Runner for runner, no trainer has a better record in picking up prize-money in the Grand National these days than Evan Williams. Admittedly, the sample is small and concerns only two horses, but a third place and three fourths from five attempts nonetheless deserves considerable respect.
Glamorgan-based Williams started his assault on the domestic jumps calendar's richest purse (worth £975,000 this time) four years ago, when State Of Play came in fourth to Mon Mome. Of the gelding's only four subsequent outings, three were in the National, including a third to Don't Push It and another fourth, to Ballabriggs. He came down early in last year's race, but had already passed on the stable baton to Cappa Bleu.
The sparing campaign plotted for State Of Play is being repeated for that 11-year-old, whose fine second place in a three-mile handicap at Ascot on Saturday was only his second outing since his fourth to Neptune Collonges at Aintree 10 months ago and will be his last before returning to the big fences in April.
"Our National horses are trained with one day, and one day only, in mind," said Williams, "and I was over the moon with what Cappa Bleu did at Ascot. He was in grand order this morning and I can't pretend to be anything but very, very happy."
Cappa Bleu was more than four lengths behind the winner Vino Griego at the final fence on Saturday, his first run for three months, but stayed on strongly under firm driving from Paul Moloney to halve the deficit at the line. "Racing properly over and from the last, with a couple of cracks on the backside, was just the thing for him," said Williams.
"Beforehand I'd been in two minds about another run before the National, he looked so big and well. But he will have got so much benefit from that race that there will be no need for him to leave our place before we go back to Aintree."
Cut after his eyecatching effort to 16-1 from as much as 25-1 in the ante-post National lists, Cappa Bleu – like State Of Play owned by banker and businessman William Rucker and his wife Angela – is now the shortest-priced of the home-trained contenders behind a trio from Ireland, Prince De Beauchene (likely to have his prep at Fairyhouse on Saturday), On His Own and Seabass.
One of the most intriguing horses to run today was Darley Sun, who had looked a top-class Flat stayer in the making for Godolphin when he ran away with the 2009 Cesarewitch, but subsequently disappointed. Now gelded and switched to the care of John Ferguson, the seven-year-old finished a satisfactory enough third on his hurdling debut at Market Rasen.
The 11-4 second favourite travelled easily throughout a steadily run race and appeared in cruise mode under Denis O'Regan as he shadowed the leaders going to the final flight, only to get too close to the obstacle and lose all momentum with a bunnyhop leap before rallying to finish two and a quarter lengths adrift of the 2-1 market leader Timesishard.
The Turf Account
Chris McGrath's Nap
Sydney Paget (3.40 Carlisle)
Upped in the ratings after an eased-down success at Towcester last month but the one in the field with scope for progress. A gruelling test in heavy ground holds no fears.
Moscow Presents (2.00 Carlisle)
Profile is progressive, he goes on soft ground and the step up in trip can only help.
One To Watch
A plugging-on fifth at Market Rasen yesterday, Darlington County (Donald McCain) will surely be seen to better effect in handicap company.
Where The Money's Going
Up And Go, as short as 14-1 from 40-1 for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle, was the biggest Cheltenham mover among the weekend's winners.
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