I wrote last month that I felt an announcement was imminent about the impending retirement of Richard Johnson and the four-time champion jockey brought the curtain down on his illustrious career at Newton Abbot at the weekend.
I am convinced the timing is correct although I did think he might wait until after Aintree and see if he could go out with a bang courtesy of Thyme Hill in Saturday’s Liverpool Hurdle. He was brave and fearless in the saddle and, as importantly, much loved by his peers out of it.
Today’s highlight is the Irish Grand National from Fairyhouse and novices’ have a very strong hand in the feature with the weights headed by Latest Exhibition who has been seeing the backside of Monkfish for most of the season but bypassed Cheltenham to wait for this valuable prize. Paul Nolan fits his topweight with first time cheekpieces this afternoon.
My two against the field, however, are Escaria Ten and Sempo (5.00) with preference for the latter who warmed up for this 3m 5f test by finishing second in a Grade 3 over the minimum trip at Navan last month! The selection has yet to win in five starts over fences and has unseated his ride in two of those runs although on the last occasion he was more or less brought down by the wayward Asterion Forlonge at the first. The selection – 12s with Boylesports 7 places – is a better horse going right-handed and, if his jumping holds up, he will surely run a huge race for Joseph O’Brien.
O’Brien also saddles Fakir D’oudairies (4.20) in the G2 Chase over 2m 4f. The selection is another without a win to his name so far this term but finished runner up to the brilliant Allaho in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival last month and meets nothing of that class this afternoon. His jumping was not as fluent as it could have been at Cheltenham last time but, like every other horse in the race, he was taken out of his comfort zone by the relentless gallop set by the winner, and it will be disappointing if he cannot go one better. He was odds against over the weekend but 10/11 with 10Bet at the time of posting.
Beacon Edge (3.45) must give weight to his nine rivals in the G2 Hurdle over 2m 4f, but I would have been with him had he crossed the Irish Sea for the Aintree Hurdle on Thursday given how well he travelled in the Stayers’ Hurdle over 3m last month. The selection – 7/4 with BetVictor – was no match for Flooring Porter from two out at Cheltenham last month, but his hurdling was fast and fluent, and I will be disappointed if he cannot give 5lbs to The Bosses Oscar who finished second in the Pertemps Final over the same C&D on the same day at the Festival. The comparable times suggest Beacon Edge should be able to give away the weight.
I am looking forward to seeing Shanroe (2.05) drop back to the minimum trip in the opening novice handicap hurdle. Donagh Meyler takes back over in the plate and the forecast good ground will suit this gelding -6s with MansionBet – who is rated in the 90s on the level yet just 123 over timber.
I am a huge fan of Amanda Perrett’s Lavender’s Blue but her draw in stall eight – of ten – in Kempton’s listed Snowdrop Stakes is a concern and I just favour Amniarix (4.02) who has won her last three on the all-weather and is taken to make a seamless transition to Pattern company. This is a much better race than the Fillies’ & Mares at Lingfield on Good Friday as connections go in search of black type with the breeding sheds in mind. The 10/3 with Boylesports loos about right.