Grand National: Hughes looking for luck of the Irish
So many hazards lie beyond the control of even the most nimble horse or rider in the John Smith's Grand National that it may well make sense to seek safety in numbers at Aintree on Saturday.
Certainly odds of 9-4 against an Irish winner look a very palatable alternative to the bigger odds available against various individual fancies, in what looks a formidable collective challenge.
Since winning four Nationals between 2003 and 2007, the Irish have endured a three-year hiatus, but they have just celebrated a record-breaking Cheltenham Festival and account for 13 of the 40 horses currently guaranteed a run on Saturday.
These include three of the first four in the betting — The Midnight Club, Backstage and Oscar Time — as well as a series of very feasible outsiders.
Admittedly the pair sent over from Co Kildare by Dessie Hughes might not be obviously eligible for that latter group, but it would be typical of Aintree were he finally to crack the race just when it looks as though his moment might have passed. As a jockey, his best chance was Davy Lad in 1977, just 16 days after they had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“But he refused at the fourth, I think it was,” said Hughes. “And I could tell it wasn't going to happen even before then. National winners don't often come from the Gold Cup. They've had enough.”
As a trainer, he has come a good deal closer, without quite managing to suggest that it might ever be a lucky race for him. Black Apalachi ran his heart out to be second to Don't Push It last year, 20 lengths clear of the third and had been tanking along in the lead when discarding his rider at Becher's second time round the previous year.
“He was very unlucky two years ago,” Hughes said. “In fairness the Grand National wouldn't really be a lucky race for too many people and I'm lucky to have two more to run this time.”
At 11, Vic Venturi and In Compliance are both seasoned campaigners — and both ran over the big fences at last year's meeting.
Vic Venturi did not get round in the National, but had won the Becher Chase the previous autumn, while In Compliance took really well to the obstacles when sixth in the Topham Chase.
Leighton Aspell rides In Compliance, while Andrew Lynch partners Vic Venturi (11st 6lbs).