CARL Llewellyn’s hopes ahead of this year’s Grand National could not be more different to 20 years ago when Earth Summit provided him with a second win in the world-famous race.
Every drop of rain enhanced mudlark Earth Summit’s chances for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, but Llewellyn is hoping conditions do not become too testing for this year’s favourite Blaklion.
A winner of last December’s Becher Chase over the National course, the horse has undergone a wind operation after finishing a laboured second in his prep race at Haydock.
However, this week’s rain means the going is now soft on the National course ahead of Saturday’s Randox Health-sponsored race – and heavy on the section of track around the famous Canal Turn.
Llewellyn, who also won the 1992 renewal on Party Politics, is now assistant to Twiston-Davies and has played a key role in the development of the trainer’s accomplished son Sam, who will ride Blaklion in the big race.
“Blaklion is in great form – we couldn’t be happier with him,” he said. “He hasn’t missed a day’s work and we couldn’t be happier with his physical condition. He looks really well.
“Some very good horses were pulled up at Haydock last time on ground that was very deep and holding. Blaklion had a lot of weight and I thought he ran a big race despite people picking holes in him because he got tired.
“I wouldn’t let that performance at Haydock put me off him. He was impressive in the Becher Chase earlier this season. His jumping was superb and very accurate – he won as he liked.”
Regarding the ground on Merseyside, Llewellyn said: “There’s a big difference between recent heavy rain, which makes the ground wet but easier to get through than gluey ground.
“He can get through wet ground as long as it is not deep and holding. I’ve got no worries about his stamina not lasting out.
“I think he jumped and pulled his way to the front too early last year and we will learn from that. He used too much energy from the fourth last to the final fence.
“If Sam holds on to him for a lot longer in this year’s race, then we would be hopeful of a big run.”
Looking back on his victory in 1998 for a syndicate whose members included Aintree press officer Nigel Payne and former footballer Ricky George, he said: “Earth Summit was a fabulous jumper and an out-and-out stayer.
“A major factor was the rain. It rained all day Friday and the more it rained the more it improved his chances. By the Saturday a lot could have gone wrong, but on a horse like him, who was a very good jumper and with the right amount of luck, I was hopeful of a big run.
“Suny Bay and us were clear of the rest. I knew Earth Summit wouldn’t stop galloping and we were getting so much weight that I always thought we were going to hold on after the last.
“It was a brilliant performance by Suny Bay, possibly one of the best weight-carrying performances from a horse in the Grand National.”
Meanwhile, Tom George hopes the veteran Saint Are can roll back the years and win the showpiece race at the fifth time of asking. A faller in 2014, the horse was second to Many Clouds the following year before being pulled up in 2016 after winning a prep race at Doncaster. He was then third last year.
Very few horses get to run in five successive Nationals and this impressive feat of training further highlights the brilliance of the incomparable Red Rum, who won three races between 1973-77 and was runner-up on the other two occasions.
“His whole campaign has been geared around another shot at the National and he is in his element there, already having had two big pay days,” said the Gloucester trainer.
Stablemate Double Shuffle’s enforced absence from the Cheltenham Gold Cup means that he will be appearing for the first time since the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day when tackling tomorrow’s Grade One Betway Bowl. Rivals include Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite and Malton trainer Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red.