NORTH Yorkshire jockey Brian Hughes has been booked to ride the highly-regarded Seeyouatmidnight in next week’s Randox Health Grand National.
Hughes has ridden Sandy Thomson’s stable star on countless occasions, though he was unavailable for the horse’s comeback from injury at Newbury last month.
The rider – who has ridden 135 winners this season and is second in the title race to Richard Johnson – also has winning form over Aintree’s unique fences.
He won the Topham and Grand Sefton Chases on Always Waining and Frankie Figg respectively in 2010.
And, while the 32-year-old has failed to complete the Grand National course in six previous attempts, Borders-based Thomson is pleased to have secured such an experienced rider as Scotland bids for a second successive success following the victory, 12 months ago, of Lucinda Russell’s now injury-sidelined One For Arthur.
“Though his National record isn’t great, Brian has a good record in other races over the Aintree fences,” Thomson told The Yorkshire Post.
“We won’t be schooling the horse over National-type fences. One of the plusses of going to Newbury is that it is a big galloping track.
“We just wouldn’t mind the ground drying out.”
The horse is owned by Thomson’s wife Quona who persuaded her husband to do a deal when the gelding didn’t make its reserve price of £20,000 at Doncaster Sales.
“Quona liked the look of a horse that was coming into the ring,” he said.
“He was unsold and it all became quite fortuitous. She was on crutches because she had an ankle in plaster, and she went scuttling off.
“I could hardly keep up with her. We got to the horse’s box and liked what we saw. We looked at the video of winning his point-to-point and we did the deal. That’s the way it goes at the sales. You never quite know what you’re buying but there was something about this horse’s presence...”
Victory for a trainer with a small but select string would add to the romance of the National after Ireland’s domination of last month’s Cheltenham Festival.
Two successful seasons over hurdles preceded a switch to chasing and a win at Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day meeting in 2016 over the Nigel Twiston-davies-trained Blaklion, who is a leading contender for the National.
Yet, while Seeyouatmidnight has met with several injury setbacks, his four wins over the larger obstacles do also include an imposing win over Bristol De Mai, a subsequent Grade One winner, for Twiston-Davies.
As for Blaklion who faded to fourth in last year’s National, connections hope a wind operation will help the horse return after the Becher Chase winner was left exhausted by his second-place finish in Haydock’s Grand National Trial in February.
The aforementioned Twiston-Davies, whose son Sam will ride the horse at Aintree, believes stamina-draining ground contributed to the reverse to mudlark Yaka Enki.
The Cotswolds trainer explained: “The ground was horrible. We sent him to Ben Brain, who is based just up the road, where he galloped with an overground scope attached to his throat. Ben said he could improve him by cauterizing his soft palate and that’s what happened.”
The selective campaign afforded to Blaklion, a former winner of Wetherby’s Towton Novices Chase as well as Grade One contests at Chelteham and Aintree, this season has been intentional and the National will be only his fourth outing.
Twiston-Davies, who is waiting to find out if Double Ross, Cogry and Splash Of Ginge make the 40-runner cut, continued: “The National has always been the one goal. We were very excited when he went for home last year, he probably went too soon, but it was nevertheless a good effort and demonstrated how much he enjoys Aintree and the fences there.”
In other National news, York-born actress Dame Judi Dench’s As De Mee, trained by Paul Nicholls, will miss the £1m Aintree race after suffering an injury setback.
Meanwhile, Cheltenam Gold Cup third Anibale Fly is an intended runner for Irish trainer Tony Martin following last month’s career-best effort behind Native River and Might Bite.
He is due to be one of four runners for legendary owner JP McManus who could also be represented by Minella Rocco, Carlingford Lough and Regal Encore.
Guy Disney is set to become the first amputee jockey to ride a race over the famous Grand National fences.
The former Army captain rides with a prosthetic lower right leg after his vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan in July 2009.
Disney became the first amputee jockey to win a race under rules when Rathlin Rose won last year’s Royal Artillery Gold Cup at Sandown.
Disney’s intended ride in the Foxhunters’ Chase comes after he assembled a syndicate to buy the Kim Bailey-trained Gallery Exhibition.