“I’ve been using the strapline, ‘The Princess and the Paupers’,” said Kevin Coyne, a member of the Scotch Piper triumvirate responsible for the Donald McCain-trained 10-year-old.
“Because of the parallels with us and Monbeg Dude, who of course has royal connections with Zara Phillips, I think it’s a nice fit. When you bear in mind we bought this horse for just 10,000 quid it’s all very thrilling.
“We’ll all be wearing our Across The Bay scarves in the parade ringbeforehand so we’ll be easilyrecognisable. It will be another very proud day to represent our region in the world’s greatest jumps race.”
Coyne, a lawyer from Crosby, near Aintree, unsurprisingly talks a good game. There is, however, clearly more substance behind his ebullience than mere pre-race idealism. Having kicked-off his career in Ireland, where he won four times, Across The Bay had been nearing the edge of racing wilderness following a succession of disappointing efforts for his former trainer, Noel Meade.
Another poor show at Punchestown in May 2011 led to Meade’s acceptance he had reached the end of the line with him, and suggested to his owners he be sold. The Scotch Piper syndicate could not let him go, though, and promptly bought him back to be trained by McCain in Cholmondeley, whose family ties with the Nationalrequire no elaboration. Three victories last season, including in theRendlesham Hurdle at Haydock,elevated Across The Bay into the 2013 National, in which he jumped well enough but could finish only 14th.
Yet despite having unseated Jason Maguire in the National Trial atHaydock in February, his gutsy victory at the same track two months earlier convinced McCain the staying chaser was worthy of another go in the big one. Allied to a nice-looking weight and a favourably damp forecast, Across The Bay would become the first Mersey winner of the National since John Halewood’s colours were carried to victory by the Ginger McCain-trained Amberleigh House in 2004.
“We went along to Abbey Road for the weights lunch in February and when we saw we had 10st 11lb our hearts absolutely leapt,” said Coyne, who shares ownership of the horse with his brother, Anthony, andGraham Worsley.
“We think it’s a fantastic weight and a lot of people at the National lunch told us that we’ve got a good chance. He’s a mudlark, so that wet forecast is giving us plenty of hope.”
Although the going on Monday morning was described as good to soft, good in places, rain has been forecast every day heading into the weekend.
Tidal Bay remains at the summit of the weights, for which 65 horses are still in contention after Sunnyhillboy, Godsmejudge, Mossey Joe, Roi Du Mee, Bog Warrior, Same Difference, Katenko and Goulanes were scratched at the confirmation stage.
Fergal O’Brien has provisionallyrecruited Paddy Brennan for Alvarado, should regular jockey Paul Moloney not be available. With Moloneyseemingly poised to get the leg-up aboard One In A Milan, trained by long-standing ally Evan Williams and currently the final horse certain to start in the 40-runner field, Brennan is in pole position.
O’Brien said: “There’s not been any problems since his last run. All we’ve done is freshen him up at home with this mind.”
Fellow Gloucestershire trainer Hilary Parrott was heartened byWayward Prince’s fluency over the mock Grand National fences which are situated in Lambourn. The 10-year-old gelding claimed the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle atAintree four years ago and will again be ridden by Jack Doyle. Parrott said:
Jamie Moore, whose exploits aboard Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy have gained him many new admirers this season, will ride Welsh National winner Mountainous.
Trainer Richard Lee said: “Jamie’s riding well and has also ridden the horse before, so it makes perfect sense.”
Pineau De Re turned in a smashing effort at the Cheltenham Festival, when a close third in the Pertemps Final, and he will be partnered for the first time by Leighton Aspell.
Trainer Dr Richard Newland said: “Leighton finished second in theNational (Supreme Glory in 2003) and has schooled him over the Grand National fences already. Pineau has done all of his major work now so it’s just a case of keeping him cantering away.”
Lion Na Bearnai’s chances have been given a nice fillip after two-times Irish champion jockey Davy Russell pledged his allegiances to the 2012 Irish Grand National winner. Russell was ininspired form on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival in March when he secured three winners, including the Gold Cup with Lord Windermere.
Trainer Thomas Gibney said: “We’ve got Davy, which is great news. The jockey did pretty well the last time he came to England and he also rode the horse at Fairyhouse in February.”
Colm Murphy is convinced Quito De La Roque’s fortitude could stand him in good stead for a big run as Ireland seeks a first National success since Silver Birch in 2007. The County Wexford handler said: “He’s had his problems over the years but he’s a tough horse, which is obviouslyimportant in the National. We’re very happy with him and his preparation has gone well.”
Veteran jockey Brian Harding has been called up for the potentially plum ride on the Jonjo O'Neill-trainedBurton Port. Runner-up in theHennessy Gold Cup in 2010 and fourth in the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the classy 10-year-old joined O’Neill from Nicky Henderson at the start of this season.
Although early results were not too inspiring, he ran with more zest when runner-up in a veterans’ chase atNewbury at the start of March and has been well supported in the ante-post markets.
Mick Meagher, racing manager for owner Trevor Hemmings, said: “Brian Harding is going to ride him. He’s rode plenty of winners for us in the past and we’re happy to have him. He’s been to sit on the horse already and everyone seems happy. He ran a lot more encouragingly last time, so let’s hope he takes to the place.”