The Spirit of Adventure

April 18th, 2024 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Hi there!

I’m pretty sure that the powers that be will have breathed a collective sigh of relief when 21 of the 32 starters in the Grand National came home, with no fallers and just two horses – Mac Tottie and Delta Work – sustaining minor injuries.

I still feel that the Grand National should not be the prism through which jump racing is judged by the public at large. For all the modifications it still retains some unique characteristics, but I would sooner the reported millions of people around the world who tune in to watch the race were guided instead towards a midweek meeting in a rural setting.

If, God forbid, there had been an incident on Saturday – for example a loose horse taking out half the field and causing horses to run free, with possible injuries – there is a very good chance that the future of the race would be in serious jeopardy.

Stuff happens when dealing with livestock, and although the changes have lessened the risk, it’s a shade of odds-on that there will be a freak incident of some kind in a future running of the race.

In relation to the wider picture, one of the great delights of British racing is the variety of tracks and the consequent challenges they present to the breed.

It is, for example, highly unlikely that in the current climate a racecourse would be built on Epsom Downs, let alone as the venue for our greatest Classic. Yet the Derby commands worldwide respect because of the unique tests it presents to the thoroughbred – alacrity, balance, pace, speed, stamina and, of course, ability.

Of course the Grand National does not have the same implications for the breed, because the winner is highly likely to be a gelding, but would the Derby command the same respect if, for example, they levelled off Tattenham Corner were a horse to trip and sustain a fatal injury?

Please don’t assume that I want to see horses being asked to perform beyond their capabilities, but would civilisation have spawned the great explorers, inventors, artists and entrepreneurs if these individuals had not had the courage to push beyond the accepted beliefs of their time?

There is a narrow line to be drawn in our society between concerns for the health and safety of the individual and protecting the spirit of enterprise and adventure. The former is in danger of suppressing the latter, and in a racing context that would be at conflict with the essence of sporting achievement.

Having said all that, this year’s Grand National meeting was dominated by the market leaders or joint favourites. Four favourites won on the first day, another four on the second day and three on Grand National day. Of the remaining races, only three went to horses at double-figure prices.

I have not heard wails of anguish, so customary on these occasions, from bookmakers but then again I’ve not read of the meeting being a punters’ benefit.

As for the Grand National, I had approached the meeting assuming the conditions would test the stamina and tenacity of the runners from an early stage, but the ground dried quickly and in the morning the going on the National course was officially soft, with good to soft patches.

I can’t recall a recent running of the race when there have been so many horses still in contention approaching the final fence, and my tried and tested tenet that in testing conditions every pound above 11st counts for more was rendered invalid with the first four home, all Grade 1 winners, carrying 11st 6lbs, 11st 4lbs, 11st 6lbs and 11st 2lbs.

It was a shame that we lost Corach Rambler so soon – he would have been well suited by the way the race panned out – while my selection Mr Incredible was, for the second year, the victim of misfortune but, to quote the old adage, the best horse in the race won.

I Am Maximus was 5lbs well in having been raised 6lbs following his 14-lengths defeat of Vanillier, who was in receipt of 12lbs, in the Bobbyjo and the concern beforehand was his wayward style of jumping, but under a masterful ride from Paul Townend this was swiftly laid to rest.

The most impressive aspect of his victory was his surge away from Minella Indo halfway up the run-in having jumped the final fence in eighth. It looked as if he had found another change of gear and he was drawing further away at the line.

This, despite not having a stamina-endowed pedigree.

His dam won in the US over six furlongs and is out of a half-sister to Unbridled. At stud she has produced winners up to 1m 6f on the Flat and a full brother to I Am Maximus named All Authorized, a winner of a bumper for Gary Moore.

I Am Maximus had the pace to win a bumper on his racecourse debut for Nicky Henderson in October 2020, beating the very useful My Drogo, but he has never run at shorter than 2m 4f since moving to Willie Mullins.

I expect his mark to rise to something in the low 170s this week, which will leave him just 4 or 5lbs adrift of his 179-rated stable-companion Galopin Des Champs.

It is hard to imagine them not aiming at the Gold Cup next season, with improvement more than likely and the proven stamina that is such an important prerequisite in a Gold Cup contender.

No prizes for nominating Brighterdaysahead as the winner that impressed me most on the undercard. I’ll have more to say about her in times to come.

Now is the perfect time to subscribe to my Weekend Card. The first edition of the Flat is out now with Dan Briden’s Twelve To Follow. You can make an attractive saving by subscribing to the Full Season Pass.

I’ll be back next week with my reflections on what promises to be a most informative few days at Newmarket and Newbury.

Bye for now