No pair of full-brothers has ever won a Grand National and the statistic will not change this year. But 12 months on it may be another matter. Tomorrow at Newcastle Royal Athlete's young sibling Tipsy Mouse puts his upwardly mobile reputation on the line in the Eider Chase at Newcastle, with a tilt at Aintree very much on the cards in the future.
Tipsy Mouse was barely a twinkle in the eyes of his sire and dam, Roselier and Darjoy, when Royal Athlete had his day of days over the big fences in 1995. Now eight and in his second season over fences, Trevor Hemmings's chestnut faces his stiffest task in the Gosforth Park marathon. He is still technically a novice but is eyecatchingly progressive, winner of three of his six starts over fences, including the last two over three miles at Haydock.
The Eider, over four miles and a furlong, will be longer than anything yet attempted, but his trainer, Sue Smith, has no doubts on that score. "Staying is all he does," she said. "as he should, as a brother to a National winner. This race is a big step up, but he is a horse on the upgrade and if he can get into a rhythm, he can hunt along for a circuit."
Tipsy Mouse, who may start favourite tomorrow, pleased in a racecourse gallop on Tuesday. "He seems to be improving quite a bit," added Smith. "and we're hopeful of a big run. Warren [Marston] had to get quite serious with him last time but that is just the horse. He doesn't do an awful lot unless he is asked; when it comes to proper work you have to make him knuckle down. He's not the sort you'd get run away with on. He'd rather be sat back in his stable.
"But he's just the sort for the National in time. We hope maybe even next year he'd be a contender."
Two pairs of half-brother have won Nationals, Vanguard (1843) and Pioneer (1846), and Anglo (1966) and Red Alligator (1968) and one pair of full-sisters, Emblem (1863) and Emblematic (1864).
Smith will be double-handed tomorrow as Tipsy Mouse will be joined by one of the stable's two entries for this year's National, Ardent Scout. The 12-year-old, whose record round Aintree is first-class (in four appearances in the Becher Chase he has finished first, second, third and fourth), will turn out again a week after finishing fourth at Haydock.
At Sandown yesterday last year's Grand National fourth, Gunner Welburn, had a confidence-boosting win in the Royal Artillery Gold Cup. The Andrew Balding-trained 12-year-old, who had jumped clumsily on his previous outing, was almost foot-perfect this time as he strode out to win by seven lengths.
"That was just what he wanted after what happened last time," said Balding. "As he likes to have his races spread out he won't run again until Aintree."
There was solidarity in the training ranks yesterday as Paul Nicholls sprang to the defence of colleague Nicky Henderson over the decision of the Leicester stewards on Wednesday to refer the running and riding of drifting even-money favourite Tollbrae to the Jockey Club for further investigation.
Tollbrae, trained by Henderson and ridden by Marcus Foley, returned to a hostile reception from punters after being beaten into second by Nicholls's Venn Ottery, a well-backed 15-8 shot. The local stewards had been alerted by Portman Square after betting information had been passed on by bookmakers and exchanges.
It was Venn Ottery's first run since joining the trainer from the yard of his owner, Oliver Carter, and the gelding, highly rated by Carter, holds a Gold Cup entry. Nicholls said: "I spoke to Nicky last night and I am upset on his behalf - to question his integrity is ludicrous. His horse has drifted in the betting because of the support for mine and no other reason."