Does The Conditional have sufficient stamina for the Grand National?

Update: The Conditional tragically died a week prior to this post doing up, due to a fatal injury at Newbury. The question had already been submitted, answered and queued for posting  prior to that time and so appeared after his sad event. I’ll leave this update here as explanation as to the circumstances surrounding why the question was posted when it was.



Having made a creditable reappearance when third in the Ladbrokes Trophy, over 3 miles 2 furlongs, at Newbury in late November, The Conditional is currently 25/1 co-second favourite for the 2021 Grand National ante post. However, the nine-year-old gelding has raced over a ‘marathon’ trip just once, when a beaten favourite in the Classic Chase, over 3 miles 5 furlongs, at Warwick in January, 2020 and, according to trainer David Bridgwater, will not do so again before the National.

Bridgwater has reportedly had the Grand National in mind for The Conditional since buying him from Co. Tipperary trainer Martin Hassett in September, 2019. However, while the son of leading National Hunt sire Kalanisi is still only an eight-year-old, he weakened quickly in the closing stages at Warwick, which must raise stamina doubts for an additional 5½ furlongs at Aintree. Indeed, following his narrow win in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, 2020, Bridgwater admitted that, beforehand, he still harboured doubts about The Conditional staying 3 miles 1 furlong, never mind further.

Once upon a time, there may have been some truth in the old adage that suggested a classy 2½- mile steeplechaser was the ideal type for the Grand National, but since 1990 all bar two winners had previously won a steeplechase over at least three miles. The Conditional qualifies on that score but, even so, backing him to win the National requires a ‘leap of faith’ (no pun intended) on the part of punters; of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t win.

Does Cloth Cap represent Trevor Hemmings best chance of winning another Grand National?

In November, 2020, Trevor Hemmings identified Cloth Cap as one of the two horses most likely to provide him with a record-breaking fourth Grand National winners. For the record, the other one was Deise Aba, a seven-year-old trained by Philip Hobbs, who has failed to complete the course on both attempts, so far, in the 2020/21 National Hunt season.

Cloth Cap, on the other hand, made a respectable seasonal debut when third, albeit no match for the first two, in a handicap chase at Cheltenham in October en route to the Ladbrokes Trophy, formerly the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, at Newbury the following month. Carrying minimum weight of 10 stone and sporting first-time cheekpieces, the eight-year-old jumped well at the head of affairs and kept on strongly in the closing stages to win, comfortably, by 10 lengths.

Cloth Cap has yet to win over further, but did finish third, beaten just 4 lengths, on his one and only attempt over a marathon trip, in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April, 2019, which augurs well for his stamina over 4 miles 2½ furlongs at Aintree. He has won four of his 16 steeplechases, all on good or good to soft going and, although he did fall once over hurdles at Ayr, he has jumped around Ascot, Cheltenham (twice) and Newbury without incident. Cloth Cap has no experience over the idosyncratic National fences, but is currently available at 25/1 ante post, which could look generous by the time April, 2021 rolls around.

Can a horse race be declared void?

A ‘void’ horse race is one that is, officially, judged not to have taken place; no official result is recorded, no prize money is awarded and all bets are cancelled. Perhaps the most famous void race of all time was 1993 Grand National, later dubbed ‘The Race That Never Was’, in which the majority of the jockeys failed to pull up after a second false start and seven horses completed the four-and-a-half mile race.

Generally speaking, any National Hunt race, over hurdles or fences, can be deemed void if all of the horses fail to finish; since November, 2009, the remounting of horses has been banned by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), increasing the likelihood of this scenario. A race can also be deemed void if the whole field takes the wrong course or in the event of a serious incident, such a stricken horse lying on the course in a position where it cannot be safely bypassed. In the latter case, ground staff display a yellow ‘stop-race’ flag, which indicates to jockeys that they must stop riding and the race must be declared void.

Historically, a race that started before its advertised time was declared void but, although this is no longer the case, modern horse racing is still subject to all kinds of imponderables which, while hardly run-of-the-mill, can cause a race to be deemed void. Examples include, but are by no means limited to, malfunctioning floodlights or stalls and spectator interference.

Was Outsider Caughoo’s Grand National win legitimate?

Nowadays, the Grand National at Aintree attracts an estimated television audience of 500 million, worldwide, so the idea of anyone ‘cheating’ in plain view of dozens of television cameras is, frankly, ludicrous. However, in the days before regular television coverage of the National, which began in 1960, that was the accusation levelled against the 1947 winner Caughoo or, more particularly, his jockey Edward ‘Eddie’ Dempsey.

The 1947 Grand National has the distinction of being the first to be run on a Saturday, but heavy rain, followed by thick fog, rendered Aintree almost unraceable and limited visibility from the grandstands to the final two obstacles. Nevertheless, the second largest field in Grand National history, 57, set off and, ten minutes later, Caughoo, an unconsidered 100/1 outsider, emerged from the gloom twenty lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer.

Daniel McCann, jockey of the second horse home, Lough Conn, later accused Dempsey of having concealed Caughoo in the fog, near the twelfth fence, after which the runners cross the Melling Road, near the Anchor Bridge, and only rejoining the race as the remainder of the field re-entered the ‘racecourse proper’ on the second circuit. Dempsey flatly denied any such notion and successfully defended legal action by McCann, by his victory was dogged by suspicion for decades afterwards.

Long after his retirement from the saddle in 1950, Dempsey ‘confessed’ to a tabloid newspaper that he had, in fact, hidden Caughoo behind a haystack and rejoined the field on the second circuit, as McCann had alleged. However, in the absence of any haystacks at Aintree that day, it is easy to dismiss his later account as whimsical. Furthermore, in 1999, the ‘Irish Mirror’ claimed to have photographs in its possession that clearly showed Becher’s Brook – which is the sixth and twenty-second fence on the National Course – on two separate occasions, thereby disproving any allegations of skulduggery.

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