Saturday’s Haydock Grand National Trial is something of a misnomer because the last horse to win both races was Party Politics in 1993. Even that wasn’t a true trial because the horse won the National the previous year. Since 2003 no winner has even been placed in the most famous steeplechase in the world.
It’s a strange fact that Red Rum won this race in 1975 but won the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977. In those days the drop fences at Haydock were similar to the obstacles on the Grand National course so the track was a good venue for a prep race for the Aintree marathon and the longest race in the calendar.
In 1992 and 1994 Haydock’s feature chase was won by horses that went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Cool Ground won both races in 1992 while Master Oats won the Gold Cup in 1995, a year after winning Haydock’s National trial. Suny Bay won the race in 1997 and was only beaten by Lord Gylene in that years’ Monday National. The race is the longest distance handicap chase so is similar to the National.
However, the contradiction in the race title may not apply this season because Blaklion can prevail at Haydock this weekend and then win the chase that matters most at Aintree on April 14th. The biggest threat to the favourite could have been Vieux Lion Rouge who won the trial last year so is proven over the course and distance but does not run. Yala Enki is the clear second best on ratings.
The connections of Blaklion would probably swap 10 trials for the real thing but there is a prize fund of £100,000 for the Haydock race. Blaklion is a nine-year-old carrying 11-12. In 17 runnings this century (no race in 2002) six horses aged nine have obliged and seven winners carried at least 11 stone. Only two winners met both criteria so the trends are against the selection. The last two winners were aged eight and carried more than 11 stone. All the winners this century were aged 7 to 11.
Blaklion has been allocated 11-6 for the National and is sixth highest in the weights. Bristol de Mai is the clear top rated but is unlikely to run. In theory, the weights could go up but in any case, Blaklion must be able to handle the weight at Haydock to have any chance of winning the National in April. The trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, won the National in 1998 with Earth Summit and four years later with Bindaree.
Twiston-Davies has never won the National trial and neither has his son, Sam, who rides Blaklion. The jockey is contracted to ride for Paul Nicholls but he has been allowed to get off the trainer’s entry, Silsol, to ride for his Dad. The proviso is that Twiston-Davies junior keeps the ride on Blaklion in the National. That is another race he has not won so Blaklion could enable him to kill two birds with one stone.