Matt Mitter goes for Rocky Creek – and tells why
The Aintree Grand National in April is a spectacle that is watched worldwide, and is an attraction that entices the population to have a flutter. You frequently hear “Anything can win,” and most of us, quite rightly, have a fun investment with a name that appeals or has a meaning to us, but is selecting a prime candidate that complicated? Trying to unearth a horse that will give us a thrilling run for our money with the potential to win is the aim, and perhaps I may be able to assist by adding my perceptions to the technique used in your own selection system.
I fully comprehend why people rely on trends and statistics of past Grand Nationals to limit their choices, and the information I have researched can be very persuasive as an elimination process. For instance,the last seven year old to win was BOGSKAR back in 1940, which is a compelling statistic. GAY TRIP in 1970 was the last winner not to have won beyond two miles four furlongs. Another interesting fact is that only six horses have carried over 11stone 5lb to victory since the war.I acknowledge all this information, but would not scratch a horse on a single entity, as there may be other positive elements. Incidentally did you know that prior to 1940 there were 44 Grand National winners aged seven or younger? Interestingly,GAY TRIP carried top weight in his Grand National,which indicates that class may have been a factor in his win. Technically, RED MARAUDER in 2001 had not won over further than two miles four furlongs as a chaser, because his sole three mile win was achieved over hurdles at Market Rasen,but a Grade 2 chase win at Ascot denoted his class.
In today’s age, the Grand National attracts a better quality animal, with the majority of entrants being rated 136 and upwards. This demands much more intricacy in completely discounting horses on a class basis.However,I think that the prerequisite stamina to win has been enormously accentuated with the implementation of the lower modified fences. The birch consistency looks softer and more forgiving when jumping, which ensures that horses can maintain a frenetic gallop for longer without hindrance. I am of the opinion that most horses can safely negotiate these easier fences,which will demand further vitality and staying power in keeping tabs on the leaders.
Identifying a horse that is able to skim through the top of the fences is certainly more beneficial than the exuberant jumper that is a joy to watch,but does not fit the economical energy saving requirement. I also avoid horses with the form comments“Held up at the rear.”Our selection ideally should be racing within the first 20 runners, and no further back than midfield, as it is very difficult with the expected unrelenting pace, to play catch up later on.Rest assured,reserves of stam- ina and courage are necessary at the finish without any additional burden. Horses rarely fall jumping these new fences,as it is the momentum of speed that drags them to the ground on the landing side, and it is only towards the latter stages that you see the customary tired looking falls.
UNIONISTE is a seven year old that must not be underestimated. He started his chasing career as a four year old and has competed in a total of 14 high-calibre chases, which bodes well for this test. He has also proven that he has a blend of speed, stamina and class having easily won a competitive two mile five furlong Grade 3 chase at Cheltenham,and in contrast has won over further than the bare 3 miles,and has been fourth in the toughest three mile Grade 1 RSA novice chase at a Cheltenham Festival. Five victories at Grade 1 racecourses where competition is fierce also strengthen his class factor. He may be the exception to the rule, and obliterate a long standing statistic in relation to age, and take us back to the pre 1940 era. His allocated weight of 11stone 6lb may increase further with any subse-
quent withdrawals,but as it stands victory would ensure that the weight trend will also succumb to his undoubted talent.
SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR is likely to be all the rage with Tony McCoy riding in his last Grand National.What is guaranteed is that he will either be over bet or the bookmakers will prohibit his odds. As an eight year old he is fairly lightly raced with only six chases to his name at present,but he has won three of them, including the Irish Grand National, which has been a good indicator of stamina. My reservations are his overall inexperience, and having analysed his Irish National win I have to say that I have seen donkeys run faster on Blackpool beach!Virtually the whole field were still tightly bunched together three fences from the finish, which is a million miles away from what will be required in the Aintree Grand National.Another worry is that his handicap rating far exceeds the two previous Irish National winners which were successful here. I feel the handicapper has overreacted to his achievements.
BALTHAZZAR KING did not surprise me with his honourable second in the race last year, as these modified fences are similar to those he faces in the Cross Country races. I thought his jockey gave him a peach of a ride, being held up in midfield and beautifully produced to make his effort in the latter stages of the race. At the age of eleven he is still very capable of making another bold show in this race,but I thought everything went exactly to plan last year and whether he can improve upon what was a text book performance is a topic for debate.
MONBEG DUDE and AL CO being Welsh & Scottish National winners are worthy of mention. They do not strike me as betting propositions for the simple reason that they are usually held up towards the rear in their races. I consider such tactics a negative in the Grand National, but perhaps if luck in running favours them, who knows what will happen?
Last year I advised MR MOONSHINE at a huge price and he gave me an exhilarating run for my outlay. Four fences from the finish he was still leading the field,jumping and travelling well, but the game was up when he was joined at the third last, from which point he weakened. It is impractical to incorporate all the chances in a Grand National, so on to my nominated selection this year.
In hindsight,ROCKY CREEK hit the front far too soon in last year’s Grand National, which may have been a result of the unfolding circumstances surrounding the leaders.I am of the opinion that it severely affected his chance of securing victory,as it is difficult with open space ahead to correctly gauge the tempo, especially with the finish in your sights. Unfortunately he was caught out by the infamous 494 yard run in and faded.I believe that the experience of that race and of the course will be an asset to him this year, and he has the perfect running and jumping style,which is tailor made to the Grand National course. This horse is not far short of being a top Grade 1 performer, and to my mind his trainer, Paul Nicholls, has found the key to unlocking further scope to his armoury. This was in evidence with his recent decisive annihilation of a decent field at Kempton carrying 11stone 11lb.
What may surprise many is the relevance and confidence I attribute to a select five runner novice chase over an extended 3 miles at Warwick in January 2013.This course provides similar circumstances that epitomise Aintree in many ways, and ROCKY CREEK was held up in touch just behind the field in what was a very strongly run race.It was refreshing to see how he relished chasing the relentless gallop, and splendidly dealt with the stiff fences.The comparison betweenWarwick and Aintree is that you need speed to remain handy, and then adapt to the fast pace at which quickly emerging fences are approached and jumped.Only horses with a natural low and efficient technique cope with this test, and more importantly, both courses favour hitting the front in the very latter stages. He delivered this at Warwick, careering away to win.
I am convinced ROCKY CREEK is more the finished article this season, and although being a nine year old he has only contested eleven chases and three hurdles under rules. I thought that his clear second to ROAD TO RICHES in a Grade 1 chase at Down Royal on his reappearance was a commendable effort, and the Gold Cup result at Cheltenham enhances that form. Part owner Andy Stewart said:“Last year he was trained for the Gold Cup, which didn’t materialise.This year he has been specifically trained for the extra distance of a Grand National.”
Tony McCoy rides Shutthefrontdoor