It may not have had the big spruce fences, but the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter yesterday had much else in common with its big brother at Aintree. The four-and-a-quarter mile contest was a slogging war of attrition in the mud – of the 14 who set out only four, headed by the gambled-on Irish raider The Bunny Boiler, came home.
Norman Williamson rode a patient race on the Noel Meade-trained eight-year-old, who was backed to 5-1 second favourite, hunting round for the first two of the three circuits of the Staffordshire track before making progress towards the leaders going down the back straight for the final time. He took command on the run for home and, despite jumping markedly left over the last two fences, the syndicate-owned gelding, who takes his name from the Glenn Close character in the film Fatal Attraction, had 20 lengths to spare over Mini Sensation (25-1), with Scotton Green (10-1) ten lengths third.
"On ground like this, getting round was always going to be the problem," said Williamson, back in the big-race winner's enclosure after a blank week at Cheltenham. "But he's a tough horse and he did it well. The plan was to drop him right out and creep away, basically riding him to get round. He did wander a bit over those last few fences, but I bet they were wandering a lot worse behind."
The best Tony McCoy could do from his three rides was a second place on favourite Let's Fly in the finale, and the Ulsterman, who has been awarded an honorary degree for services to sport by Queen's University in Belfast, remains on 264 for the season, six away from beating Sir Gordon Richards' all-time British record.
In the Winter Derby at Lingfield, Adiemus, the 13-8 favourite, scraped home by the length of the whiskers on his muzzle to record his fourth successive victory over the 10-furlong course in a three-way photo. His rider, Shane Kelly, stole a confident look behind as the field turned into the straight and, although the response was not instant when the former Irish champion apprentice asked his partner to quicken, he had judged the situation well and the four-year-old thrust his nose in front of Laissezaller's in the last stride. I Cried For You was another short-head away, but took the runner-up spot in the stewards' room because of some interference close home.
The participation of the winner, trained by Jeremy Noseda, in Saturday's Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster will depend on him making the cut, and whether Kelly will ride him, should he get the right result in an appeal on Wednesday against a ban.
The Winter version is a Derby in name only, but the Surrey course may be used next month for a dress rehearsal for a genuine Classic. There is a real possibility that last year's top juvenile Johannesburg will use a £50,000 race on the polytrack surface on April 6, Grand National day, as his prep for the Kentucky Derby in May. Johannesburg, who is unbeaten in seven starts, is ante-post favourite for the Churchill Downs showpiece.
The gruelling conditions at Uttoxeter yesterday are a world away from the sun and sand of Dubai, where the world's richest race, the $6 million World Cup, will be run for the seventh time on Saturday. There is, however, an air of anti-climax surrounding the latest renewal. Sure, Sakhee, the best horse in the world last year, when he cruised home in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and went under by a nose in the Breeders' Cup Classic on his first try on dirt, will grace the field, but there is no top-class North American challenge.
The sole US raider for a race which has been won three times by his compatriots is Western Pride, a four-year-old some way below the best of his age last season. On his most recent run 15 days ago, the James Chapman-trained colt finished a four-length second in a Grade One contest at Santa Anita.
The two Japanese contenders among the 12 entries are last year's runner-up, To The Victory, and her recent Tokyo conqueror, Agnes Digital; from France comes Keltos, whose best form was to inch home in a Group Three at Saint-Cloud last back-end; Sei Mi, who was fifth last year, and Crimson Quest represent Saudi Arabia.
Otherwise, the 10-furlong race appears a hometown, Maktoum family benefit. Sakhee's most serious rival is likely to be Street Cry, a one-time Kentucky Derby fancy who hacked up on his first run for nearly a year at Nad Al Sheba last month; their Godolphin stablemates State Shinto and Best Of The Bests are also entered.
The field is completed by a pair of Sheikh Hamdan colourbearers, the locally trained Royal Tryst and Nayef, last year's Champion Stakes winner, the sole entry from Britain. Marcus Tregoning's charge has, however, the Sheema Classic on grass as an alternative, and more likely, target.Reuse content