Suny Bay once again answers National call-up

There have been great champions at the Upper Lambourn seat of power called Uplands. The names of Bula, Pendil, Midnight Court and Lanzarote still reverberate around this sport long after the sound of their labours ceased to be heard in the Valley of the Racehorse.

There have been great champions at the Upper Lambourn seat of power called Uplands. The names of Bula, Pendil, Midnight Court and Lanzarote still reverberate around this sport long after the sound of their labours ceased to be heard in the Valley of the Racehorse.

Yet it is for great Grand National losers that Uplands is also recognised. Two horses have emerged from these premises to refute the simpleton's notion that no one remembers who finished second. Crisp, in a colossal National of 1973, was probably the most notable runner-up in competition since Goliath, and, two years ago, Suny Bay also transported 12st into second place over terrain which should have given him trench foot. Their names will forever be branded into the race.

Indeed, Suny Bay attempts to add to the legend tomorrow week when he participates in his fourth consecutive National. The old boy has finished second twice (to Lord Gyllene in 1997 and Earth Summit in 1998) and 13th last year and if there is one horse deserved of the gods smoothing a tranquil path it is the 11-year-old.

Uplands is now a faded kingdom, but then it was always an unsustainable story. When the racing monolith Fred Winter moved in there in 1964 he was gifted an American horse called Jay Trump. He won the next National and Winter also won the one after that with Anglo.

Winter saddled another foreigner at Liverpool in 1973, when they made the Australian-bred Crisp 9-1 joint-favourite with the young handicapper Red Rum. A total of 38 runnners went to post for what was an exhibition National. Crisp produced jumping to match his name and was 30 lengths clear at one point before the fates began whistling around his ears.

As he started to roll with fatigue approaching the 30th and final fence, Winter turned to the huge gelding's owner, Sir Chester Manifold, in the stands. "I'm afraid, Sir Chester," he said, "we are going to be beaten."

Red Rum was late on the stage, twiddling his moustache, and completed the villainy by three-quarters of a length. L'Escargot, the Gold Cup winner and subsequent National victor, was 25 lengths away in third. The track record had been beaten by almost 20 seconds.

Suny Bay was a participant in the slowest National 25 years later, but that does not demean him. A total of 37 runners set off that year and just six, one of them remounted, made it back. It had the feel of a valedictory performance by all that completed. Certainly, Suny Bay has this season been a hollow representation of what has gone before. He was pulled up on his only chase start, in the Hennessy Gold Cup, a race he won two years ago, and was fifth of seven over hurdles at Doncaster this month. The grey's record and colour mean he will be backed, but form students will not be quite so compelled.

In addition, it seems unlikely you will find connections of the horse jostling in the queue to the layers. "He's been round there three times and, while it might be asking a little too much to go back there again, he's fine and we'll try our luck," Simon Sherwood, Suny Bay's trainer, said yesterday. "There are not that many races left in him and, as he hasn't yet thrown in the towel totally, we'll give it another shot.

"There are hardly any races he can run in. It was virtually the Gold Cup or that [hurdles race] and it would have been pointless running at Cheltenham as he's not quick enough any more. There's a big difference between running in a hurdle and around Liverpool, but he ran to the line that day and that was all we wanted to see.

"He's like any other horse in that he shows enthusiasm at home but you have to see if he has weighed it all up on the race-track. Unfortunately, it's not a position you can improvise at home and the race will tell."

Suny Bay does not have to tell us anything any more. This will be the 25th race of his National Hunt career and almost certainly the last. We must wish him, like them all, safe passage. We must hope dearly that he has not used up all his luck.

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