The First Ladies of Aintree are back for more
When Jenny Pitman broke the mould back in 1983 as Corbiere became the first horse officially trained by a female to land the Grand National, it was heralded as a potential racing revolution. Pitman did it again 12 years later when Royal Athlete cemented her place in racing folklore, writes Paul Alster.
It shouldn’t be forgotten either that ‘The Cuddly One’ also went very close with 1991 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Garrison Savannah, who put up a huge effort under top weight when second to Seagram just a few weeks later, while the Lambourn-based handler also ‘won’ the ‘National That Never Was’ when her Esha Ness crossed the line first under poor old John White in the void race of 1993.
Mon Mome started new era for female trainers
Pitman aside, it took another generation for female trainers to make their mark again on “the world’s greatest speelechase”. Who can forget the stunning 100/1 victory of Venetia Williams’ Mon Mome in 2009, ridden by Liam Treadwell, and just four years later the 66/1 win of Sue Smith’s Auroras Encore under Ryan Mania.
Scotland hit the target for only the second time in history when Lucinda Russell’s One For Arthur (14/1) won in 2017, while last year Jessica Harrington’s fine mare Magic Of Light (66/1) made the great Tiger Roll look to his laurels inside the final furlong when pushing the star stayer all the way in finishing a gallant second.
Six entries represent top lady trainers
Given the relative handful of runners female trainers have saddled in the race, it wouldn’t be too hard to argue that over the last 11 years – Mon Mome’s triumph onwards – those horses saddled by the fairer sex have comfortably outperformed those sent out by their male equivalents, in relative terms.
With that in mind, the publication of the Grand National weights on Tuesday showed that of the 103 entries, just six have female trainers, and of those six only four seem likely to get a run in the great race.
Both former Scottish National hero Joe Farrell (trained by Rebecca Curtis) and Harrington’s Moonshine Bay look too far down the list to have any real prospect of making the starting line-up of 40 runners.
The four likely to run
So that leaves us with four runners who could seek to improve on the 3-11 strike-rate of female trainers in recent seasons. Certainly, with a 100/1 and a 66/1 winner among them, level stakes profits would be guaranteed had punters bet blind on such contenders over the period.
Williams’ classy Aso is the highest in the weights with 11st 2lb. Fourth to Clan Des Obeaux last time out in the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton, he found only the very smart Frodon too good for him in last term’s Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Although he’s won on soft and heavy ground in the past, his best form of late has been on a fairly sound surface, so connections will doubtless hope for dry ground to give him a chance of staying the trip. He’s yet to race beyond three miles.
Harrington could saddle two in big race
Harrington is back for more with Magic Of Light. Her second to Tiger Roll last year was a tremendous effort and she’s been in fine form this campaign, winning her last two races. She stays well and handles any ground, so with last year’s experience to draw on could be a major player again, despite running off a 7lb higher mark.
Harrington also has the useful Jett engaged in the race. A good fourth last time in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup won by Delta Work (who tops the weights along with hat-trick-seeking Tiger Roll), he gives the impression he may well stay the marathon trip at Aintree, so is no forlorn hope off 10st 13lb.
Vintage and Arthur represent northern-based yards
Smith’s Vintage Clouds, handed a comfortable racing weight of 10st 8lb, fell at the first in last year’s Grand National but roared back to form after a quiet spell when winning the Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase in very testing ground at Haydock last time. Smith has always felt her grey has a big-race win in him.
And the 2017 hero, One For Arthur, who had a number of training setbacks in the two years following his great triumph, has been sound this season and trained specifically for another crack at the big one.
Russell’s stable star ran a fine trial when a staying-on fifth in the Randox Health Becher Chase over the National fences in December. It would be some comeback if he could land a second success or even reach a place.
All-in-all, relative to their numbers, female trainers have a fine strike-rate in the Grand National and it would come as no surprise if they were to add to their impressive recent haul at Aintree on April 4.