In his missive from Lamorlaye yesterday, Francois Doumen, who trains the nine- year-old, confirmed participation and a further assault on the record books: to send out the first horse to win both steeplechasing's premier events in the same season since Golden Miller 60 years ago. The decision comes after two weeks of consultation with the horse's owner, the Marquesa de Moratalla.
The Fellow, who has never run over drop fences such as Aintree's will carry 11st 4lb in the National, and only Grittar 12 years ago has transported a greater weight to success since the Red Rum days of the mid 1970s.
Doumen, though, reported his runner in admirable shape for the challenge. 'The Fellow is in perfect condition both physically and mentally 13 days after his race at Cheltenham,' he said. 'Therefore, with the Marquesa, we have decided to give the go-ahead for the Grand National. Adam Kondrat will be the rider.'
A day after Aintree unveiled the new mechanism to avoid the starting debacle of 12 months ago, Ascot proved that Liverpool does not have the monopoly on chaos yesterday. The course ran out of ambulances as a succession of jockeys greeted the earth and, at one stage, racing was delayed for 35 minutes as the vehicles fought their way back to the track through traffic.
Adrian Maguire was the first casualty, in the first race, when Coiled Spring fell fatally. The Irishman damaged his back, but may have felt more pain when receiving news that his nearest title challenger, Richard Dunwoody, later substituted successfully for him on High Baron. Dunwoody, who also partnered the track-record breaker Sweet Glow to victory in the main race of the day, the Long Distance Hurdle, reduced the championship deficit to 14.
There was bad luck in this race also for Avro Anson, who has been in the frame several times this season and was disqualified from first place in the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Maurice Camacho's gelding appeared the likely winner until landing over the last like a coffee table and being run out of it close home.
Maguire, who received treatment to his lower back in hospital after being kicked, was later discharged and is expected to return for the next round of jump racing on Saturday.
Carl Llewellyn was not so fortunate and will miss a Grand National ride on the much fancied Young Hustler. He was the third man into the white vans after David Stephens was badly injured in the hunter chase. The amateur broke both a tibia and fibula and was kept in hospital last night.
While the sedated Stephens was being transported, Llewellyn, aboard Ghia Gneuiagh, received a bone-shattering kick from Hops And Pops, the eventual winner, at the start of the next race. It took some time to remove the damaged jockey from the course, and as two ambulances are needed to police a course which is cut in half by a reservoir, play was held up.
Last night Llewellyn, who won the National two years ago on Party Politics, was in plaster, while David Bridgwater was receiving a call up from Nigel Twiston-Davies for Young Hustler.
There was agony of a different kind for perhaps the easiest man to recognise on Britain's racecourses, the bullet-headed Barney Curley. The gambling trainer arrived at the course with a vet's notice in his fist which suggested his My Man In Dundalk, adjudged by the Newbury stewards to have been given an 'incompetent' ride by his son Chuck at the weekend, had in fact finished lame.
The Newmarket man was soon back up before the beaks when Me Fein, in the hands of Eamon Murphy, finished with a flourish into fourth in the opener. Both trainer and jockey were fined pounds 400.
This was recouped later, however, when another Curley horse was backed down to favouritism and won the closing event. 'That doesn't right a wrong,' he observed, though a further remark indicated he was not hurt financially. 'My last bet was at 3-1,' he said.
After his earlier problems, the identity of this final winner was quite apt. No Pain No Gain rounded off proceedings on a day when pain was felt by several jockeys.
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