Graham Lee

Graham Lee  Nowadays, 42-year-old Irishman is known exclusively as a Flat jockey. Indeed, at the time of writing, he lies thirty-ninth in the Stobart Flat Jockeys’ Championship with 19 winners. However, in his earlier days, Lee was a highly successful National Hunt jockey, riding over 1,000 winners and famously winning the Grand National on Amberleigh House, trained by Donald “Ginger” McCain, in 2004.

 

In fact, Lee rode in the National eight times between 2003 and 2011, missing out just once, in 2008, when he gave up the ride on Idle Talk, trained by Donald McCain Jnr., after failing to recover sufficiently from a fractured jaw sustained in February that year. At the time, Lee said, “I’m going to sit tight, but it’s going to kill me that I’m missing it.”

 

Lee rode Amberleigh House in four successive Nationals, finishing third to Monty’s Pass in 2003, winning in 2004, finishing tenth behind Hedgehunter in 2005 and pulling up at the fence before Becher’s Brook on the second circuit in 2006. Lee fondly remembered his National winner, saying, “He was very small for an Aintree horse, but he loved the place. He was only 15.2 hands, but would grow a hand for just seeing an Aintree fence. He never made a single mistake in the National.”

 

Indeed, in four subsequent Nationals, Lee completed the course just once more, on Big Fella Thanks, trained by Ferdy Murphy, who finished seventh behind Ballabriggs in 2011 on his last ride in the race. Lee switched to Flat racing in 2012, citing weight issues – in his case, struggling to keep weight on, rather than take it off – as his reason for doing so.

Grand National Trends

Grand National Trends  Despite changes to the distance, fences, entry conditions and handicap over the years, the Grand National remains a formidable test for horse and rider. The prospect of a maximum field of 40 runners tackling 4 miles 2 furlongs and 74 yards and 30 unique fences, including the infamous Becher’s Brook, should be enough to give the most ardent punter sleepless nights.

However, take heart, because although just one outright favourite and two joint favourites have won the Aintree marathon in the last 15 years, more than half the winners in that period were in the first eight in the betting. Will this trend continue with 2019 Grand National Runners. The Grand National is not, in fact, the punters’ nightmare it might first appear, especially with some useful trends to help you narrow the field.

In recent years, the Grand National weights have been compressed, with a view to improving the previously moderate record of highly weighted horses. Consequently, six of the last 15 renewals have been won by horses carrying 11st or more. Obviously, that leaves 60% of winners who carried less than 11st, but the point is that weight is no longer as pertinent as it once was.

In terms of age, 8-year-olds have won three out of the last four Grand Nationals, but 12 of the last 15 renewals have been won by horses aged 9 years or older. Bogskar, in 1940, was the last 7-year-old, and Sergeant Murphy, in 1923, the last 13-year-old, to win.

As in any horse race, fitness is paramount in the National. Horses are trained to peak fitness, where they remain for a while, before tapering off. Consequently, discount any Grand National runner that has been off the course for more than six weeks, or 42 days.

It probably goes without staying that stamina and jumping ability are absolute necessities in a National winner, so look for an accurate jumper, who has fallen or unseated rider no more than twice in its career, and has won at least one steeplechase over 3 miles or further. Previous experience over the National fences, even if failing to trouble the judge, is a major advantage, so focus on horses that have contested the Becher Chase, Topham Chase or the Grand National itself in the past.

Could Sue Smith land her Second Grand National Success with Vintage Clouds?

Back in 2013, Sue Smith joined an exclusive club as she added her name to the relatively prosaic list of Grand National-winning trainers. She also became just the third female trainer to land the world famous Steeplechase and the first Yorkshire-based handler since 1960 to enjoy success in the race. The 70-year-old is a savvy operator and she is unlikely to be satisfied with just a single Grand National winner. She will be hoping that Vintage Clouds can follow in the footsteps of Auroras Encore at the Merseyside track in April 2019.

Could Sue Smith land her Second Grand National Success with Vintage Clouds?

Source: Sky Sports Racing via Twitter

Sue Smith is a prominent figure in the north of England and she has a number of runners who compete regularly at tracks such as Newcastle, Sedgefield and Hexham. It’s not been the most productive twelve months for the Craiglands Farm handler with the yard sending out just six winning hurdlers this year, although her statistics often tend to improve as the jumps season heads towards its thrilling denouement.

Vintage Clouds is one of Sue Smith’s stable stars and the nine-year-old has become a dependable operator. Owned by Trevor Hemmings, the powerful chaser has suffered a number of near misses and was third in the Scottish Grand National in 2018. Despite edging right at the final fence, Vintage Clouds managed to finish just four lengths behind the Rebecca Curtis-trained Joe Farrell and appeared to relish the four-mile trip, which certainly bodes well for the energy-sapping steeplechase at Aintree on April 6th.

Feeling refreshed after a 217-day break, Vintage Clouds saw off a field of six in the Betfair Exchange Handicap Chase at Haydock in November 2018 and may also be required to overcome another lay-off ahead of the 2019 Randox Health Grand National. At the time of writing, no further entries are in place for the talented chaser, although Sue Smith has refused the rule out the possibility of another run ahead of the big day.

It will be Vintage Cloud’s third appearance at Aintree racecourse with the nine-year-old previously enjoying success in a Novice’s Limited Handicap at the end of 2017 when romping home 18 lengths clear of The Lovely Job under the guidance of regular partner, Danny Cook. He’d also previously been forced to finish the race prematurely when pulling up in the 2016 Sefton Novice’s Hurdle.

Could Sue Smith land her Second Grand National Success with Vintage Clouds?

Source: OpinionYP via Twitter

He is currently priced at around 25/1 and has been popular in the ante-post betting over the last couple of months. There are a number of northern raiders who are prominent in the market and according to Oddschecker, they could stand to benefit from the uncertainty over Brexit. With the UK set to leave the European Union at the end of March, there is the possibility that some Irish trainers may not be able to send their stable stars to Merseyside this year. With very little sign of a resolution being reached, the likes of Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins will have to remain patient ahead of the 2019 Randox Grand National, although some of their runners have already begun to drift in the market.

2018 winner Tiger Roll is one of a number of runners whose place in the contest remains in doubt and his price has lengthened amid the political turmoil engulfing the UK. Definitly Red is another confirmed absentee although his non-participation is down to Brian Ellison’s desire to run him in the Cheltenham Gold Cup instead.

Sue Smith’s grey didn’t make the cut last year and wasn’t able to compete in the prestigious race but he’s clearly advertised his credentials in recent months and although he was asked to make the running at Haydock, he appears to be very adaptable and can cope with a variety of underfoot conditions. He was able to pull out a little bit more when pressed by his rivals in November and that is the sign of a very effective stayer.

Auroras Encore’s participation in the 2013 Grand National was in doubt ahead of the race due to a bout of bad weather in Yorkshire, but connections decided to go ahead with the plans and the gamble sensationally paid off. He was able to run off just 10st 3lb following a string of disappointing displays and went off at a price of 66/1. Anyone who backed him for success that day took a significant leap of faith but they were handsomely rewarded as a result. Jockey Ryan Mania steered him home in front of a packed Grandstand and later told reporters that he couldn’t believe his luck. Despite being retired just a year later, Auroras Encore’s name will go down in history and Smith will be hoping that Vintage Clouds can follow a similar path.

Could Sue Smith land her Second Grand National Success with Vintage Clouds?

Source: Ian Abrahams via Twitter

Unlike the 2013 winner, the 2019-hopeful won’t be entering the race under-the-radar and is likely to be shouldering a decent-sized weight in this year’s contest. However, the uncertainty over the participation of several Irish hopefuls will certainly help his chances. The race is always a highly unpredictable affair but Tiger Roll went off as one of the favourites in 2018 and the potential to go off at a short-price is unlikely to deter backers.

Having proved himself over four miles, Vintage Clouds undoubtedly has the stamina to cope with the various tribulations and his price is likely to shorten further ahead of the April contest. The nine-year-old has course form to his name and is likely to be well-rested ahead of this year’s energy-sapping steeplechase. Very few trainers are able to chalk up multiple successes in the Grand National during their career but Vintage Clouds could be the horse to help land Sue Smith a historic double.