Anyone speculating on the John Smith's Grand National should be reconciled to the danger that weeks of debate might be rendered academic when his chosen horse is brought down at the first. There none the less seemed a mildly perverse quality to the misfortune that ruled Tidal Bay out of the race – so soon after his lenient treatment by the official handicapper had caused such controversy at the unveiling of the weights on Tuesday.
Tidal Bay's rejuvenation since joining Paul Nicholls stands among the finest achievements of the champion trainer, who was suitably excited when he saw him indulged with a rating 9lbs lower than in other races. Nicholls was immediately inclined to sit out the Cheltenham Festival with the veteran, who had just returned to exercise after a hold-up, to keep him fresh for Aintree.
As things have turned out, however, he will not run there either. Tidal Bay was sent straight to Newmarket for a scan after giving his work rider cause for disquiet on Thursday morning. "He has a tiny stress fracture of the lower cannon bone on his right hind leg," Nicholls reported in his Betfair blog. "He needs a month's box rest, so that rules out the National."
His owner, Graham Wylie, will be consoled that he still has two leading fancies stabled with Willie Mullins, in Prince De Beauchene and On His Own. Ireland's top trainer goes on Festival reconnaissance at Sandown today, when one of countless emerging hurdlers in his care, Twigline, offers an early test of strength against Nicky Henderson, who also saddles a promising French export in Utopie Des Bordes.
It is good to see one or two smart youngsters still eluding the biggest stables and Nicky Richards, who saddled Eduard to win by 29 lengths at Carlisle last week, was delighted to see another handsome type, Duke Of Navan, cruising up to a much more seasoned rival in the Betvictor Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso. Admittedly a clumsy jump at the last was not his first, but he soon went clear. Richards is suitably wary of pushing him too hard, too soon, and is likely to sit out Cheltenham and wait for Aintree. "He's a horse I want to keep coming the right way," he said. "Mentally and physically, he's got some developing to do."
Soft Falling Rain meanwhile confirmed himself Mike De Kock's latest Meydan star when smoothly extending his unbeaten record to five in the UAE 2,000 Guineas.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Speed Steed (6.0 Wolverhampton) Looked well treated on hurdles form to score over course and distance last month and remains ahead of the game off a mark just 3lb higher.
Henry The Aviator (3.40 Lingfield)Reuse content