Peter Maher hoping Big Shu can deliver on National duty
Kildare trainer says Cheltenham winner the ‘deserves a crack at’ Aintree Festival
Aintree Racecourse on the opening day of the Crabbie’s Grand National 2014. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
County Kildare trainer Peter Maher feels he has Big Shu in the shape of his life ahead of Saturday’s first £1 million Crabbies’ Grand National — which is already a sell-out.
Big Shu won the Cross-Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival 12 months ago and finished third in the race last month, beaten three lengths by Balthazar King who also runs at Aintree. With Paul Carberry taking the mount on Monbeg Dude in the world’s greatest steeplechase, Maher was on the lookout for a jockey and surprised a few when booking Peter Buchanan, stable jockey to Lucinda Russell in Scotland.
“My nerves are in bits!” said Maher. “He deserves a crack at this, people have said I should have saved him for the banks race at Punchestown, but you only get one real crack at the National. He’s the sort of horse you can only train properly for one race each season and this year we decided on the National. He’s in the best shape of his life.
“Peter Buchanan came over on Saturday to pop him over a few National-style fences, I wanted him to have a feel of him. I thought very hard about who would ride him and I came in for a bit of stick in Ireland for overlooking some of the lads based at home.
“Peter is a true horseman, he’s competed in show jumping for Ireland and I know he’ll look after the horse for me. One thing he does need is rain, though — they can go flat out early on and if it rains that might just slow him down early on.”
Tidal Bay and Long Run head a maximum field of 40 after the leading fancies stood their ground at the final declaration stage. The teenage Tidal Bay will carry top-weight of 11st 10lb in the hands of Sam Twiston-Davies, with Cheltenham Gold Cup and dual King George VI Chase hero Long Run next in on 11st 9lb under Sam Waley-Cohen.
Last year’s third Teaforthree heads the market for Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis, with Nick Scholfield the man on board. Tony McCoy had to choose between the JP McManus-owned duo of Double Seven and Colbert Station and has, as expected, sided with the first-named.
McManus’s other possible Lost Glory was the only horse who was guaranteed a run to be taken out at the 48-hour stage.
Other leading contenders include Michael Scudamore’s Monbeg Dude, the Willie Mullins-trained Prince De Beauchene and Rocky Creek from the Paul Nicholls yard. The 40th and final horse in the field is the David Pipe-trained Swing Bill, although there are four reserves.
Goonyella, Soll, Night In Milan and Minella For Value could potentially get a run if there are withdrawals from the final 40 before a deadline of 9am on Friday. One slight change to reports earlier in the week is that Paul Moloney now rides the Fergal O’Brien-trained Alvarado for the Rucker family, after finishing placed in the last five Nationals on State Of Play and Cappa Bleu.
Moloney had been due to ride One In A Milan for his boss Evan Williams, but that mount has now gone to Adam Wedge. Wedge said: “Paul made the choice to ride Alvarado, so it’s obviously great news for me.
“I rode Viking Blond in the race last year and he was pulled up, but you’d like to think I’d have more luck this time. I’ve not had much joy on him the times I’ve ridden him, but he’s a tough, strong horse who has held his form pretty well this season. “He can be a bit of a quirky horse, though, which explains why they’ve gone with a visor. Evan knows what to do in the National and has a great record in the race. I can’t wait to get going.”