As Grand National fairytales go, a win for Bluesea Cracker would tick plenty of boxes, all of them superlatives. She is trained in one of the smallest stable yards in Ireland, that of James Motherway, and has just been bought by jump racing's wealthiest owner, J P McManus. Her rider Andy McNamara incongruously belies the image of a jockey by standing a shade under six feet, the tallest in the weighing room. The mare aims to be one of the rarest – the first of her sex to take the sport's most famous prize for 60 years.
Whimsy apart, Bluesea Cracker has plenty going for her, not least that a year ago she took the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, used successfully as a stepping stone to the real thing by Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde recently. And, after a light season, she goes to Saturday's fray at Aintree fresh and well. "Andy rode her in a gallop at Tipperary racecourse last week," said Motherway, "and was delighted. Her best performances seem to come in the spring of the year, and you'd like to think it can be the same again."
Motherway's base is close to Cloyne in Co Cork, and if the village's past glory was brought by legendary hurling great Christy Ring, the Gaelic sports community has wholeheartedly embraced its latest star. Bluesea Cracker's first public appearance at the end of her summer break was at the Cloyne Harvest Festival alongside the Midleton Brass & Reed Band, a bungee run and Beat the Goalie with Donal Og Cusack.
More pertinently, that Fairyhouse success has brought more business for her trainer and a tremendous payday for the seven-string syndicate who used to own the equine heroine. "I'm glad to say it had a knock-on effect," said Motherway, "despite the economy here. We're up to 18 horses now, which is us full, we couldn't cater for any more. And for the mare to have caught the eye of a man like J P McManus, and have him as an owner, is a seriously big thing for us. I just hope she can be as lucky for him as for the lads."
Bluesea Cracker has not won since the Irish National but she has run only three times: a warm-up over hurdles, a respectable fourth in high-class handicap company at Cheltenham (Midnight Chase and Junior were in front of her) in November and, after missing the Welsh National, a slightly downbeat last of six finishers back at Fairyhouse in February. Four of Saturday's rivals were ahead that day – current favourite The Midnight Club, Arbor Supreme, Oscar Time and Vic Venturi, but she harboured a slight infection. "It was her first run back," Motherway said, "but her effort did rather peter out and we were glad when there turned out to be a reason."
Like Aintree's most celebrated hero Red Rum, Bluesea Cracker's routine includes outings to the seaside, the wide, gently shelving sands at nearby Ballynamona. "We don't work on the beach," said Motherway, who rides the nine-year-old every day, "but a walk and a play in the tide is good for their legs and keeps their heads right, helps them chill out."
Bluesea Cracker, a 25-1 shot to take the £500,000 prize, has shown her best form on very soft ground but she is not necessarily a mudlark. "She likes cut, and any rain at Aintree would be good news," said Motherway, "but she can stride out on better ground. The easy side of good would be ideal."
McNamara will pare his frame down to 10st 4lb for Bluesea Cracker's bid to emulate the 1951 National heroine Nickel Coin. "They click well together," said Motherway. "She may be a mare, but she rides more like a gelding. She's tough, she jumps, she stays and thoroughly enjoys her job. And in a race she'll fight her corner all the way."
For the second year running, jockey Johnny Murtagh won the first big handicap of the British Flat season, the Lincoln at Doncaster.
Twelve months agohe rode the favourite Penitent; yesterday he was on 16-1 shot Sweet Lightning who beat Brae Hill by two and a half-lengths. Sweet Lightning is owned by Andrew Tinkler, the chief executive of the Eddie Stobart haulage company, whose founder died this week, and is trained by Michael Dods who is sponsored by the firm. The winner was one of the fittest in the field having raced in Dubai in the winter.
"This strongly run mile suited him perfectly," said Murtagh. "He had been a bit keen over further in Dubai."
The field was reduced to 21 by the withdrawal of ante-post favourite Taqleed because of the fast ground, leaving Brae Hill's Richard Fahey stablemate Irish Heartbeat, who was 10th, the 6-1 market leader. There was consolation for Fahey when Cosmic Sun took the Rosebery Handicap at Kempton.
In the Spring Mile Eton Forever gave trainer Roger Varian his first winner. The Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Long Run will miss Aintree's Totesport Bowl on Thursday and will not run again this season.
Sue Montgomery's top four
1. Bluesea Cracker (best price: 25-1): Dour stayer needs ease in the ground
2. Backstage (12-1): Went well last year but unseated when hampered at Chair
3. The Midnight Club (17-2): Worthy favourite, best form on heavy ground
4. Big Fella Thanks (16-1). Reliable on the course, fourth and sixth in last two