WITH just over four months to go before the 2004 Martell Cognac Grand National, the performance and bravery displayed by locallytrained Amberleigh House at Aintree last Sunday will keep a dream alive through the winter months and revive memories of the great Red Rum, three times Grand National winner.
A hotly-contested Tote Becher Steeplechase was a true trial for the world's most famous jump race, and 15 runners went to post to run in the three-mile three-furlong event.
After the first couple of fences, Eau De Cologne led the field with pick-of-the-paddock Amberleigh House being held up in the early stages. Jockey Graham Lee made gradual headway on his mount, who excels over the Grand National fences.
From the elbow, the race developed into a battle between Amberleigh House and 11-2 shot Clan Royal, who prevailed in a photo finish by a short head. Losing nothing in defeat, Cholmondeley trainer Ginger McCain commented: 'I thought he had it for three strides and he did give the winner 7lbs. I'm tickled pink, he's run a brilliant race and fought a ding-dong finish. He's a pleasure to train and I need to find a few pounds of improvement in him before April.'
With six runs around Aintree without putting a foot wrong, the 11-year-old, quoted at 25-1 from 40-1 for the National, will now be given a break and may reappear over hurdles in the early spring, before a final campaign leading to Aintree on April 3. Racing takes place at Bangor-on-Dee this afternoon with a scheduled start time of 1.10pm as long as there are no overnight divisions due to the high number of entries at the five-day stage. In this case, racing would be brought forward.
The feature race is the £10,000 Malpas Handicap Chase over three miles and half a furlong. Handyman, trained by Philip Hobbs, carried top weight into second place on his seasonal reappearance at Exeter three weeks ago. The gelding has the stamina to stay this trip and is selected to go one closer today.
Madam's Man looks to be ahead of the handicapper and, if able to reproduce his recent Newton Abbot form, represents value for a place as this is a step up in class.
In the Malise Nicolson Novices' Chase valued at £6,000, Pharpost, a consistent type, should be capable of running into a place. Celestial Gold was a short-head winner at Towcester on November 18 and will lack nothing in race fitness.
Palua, trained by Emma Lavelle, is given the vote to notch up a second win following an eight-length success at Huntingdon almost two weeks ago.
The meeting stages a Handicap Hurdle worth £4,000 in memory of former Chronicle racing correspondents Ron Harris and Ted Davies. Speed Venture was a four-length course and distance winner in May and may contest the finish with Polish Cloud. The latter finished second to multiple winner Besieged over this distance at Perth, also in May.