Henderson throws Ok Corral’s hat into Aintree mix after Doncaster victory
— Steve Mullington (@mulldog) 25 January 2020
Trainer Nicky Henderson has nominated the Grand National as a potential end-of-season target for Ok Corral after his gritty success in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster at the weekend.
The lightly-raced ten-year-old had looked a spent force in two starts this season, however, he bounced back to his very best form under a power-packed ride by Derek O’Connor to deny Fingerontheswitch by half-a-length in the three-mile Listed handicap chase.
After tracking the leaders, O’Connor made strong headway at the second last and looked to have the race in the bag, only for the jockey to drop his whip in the run in. However, Ok Corral had enough determination to get up on the line.
In the aftermath, O’Connor said: “The whip can be over-rated at times. When you have a willing partner it’s half the battle and he strode out all the way to the line.
“He loves a fast, speedy track like Warwick and Doncaster, so he could be an Aintree horse possibly.”
National is now ‘on the shortlist’
Henderson was equally impressed with Ok Corral’s performance and believes he and owner JP McManus must consider taking their charge to Aintree in April.
“I thought it was a right good performance and Derek gave him a beautiful ride,” he said.
“He had a dream run around. He doesn’t have enormous amount of experience but he’s a good jumper and the National has got to be on the shortlist.
“He enjoyed being smuggled round like that and I think he needs to go left-handed. He never knew he was in a race.”
Could Corral have to defy inexperience?
Despite winning a notable staying chase, Ok Corral certainly doesn’t fit the profile of a typical Grand National contender.
The son of Mahler has been plagued by injury setbacks, meaning he has only made seven chase starts to date.
He has shown glimpses of class during his career, including when landing a novices’ chase at Warwick by six-lengths last year, but his only start over a marathon distance was a nightmare when pulling up in the National Hunt Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.
However, over half of the winners have been aged 10 or over since 2000, and Henderson isn’t concerned about his lack of experience.
“He hasn’t got a lot of miles on the clock because when he was a young horse he was very hard to train,” the Seven Barrows trainer added.
“It would be one run and he’d go and win and think ‘this is good’ and then he’d be lame and another issue would come up. Touch wood he has a good run in.
“We’ve got to be thinking seriously about the national.”
The ‘Ok’ horse to end Henderson’s hoodoo?
He may be one of the UK’s greatest ever trainers, but Ok Corral will be looking to end Henderson’s horrendous record in the ‘people’s race’.
His best efforts in the contest came when Zongalero and The Tsarevich finished runner-up in 1979 and 1987 respectively, but since Brown Windsor finished fourth in 1990 none of his runners have made the frame.
Ok Corral’s owner, JP McManus, had a slightly better record, winning with Don’t Push It in 2010 and come closest to winning it again when Sunnyhillyboy was agonisingly denied in 2012.
If he was to win, Ok Corral would create a little bit of history for his handler and can be backed at 40/1* to do so.
*Odds subject to change.