Hemmings trio among 73 left in Randox Health Grand National

Owner Trevor Hemmings, guest of honour at yesterday’s Northern Media Lunch at Aintree Racecourse, has three of the 73 horses going forward for the world’s greatest and richest race, the £1-million Randox Health Grand National.

They are Vincente (10st 13lb – 25/1 with Betway, official betting partner of the Randox Health Grand National Festival), Warriors Tale (10st 11lb, 40/1) and Vintage Clouds (10st 3lb, 40/1) who may not make the 40 runners, being number 52 at the moment of those going forward.

The Isle of Man-based owner commented: “The Grand National is extra special. No-one can describe the feeling when your horses cross the line and win. It’s been very special to win the Grand National three times and each race is special.

“The three victories are all so different. It was Hedgehunter’s second try and he won so well. Ballabriggs took them on from the third fence and won. Many Clouds carried top-weight and did it so perfectly – you just can’t believe the standard of those three horses and indeed the quality of the horses in the renewals of recent years.

“Vicente fell at the first last year and was pulled up at Cheltenham last time when he got hampered. Good ground is the key to him and, if he gets a clear run, he is of interest.

“I was offered Warriors Tale (earlier this year) when he was a young horse and he can run in all sorts of conditions and he is a different type of horse.

“It would mean a lot to me to win another Grand National and to all the people that follow me.”

Trainer Jonjo O’Neill, who has the new top-weight Minella Rocco (11st 10lb, 16/1) commented: “The ground got very heavy at Cheltenham and, as we all know, Minella Rocco has got a wind problem and that ground wouldn’t help him, so we saved him for the Randox Health Grand National.

“So long as we get good ground, we’ve a good chance.

“He’s won over four miles, so he just has to get another quarter of a mile. Top-weight isn’t ideal, but that’s the way it is and he’s a big horse, so hopefully he can carry it. He jumps well and keeps galloping, so the National was always at the back of my mind.

“You need a lot of luck and obviously a horse that jumps and stays. On paper, Minella Rocco would be a better horse than my previous winner Don’t Push It (2010), but everything has to go right.”

O’Neill also trains another Randox Health Grand National entry going forward, Go Conquer (10st 13lb, 50/1).

He added: “Whether he will run in the Topham Chase (over the Grand National fences on Friday, April 13) or the next day in the National, I’m not sure.

“The National is a fantastic race and it’s worth a lot of money. Just to be part of it and enjoy it is magical. Aintree has an electricity around it and to be involved in anything here is fantastic.”

Irish trainer Gordon Elliott, whose horses are in tremendous form as shown by his eight winner at Cheltenham last week, is planning on having up to four Randox Health Grand National runners – last year’s runner-up Cause Of Causes, Cheltenham winner Tiger Roll, Ucello Conti and Bless The Wings.

He remarked over the phone from Ireland: “We are looking forward to running three or four horses in the Randox Health Grand National.

“Cause Of Causes did not show his form at Cheltenham and needs to recover from the race, but hopefully the ground should be more suitable for him at Aintree. He was second last year and we are looking forward to another good run.

“Tiger Roll has come out of Cheltenham well and he and Ucello Conti are intended runners, while Bless The Wings may run or go for the Irish National.”

Katie Walsh, an Aintree ambassador who rides Baie Des Iles (10st 7lb, 50/1), trained by her husband, Ross O’Sullivan, said: “The Irish owners and trainers love coming to Aintree, because a) it is the best craic of all time and b) the track is in fantastic condition – the groundstaff is great and there is a marvellous cover of grass.

“There are four Grade Ones on Grand National Thursday, four more on the Friday, Ladies Day and then there is the Randox Health Grand National. The prize money is off the charts and this is the place that everybody wants to come to.

“It is so hard to get a horse into the Grand National – no matter how much money you have it does not mean you are going to be able to have one – that is the beauty of it, so when you do have one, you really appreciate it.

“Every runner has a chance of winning the Grand National – you just do not know what is going to happen. There is great excitement around Baie Des Iles and it will be great to be a part of the race again. I am really looking forward to it.

“Ross is really pleased with Baie Des Iles. She’s in good form at home and it was a good run last time when she was third at Punchestown. She had a lot of weight in very heavy ground, but was a lovely run and she’ll come straight here off the back of that.

“She’s only seven and, whilst the race is over a month away, a lot can happen between now and then so fingers crossed she will be here.

“She ran in France when she was younger and they have a lot of different obstacles over there. She is a tough and brave jumper so she won’t really need to be schooled over any National-type fences.

“A lot of her form is on soft to heavy ground. I don’t think she wants it as soft as people think, but she does like a bit of cut in the ground. Hopefully, she will be here in good order.

“There is so much luck involved in a Grand National. It can depend on where you’ve been positioned throughout the race or whether you’re behind a horse who doesn’t jump well. There are a lot of variables involved.”

Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Authority Head of Handicapping who is presiding over his final Randox Health Grand National, declared: ” We have a Gold Cup second from 2017 (Minella Rocco) and a Gold Cup third from this year (Anibale Fly), so Aintree are pretty proud to have two horses placed in a Gold Cup in the Grand National field.

“Anibale Fly would be 9lb higher now than the weight he will carry, as he is now off 168. I watched the Gold Cup again this morning and the interesting thing about him is that he was staying on powerfully up the hill.

“Tiger Roll and Rathvinden, both Cheltenham Festival winners last week, would also have been higher in the weights by 2lb and 4lb respectively, and whilst they are only small changes, both horses are fit and running well.

“Tiger Roll’s Cross Country win was by some way, his best performance of the season so far as he was disappointing this year, so it’s great to see him back. The Cross Country Chase has a good record of horses running well in the Grand National subsequently.

“Cause Of Causes was clearly not 100% last time out so a weight of 10st 12lb looks fair on his second in the Grand National last year, but not so good based on that run in the Cross Country Chase.

“The good thing this year is the four-week gap between Cheltenham and Aintree so there is plenty of time for horses to recover.

“At 10st 7lb, I Just Know represents Sue Smith who won the race with Auroras Encore (2013) and I saw this horse win at Catterick earlier this year and I don’t think I’ve seen a horse jump as well as he did. I’m not saying he is going to win, but given luck in running, I’m looking forward to seeing him jump these fences.”

Other horses whose handicap marks have gone up are Bellshill (+7lb) and Shantou Flyer (+5lb).

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