JIMMY MOFFATT faces an anxious few days to discover whether Highland Lodge, the North’s only potential runner in this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National, has any chance of making the cut for next weekend’s race.
Safety restrictions mean just 40 runners can go to post and Moffatt’s stable star, victorious in last December’s Becher Chase over Aintree’s iconic National course, still needs 12 horses to be withdrawn.
The complexion of the race will become clearer on Monday, the next chance for horses to be pulled out, and the Cumbria-based trainer accepts it will be touch and go for Highland Lodge, the intended mount of Middleham jockey Henry Brooke, to sneak into the race at the bottom of the handicap.
The situation is complicated by the fact that leading owners like JP McManus and Gigginstown House Stud, responsible for last month’s Gold Cup winner Don Cossack, have multiple entries – they want to keep their options open – while the outcome of the race could determine whether Ireland’s Willie Mullins overhauls Paul Nicholls in the race to be champion trainer in Britain. Again, both men will wait until the last minute to assess the ground before confirming their plans on Thursday morning.
“I think we still have a good chance,” Moffatt told The Yorkshire Post. “There are 27 horses entered in other races and I’ve been told by Phil Smith, the chief handicapper, that our chances are better than 50-50. I hope he’s right.
“Historically a good number come out at the five-day confirmation stage on the Monday before the National. It’s going to be tight, but it does fill us with confidence that so many horses have other entries.
“The horse is in great form. I don’t think I’ve ever had him better and he did a very good racecourse gallop at Haydock 10 days ago alongside Amuse Me who has won his last three starts. He showed Amuse Me a clean pair of heels. We’ve got to keep our fingers crossed. If we’re unlucky, we’re in the Scottish National the following week.”
In other news, North Yorkshire jockey Brian Hughes, who brought up his second successive century of winners this week, looks set to ride 2014 winner Pineau De Re.
Hughes schooled the Dr Richard Newland-trained veteran over National-type fences at Lambourn on Thursday. However, the quality of this year’s renewal is such that Pineau De Re’s participation depends on 10 higher-rated horses being withdrawn.
Meanwhile, former winners Ruby Walsh and Liam Treadwell hope to be passed fit for the big race following heavy falls at Clonmel and Bangor respectively on Thursday.
Just Cameron, a gallant sixth for Sheffield-born jockey Joe Colliver and Middleham trainer Micky Hammond in last month’s Champion Chase at Cheltenham, reappears in today’s £50,000 Liz Adam Memorial Chase at Kelso.
Red Marauder’s win – Wetherby trainer Richard Guest reflects on his 2001 winning ride in an unmissable interview in Sports Monday.