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.

Will Presenting Percy be trained for the Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Grand National in 2021?

The winner of the Pertemps Network Final in 2017 and the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase in 2018, Presenting Percy appeared, at one stage of his career, a bona fide Cheltenham Gold Cup contender. Indeed, despite having raced just once, over hurdles, in the interim, he was sent off a well-backed 100/30 favourite for the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, on that occasion, he was never travelling and trailed in eighth of nine finishers, beaten 33 lengths, behind Al Boum Photo. In his defence, he was subsequently found to be lame on his right hind leg.

In the 2020 renewal of the Gold Cup he was staying on in seventh place when falling at the second last and did not win again until November, 2020, by which time he had been transferred to Gordon Elliott from Patrick Kelly. That victory, in a four-runner Listed chase at Thurles may have proved something of a ‘false dawn’, because Presenting Percy was put firmly in his place when beaten the proverbial ‘country mile’ or 76 lengths, to be exact, on his return to Grade One company in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Interestingly, at the time of writing, Presenting Percy can be backed at 40/1 ante post for the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup, but just33/1 for the 2021 Grand National. Elliott has reportedly had the National in the back of his mind since acquiring the ten-year-old in October, 2020 and, as he rightly pointed out, Presenting Percy could be sent off at much shorter odds if he lines up at Aintree. His attitude may have been questioned in the past, but the son of Sir Percy is a classy individual, who is versatile ground-wise, stays at least 3 miles 5 furlongs, travels and jumps, so Elliott might just be onto something.

Has Richard Johnson ever won the Grand National?

In 2015/16, Richard Johnson finally emerged from the shadow of perennial champion Sir Anthony McCoy – to whom he had finished runner-up on no fewer than 16 occasions – to win the National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship for the first time. Indeed, Johnson went on to win the jockeys’ title again for the next three seasons running and, in 2019/20, was only three winners behind eventual winner Brian Hughes when sustaining a broken arm following a fall at Exeter in early January, which effectively ended his hopes of a fifth jockeys’ championship.

Champion conditional jockey in 1995/96, at the age of 18, Johnson has enjoyed a long, illustrious career. However, despite winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, on Looks Like Trouble in 2000 and Native River in 2018, he has never won the Grand National. In fact, Johnson holds the record for the most rides in the Grand National, 21, and, less enviably, the most rides without a winner.

Johnson first rode in the infamous ‘Monday National’ in 1997, but was unseated when his mount, Celtic Abbey, blundered at The Chair, the penultimate fence on the first circuit. Since then, the closest he has come to winning the National was in 2002, when What’s Up Boys was eventually beaten a length-and-three-quarters by the rallying Bindaree, having held a three-length lead at the Elbow, halfway up the run-in. Johnson also rode the runner-up, Balthazar King, in the 2014 Grand National.

1 2 3