If Dessie Hughes was just appeasing the leprechauns when he said this week that his chance of winning a Grand National may have come and gone, they were not long in relenting. The veteran Irish horseman was referring to Black Apalachi's exit at Becher's second time round, when well clear and going strongly, last year with his rueful comment that "maybe you get only one chance at these things".
But yesterday at Fairyhouse two of the residents of his Co Kildare yard produced most persuasive trials for the Aintree showpiece. With the National weights announced on Tuesday the time for finessing candidates over hurdles is safely past and, reverting to fences, Vic Venturi and Black Apalachi gave Hughes a one-two in the Bobbyjo Chase.
The Paddy Flood-ridden winner, who came home eight lengths clear, cruised effortlessly through the three-mile, one furlong contest, picking off Notre Pere and One Cool Cookie at will before the turn for home; the runner-up, having only his second run since the 2009 National, stayed on strongly under Roger Loughran and was closing with every stride.
Both horses were allotted 11st 6lb for the National. "I was delighted with the weights," said their trainer, "and this was a fantastic result today. We now have two proper Aintree contenders. Vic Venturi was 110 per cent fit today, and while he obviously ran a cracker to win Black Apalachi comes out of the race with equal credit, having only his second run back."
The performances propelled the pair right up the big-race betting; Vic Venturi is now challenging Tricky Trickster for favouritism in some lists at around 12-1 and Black Apalachi has been cut to a general 16-1.
There is a symmetry to the horses' approach to the Aintree marathon. Last season Black Apalachi won the Becher Chase over the unique fences and then the Bobbyjo Chase, and now Vic Venturi has followed suit. Hughes will be hoping that the little folk don't have the last laugh again.
Last year's Aintree winner, Mon Mome, could finish only a one-paced sixth at Haydock in the Blue Square Gold Cup taken by Silver By Nature, who does not hold an entry in the real thing and will head instead for the Scottish version. The winner gave his trainer and jockey, Lucinda Russell and Peter Buchanan, their biggest payday as he surged past the trailblazing top-weight Our Vic, who was conceding 15lb, in the home straight to win by 15 lengths.
Nicky Henderson's week has not gone wholly to plan after one Champion Hurdle candidate, Binocular, succumbed to injury; another, Zaynar, became jump racing's shortest-priced loser when beaten at 1-14 at Kelso; and the prep race for his third, Punjabi, was lost with frozen Wincanton yesterday. But he did have the consolation of becoming the first British-based trainer to get a century on the scoreboard this season when four winners at Ascot yesterday – Finian's Rainbow, Burton Port, Lush Life and Sprinter Sacre – took his Seven Barrows stable to and past the round figure.
Pride of place in Berkshire, though, went to the 12-year-old Monet's Garden, who flew the golden (or in his case silver) oldies flag. He bounded over his fences with zest to take the Betfair Ascot Chase, the first of his age to win a Grade One contest. Rider Barry Geraghty may have been speaking for both his Nicky Richards-trained mount and himself with his post-race assessment. "That," he said, "was fun."Reuse content