Blow to Castle helps case for War

By John Cobb
Wednesday 25 March 2009 01:00

It is very easy to get excited about the great spring cycle of events on the Turf. After anticipating the Cheltenham Festival for a full 12 months, the start of the Flat, Dubai World Cup, Aintree and Punchestown come cascading one after another in a great joyous burst.

It is easy to get a bit overexcited too as the headlong rush to back John Gosden's Expresso Star down to 4-1 favouritism for the Lincoln, the Flat's opening day charge on Saturday, and the plunge on War Of Attrition, now down to 16-1 for the Grand National a week later, might indicate.

Still, the War Of Attrition backers have at least one potentially significant adversary out of the way with the Arhur Moore-trained King Johns Castle, last year's National runner-up, having failed to recover from a minor injury in time to undergo the necessarily thorough preparation for the marathon. As one of JP McManus's Aintree entries, it means that AP McCoy will certainly have to look elsewhere for the ride that might bring him his first National success.

Sadly, no such problems for Paul Carberry. As expected, the abdominal injuries he suffered in a fall from Jaamid at Cheltenham have ruled him out of Aintree and beyond. A punctured lung and a torn liver would, of course, have meant that there was no question of an ordinary mortal contemplating riding again so soon, but with Carberry that could not be presumed a certainty until the Irish Turf Club's chief medical officer decreed so yesterday.

War Of Attrition, meanwhile, who was 33-1 just a few days ago, is now half that price with William Hill, who report that he is their second-biggest threat to a winning book on the race after the Paul Nicholls-trained favourite My Will. The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner of 2006 was off the track for almost two years before returning for victory in a couple of small events last autumn and was last seen chasing home Exotic Dancer in the Lexus Chase at Christmas at the respectful distance of 20 lengths, with very little of significance still standing behind that pair.

France's National challenger, attempting to become the first Gallic invader to triumph in the race since 1867, will fly in early next week and take up residence at Haydock to prepare for the big day. The nine-year-old has won at Auteuil and Enghien and was teed up for the race by François Cottin in a valuable hurdle at the start of the month. "We don't know anything about the trip in the National," Cottin said yesterday, "but she doesn't lack in stamina and has run over more than three miles before." Philip Carberry, Paul's brother, may be offered the ride.

Before all that, there will be a whole field of hopefuls entering the unknown as the unraced juveniles in the first race of the Flat Turf season, the Brocklesby Stakes opens Saturday's Doncaster card. George Baker, whose string has been in smart form in recent weeks, has his eyes on the prize with Chicita Banana, who has Harry Findlay as a part-owner. "She's come to hand early and the thing about the Brocklesby is that it possibly comes too early for some of the big Newmarket battalions," Baker said yesterday, hinting at a strategy rather than just a hopeful tilt. "So while it's never a soft option, it is a reasonable option if you've got a horse ready enough to go for it. She's a very tough, stocky little thing and every question we have asked of her she has answered."

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