Backstage passes his test for National theatre

Though the Irish may be only occasional heroes with the bat and ball, what they are good at is saddle and silks – particularly at Aintree. They also turn a fair hand to pen and paper and yesterday in rural Co Westmeath the last two alliterative pairs came together.

It took someone of the calibre and imagination of Oliver Goldsmith to rhyme Stygian with pigeon, which he did in a song in his comedy She Stoops To Conquer. The name of the point-to-point course near Athlone – deep in Goldsmith country – is The Pigeons, derived from a pub in the lyric. Perhaps the late playwright would deem it fitting that the Grand National candidate who ran and won there yesterday is called Backstage.

The bay nine-year-old, who had little more than an exercise canter to take the Open at the South Westmeath Hunt's meeting, is around the 14-1 mark to become the seventh Irish-trained National winner in 13 years. One of his predecessors was Silver Birch, likewise trained by Gordon Elliot in Co Meath and also given outside-the-box preps before his Aintree victory four years ago, winning a point-to-point and running second in a cross-country chase.

Backstage, who was going well when unseating his rider deep into the second circuit at Aintree last year after being hampered, won easily on the undulating left-hand track yesterday, beating a decent veteran in Newbay Prop seven lengths. It was Backstage's second victory between the flags in a month under Jamie Codd; he will not appear again until the big day in April, when Paul Carberry will take over the reins.

"He won on the bridle with his head in his chest," said Elliott. "It was basically just a piece of work for him to give him a good blow and a bit of confidence and it worked out perfect. Jamie was very impressed; he said he's improved a lot from the last day. He's already had experience at Aintree, so which road we take back there isn't important."

Those who run the historic point-to-point course will be hoping that its latest graduate does better in the National than the last to go from one to the other. That was Wicked Crack, who was in the lead when she crashed out at the first in 2002, Bindaree's year.

In most betting lists Backstage is jostling for second place in the Aintree market, behind his compatriot The Midnight Club, with the likes of Ballabriggs, Big Fella Thanks and Niche Market, who did not come through their dress rehearsals at the weekend with such aplomb, although none seriously fluffed their lines in defeat.

Ballabriggs, from the Donald McCain yard, lost most ground in the betting, eased a couple of points after being caught and passed on Kelso's long run-in by National outsider Skippers Brig.

Before Aintree comes Cheltenham. Lift-off at the Festival is tomorrow week (snow allowing – yes, there is a forecast for some of the white stuff) and, horses being horses, not all will get through the countdown. Ruled out yesterday on nine was Riverside Theatre, who had been second favourite for the Ryanair Chase but will now not be seen again until next season.

The talented seven-year-old, second to Nicky Henderson stablemate Long Run in the King George VI Chase before gaining his own Grade One victory in last month's Ascot Chase, has sustained a slight fracture to his pelvis. "He was lame after exercise," said Henderson, "and though we hoped the problem might have been muscular, a scan revealed the hairline fracture. It's a shame, but he's still young and the vets are confident he'll be fine for next season."

Brian Harding, who rode Skippers Brig, hurt an arm later when falling three out on Moufatango in the two-and-three-quarter-mile handicap hurdle and will miss Cheltenham after X-rays confirmed a minor break. He hopes to recover in time to be reunited with Saturday's hero in the National.

Saturday's impressive Doncaster winner, Montbazon, cut in some lists to 12-1 for Cheltenham's Champion Bumper, will miss the Festival in favour of the equivalent at Aintree. "He looks good," said his trainer Alan King, "but next week will come too quick, so we'll keep him back. He's an exciting prospect."



Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Round The Horn (4.15 Newton Abbot)

Has a better engine than bodywork hence a light career but won well last time.



Next best

Alla Svelta (2.00 Newton Abbot)

Caught a tartar on each of his hurdles outings but showed enough ability and pace to indicate he can take this.



One to watch

Laterly (S Gollings) made up for an unseat on his seasonal hurdling debut with a runaway success next time and still looks ahead of the handicapper.



Where the money's going

Ladbrokes guarantee best prices today on the favourites for the top Festival races: Binocular 100-30 (Champion Hurdle), Master Minded 3-1 (Champion Chase), Big Buck's 6-5 (World Hurdle) and Imperial Commander 7-2 (Gold Cup).

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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor