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State of Play: a legend in our eyes

When I say ‘our’ I mean his connections and mine. Turning in at Aintree yesterday (and isn’t that just the longest, hardest to look at run-in in the world) he looked to be merely a finisher, well down the field. Then somehow and I don’t know how, because rightly the camera was focussing on the monumentally brave, from the front, run of the winner Ballabriggs, the little bay by Hernando managed to finish 4th.

So when State of Play’s trainer, Evan Williams, said he was a ‘legend’ for finishing in the top four in the race for the third year in a row, I made him right. I like Evan, I met him once at Cheltenham and we had a chat about an ex-flat racehorse that Williams had sent over hurdles and coaxed a win out of. I think the horse was called Spartacus, or I’m Spartacus, or something; not that it matters. Williams had said a few days before the race that he didn’t think his horse was quite up to winning the National in any case, a fact that had passed me by, which was just as well as I might have thought twice about my each way bet @ 28/1. Anyway it was good that Ballabriggs won for the McCain family in the trademark Red Rum noseband. It was less good that the winner had such a hard time he had to receive oxygen on the track and then there is the sad fact that the race claimed the lives of two horses: Dooney’s Gate and Ornais. In an earlier race on the card jockey Peter Toole took a nasty fall and is in a critical condition in hospital with a head injury; we can only wish him well.

It is a hard race the National, and it is a hard game, the jumps. The bad news sort of takes it out of you a bit, so I will leave today’s post with the words of Evan Williams on State of Play’s performance and why he sees him, rightly, as a legend.

To be associated with a horse that has done it and done this much for my career and our yard, I will never have another horse that has done what he has done for me.

He is a very, very sweet horse and will always have a very special place in my heart. It is a difficult task to be placed in one National but to have done it three years on the bounce is an incredible endorsement of how tough and genuine the horse is.

He had a great start and was first crossing the Melling Road and was shuffled back down the field but he had a storming finish as guts and sheer determination of that little horse kept him going.

*wipes away tear*

Him coming back next year is something I would have to to give plenty of thought to. It would be silly of me to say what I will do next year now.

Evan, please don’t bring the little horse back next year, he’s done enough. They’ve all done enough.

The Grand National: the Greatest Horse Race?

I don’t see the Grand National that way; in fact I usually don’t see it all, as it makes me so nervous. Nowadays I would prefer any number of flat races, but as a child I knew what the race was alright: a black and white horse racing bonanza that Red Rum nearly always won. As a child in the 1970s, I knew, because I saw them, that Red Rum was the greatest racehorse, Muhammed Ali was the greatest boxer and Nottingham Forest were the greatest football team. End of the matter. And even with various horses and boxers winning in glorious technicolour since, I have not changed my mind about the first two sporting legends.

Red Rum was the last horse to win back-to-back Nationals (his second in 1974) so with that being nearly 40 years ago you could say with statistics on your side that Don’t Push It has a mountain to climb in defence of his crown this afternoon. On the other hand you could say that the statistics could be offset by the power of the man in saddle: the McCoy factor.

I won’t be saying any of those things. I will be backing State of Play in the National for the third time in this race. This year he races off 10 stone 6 pounds (his lightest weight ever in the race) and he goes to Aintree with no prep run at all. In fact, if anything, his prep run was last year’s 3rd place in the Grand National. I don’t know if this will make any difference, but his trainer, Evan Williams, seems happy enough with the horse and he has a fair enough chance.

Fingers crossed for all the runners and riders at 4.15 this afternoon: they are all a lot braver than me.

From Ginger McCain’s My Colourful Life.

Around the time the time we acquired Red Rum, I was struck by the fact that world champion boxer Sugar Ray Robinson had taken his own hairdresser with him wherever he went. I thought, well, if Sugar Ray had a personal hairdresser, Red Rum can have his own blacksmith. So, when Red Rum went racing, Bob went with him…

…From the moment we first saw that Red Rum had his problems, Bob took care of him. No other person ever shod him. He wouldn’t let anyone else touch his feet. Neither would I.

Don’t Push It

I haven’t read any printed matter on AP’s Grand National win yet, so I am hoping my take is original, but somehow I doubt it.

Yesterday morning, having backed my long-term fancy State of Play I considered the well-made point that always backing AP to break his National duck was a bet that would eventually pay out. AP being what he is, a punter’s favourite, was hardly ever likely to dot up on a big outsider and the fact that yesterday’s ride entered the National Market at 50/1, but had contracted to 10s by the off was due to the McCoy factor.

As it happened I forgot to back him, partly because I couldn’t remember which horse he had finally opted for and partly because I was not that convinced in the rhetoric. Although my own choice could not, and probably won’t ever win, I can still rejoice with all true NH fans that our greatest jump jockey has finally shoved that monkey off his back.

This was a triumvirate of broken National maidens yesterday. Jonjo and JP, the trainer and owner, also enjoyed their first ever National win. No wonder there was a bit of salt water shed.

And how interesting, to me anyway, that the horse (who according to Jonjo couldn’t really win) was named in an exact opposite to how AP approaches riding, and one assumes, his whole life. AP is always pushing it. He pushes himself and he pushes his horses. He even pushes those around him. One of my favourite AP anecdotes is this after his mate Ruby Walsh took a bad fall at the Paddy Power Open meeting in November 2008:

“They took a scan of the spleen. The surgeon said it was ruptured but he wanted to keep me in for 10 days of observation to see if it might start to heal itself. I’m thinking, ‘Jesus, this is too sore to ever heal. Just take the f****r out. McCoy says, ‘Ten days! Ruby can’t be waiting that long. You should rip it out.’ The surgeon says he can’t just take out a spleen. But McCoy insists, ‘Take it out.” Walsh describes how pal Tony McCoy helped his recovery from that Cheltenham injury.

Ruby was back in 5 weeks flat to ride Kauto Star to victory in the King George. Ruby also took a nasty yesterday from Celestial Halo and missed the National. Maybe it’s just as well AP was otherwise engaged and couldn’t instruct Ruby’s doctor to do likewise with the arm.

You’d have to guess he’d be a hard man to live with, but he is a genius in the saddle and that doesn’t come easy. I don’t always love his rides, so insistent is he at times, but no-one could deny him his National win forever and at 35 I am glad he’s done it.

Maybe Tony, just maybe, you can relax a little bit now?

Cracking a rare smile. Don't Push It doesn't share the sentiment

Pssst they say there’s a horse race this afternoon…

It’s the Grand National again apparently.

Listen, I love the tradition, the romance, the old stories, but I can’t bear to watch the race.

Do you KNOW how big the big fences are? Did you know a grown man can only cower in the shadow of Becher’s drop? This race is a massive test of man and beast. Don’t watch it lightly.

Red Rum @ Southport

I want State of Play to win. Other than that I will settle for safe return all round.

A Sporting Summit in the Snug

Despite some disapproving interruptions, the blog’s resident Grand National expert AMB and I were able to run the once over the field the other afternoon.

Well, to be truthful, we only had time for the once over over two of the field (again). No matter, this is the summary of the insightful and professional discussion. Really, I am at a loss to understand why there were no cameras there…

Niche Market has weight yes, but mitigating this stat is the fact that the top of the handicap has become increasingly compressed over recent years – more and more horses are carrying the deal-breaking 11st 1lb+ stone. Our expert feels this could be the year we break the weight stat barrier. The remarkable Hedgehunter won with 11st 1lb in 2005, but you have to go digging to find Corbiere carrying 11st 4lb in 1983 – all of 27 years ago. Proving the bus rule, Grittar won the year before that with 11st 5lb. Of more concern is the horse’s entry at Cheltenham. Tut tut. The other thing the horse lacks, and can do nothing about until next year, is course experience.

On the other hand li’l ol’ State of Play has the Aintree factor and is green to go across the other criteria.  I think the only thing he needs is some luck in running and ground no softer than last year’s good to soft.

Definitely State of Play with that blue rope

That’s it. We moved swiftly on to the Wayne Bridge / John Terry non-handshake before the other house guests ears began to bleed.

P.S. Cover them house guests – after I wrote the above the Blog Expert forwarded this interesting link about the compressed handicap from the Official Handicapper.  I swear those two are hand in glove.

Weights for the Grand National 2010

These have been published today. Fallout so far: Mouse Morris says War of Attrition won’t run with the allotted weight. Our own AMB’s (the blog’s resident Grand National expert) pick Niche Market has gone up 4lb for his good showing in the Aon.

From my own point of view I have always been sweet on State of Play and he gets in on a lightweight, along with another former Hennessy winner, Trabolgan.

Over to AMB and her traffic light coded spreadsheet 🙂

Weights for the John Smith’s Grand National

Horse Age Weight Trainer

ALBERTAS RUN 9-11-10 Jonjo O’Neill
MADISONDU BERLAIS 9-11-10 David Pipe
NOTRE PERE 9-11-10 Jim Dreaper
TARANIS 9-11-09 Paul Nicholls
OUR VIC 12-11-08 David Pipe
MON MOME 10-11-07 VenetiaWilliams
BLACK APALACHI 11-11-06 Dessie Hughes
JOE LIVELY 11-11-06 Colin Tizzard
VIC VENTURI 10-11-06 Dessie Hughes
COMPLY OR DIE 11-11-05 David Pipe
DON’T PUSH IT 10-11-05 Jonjo O’Neill
IRISH INVADER 9-11-05 Willie Mullins
MADE IN TAIPAN 8-11-04 Tom Mullins
NICHE MARKET 9-11-04 Bob Buckler
TRICKY TRICKSTER 7-11-04 Paul Nicholls
CASEY JONES 9-11-03 Noel Meade
CLOUDY LANE 10-11-03 Donald McCain Jnr
DREAM ALLIANCE 9-11-03 Philip Hobbs
NOZIC 9-11-03 Paul Nicholls
POSSOL 7-11-03 Henry Daly
SIEGEMASTER 9-11-03 Dessie Hughes
MY WILL 10-11-02 Paul Nicholls
PABLO DU CHARMIL 9-11-02 David Pipe
ONE COOL COOKIE 9-11-01 Charlie Swan
WAR OF ATTRITION 11-11-01 Mouse Morris
BACKSTAGE 8-11-00 Gordon Elliott
BALLYHOLLAND 9-11-00 Colin McBratney
BEAT THE BOYS 9-11-00 Nigel Twiston-Davies
PREISTS LEAP 10-11-00 Tom O’Leary
ROULEZ COOL 7-11-00 Robert Waley-Cohen
BERONI 8-10-13 Willie Mullins
CAN’T BUY TIME 8-10-13 Jonjo O’Neill
LE BEAU BAI 7-10-13 Richard Lee
SEVEN IS MY NUMBER 8-10-13 David Pipe
SNOWY MORNING 10-10-13 Willie Mullins
AIR FORCE ONE (GER) 8-10-12 Brian Walsh Charlie Mann
BIG FELLA THANKS 8-10-12 Paul Nicholls
DARKNESS 11-10-12 Charles Egerton
DEUTSCHLAND (USA) 7-10-12 Willie Mullins
LOUPING D’AINAY 11-10-12 ancois Cottin
CHELSEAHARBOUR 10-10-11 Mullins
DOONEYS GATE 9-10-11 Willie Mullins
GONE TO LUNCH 10-10-11 Jeremy Scott
KORNATI KID 8-10-11 Philip Hobbs
STATE OF PLAY 10-10-11 Evan Williams
ELLERSLIE GEORGE 10-10-10 Nick Mitchell
FOLLOW THE PLAN 7-10-10 Oliver McKiernan
JAYO 7-10-10 Willie Mullins
ROYALCOUNTYSTAR 11-10-10 Tony Martin
BALLYFITZ 10-10-09 Nigel Twiston-Davies
CONNA CASTLE 11-10-09 Jimmy Mangan
EQUUS MAXIMUS 10-10-09 Willie Mullins
ERIC’S CHARM 12-10-09 Oliver Sherwood
KING JOHNS CASTLE 11-10-09 Arthur Moore
OLLIE MAGERN 12-10-09 Nigel Twiston-Davies
ARBOR SUPREME 8-10-08 Willie Mullins
CANE BRAKE 11-10-08 Tom Taaffe
KILCREA CASTLE 8-10-08 Emma Lavelle
LENNON 10-10-08 Howard Johnson
MALJIMAR 10-10-08 Nick Williams
NEW ALCO 9-10-08 Ferdy Murphy
BIBLE LORD 9-10-07 Andy Turnell
IRISH RAPTOR 11-10-07 Nigel Twiston-Davies
MR POINTMENT 11-10-07 Paul Murphy
PARSONS PISTOL 8-10-07 Noel Meade
PIRAYA 7-10-07 David Pipe
RAZOR ROYALE 8-10-07 Nigel Twiston-Davies
THE PACKAGE 7-10-07 David Pipe
HELLO BUD 12-10-06 Nigel Twiston-Davies
IRIS DE BALME 10-10-06 Sean Curran
PALYPSO DE CREEK 7-10-06 Charlie Longsdon
TRUST FUND 12-10-06 Richard Barber
ABBEYBRANEY 9-10-05 Howard Johnson
CERIUM 9-10-05 Paul Murphy
FLINTOFF (USA) 9-10-05 VenetiaWilliams
PARSONS LEGACY 12-10-05 Philip Hobbs
ROYAL ROSA 11-10-05 Howard Johnson
SILVER BIRCH 13-10-05 Gordon Elliott
COE 8-10-04 Sue Smith
GLENFINN CAPTAIN 11-10-04 Tom Taaffe
KNOWHERE 12-10-04 Nigel Twiston-Davies
OODACHEE 11-10-04 Charlie Swan
WHINSTONE BOY 9-10-04 Jimmy Mangan
FAASEL 9-10-03 David Pipe
MUMBLES HEAD 9-10-03 Peter Bowen
OFFICIER DE RESERVE 8-10-03 VenetiaWilliams
SIZING AUSTRALIA 8-10-03 Henry de Bromhead
TRABOLGAN 12-10-03 Nicky Henderson
CHIEF DAN GEORGE 10-10-02 Jimmy Moffatt
DUERS 8-10-02 Paul Magnier
BALLYTRIM 9-10-01 Willie Mullins
OFFSHORE ACCOUNT 10-10-01 Charlie Swan
PAK JACK 10-10-01 Richard Phillips
BOYCHUK 9-10-00 Philip Hobbs
KINGS ADVOCATE 10-10-00 Tom Taaffe
TREACLE 9-10-00 Tom Taaffe
GALANT NUIT 6-9-13 Ferdy Murphy
BELON GALE 7-9-12 Howard Johnson
POMME TIEPY 7-9-12 Willie Mullins
MERIGO 9-9-10 Andrew Parker
CHIARO 8-9-09 Philip Hobbs
KILBEGGAN BLADE 11-9-09 Tom George
ACCORDING TO JOHN 10-9-08 Nicky Richards
LORUM LEADER 9-9-07 Dr Richard Newland
OLD BENNY 9-9-07 Alan King
OVER THE CREEK 11-9-04 David Pipe
COSSACK DANCER 12-9-01 Mark Bradstock
WEE ROBBIE 10-9-00 Nick Gifford
OFFALY 9-8-12 Pru Townsley

Mine’s a Hennessy

Much as I try to ignore this jump racing gear (and succeed for the most part during the week) the magnetic effect of the graded contests and the stars that participate would make a nonsense of my blog’s title if I didn’t even mention them.   During the flat season I can write a preview at the 48 hour declaration stage, providing the weather outlook is fair, with the jumps I have to mug up on the morning.

For once Thommo had something enlightened to say on the Morning Line, re Denman:

“We all know he can carry the weight, but can he give it away?”

Well put.  If I may borrow from Heaven 17’s Look of Love lyric for a moment:

“I don’t know the answer to that question.  If I knew I would tell you…”

Well I would.  What I do know is that everyone says Denman is well.  What I know as well is that he is the class act in the field.  What we know too is that he has not quite re-scaled the heights of the season before last since his heart procedure and that he was not foot perfect when we last saw him at Aintree, which is why his price was around 9/2 this morning. 

Barber’s Shop is probably the improving horse to watch for, but I don’t know enough about him to comment so I won’t.  I also know that Gone To Lunch comes top in the Timeform weight adjusted ratings and should come home well.  I would like Denman to win, but the fact of the matter is that he is giving away absolute lumps of lead to quality horses.  For example, State of Play (who was the subject of a midweek gamble from 33s into 16s) who is a former Hennessy winner himself is getting 2lbs shy of 2 stone from the Tank.  Even if the weight doesn’t stop Denman winning, it gives some other good horses a good chance of getting nearer him.

Frankly I don’t know what to do!  My shortlist consists of Denman, Barber’s Shop, Gone to Lunch and State of Play.  State of Play and I go back the furthest and the money and featherweight he carries is encouraging, but I am not keen on backing against Denman.  Maybe it is two bets – win and each way.   Anyway good luck to all the field. 

N.B. If you are betting each way in the race go to Skybet or VC who are the firms offering 1/4 the price for the first 5.

P.S.  I really like the look of Solwhit in the Fighting Fifth @ Newcastle and that was before Barry Dennis made Binocular his Bismarck!