Big chance of Ulster win in Grand National
Big Shu has a big chance – that's the view of his trainer Peter Maher ahead of Saturday's first ever £1million Grand National.
The horse was spotted and is part-owned by Caroline Woods from Strabane, partner of the trainer.
Big Shu was bought as an unbroken three year old at Goffs Bloodstock Sales by Caroline, partly because her father Lindsay Woods had trained the horse's brother, the very useful Big Boots.
Big Boots ran six times, winning twice and placed in his four other starts including when runner-up in an Ayr bumper with Caroline, an accomplished amateur rider, in the saddle.
Hugh Duffy, proprietor of Lifford Greyhound Stadium who had also owned Big Boots, was with Caroline at the sales and a partnership was formed including Richard Robinson who was also involved with Big Boots.
Big Shu won both the major cross country races at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals last year in the space of a month.
Big Shu coincidently had twice finished behind the Brian Hamilton-trained Warne, which runs at Aintree today, in a point to point and hunter chase prior to hitting the headlines at the Punchestown Festival.
Barry Cash partnered the horse to the cross country victories but Paul Carberry was in the saddle when Shu only just failed by three lengths to record back-to-back wins in the same contest at the Cheltenham Festival last month, finishing third behind Balthazar King.
Trainer Maher felt Shu was not just 100 per cent on the day having met with a slight setback in the build up to attempting to regain his title as cross country king.
Ulster jockey Peter Buchanan takes the mount in Saturday's big race.
The jockey is attached to Lucinda Russell's stable at Perth & Kinross while the Buchanan family have long been associated with hunting and point to pointing in the province.
Caroline, a physiotherapist who has worked with the Northern Ireland football team, was busy at Naas Hospital last night.
After her physio shift, Caroline explained that Big Shu will travel to Aintree today.
"That gives him one day at the course before his race. He is a very easy horse to work with but likes his own routine," Caroline said.
"Peter would normally ride out mornings while I would ride him in racecourse gallops.
"He will travel over with a companion to keep him company and we will be taking his own usual feed, hay and water to Aintree as well.
"He's a good traveller and takes it in his stride."
Caroline will not travel to Aintree having opted to remain at home to oversee the training of their other horses.
" We have a good few in at present and the Fairyhouse and Punchestown Festivals are later this month so the work goes on," she explained.
Maher is on a good run of form and the young trainer is steeped in racing with his grandfather – the late Frank Latham of the Blackrath Stud – the first stallion master to import French-bred jumping stallions such as Vulgan and Le Bavard, their names remaining dominant in many of the top National Hunt horses.
Maher's grandfather's stud produced multiple Aintree National winners including L'Escargot, Team Spirit and Foinavon, a 100/1 chance that won the world's greatest steeplechase in 1967 after the majority of the field fell, unseated riders or were dismounted in the melee at the 23rd fence – in 1984 renamed the Foinavon fence.