The Cotswolds-based National Hunt trainer, who has sent out over 1,200 winners to date, reviews the end of the season and calls for more honesty
THE 2022 Grand National meeting was great – three days of excellent racing were capped by a 50/1 shot winning the big race. Outsider he might
have been, but when you analyse the form, you realise it was a well-planned plot that came to fruition.
Noble Yeats had to qualify to be allowed to run and that meant he had to be placed over three miles, which he did, showing his form by finishing second to one of the best novice chasers in the country in Ahoy Senor at Wetherby.
He was also ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen – who is not only a hugely capable amateur rider but his record around Aintree and in other big races must be the envy of most jockeys riding – and trained by a genius in Emmet Mullins. How stupid were we to let him go out and win at 50/1, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Sam has now retired and his racing memories will fill a huge scrapbook to hand over to generations of Waley-Cohens; a huge result all round and especially for Sam’s parents, Robert and Felicity, who have supported and loved every moment of Sam’s journey.
“The race is far too fast”
THE post-race script was marred by two fatalities and the winning jockey being fined for using his whip too often. The first in my opinion is because the fences are now so small that the jockeys don’t fear them, and as a result race far too fast from the word go.
The plastic fences that form the base of the layered brush are smaller than regulation fences, and with the brush being pushed off easily, horses soon realise they can brush through them and start almost hurdling the fences – at speed.
Reducing the field size will not make a difference as the jockeys will continue to go the shortest way, and sanitising the race even more opens up all sorts of problems for the sport.
As for the whip, I have been an advocate that jockeys’ punishment should be removal of winning prize money, but on this occasion Sam did not receive any, as he is an amateur. Sadly, when your blood is up and you are about to win the biggest race in the world and your ultimate dream, you probably forget to count.
The whip is an ongoing issue that was taken up by the endless social media channels and of course on TV, and although the average race-goer would not have noticed for one minute that Sam had overplayed his part, we have to take steps to sort – though I don’t believe that banning the whip is the answer.
A tough job
SULEKHA VARMA, Aintree’s new clerk of the course, certainly had a difficult time leading up to the big three-day meeting. There had been no rain and the British weather forecasters had consistently got it wrong when handing out some idea as to what weather we should have been expecting.
The ground has to be good to soft to start the meeting and, like the Cheltenham Festival, water was needed to make sure it was that for day one. Cheltenham fell foul when unforecasted weather dropped 22mm of rain, while the 21mm forecasted for the Tuesday before Aintree’s meeting disappeared.
Who would want to be a clerk of the course? It’s a shocking job, but on that note, this season has tested the best and has certainly tested us trainers when relying on trust.
Too many clerks of the course gave what seemed to be the wrong information early this winter, and good ground must be good ground, not far firmer. Taking horses out when arriving at the meeting costs an owner at least £750, so it is an expensive call and trust is quickly lost.
Something to look forward to
IT is time to look back on another wonderful jumps season. It has probably been one of the most difficult ones to train in as there has been no sort of a winter.
Many trainers have been struggling with horses out of form. Horses look well and perform at home, but when put under pressure they have folded all too easily. Some have blamed hay, but frankly I believe we have all had horses who were just under the weather for a period of time. It happens in humans, but at least they can tell you.
This winter, we have seen the unforgettable clash between Shishkin and Energumene at Ascot, and now we can look forward to the mouth-watering clash between the two hurdling champions, Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle.
Certainly that’s something to look forward to.
- This column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 21 April
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