Does Cheltenham Hamper The Grand National?

This is always going to be a tricky time of year for trainers and connections as a myriad of big price races run back-to-back and all competing for a rather limited number of race horses that are good enough to seriously contend for the big prize money.

Often critics of Cheltenham point out that from January to March absolutely nothing happens in jump racing of any real significance as trainers are all holding out for the Cheltenham Festival and the Aintree Grand National festival which tend to take place only weeks apart. The fear of injuring a potential winner by sending him/her half way across the country for a race worth £5K doesn’t even figure into the strategy.

Recently on The Morning Line the debate raged regarding how frequently the very top horses are being run and it was pointed out that Bobs Worth had only been seen once this season before he won the Gold Cup but honestly, who can blame connections? The chance that he may get injured, fall or even worse in a small race and potentially miss out on the lucrative £500,000 prize of the Gold Cup doesn’t bare thinking about.

And off the back of that comes the 2013 Grand National, for which the second scratchings deadline has just passed, and quite a number of 16 withdrawn at the latest stage were as a result of poor performances at Cheltenham. With no time in between to prepare the horses or allow a substantial recovery period the Grand National will ultimately suffer from the lack of their presence.

Albertas Run, Calgary Bay, The Package and Midnight Chase are just four incredible horses that will no longer have the opportunity to try to win the Grand National. Of course that also means that weights rise and horses that may have been nicely positioned on anywhere between 10-08 and 11-03 will now face a very serious hike, one that arguably may even rule some out of contention for the win because the burden is too much.

Seabass could end up carrying as much as 11-07 which is a whopping 9lbs heavier than in 2012 despite the fact that his Official Rating is only deemed to have gone up by five points from 149 to 154.

Prince De Beauchene, a huge ante-post favourite could carry as much as 11-08 in his bid to win the Grand National for trainer Willie Mullins and to put it into perspective, the last time a horse won any Grand National carrying 11-08 was in 1977 and that was Red Rum.

The problem trainers and connections now face is do you hedge your bets with Cheltenham where in a smaller field of runners who may have a better shot at winning or do you hold out for the Grand National all the while not knowing who will be withdrawn and how that will affect your own entries?

Ultimately, as proven this year, it is nearly impossible to seriously compete in both and with so much money on the line from just two festivals the thought that incredibly talented horses will be saved from racing all year to protect their handicap or to get them primed for just one major race is rather disconcerting.

As a fan of horse racing the answer could lie in bigger prize pots for the smaller courses around the country, and throughout the entire season, so that the distribution of funds is not so geared towards Cheltenham. That may then give race-goers an opportunity to see some of the best horses that are currently running, while still being of value to the trainers and owners and also allow for better recovery periods between the big meetings.

Ultimately three weeks between Cheltenham and the Grand National is not enough time for a horse to be able to successfully run in both so if a horse you fancy for the Grand National ran at Cheltenham last week, my suggestion is to change your mind and pick one that didn’t!

Photo Credit | Meteorshoweryn