Our columnist reckons he's lined up the winner of the Grand National and next year's Gold Cup for good measure
IT’S no secret if you are thinking of backing a horse aged seven in the Grand National you're probably throwing your money away!
After all, the last of that age group to land the great race was over eighty years ago!
But you can look at it a different way.
Maybe now is the time for a reprieve with the great race back from a Covid-enforced sabbatical.
As lockdown restrictions ease in the UK, so many of you will just be breathing a sigh of relief that some sort of normality is on the verge of returning.
In the closeted world of horse racing, as far as action on the track is concerned, the loss of the 2020 Randox Grand National was the sport’s biggest blow during the last year of pandemic. Gone was the shop window to a huge audience and a much needed source of income.
Next Saturday, however, the world’s most famous horse race returns and for the trainer of leading hope Secret Reprieve it’s a massive chance to get a first success in a race where he has hit the crossbar time and time again.
"I can’t pretend it was the plan to end up in the Grand National but he's in great form and we wouldn't even be thinking about the race if he wasn't,” said handler Evan Williams, who has gone close in Nationals with State of Play and Cappa Bleu.
“Secret Reprieve is a grand horse. If I have a weakness then it is buying horses that get slower as they get older. You would say he's old fashioned, but that is the horse I buy as a youngster and the type of horse I love dealing with."
Secret Reprieve, a youngster at just seven years of age, must hope to sneak into the handicap but is likely to do so. The last of his age group to land the Liverpool cavalry charge was Bogskar in 1940.
But Secret Reprieve is no ordinary whipper snapper. After just eight starts – in a career that coincidentally started in an Aintree bumper – he hacked up in the Welsh National when last seen.
Of course, I’ll be back next Saturday with my National 1-2-3-4 and you will get all the best coverage of the extended four and a quarter mile event in the Sun. I can tell you Secret Reprieve will be in my mix.
For many punters the Grand National is a yearly highlight, but for those who follow the sport every day of the year there’s no doubt the clash everyone is looking forward to is a smash up between novice chasers Monkfish and Envoi Allen. That’s due to take place in a Grade 1 at Punchestown over three miles.
One of the most exciting horses in training, Envoi Allen was odds-on favourite to make it three Festival wins-in-a-row as he lined up in the Marsh Novice’s Chase at Cheltenham the other day.
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However, he suffered a surprise early fall, the first of his career, and lost his unbeaten run.
Monster Monkfish, meanwhile, was not overly impressive but got the job done yet again in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the same fixture.
I’d be a Monkfish man. He’ll win the Gold Cup next year. Back him now.
Monkfish and Envoi Allen are both trained in Ireland, so neither will be ridden by Brian Hughes or Harry Skelton. Both, though, would lack nothing from the saddle if they were to be on top.
Hughes, Britain’s current champion jumps jockey, and Skelton are in a battle royal to be top dog during the current campaign.
It’s going to go to the wire, with Hughes very much dominating the Northern circuits and Skelton having powerful support from his brother’s prolific stable.
There is an element of the old days with the Skelton when the champion jockey had to be housed with Martin Pipe’s Nicholashayne juggernaught.
Indeed, Harry Skelton is riding like a man possessed, mixing slices of Peter Scudamore with the all-action determination of AP McCoy.
It really could go either way, but the good news for Hughes is that at this stage I’d just give the momentum to Skelton, and the latter has certainly made it clear to the world he wants this title badly. Real bad.
That kind of talk can tempt others to put you up, and off the track he’s winning the psychological war.
Let’s hope Secret Reprieve is similarly up for it in a week’s time. I’ll have a word in his ear and tell him he’s eight!
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