The weekend racing review
Our panel of Matt Brocklebank, Will Hayler and George Primarolo are joined by Sky Bet's Andy Wootton to look back at the weekend.
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Q: Another year since the modifications in the Grand National, have Aintree got the balance right now after a thrilling spectacle which saw all 40 horses return home safely? And what about that chaos at the start - can anything be done?
George Primarolo: I walked the course on Saturday morning and, although the fences are clearly easier to jump through (though the security guards wouldn't let me try), they are still a formidable sight. They still need to be jumped well and it looks like Aintree and the British Horseracing Authority have got the right mix. There didn't seem to be too much wrong with the start in my eyes and handing out arbitary bans to the 39 jockeys that started will only serve to antagonise. However, the whole procedure surrounding the enquiry was more farcical than the start itself and I wouldn't be totally surprised if the jockeys have the book thrown at them for refusing to face the music later on - their position over the start has been weakened because of this.
Will Hayler: I've digested a balance of opinions on this matter over the weekend, but when a horse as popular and well-known as Long Run takes a fall as heavy as his and springs back up straight afterwards to his feet, it can only be good news for the race and for the sport. As for the start, who knows what can be done from preventing the hot-headedness of jockeys that appears, from where I'm sat, to be causing these issues. That's not to say I wouldn't do exactly the same in their shoes, of course. Who would want to be heading to the first fence in 40th place? Nor do I think there is the remotest point in them being handed vindictive suspensions by the British Horseracing Authority. But relying upon riders to self-police clearly isn't working. At least the BHA have a whole year in which to work out how to get things right and they and Jockey Club Racecourses have done a pretty good job in tweaking the race in race in the last couple of years.
Matt Brocklebank: I seriously struggle with the argument that the recent modifications have dumbed the great race down, or effectively turned it into 'not much more than a staying hurdling race'. The bottom line is it was as thrilling as ever and eighteen of the 40 horses finished, with all of them returning safely to their boxes on Saturday evening, so if that's not a good balance then I'm not sure what people are seeking. The start remains a mess, but the nature of the beast dictates that it'll never suit everyone and horses planting themselves at the line can't help fellow jockeys, nor the starting team. All we can hope for in the future is that the tape goes up when it's meant to and none of the runners are left at the start with little or no chance of recovering.
Andy Wootton: Chaos at the start is part of the charm of the Grand National - surely nobody expects these things to go smoothly when you have 40 horses, including the likes of Battle Group involved. I don't think there's too much of a problem with it. As regards the fences, racing got the result it wanted. The modfications appear to have had the desired effect and hopefully no further changes will be needed for some time.
Q: And what of the winner Pineau Du Re and the achievement of trainer Dr Richard Newland?
MB: The achievement is a remarkable one given the size of Dr Newland's string. The part-time trainer with just over a dozen horses in his yard going and beating the likes of Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson in the first £1million Grand National is a tremendous story. As much as the race is attracting better quality horses these days, it's still a fairly typical big-field handicap in which luck plays a significant part and the best-treated runners at the weights come to the fore.
WH: As JA McGrath commented on At The Races on Sunday morning 'If you didn't already know about Dr Newland and how good a trainer he is, you can't have watched much jumps racing'. He's quite clearly a very intelligent man and a talented trainer with a high-class team underneath him, but then we knew that already.
GP: It was a National for the good guys. Owner John Provan, the good Doctor (as we're now obliged to call him) and Leighton Aspell are all decent men and even racing's biggest curmudgeons would have been hard pressed to surpress a smile after Pineau De Re's victory. One man you have to feel sorry for is the horse's previous owner, Barry Connell - especially after Our Conor's sad demise at Cheltenham. He sold the horse to Newland following his victory in the Ulster National last summer.
AW: He's clearly a talented trainer and to be doing it all as 'a hobby' makes it all the more impressive. The horse clearly wasn't without a chance, but he wasn't well backed and from a bookmaker's point of view he was one of the horses we were cheering on. There were some nibbles at around 28/1, but with the placed horses all quite popular, he saved our bacon!
Q: Lac Fontana, Balder Succes and Whisper all landed Grade One races prior to the National at Aintree on Saturday. All are young horses with bright futures but which one impressed you the most and where do you hope to see him next season?
GP: The penny is beginning to drop with Balder Succes and it was interesting to hear that Alan King thinks the horses has both grown up and toughened up this season. He'll apparently stay at two miles and you wouldn't want to rule him out of any of the top races at that trip next year given the relative lack of strength in that particular division. The plan was to go chasing with Whisper prior to his Aintree victory and I see no reason for that to change. He's progressing nicely and another season over hurdles could do him more harm than good. The same applies to Lac Fontana - I like to see these staying types go over fences sooner rather than later.
MB: I'm a big fan of Whisper, who took the step up in grade and distance in his stride to beat At Fishers Cross in the Stayers' Hurdle. However, I'd be very keen to see him jumping fences next season, rather than heading down the World Hurdle route and, along with Saphir Du Rheu who beat him in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, he could prove to be one of the leading staying novices chasers next term.
WH: The fact that Balder Succes stays two and a half miles is always going to help him in fast-run events over the minimum trip, but he jumps particularly well too and is a very hard horse not to like. To some extent, the same comments apply to Lac Fontana, who is a likeably tough sort. They will both have something still to prove against the very best in tougher company next season, but could prove worthy foes if their enthusiasm for the game remains undiminished.
AW: All there have still got to step up to prove themselves with regards to targets at next year's Cheltenham Festival. They could all do that though given that they have improved throughout the season. Lac Fontana might struggle for pace over two miles against the very best, so I'll say Whisper who could yet progress into a World Hurdle horse if he brushes up on his jumping.
Q: The Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle form appears to be working out well after wins for Josses Hill and Valseur Lido, while Wilde Blue Yonder and Splash Of Ginge also ran well in defeat. Considering The New One's Aintree win, would you keep Supreme winner Vautour hurdling next season?
WH: I don't think The New One would be a factor in my thinking, but considering that Hurricane Fly will be 11 next year and Annie Power is unlikely to run in the Champion Hurdle, only Un De Sceaux is set to come into the equation as a rival from within his own stable, and that would make sending Vautour over fences seem a bit barmy when the likes of Valseur Lido, Wicklow Brave, possiblly Diakali, and a number of others from his own yard will be making the same switch.
MB: I can't see Willie Mullins giving The New One a second thought when it comes to plotting a path for the hugely exciting Vautour and I expect him to stay over timber next season. There are enough top hurdle races in Ireland to keep him and Un De Sceaux apart for most of the campaign, especially given the latter proved he stays two and a half miles in France, and perhaps Neptune hero Faugheen will be the number one Mullins hope come next year's Arkle.
GP: I would imagine Willie Mullins had a chasing campaign in mind for Vautour prior to Cheltenham but he seemed so impressed (and a little shocked) with his victory in the Sky Bet Supreme, then I can see how he would be tempted to let the horse have a crack at the Champion Hurdle next year. To paraphrase a well-known trainer, 'he has a lot of speed'.
AW: I think going into this year's Champion, Mullins appeared to have an embarrassment of riches, but things don't look quite the same now so it must make sense for him to stay over hurdles. The way he jumped and travelled and quickened was impossible not to like.
Q: And finally, give us your ante-post tip for the Scottish National on Saturday.
WH: Green Flag.
GP: Mendip Express
MB: Storm Survivor
AW: Merry King.