William Hill ambassador Barry Geraghty gives his thoughts on the recently announced Grand National changes and runs his eye over Friday and Saturday’s cards from Chepstow.
Grand National race changes
I think the changes are the right thing to do. Horse and rider welfare is the main concern and the emphasis with the reduction in numbers and the changes at the start is to try and reduce the early speed.
The distance from the start to the first fence was shortened before and this was to reduce the pace the runners met the fence at. These are four milers and they are probably going too fast for their own good, so it’s right to try and reduce that speed and help them find their jumping rhythm earlier.
It is a field sport and it’s no different if you’re playing football or rugby, there’s always a risk of injury and you can never eliminate that, you’re trying to reduce the risk as much as possible. They are good changes to make, they’re very positive. I know some people will be disappointed to see the field size reduced from 40 to 34 as there’s great history in that number and it’s been around for so long, but I feel that it’s the right decision at this time.
There have been changes made throughout my riding career from when I first rode over the National fences in 2000, with the drop at Becher’s being reduced, the fence sizes being reduced, fences being bypassed. There have constantly been modifications and this is just the latest draft.
You have to compliment the Jockey Club for over the years making the changes necessary to keep this race, because it’s so important to protect it. It’s one of the flagship races of our sport and part of our heritage and culture.
Firstly we must mention the fact Paul Nicholls loves to target this meeting and use it as his springboard for the season. He’s got some of his A-team out, so it looks set to be an exciting weekend for all at the Ditcheat stable.
Friday starts with a veterans’ chase (1:35pm), where DANNY KIRWAN returns after a wind-op. He finished second in Ascot on his first start last season, which was a great run. Then he was still competitive when falling next time out in Ascot and was disappointing after that in Kempton. He has some good form in the book and on the back of a wind-op, on good ground and now stepping into veteran company, he should go well.
CAPTAIN TEAGUE lines up in the Persian War (2:10pm) and he is one of my horses to follow this season. He ran a brilliant race in the Champion Bumper behind A Dream To Share and Fact To File when only beaten two-and-a-half lengths. Both those horses were ridden well off the pace, whereas Captain Teague was ridden much closer to a strong pace. It’s a race that Paul [Nicholls] wouldn’t normally target and it’s interesting that he brings this horse here. He has Point-to-Point experience and I think he could be a very smart horse.
THREEUNDERTHRUFIVE (2.30pm) is better on good ground so I think conditions will suit him. He’s another that is running for the first time after a wind-op and should go well.
A horse that I thought might offer a bit of value was Manothepeople at the bottom of the weights. He disappointed on his last start in the Scottish National but prior to that he had some good form, winning twice at Chepstow last season, including first time up, so we know he goes well fresh.
KNAPPERS HILL (3.10pm) jumped a hurdle as though he would take well to fences. He’s got lots of scope and lots of class. He should be a very tough nut to crack here.
The one I like in the following handicap chase (3.40pm) is DATSALRIGHTGINO. He had some good form last season, finishing second to Stage Star at Cheltenham and winning on his last start at Ayr. His better form is on better ground, so that’s going to suit him and he’s the one I would be with.
Gavin Cromwell’s Final Orders is an interesting runner, who is going to enjoy the step up in trip. He was fifth in the Grand Annual last season but fell at Aintree on his next start. He did disappoint in the Galway Plate, but has won twice at Bellewstown this summer and is definitely a horse with a chance.
In the Silver Trophy (4.15pm) the one I like is Peter Fahey’s SIGN FROM ABOVE. Mark Walsh takes the ride and he was a good winner at Navan last time and was a winner on the Flat previous to that at the Galway Festival. Peter’s a fine target trainer and won a valuable handicap chase on this card last year with Peregrine Run. Sign From Above is a five-year-old that’s on the up and I didn’t think there was A standout rival in the race.
AFADIL (4.50pm) could be another winner for Paul Nicholls on the day. He was only beaten just over five lengths behind Jazzy Matty in the Fred Winter and then ran well at Ascot before winning at Ayr. On his first run after a wind-op, he looked the standout horse in this.
Ffos Las, Sunday
If STONG LEADER turns up in the Welsh Champion Hurdle (3.20pm) then he would be of strong interest. He was a little bit disappointing on soft ground in the Supreme but was a good second behind Inthepocket at Aintree on better ground. He’ll enjoy the conditions at Ffos Las.
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