Ted Walsh reports last year’s third Seabass to be bang on course for the John Smith’s Grand National - but with a weight that has the trainer puzzled.
Seabass is among a strong Irish entry of 31 for the Aintree spectacular on April 6 and has been set to carry 11st 2lb in the weights published today, with Lexus Chase hero Tidal Bay on top with 11st 10lb. Tidal Bay has an official BHA handicap mark of 171, but has been rated as though he is 162 in the Grand National, for which weights compiler Phil Smith has discretion.
Walsh, speaking before seeing the full list of weights, said: “I don’t know how Seabass can get over 11st this year if Tidal Bay is rated 171 and my horse is rated 154. Whatever Phil Smith does, he does, and I can’t change it. You don’t have to be a great mathematician to subtract 54 from 71.”
Seabass returned to the racecourse for the first time since his gallant Aintree effort to run a staying-on second over two miles in a hurdle race at Fairyhouse last week.
Walsh went on: “Seabass will run somewhere in the next three weeks to a month. There is just over seven weeks to Liverpool so I would like to get a run into him. The Bobbyjo Chase at Naas and the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton are possible targets.”
Walsh, who won the National in 2000 with Papillon, said of his other entry Colbert Station: “Like Seabass, Colbert Station will possibly have one more run. I have no idea where as he only recently ran. I would also be looking at running him in three weeks to a month, which will be ideal for the National.” The JP McManus-owned Colbert Station won a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and followed up over hurdles at Punchestown, ridden on both occasions by Tony McCoy on testing ground.
Walsh said: “I wouldn’t be worried about the ground for Colbert Station as it is never anything worse than good jumping ground at Aintree. He has 10st 6lb in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton and is 3lb higher in England than he is in Ireland, which makes him worse off with Seabass in England.”
Seabass was ridden by Walsh’s daughter Katie last year, when she achieved the highest finishing place yet by a lady rider in the National. His son Ruby would appear to have a number of choices, while McCoy is retained rider for McManus.
Flemenstar set to miss Cheltenham
Trainer Peter Casey says Flemenstar is “very unlikely” to run at the Cheltenham Festival in March after being found to have a lung infection. The Stephen Curran-owned eight-year-old, who finished second to Sir Des Champs in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Saturday, was diagnosed with the problem on Monday and is instead likely to be aimed at the big Aintree meeting in April.
Casey told Press Association Sport: “He’ll be out for two to three weeks. It’s a bad lung infection. He’s going to be all right in the long term, but I would say Cheltenham is very unlikely now.”
He added: “The jockey (Andrew Lynch) thought something was wrong on Saturday and it looks like he was right. We’ll probably look at Aintree now.”
Flemenstar holds entries at Cheltenham in the Betfred Gold Cup, the Ryanair Chase and the sportingbet.comQueen Mother Champion Chase.
Punchestown plan for Stone
Kauto Stone is to be aimed at the Punchestown Festival after being scratched from all his options at Cheltenham next month. The Robin Geffen-owned seven-year-old has enjoyed great success in Ireland since joining Paul Nicholls, having won at Down Royal’s November meeting for the last two years. He beat First Lieutenant in theJNwine.com Champion Chase this season, but has been well beaten since in the King George VI Chase and the Cleeve Hurdle.
Charlie Liverton, Geffen’s racing manager, said: “Kauto Stone is not going to Cheltenham but instead he is being kept fresh and aimed for Punchestown.”
Hurricane heads Champion 22
Hurricane Fly stands his ground as one of 22 horses left in the field for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the latest confirmation stage. The 2011 winner is now a hot favourite to regain his title after an unbeaten season and he is one of three entries remaining for Willie Mullins, along with Thousand Stars and Zaidpour.
There were no surprises among the defections from the feature event on the opening day of next month’s Cheltenham Festival, although Nicky Henderson’s team has shrunk to four, headed by former winner Binocular and the smart Grandouet. His 2011 third Oscar Whisky is kept in the event as an option, along with the 2010 runner-up Khyber Kim, who has returned to Seven Barrows after a spell with Nigel Twiston-Davies, but has not appeared yet this season.
Henderson lost his great hope Darlan in a fall last week, and has removed General Miller, Cash And Go and former hero Punjabi from the race. Last year’s winner Rock On Ruby is in contention, while others of interest are the Donald McCain trio of Cinders And Ashes, Overturn and Peddlers Cross. Zarkandar is the only possible runner for Paul Nicholls.
Tidal Bay ruled out of National
Leading John Smith’s Grand National contender Tidal Bay has suffered a “tiny stress fracture” and will not run at Aintree on April 6. Allotted top-weight of 11st 10lb in the Liverpool showpiece, the Paul Nicholls-trained 12-year-old has not run since winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and he was forced to miss the Argento Chase at Cheltenham last month when reported to be lame.
Nicholls said in his Betfair blog: “He was slightly lame before the Argento and we couldn’t get him ready in time for that race, or the Irish Hennessy. He was out cantering as usual on Monday and Tuesday, but on Wednesday we decided to step up his work. But his work rider came back up and said he didn’t feel right.” .