As a first chase victory of the season, the one recorded by small-time trainer James Motherway yesterday at Fairyhouse was a doozie. The two previous winners this term from his tiny yard at Cloyne, Co Cork, had earned £7,100. That has now been augmented by the £130,000 prize earned by unconsidered eight-year-old mare Bluesea Cracker for taking the Irish Grand National.
The three-mile, five-furlong contest on heavy, testing ground was, as expected, a gruelling affair, with only 11 of 26 starters completing the course. To her credit Bluesea Cracker, a 25-1 shot, was never far from the pace, with Andrew McNamara saving ground and her energy on the inside rail, and jumped accurately and economically.
Her only waver came going to the last when, beginning to tire, she began to lose concentration and wander. It was all a bit untidy, especially when McNamara dropped his stick as he gathered the reins to hold his mount in balance for her final effort, but she was not the only one whose legs were beginning to jellify and she had enough left to repel Oscar Time (22-1), Whatuthink (33-1) and A New Story (16-1) in a finish of long shots.
"I was worried about her getting home in the ground," said Motherway, "and I skipped a heartbeat as she was going to the last fence. But I must have jumped six feet in the air after it."
The last time Bluesea Cracker won over fences before yesterday was the last time McNamara had ridden her. "All credit to him," added Motherway. "I wanted him to drop her in at the back, but he said he wanted to be closer as nothing could make ground in the conditions. He's a cool man and waited as late as he could, and just lifted her over the last three."
The Irish National has been a useful pointer to the real thing in recent seasons, with two of its winners, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde, going on to Aintree glory 12 months on. Bluesea Cracker has been introduced as a 33-1 shot to follow their example.
McNamara pared himself down to his limit to ride the mare at 10st 3lb. "I was actually feeling very weak by the time we got to the last," he admitted, "but I gave her a kick, and she quickened for me. I thought when I dropped my stick it might cost us, but happily it didn't."
Of the fancied horses, the 7-1 favourite Saddler's Storm fell six out, by which time such as Telenor and Across The Bay had come down, Hangover had been brought down and Alpha Ridge and Equus Maximus pulled up.
Madison Du Berlais heads the 65 horses confirmed for Saturday's Grand National at yesterday's penultimate declaration stage, with no surprises among the 10 taken out. With a safety limit of 40, the last one to make the current cut is Cerium, fifth 12 months ago. One fancied lightweight, The Package, is safely in the field above him but connections and supporters of the likes of the 2007 winner Silver Birch, No 43 in the list, Whinstone Boy (46) and Chief Dan George (49) face an anxious wait before the field is finalised on Thursday.
The ground at Aintree is currently good to soft, soft in places on the National course and slightly less testing on the Mildmay and hurdle tracks. More rain is forecast today, with drier and warmer weather for the rest of the week. "What ground we end up with on Saturday will depend on how warm it gets and whether we miss any showers," said the clerk of the course, Andrew Tulloch. "The course drains well and can dry out quickly, so any rain could be quite useful. We can water if we need to, to keep it safe. But if nature can do it for us so much the better."
The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander has been given the green light to run in the Totesport Bowl at Aintree on Thursday, in which he will face, among others, What A Friend and Albertas Run, winners respectively of the Lexus and Ryanair Chases, and the track specialist Monet's Garden. "The owners have said that he can run if I'm happy with him, and I'm very happy," said Imperial Commander's trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, yesterday. "He's come out of Cheltenham in fantastic shape."
Should Imperial Commander prevail in the meeting's Grade One opening day feature, he will be the first Gold Cup hero to follow up at the Grand National meeting since Golden Miller in 1934.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Kummel Excess (4.50 Southwell) A ready winner on today's course over a furlong further last month but has won over the minimum trip. Looks progressive and a competent claimer helps to counteract her rise up the ratings.
Rusty Red (4.55 Wetherby) Has been taking small steps forward since joining his current yard, stays well and is fairly handicapped on his Irish form two seasons ago.
One to watch
Light From Mars (B R Millman) Had an upwardly mobile profile last season and his effort off a slow pace on his return at Kempton on Saturday indicated more of the same this term. Look out for him over seven furlongs with a good gallop to chase.
Where the money's going
With Ruby Walsh confirmed in the saddle, Pasco has been cut two points by Ladbrokes to 8-1 joint favourite for Friday's Topham Chase.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Yes Mr President (4.05 Ffos Las).Reuse content