Walsh clinches her seat on Seabass and targets Grand National history

Seabass and jockey Katie Walsh, left.Seabass and jockey Katie Walsh, left.
Seabass and jockey Katie Walsh, left.
TWELVE months ago just five lengths separated Katie Walsh from a place in history as the first female jockey to win the John Smith’s Grand National.

She had to settle for an honourable third on Seabass, still the best result achieved by a woman rider in the race, as Neptune Collonges and Sunnyhill Boy pulled clear in an epic tussle determined by just one pixel on the photo-finish freeze frame.

One year on and Walsh, who came to public prominence when partnering Ferdy Murphy’s Poker De Sivola to Cheltenham Festival glory in 2010, believes that she will face an even sterner test on Seabass, who is trained by her father, Ted, the respected racing commentator.

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The 10-year-old, one of the leading fancies for the Aintree marathon on April 6, finished an eye-catching third in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last month.

“Seabass gave me an unbelievable spin last year and when we pulled up there was a smile on my face as if I was after winning it,” said the jockey following confirmation that she keeps the ride on the chaser.

“For a few seconds I did think, ‘I’m not going too bad here’, but he emptied a bit on the run-in.

“I can’t wait to try again, but it will be tougher this time because Seabass is a year older and has risen sharply in the weights.”

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Seabass and stablemate Colbert Station warmed up for the National on Sunday evening when the pair engaged in a workout after racing at the Curragh.

“It went good, both of them seem in good nick,” said Walsh senior.

“The race is still two weeks away, so they’ve got a few more bits of work to do yet, but at the moment I’m happy.

“Hopefully, they both stay healthy and well.”

With the trainer’s son Ruby, twice a National winner, likely to ride this time for Willie Mullins, Colbert Station could be ridden by 17-times champion jockey Tony McCoy because the horse is owned by JP McManus.

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McCoy could alternatively ride Jonjo O’Neill’s Sunnyhill Boy, who was beaten a nose last year by Neptune Colonges, the now retired grey who will be guest of honour at the Middleham racing stables open day on Good Friday.

Top Northern jockey Jason Maguire is to stay loyal to Donald McCain’s 2011 winner Ballabriggs, rasing the possibility that Tadcaster-born Henry Brooke could gain a first ride in the race aboard stablemate Across The Bay.

No National winner has won any race subsequent to their Aintree heroics since Earth Summit added the Becher Chase to his 1998 win in the world’s greatest steeplechase.

Though Ballabriggs is 12 and could only finish sixth last year, Maguire is upbeat.

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“He’s in great form and it was a good last run when he was third at Kelso. He’s also been around the track and excels there,” he said.

“He’s trained for the one race every year. He got beat at Kelso the year he won the National and this month ran a really good race there on ground that wouldn’t have suited him. Plenty of 12-year-olds have won it over the years.”

Yorkshire trainer Malcolm Jefferson has confirmed stable star Cape Tribulation will end his season in the Grade One Betfred Bowl at Aintree on Thursday week.

The nine-year-old booked his place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup with victory in the Argento Chase in January and was far from disgraced in the blue riband event, finishing a creditable fifth under Denis O’Regan.

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Cape Tribulation won over hurdles at Cheltenham and Aintree last Spring and Jefferson is looking forward to seeing his charge get back on a sounder surface.

“He came back from Cheltenham a bit quiet, but he never left anything (food) and he’s perking up a bit now,” said the Malton trainer.

“There was an extra week between Cheltenham and Aintree last year, but, hopefully, we’ll get him there and, hopefully, he’ll get to run on a bit better ground.

“There’s nothing else for him after Aintree, so that will be his last run of the season. Next season, he’ll probably go down a similar route, starting off in something like the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and it would be nice to have another go at the Gold Cup.”

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Set to join Cape Tribulation at Aintree is stable companion Attaglance, who also won at the two big British Festivals last year.

He has failed to fire in four starts over fences this season and is set to return over smaller obstacles for the Grade One Liverpool Hurdle on Grand National day.

Injured jockey JT McNamara is to be airlifted to a hospital nearer his family in Ireland.

The 37-year-old amateur suffered a serious neck injury after a hideous fall at the Cheltenham Festival and remains in a stable condition at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol.

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A statement said: “He is now fully alert, but requires full-time ventilation at present. In due course, JT will be transferred to the National Spinal Unit at The Mater Hospital, Dublin, where he will be closer to his family. His wife Caroline and family very much appreciate everyone’s continued good wishes and prayers on JT’s behalf.”

Aidan O’Brien faces a race against time getting Kingsbarns fit for the Qipco 2000 Guineas after the unbeaten colt suffered a setback.

The Racing Post Trophy winner has missed important work after developing a foot infection.

Hopes rise for Wetherby and Lincoln meets

WETHERBY officials are optimistic that tomorrow’s National Hunt card will beat the weather.

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Most of the snow that fell on the West Yorkshire track over the weekend has thawed, though parts of the course may still need to be harrowed.

Clerk of the course Jonjo Sanderson said he was “hopeful” that the meeting will go ahead, but that he was still keeping “a watching brief” because of the threat of overnight frost.

Doncaster’s clerk of the course, Roderick Duncan, is “optimistic” this weekend’s rescheduled William Hill Lincoln meeting will beat the weather at the second attempt.

The Town Moor circuit staged the first day of the Flat turf season on Friday after passing a morning inspection, but heavy snow on Friday night led to the high-profile fixture on Saturday being abandoned.

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“It’s overcast and temperatures aren’t quite where we’d like, but we had a little bit of a thaw on Sunday. There is snow on the track, but a lot of it has gone and you can see quite a bit of grass now,” said Duncan.

“You would struggle to race (yesterday), but it’s improved a lot from Saturday. It’s difficult to get a true picture of where we’ll be at the end of the week because after some possible wintry showers the forecast is predominantly dry.”

Aintree is clear of snow ahead of the Grand National on April 6, with the ground said to be “soft”.

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