TOP owner Andy Stewart has issued a bullish update on the Crabbie’s Grand National prospects of the well-backed Rocky Creek as support continues to grow for the Paul Nicholls-trained challenger.
Bookmakers reckon Rocky Creek could well challenge Shutthefrontdoor – AP McCoy’s probable ride in his final National before the 20-time champion jockey retires – for favouritism for the world’s greatest steeplechase on April 11.
McCoy said he was happy with the well-being of the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Shutthefrontdoor after schooling the horse at Southwell yesterday, but it is Rocky Creek who stands out among the 74 horses still in the line-up.
As the National weights were announced last month prior to Stewart’s horse powering to victory in Kempton’s Betbright Cup, the horse is effectively 9lb well-in to cap a fabulous season for Nicholls and jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.
The champion trainer’s squad also includes Sam Winner, Unioniste, Rebel Rebellion, Mon Parrain and possibly Benvolio, but all eyes are on Rocky Creek who is owned by Stewart and the family of the late David Johnson.
“Everyone at home has been very happy with him since Kempton,” said Stewart, who will be forever associated with the iconic Big Buck’s.
“It was a good performance last time, he’s well-in for the National and we’re very much looking forward to it.
“It’s very hard to compare races. Big Buck’s winning his 18th successive race was special. The Gold Cup is the blue riband, so it would be fantastic to win that, but I wouldn’t mind winning the Grand National.
“The National is a very famous race watched by 600 million people. My Will was 8-1 to win the race for me (2009) and ran very well to finish third behind Mon Mome and Comply Or Die.
“We’ll go there and enjoy the day and it will just be a shame my great friend David Johnson won’t be there to enjoy it with us.
“If the horse were to win, I think I would be likely to probably go down to the local pub in Ditcheat and enjoy a pint with Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies.”
Coral spokesman Simon Clare said: “Rocky Creek continues to be the best-backed horse in the Grand National field and he could well challenge for favouritism in the next few days.”
Joint top-weight Carlingford Lough was among a handful of horses withdrawn at yesterday’s latest forfeit stage.
Connections of the John Kiely-trained Irish Hennessy winner were quick to rule out a trip to Liverpool following his unplaced run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but fellow top-weight Lord Windermere stands his ground at the head of the field.
Jim Culloty’s charge was pulled up in his defence of the Gold Cup but could still join stablemate Spring Heeled in the April 11 contest.
Should Lord Windermere win, he would be only the third horse to land both races following Golden Miller and L’Escargot.
Many Clouds, another Gold Cup also-ran, remains in the reckoning for Oliver Sherwood but Prince De Beauchene and Living Next Door were notable absentees.
As for Yorkshire runners, Keith Reveley’s Night In Milan is guaranteed a run – the Saltburn trainer’s stable star is 19th in the handicap.
However, prospects for the remaining Yorkshire entries are less clear. Sue Smith’s Vintage Star is 59th – it will be touch and go whether he makes the cut and the Scottish National could be an alternative – while stablemate Lackamon is 70th and almost certain not to make the cut.
The same applies to Nawton trainer David O’Meara’s Rose Of The Moon, who is 71st in the handicap.
n North Yorkshire rider Brian Hughes moved onto the 95-winner mark for the season with a first and last race double at Hexham courtesy of Malcolm Jefferson’s Cyrus Darius and Kara Taram, who is trained by Lawrence Mullaney.
Malton-based Jefferson clearly rates his prospect who had 23 lengths in hand at the winning post.
“He’s a lovely horse and has a good engine. He’s a chaser in the making,” he said. “I don’t know whether we’ll run him again this season. He’ll get a few days out in the paddock and we’ll see after.”
Sue Smith’s Palm Grey favourite toughed it out in the handicap hurdle.
Winning jockey Jonathan England said: “He’s a nice type. He’ll probably improve for a bit better ground in the Spring and summer type.”