Racing: Mitchell's National plan rooted in rugged turf

Depending on conditions, Paul Nicholls will run up to seven horses in the John Smith's Grand National on Saturday. If Ned Mitchell did the same, his Co Limerick stables would be left just about empty. Precisely because of its fearsome ups and downs, however, there is no more level playing field than Aintree, and the champion trainer-elect would not presume to beat Garvivonnian with any one of his seven. As Mitchell himself said of the place yesterday: "Everyone's equal at that game. It's a great leveller, isn't it?"

He should know. He has run two horses at Aintree. The first was Seeandem, whose death at Becher's Brook 17 years ago contributed to the taming of the old fences. The other one is Garvivonnian, who was sent over on reconnaissance back in November. He sailed over the ditch that claimed Seeandem, landed in front, was headed halfway up the run-in, and rallied bravely for a narrow success.

Though the race nowadays demands slightly less idiosyncratic talents than was once the case, his proven aptitude for the course will qualify Garvivonnian for many shortlists over the coming days. As a dour galloper who loves testing ground, moreover, he is well prepared for the most extreme test of his career.

He warmed up at Fairyhouse last time by chasing home Forget The Past, who then went to Cheltenham and ran third in the Gold Cup itself. Hedgehunter became hot favourite to repeat his National success of last year when finishing seven lengths in front of Forget The Past at Cheltenham, but he must give Garvivonnian 18lb.

Mitchell is a profoundly retiring man, prone to deep, evasive chuckles, but there was no dissembling when he assessed his horse's condition. "He's right," he said firmly. "Never been fitter. There's a good all-weather we can use up the road from here, and we took him there this morning. He worked alone - we could never get another horse into the lorry with him and hope to get it out alive. That's the kind of horse he is. He's very hardy. The other horse we took to Liverpool was a bit of a coward, really. But this one . . .

"Everyone could see how he took to the place in November. Ruby Walsh rode him in Tralee a couple of years ago and he said he'd be a real type for those fences. He's always been an athletic jumper and this race has been on the cards for a long time now. You can take it that he's ready."

Mitchell was seated in an immaculate little sitting room in an immaculate little house, built 20 years ago on family farmland. On a blustery, washed out day of high cloud and spring sunshine, an outcrop of gorse and rock hid a spreading horizon of hills. "We still have a few cattle," he said. "But farming's gone to the dogs. We keep about 10 horses. They've always been in the family, horses - my father trained a bit, rode in point-to-points. He was a knowledgeable man. We have a bit of steep land around the place, we can take this horse somewhere different every day. He'd never do the same thing twice."

In his sparse way, Mitchell clearly knows how to make the most of nugatory resources. "This horse's dam cost IR£500 as a foal and we won the mares' final at Punchestown with her," he said. "But then she got a leg, so they went breeding with her. The sire was standing just up the road from here for 300 quid. Between them they got Garvivonnian, and he's the fifth horse we have had to win 10 races."

A couple of years ago Mitchell sent a filly up to the Curragh and won a handicap under the noses of all the top Flat yards. The following weekend she won a £50,000 race at Leopardstown. But his fatalistic approach to what might prove the defining moment of his career reflects his indifference to the notion that he might have justified greater ambition before now. "We've always just drifted along, never wanted more than a handful of horses," he said. "We're happy with our lot. You take the good with the bad, because you will always have more bad than good. There's no point getting overexcited. For all we know, he might get brought down at the first."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Easy Air (Lingfield 4.10)

NB: Everyman

(Lingfield 2.40)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss