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Snow Leopardess on the prowl in National

The Randox Grand National always throws up a story. This year, public sentiment has seen the odds of Snow Leopardess tumble.

It could be that her form stacks up. The Becher Chase winner has been in excellent order, having won her last three.

It could be that she is a grey, who bids to emulate Neptune Collonges (2012) Nicolaus Silver (1961) and The Lamb (1868 and 1871) as the only greys to have tasted victory in the Aintree marathon.

Yet arguably it is her fascinating backstory that appears to have caught the imagination.

Instances of mares returning to racing having given birth are extremely rare, but for them to reach the heights of challenging for Grand National favouritism is fantastical.

Her trainer, Charlie Longsdon, has run the full gamut of emotion on a journey that could ultimately end at a thrilling final destination.

He has no concerns about her ability to finish off her race, despite looking leg-weary in winning the Becher Chase over the National fences in December. His only doubt is her ability to handle the start.

He said: “I’ve got no issues with her stamina whatsoever. Yes, it looked like she was tying up in the Becher Chase, but that is because she had been in front for two and a half miles into a driving headwind and driving rain.

“The jockey (Aidan Coleman) said at the time, ‘I would have been gutted if we had got beaten as I had plenty left in the tank but she just got lonely’, so I’ve got no problems with the trip at all. She will relish the trip.

“My only worry is the speed at the start and is she quick enough to get into a nice, handy, prominent position?

“I won’t give any instructions to Aidan as he knows her inside out. I will say get her into a nice rhythm and enjoy it.

“It’s going to be a big day, isn’t it, with plenty of people watching, but she’s run at Cheltenham before and she was absolutely fine then.

“We’ll take her to the paddock lateish, it’s the way she is – she’s very relaxed at home but on the racecourse you can see at the start she jig-jogs around and is a bit like a rocking horse. But that’s fine, it’s normal for her.”

Snow Leopardess flies over the National fences
Snow Leopardess flies over the National fences (Tim Goode/PA)

He added: “We’ve been on a massive roller-coaster with her the whole way through. When she got her leg injuries and went to be put in foal by Sir Percy, I honestly thought her racing career was over.

“Very few people bring a horse back after having a foal. I don’t know why, but they always say they are never the same.

“I thought that, but my owner-breeder (Marietta Fox-Pitt) never thought that. Bringing her back was a massive thing and I know other people have had similar ideas since.

“She has brought us through huge highs and lows and emotions. She has won in France, in Ireland and in England. There is a hell of a thing behind her. She is that special to us.

“She is the potential ‘housewives’ choice’ as there is that story and that excitement around her.”

Any Second Now arrives in good form after his Fairyhouse success
Any Second Now arrives in good form after his Fairyhouse success (Brian Lawless/PA)

Any Second Now, who finished third last year, is another vying for favouritism and showed his well-being when beating Escaria Ten, who reopposes, in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.

His trainer, Ted Walsh, won the National in 2000 with Papillon and saddled Seabass to finish third in 2012.

“Having one of the favourites doesn’t come with any pressure,” said Walsh. “I think he has a live chance, like I thought Seabass had, like I thought he had last year, like I thought Jack High had, when he unseated at The Chair (2006).

“We have gone there with a few who have had live chances. He has a live chance and if he gets a clear round and if things go well for him, he shouldn’t be far away.”

Any Second Now is owned by JP McManus, who is responsible for five of the 40-strong field.

Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times bid to repeat last year's victory
Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times bid to repeat last year’s victory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner when carrying McManus’ famous green and gold silks to victory last year aboard Minella Times.

He returns to defend his crown, but runs off a 15lb-higher mark this time and has not been in the same form coming into the race as he was last year, failing to complete in two subsequent starts.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead has seen positive signs, however.

He said: “We think he loved it last year and I’d be very hopeful that going back there will reignite him again.

“Obviously he has been disappointing, but he did love it last year and we think he’s really coming back to himself now finally. We couldn’t be happier with him.

“You’re always trying to freshen them up. He’s done a bit of cross-country and various things like that. You’re always trying to keep them happy and enjoying themselves and he seems to be very much coming to himself.”

JP McManus has plenty of National cards to play
JP McManus has plenty of National cards to play (PA)

Enjoy D’allen is another McManus runner who has come in for support in recent days.

This race has been his target since finishing third in the Irish Grand National last April and he stayed on well to finish in the same position in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

“We think this is a lovely, lovely staying chaser,” said trainer Ciaran Murphy. “He is doing everything right and we think we have him there in great nick.

“We’ve made no secret of the fact that we have trained him for Aintree all year. We said we’d get him out over hurdles early this year and he ran a lovely race over two and a half miles on good ground at Fairyhouse.

“The plan was to then have him fresh for the Paddy Power to see how he’d run. We were very, very happy with how he ran in the Paddy Power – he ran a cracker. He wasn’t beaten very far and gave a lot of weight to the horses that finished in front of him.

“He then got in at the bottom of a €100,000 handicap hurdle at Leopardstown and we were thrilled with how he ran with a staying-on fifth on ground that was probably quick enough for him. We felt he didn’t need another run after that and he will go to Aintree fresh.”

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