grade 1 novice chases, with Protektorat (c154 from c147) coming out on top on his first start since undergoing a breathing operation and in a first-time tongue strap. He would have had more to do if runner-up The Shunter (c153+ from c152p) had jumped better in the closing stages, notably at the last where he held every chance at the time. Hitman (c152p from c153p) wasn’t far away in third after going like the best horse in the race before his stamina ran out; he remains a good prospect back down in trip.
There were also a couple of smart winning performances over fences in handicap company. Novice Happygolucky (c155p from c154p), runner-up in the Ultima at Cheltenham, got back on the up by winning the Grade 3 contest over 3m1f just before the Grand National and could be the type to contest the big one next year as he’ll go on improving, with the Ladbrokes Trophy a suitable starting point next season. The bold-jumping Livelovelaugh (c153 from c146) has already had a try in the Grand National, running well for a long way in 2019, but found the shorter trip of the Topham absolutely ideal, opening up a clear lead under Patrick Mullins on the run back from the Canal Turn though tiring by the line. As an eleven-year-old, that was probably the crowning glory of his career, rather than the springboard to anything better.
The first three in the Aintree Hurdle were all stepping up from two miles for the first time, with the placed horses recording career-best efforts up in grade from handicaps. While winner Abacadabras (h159 from h157) wasn’t required to improve, he was essentially better than the bare result, typically for him getting to the front smoothly – rather earlier than ideal - but doing very little once there. He fell in the Champion Hurdle but this was his second Grade 1 success of the season. Runner-up Buzz (h156 from h151p) saw the longer trip out well to be beaten just over a length, with Millers Bank (h153 from h146) excelling himself in third at 80/1.
There was more quantity than quality in Saturday’s Ryanair Stayers (Liverpool) Hurdle, and with Paisley Park (h159 from h160) running poorly (pulled up) it was left to the pair who filled the places behind him in the Long Walk Hurdle to fight out the finish. Thyme Hill (h158) didn’t need to improve but gained some compensation for having to miss Cheltenham, brought with a perfectly timed run by his new jockey Tom O’Brien to lead close home and beat Roksana (h150 from h149) by a neck. The runner-up ran her usual game race, suited by the return to three miles, though this was her second narrow defeat in the race. Thomas Darby (h153 from h151) ran well on form on his first try at the trip but typically looked less than straightforward.
Britain’s best novice hurdler My Drogo (h156p from h149p) kept his unbeaten record over hurdles in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle stepping up to two and a half miles for the first time. He accomplished his sternest test yet to win with plenty in hand, but it’s over fences next season that he’s going to be really exciting and he’ll be effective back over shorter too.
My Drogo - a very exciting talent— Racing TV (@RacingTV) April 10, 2021
🏇 Four runs over hurdles
🥇 Four wins
🏆 G1 Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle
🏆 Dual G2 scorer
👏 Stunning winner at @AintreeRaces
My Drogo is all class in the Mersey Novices' Hurdle for @harryskelton89 & @DSkeltonRacing pic.twitter.com/B4zL2BkT3Y
Chasing is also reportedly on the agenda for Ahoy Senor (h150p from h122p) who caused an upset in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle which was just his second start over hurdles after winning a maiden at Ayr last month. As on that occasion, he made all, jumping fluently on the way to beating favourite Bravemansgame (remains h146) who seemed beaten on merit but is another with a good future over fences.
The Top Novices’ Hurdle over two miles was a weaker affair than the longer novice hurdles, with a shortage of Grade 1 form on offer, and it went to the Irish-trained County Hurdle winner Belfast Banter (h141 from h134) with another improved effort, as at Cheltenham being well served by coming off a good pace after travelling smoothly with some slick jumping. Runner-up Do Your Job (h139 from h132) had chased home My Drogo at Kelso on his previous start and he could do better still over fences.
While there was a small field and no Irish runners for the Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle, making it a rather weak edition in terms of depth, winner Monmiral (h151p from h144p) put up the best effort by a juvenile all season in keeping his unbeaten record over hurdles and giving a bigger beating to runner-up Adagio (h142) - seven and a half lengths - than Quilixios had done in the Triumph. Whilst Monmiral looks the type for fences, Paul Nicholls suggested he’d been starting next season over hurdles, and there’s no reason to think he’s reached his limit over the smaller obstacles just yet.