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GRAND NATIONAL: 'There will be 40 runners and 38 of them could win'
NICKY Henderson has not allowed himself to dream of adding the Grand National to a host of big wins this year.
The Seven Barrows trainer enjoyed a stunning Cheltenham during which he became the leading trainer of all time at the Festival, but says he is not getting ahead of himself ahead of events at Aintree.
The National remains one of the few titles that has evaded Henderson in his stellar career, with 31 attempts yielding two second places in 1979 and 1987 with Zongalero and The Tsarevich respectively.
This afternoon Barry Geraghty and Shakalakaboomboom have been tasked with ending that run, with the horse tipped by many to be a genuine contender for the title, but Henderson warned: “It’s not a race you get very hopeful about.
“If you’re talking about Gold Cups and Champion Hurdles, if you’ve got the best horse, you hope you can win.
“The Grand National is hope you survive and then hope you’re good enough as well - to put all that together there will be 40 runners and 38 of them could win.
“It would be nice to win it, most of the others (big races) are gradually getting ticked off before it’s too late. We’ve been second in it twice and that’s a very lonely place to be, so it would be nice to get one.
“That would make you think it was the sort of year that would do, but it won’t do because I shall keep going forever.”
Burton Port and Quantitativeeasing were other options for Henderson but Shakalakaboomboom got the nod, a horse that has already experienced the National fences when seventh in the John Smith’s Topham Chase last year “The Topham is one-and-a-bit circuits and he was very good and he stays well, so he looks an ideal candidate,” added Henderson.
The Lambourn handler is still revelling in the exploits of his charges at Cheltenham, which he ended with no less than seven triumphs.
“The best bit is always the first winner and Sprinter Sacre got the ball rolling, which was a big help because once you’ve had one, you suddenly feel the pressure’s off a little bit and you can really let rip,” said Henderson.
“And that was exactly what happened - the second day was extraordinary and it all seemed to go in a bit of a blur really. It’s a year’s work rolled into four days and it all goes past very quickly and you’ve just got to get the job done. But it was an amazing week.
“You wanted to get that (the record of winners) past and done with because they were talking about it. It’s just nice to have done it, but It’s not all-important.”
- SWINDON jockey Wayne Hutchinson is expecting a ‘big ride’ from West End Rocker in Saturday’s Grand National, writes STEVE BUTT.
Hutchinson has failed to complete the Aintree showpiece in four attempts but is feeling confident on board a horse that he has enjoyed much success on.
Four of West End Rocker’s seven career wins have come at the hands Hutchinson and the Swindon jockey says Alan King’s horse is in ‘good nick’.
“I am very excited to take the ride,” Hutchinson told the Swindon Advertiser.
“I am expecting a big ride from him. He is in good nick and has had good preparation.”
“He has not been out since the Becher in December and missed his intended prep run at Doncaster because the ground was too quick. It doesn’t worry me at all that we are going straight to the National because he is in good form.”
Hutchinson has also welcomed the spells of rain this week and believes the ground should suit his charge perfectly.
“I am pleased to see the rain come down this week and now the ground should suit,” added Hutchinson, who is yet to finish the Grand National after four attempts.
“He won the Becher on what was declared as heavy ground, so I have no concerns if it keeps on raining and turns to heavy.
“He won the Becher well, beating Niche Market by 22 lengths, so he obviously likes Aintree and has a liking for the fences. However, the National is a very different race with twice the field.”
West End Rocker fell in last year’s race but Hutchinson maintains his charge is a good jumper but like any other in the race will require a bit of luck if he is to taste victory.
“He gave Choc (Robert Thornton) a good ride for the first six races last year before he fell, so the race should suit him. It’s just a case of avoiding the traffic and getting that bit of luck,” said Hutchinson.
“I’ve ridden him five times and won four of them so I’d like to think I have a good rapport with him.
“Obviously the race is very different to any other but it’s best to just treat it like any other race.
“That’s what I’ll try and do but of course you have all of the hype in the build-up and then a long parade. There is a lot of waiting around and some butterflies but once the race starts you are just looking to get in your rhythm as soon as possible.
“Tactics come into it but it is a very difficult race, you have to get a good start.”
The Swindon man believes the ground will not favour ante-post favourite Synchronised and admits winning the race would be the pinnacle of his career.
Hutchinson added: “I think the race is a big ask for Synchronised if the ground stays soft but Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins’ On His Own has to be respected. He won his prep race in Ireland. Giles Cross, down the bottom of the weights, has an each-way chance but you could probably make a case for anyone really.
“It would be the pinnacle of my career really to win it. I think that would be the case for any jockey. It is a race that you watch as a child and dream to race in and win - it’s the big race.”
- FELIX de Giles tackles the Grand National for the first time on Saturday and is determined to repay trainer Brian Ellison for giving him his big chance.
The Stanton Fitzwarren jockey rides Neptune Equester and claims victory in the race would lead to bigger and better things.
“It would be absolutely massive to win the race. Winning a race like the National raises a jockey’s profile and can really lead to bigger and better rides,” he said.
“I am extremely grateful to Brian Ellison for giving me the ride and trusting me. I appreciate his loyalty and I hope I can repay him with a big winner.”
De Giles also feels his 100-1 shot has an outside chance, stating his favourable weight and vast racing experience could stand him in good stead.
“He is a horse that has loads of experience and experience does count for a race like this,” said de Giles.
“He is also off a nice weight which will make a difference especially if the going is anywhere around soft.
“The lighter horses should go better than the ones carrying weight.
“The horse has not travelled the course before but I’m not concerned about that. He has plenty of experience and he jumps well.”
The jockey is not daunted about riding the big race for the first time but just hopes luck is on his side on Saturday. De Giles added:
“I’ve not ridden in the race before so it is exciting.
“It is not really daunting but there is a lot of luck involved in the race. There is a lot of traffic and it is a long way round, so you need luck to be on your side.
“As a jockey the first aim is to just get around the course safely. Getting into a nice jumping rhythm is important too.
“I’ve not even sat on Neptune Equester before but horses are all the same really, I’ll just let him do his thing out there. I think when a jockey tries to force a horse that is when you get in trouble.”
Elsewhere de Giles believes it’s hard to bet against Synchronised and Ballabriggs although he rates the chances of Swindon jockey Wayne Hutchinson, on board West End Rocker.
“You have to consider Synchronised and Ballabriggs but I like the look of West End Rocker, I think he has a great, great chance.
“West End Rocker had a good win at Doncaster and has only had two runs this season.
“He seems to really like it at Aintree and likes the soft ground which should be all the best for him. He is a bit of a slow runner but he just keeps galloping and he should be there at the end. Obviously Wayne Hutchinson has got the ride on him and it would be good for us to both have a good finish.”