Mr Moonshine keeps National hopes alive


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It is 60 years since Royal Tan followed Early Mist into the record books to complete one of racing’s rarest doubles – back-to-back Grand National victories with different horses for the same owner-trainer combination – in that case Joe Griffin and Vincent O’Brien.

And despite Mr Moonshine’s defeat at Kelso yesterday, the almost-impossible dream is still on for his connections. The gelding carries the same colours as last year’s Aintree hero, Auroras Encore – those of Douglas Pryde, Jim Beaumont and David van der Hoeven – and hails from the same Sue Smith stable.

Though he was beaten four-and-a-half lengths by course specialist Maggio, he rallied after the last for Brian Hughes and plugged on dourly over an inadequate three miles. And as runner-up in his warm-up he did conspicuously better than Auroras Encore, who finished only fifth in the same contest 12 months ago.

Mr Moonshine, set to carry 10st 12lb at Aintree, is at least guaranteed a run in the National. In contrast, Night in Milan, who took yesterday’s Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster, needs upwards of 30 horses weighted above him to defect to be sure of making the cut.

Should he sneak in, he should provide some spectacle; jumping boldly and impeccably, he made every yard of the running in the three-and-a-quarter-mile test, and had matters under control before the final turn.

The eight-year-old, with his trainer Keith Reveley’s son James in the saddle, had five lengths to spare over Storm Survivor and Renard, separated by a short-head, and clearly appreciated the quickening ground as he bounced back to form. “He’s a really good jumper,” said his rider, “and can ping off that ground.

“I pulled him up when it was heavy here in January, and that left him fresh and ready to run the race of his life today.”

Night In Milan was cut by bookmakers for the National but remains, like Mr Moonshine, among the outsiders at around 50-1, with the Topham Trophy over the big fences as an alternative at the meeting. “We’ll have to wait and see if he gets in the National,” said Reveley Snr, “but maybe I’d favour the Topham this year and the National next.”

One of the market leaders for the Aintree showpiece, the Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude, made a less eye-catching dress rehearsal. Jumping mistakes early put him rather on the back foot, but he did stay on stoutly under Paul Carberry into fifth place, and the extra mile next month will be in his favour.

“We needed to get a run into him,” said his trainer, Michael Scudamore, “and he hasn’t had a hard race. Paul couldn’t get him into it to give him a hard one, but he’s had a good blow and it’s all systems going forward.”

Ahead of Cheltenham – the Festival opens on Tuesday week – various running and riding decisions were confirmed yesterday. Tony McCoy will partner the Grand National favourite, Teaforthree, in the Gold Cup, and has opted for that one’s Rebecca Curtis stablemate At Fishers Cross instead of More Of That, from Jonjo O’Neill’s yard, in the World Hurdle.

He will also partner another JP McManus colourbearer, Nicky Henderson’s charge Kid Cassidy, in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Foxrock, the ante-post favourite for the National Hunt Chase, will tackle that amateurs’ four-miler rather than the RSA Chase, with trainer Ted Walsh’s daughter Katie riding.