The trials, the main work, have been completed and now there is the dodging, trainers trying to sidestep the bacteria that can visit their stables, the stones that can be found by a galloping hoof. The ante-post vouchers are all clenched between crossed fingers.
A first notable absentee emerged yesterday when Lord Gyllene, the winner of the postponed 1997 Grand National, was reported to have met with a setback and will not now be among the players who congregate to entertain us at the foot of Cleeve Hill.
Lord Gyllene would probably not have won at the Festival, but his presence would certainly have enhanced the occasion. Few horses have ever made the Aintree fences look so insignificant, but the 11-year-old will now recuperate rather than participate as he attempts to win back his crown.
"During routine work over the weekend Lord Gyllene pulled a muscle behind the saddle and so will only be walking for the next 10 days," Steve Brookshaw, the gelding's trainer, said yesterday. "Therefore he will not be going to Cheltenham. We noticed it after he had worked and the vet said we shouldn't have anyone on his back for the next 10 days. We will look for another race before the Grand National, possibly over hurdles."
The injury to Earthmover is seriously damaged pride following his pale effort behind Young Kenny in the Greenalls Grand National Trial at Haydock on Saturday. The eight-year-old comfortably beat off the challenge of one of his co-favourites, Island Chief, but that was the only one of the 11 finishers behind him. That was not good enough from last season's Foxhunters' Chase winner who went into the contest as a wild card for the Gold Cup itself. The Blue Riband is beginning to look a forlorn objective.
Paul Nicholls may have perversely been anticipating some sort of physical affliction to explain Earthmover's effort in Lancashire, but the horse has been in hearty form since the weekend. While a stable lass has been liberating the gelding from behind a door, Nicholls has been affecting a similar action with the drawing board.
"He's fine after Saturday," the Ditcheat trainer reported yesterday. "We don't know what we are going to do with him yet, but he would appreciate better ground. I will sort it out with the owner and discuss what to do, at the moment plans are fluid."
The Champion Hurdle, looks likely to go ahead without any input from Deep Water, a convincing winner of the Glenlivet Anniversary Hurdle at Liverpool last year. Micky Hammond's runner is more likely to show his mettle in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr next month. "I just felt that to have gone to Cheltenham the yard would have to be zinging, but we have not had the right preparation and there is always next year," the trainer said. "I think he will take his chance in the Scottish Champion Hurdle and he won't necessarily have a race before. He won first time out last season and is not a difficult horse to get ready."
Lord Lamb, Mary Reveley's talented hurdler, will next be seen on Merseyside, though he will take the oblique route of a spin on the Flat before he goes to Aintree. The grey had originally been steered towards easy pickings at Kelso on Friday, but the agenda has changed after his unexpected defeat on heavy ground at Newcastle recently. "He's just been turned away, but he's nearly ready to start cantering again," Reveley said. "He'll have his next run on the Flat at Doncaster and then he'll go back over hurdles at Liverpool."
The charms of the borders have also persuaded the connections of Crazy Horse to forsake the Festival in favour of the Scottish course. "He's entered at Cheltenham [in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle] but it's a big race on Friday [the Hennessy Cognac Series Final] and the plan is to go there," Len Lungo, the trainer, said.Reuse content