You might thank the Big Fella

IT’S Grand National Day again and last year proved, with a 100-1 winner, that the National is the National whatever way you look at it. You can take form, ground, jockeys, trainers and whatever else you like but, at the end of the day, it’s the National and anything can win it.

I’ve been lucky that I’ve ridden good jumpers that like it around here — horses like Papillon in 2000 and Hedgehunter, who was a real Aintree horse, gave me a couple of great rides in the race. Last year I rode My Will and, though he wasn’t near as good a ride as the other ones, he managed to finish third.

In Big Fella Thanks, I think I have another good one today. He finished sixth in the race last year and arrives here in great order. He won over two and a half miles last time out and I think it’s a great sign when they can drop back in trip and win.

He’s got a great weight with only 10-12 to carry and that’s definitely the right side of 11 stone. The drying ground won’t inconvenience him as he’s a good moving horse and he definitely has a chance.

You’d want to be going below number eight to find the winner because I think the horses with 11-5 and above are going to struggle to win the race.

Obviously Tricky Trickster and Niche Market have chances off 11-4 and looking further down along the page you’ve got Ballyholland who I won a Novices’ Hurdle on in Navan over two miles. He handles really good ground, won a Galway Plate and he’d have to have a chance.

Snowy Morning finished third in the race a couple of years ago and he’s been running well this year. I think he has a great chance with such a nice weight on his back.

Arbor Supreme has to be considered. If he jumped he could be the best horse but you’d have to worry about him jumping as he’s very careful.

The Package ran a cracking race at Cheltenham while Hello Bud is another with a chance. I know he’s 12 now but he won the Scottish National last year and has only 10-6 to carry. Sam Twiston-Davies is riding him for his father and the stable is having a great season.

Elsewhere on the card, I ride Najaf in the opener. He ran a cracker in Cheltenham where he looked like winning turning-in in the three-mile hurdle won by Bertie’s Dream. He probably didn’t get home that day but today is a completely different ball game as he drops back to two and a half miles on good ground.

In the two-mile novices’ chase I ride Tataniano, who missed Cheltenham because the ground was too soft for him. We didn’t think he’d be good enough for the Arkle but he comes here a fresh horse. He loves the ground and should like the track. He’s a front-runner who will bowl along at a really good gallop and he’ll take a fair bit of catching. If I was to pick one of them, he looks the best ride I have today.

My mount in the Aintree Hurdle, Celestial Halo, has it all to do. He was fourth in the Champion Hurdle when making the running but we’re going to drop him in today. There’s probably no pace in the race but, regardless, we’re going to take our time and just hope for the best.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be his last run over hurdles as he’ll be going chasing next year. He has to try and turn around Champion Hurdle form with both Khyber Kim and Zaynar and I think he could struggle to do that.

I’m on Tatenen in the John Smith’s Handicap Chase but he’s been a bit in and out of form and this is a very competitive race. He was running okay in the William Hill Chase at Cheltenham when unseated at the second last — but only okay. He’d have a chance on his very best form but I’d say he’s best watched today.

I ride Don’t Turn Bach in the Bumper and he’s a horse I know very well as John Hales bought him out of Willie Mullins’ yard. He’s a very good horse but I just hope the ground doesn’t dry up too much for him. If it is too quick, I’d say he might not run.

If he runs he’ll take a lot of beating. He’s a cracking horse and should be a proper hurdler next year.

I have a few mounts at Limerick tomorrow including Knocknabooly for Willie Mullins in the two-mile hurdle. He’s coming off the back of a long lay-off but he’s been working well at home and has a good chance.

I also ride Willie’s Killultagh Queen in the Mares’ Hurdle. She was second behind For Bill on her last start and that form was franked when For Bill won at Fairyhouse during the week. I’m also on Kusadasi for Dusty Sheehy and he was a very impressive winner of a handicap hurdle at Cork last time out. The blinkers obviously worked well on him that day and he has a chance.

Brave kids put things into perspective

I WAS in Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital yesterday along with Tony McCoy, Mick Fitzgerald and Tom Scudamore. A number of jockeys call to the hospital every year to raise the profile of the Imagine Appeal which campaigns to raise funds for the hospital.

Walking around there would make you realise that it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve ridden the right one in the Grand National or not. It’s amazing to see how brave the kids are. Given what they’re going through, it reminds you that whatever happens in the Grand National today, to be honest, isn’t overly important.

You see kids just two and a half years of age knowing that they’d be lucky to see their third birthday. It’d really bring a tear to your eye going around there and walking out you realise just how lucky you really are. When you think of the things you’d be giving out about like a wrong decision you made in a race or something somebody said, you realise you’ve very little to worry about.

United’s Euro exit left me feeling sick

WINNING the Totesport Bowl Thursday aboard Alex Ferguson’s What A Friend put a smile on my face as much as it did on his, but I’d have preferred if he was smiling and United had gone through to the Champions’ League semi-final.

I’m a big United fan and I’d be delighted to ride any winner for Alex but to ride a Grade 1 winner at Aintree was brilliant. He was in great form after the race and I think he had a few quid on him.

I went to the match on Wednesday night and after 20 minutes I thought ‘happy days’. I’m still fairly sick that they’re out of it when they shouldn’t be. I told him he could have done with me up front but he thought he could have done with me at right back.

Anyway, having watched Lionel Messi beating Arsenal the night before, I don’t think it really mattered whether you went out of the Champions’ League at this stage or the next because I don’t think Barcelona are going to be beaten.

Good week:It’s been a good week for Aintree. The crowds were big over the last couple of days and the place looks amazing.

Bad week: IT’S been a bad week for Fairyhouse. The weather played havoc with the ground and the crowds didn’t turn up. I’d say they’re scratching their heads as to how to revive the whole thing. Something needs to be addressed — and fast. Coming in the same week as Aintree when things are tight for everybody, it seems a lot of people coming here didn’t go to Fairyhouse. On the positive side, they have a new sponsor in Ladbrokes and hopefully between the two they’ll be able to do something to turn it around. I know the weather was a huge factor and they can do nothing about it but, for me, this year’s meeting was just a very tame affair.

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