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Weekend review: Aintree dreams and Flat pointers

Article 31st March 2019

By Graham Dench

Some of the things that caught our eye this weekend.

CAN LEIGHTON GIVE ROLLING STONE RONNIE SOME NATIONAL SATISFACTION?

There can’t be too many thrills in life that Ronnie Wood has still to experience, but a runner in Saturday’s Randox Health Grand National will be a new one for him.

You can get 100-1 about the Rolling Stones star’s Sandymount Duke if you shop around, but the ten-year-old is very capable on his day and the news this weekend that trainer Jessica Harrington has secured the services of dual Grand National winner Leighton Aspell offers real hope of a good show.

No rider has won three Grand Nationals since Brian Fletcher scored on Red Alligator and Red Rum (twice) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and perhaps it’s expecting too much for Aspell to add a third win on Sandymount Duke after success on Pineau De Re in 2014 and Many Clouds in 2015.

Nobody rides Aintree better, however, and Aspell’s seven completions from only ten rides also includes a second place on another outsider, Supreme Glory, in 2003.

For Wood, who is disappointed that the Stones’ upcoming tour of Canada and the United States has had to be postponed owing to Mick Jagger’s illness, this is no passing fad.

Wood is a lifelong fan of horse racing and a long-time friend of the trainer, who saddled a significant Flat winner for him when full brother Sandymount Earl won the Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh in 2007. Wood bred both horses too, which underlines his commitment.

We wish him luck.

VALTOR BIDS TO END HENDERSON’S NATIONAL HOODOO

The Randox Health Grand National line-up is coming together by the day, and it’s looking increasingly likely that Nicky Henderson will run Valtor, who made such a big impression on his debut for the stable at Ascot and apparently schooled brilliantly over replica Aintree fences on Saturday.

Henderson, of course, has never won the National, despite more than 40 attempts, although he went very close in the early years with Zongalero in 1979 and The Tsarevich in 1987. A 12lb hike in the handicap following that Ascot win is going to make it tough again, but Valtor looked very good indeed that day.

Owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede will call upon a former Grand National-winning rider in Daryl Jacob, who won the race on Neptune Collonges.

MELBOURNE CUP BID NO LONGER A MOOT POINT FOR PALMER’S ALL WEATHER EXPERT

Kempton Park’s Magnolia Stakes promised to be a cracker and it did not disappoint.

Mootasadir made it six wins from six starts on the all-weather when taking it up approaching the furlong marker and then holding on well from 20-1 chance Extra Elusive, and the time was only just outside the course record.

Though not qualified for Good Friday’s All Weather Finals, where he would not have been too far behind Wissahickon on ratings by the time he is reassessed, that does not matter to trainer Hugo Palmer, who has something much, much bigger in mind. Palmer is eyeing the Melbourne Cup.

Extra Elusive went within half a length of providing the new partnership between Roger Charlton and champion apprentice Jason Watson with a first winner, but the pair had little more than an hour to wait before teaming up in the Rosebery Handicap with Forbidden Planet, a highly impressive winner who looks sure to hold his own in Group company in time.

LINCOLN STAR SET TO LIGHT UP TWO-DAY SANDOWN EXTRAVAGANZA

If Forbidden Planet was a Group horse in a handicap, so too surely was Auxerre, who justified huge market support in the Lincoln at Doncaster by making all and never looking in serious danger.

Auxerre is now likely to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner Addeybb by heading next to Sandown Park on April 26 for the Group 2 bet365 Mile at the end of April, where he is likely to meet Doncaster Mile winner Sharja Bridge.

Sandown’s two-day fixture, Flat on the Friday and Jumps on Saturday, is one of the highlights of the spring, so put it in your diary.

GODOLPHIN SET THE STANDARD ACROSS THREE CONTINENTS

Winning the Lincoln would be a lifetime highlight for the vast majority of owners, yet for Godolphin the Lincoln just was the sixth most important success in a single, extraordinary, day which had started with impressive Group 1 success for Avilius at Rosehill in Australia and ended just over 11 hours later with Thunder Snow becoming the first horse to win the Dubai World Cup twice with a thrilling nose defeat of Gronkowski.

In between came success for Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter in the Group 2 Dubai World Cup and Group 1 wins from Blue Point in the Al Quoz and Old Persian in the Sheema Classic on a card on which the rest struggled to get a look in, although Japanese wonder filly Almond Eye lived up to her reputation in the Dubai Turf.

Godolphin are back with a bang, after years in the shadow of Coolmore, and we still have the return of last year’s Investec Derby winner Masar to look forward to.

The immediate focus might be on the Randox Health Grand National Festival, but what a Flat season we have on the horizon.

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