Grand National favourite Moor Lane disappointed his connections at Newbury last weekend

Ian Balding was still scratching his head on Sunday morning, and wondering if Moor Lane had been suffering from a bang on his head.

Moor Lane went into Saturday’s Sodexho Prestige Handicap at Newbury among the favourites for next month’s Grand National, but came out of it with his reputation tarnished, going down by two lengths to Lordberniebouffant.

However, after watching the video on Sunday morning with owner Bob Michaelson, Ian Balding believes he may have spotted the cause of Moor Lane’s uncharacteristically tame submission.

“When those two horses came down at the second fence, it looked for a second as if a hindleg gave Moor Lane a smack in the face,” said Balding, adding: “It is not easy to be certain. His head seems fine, but there was mud on his nose band and perhaps that saved him.”

Moor Lane,who had won the Great Yorkshire Chase in January, schooled well in his preparation for Newbury, but did not tackle his fences with any enthusiasm on Saturday.

“He was backing off at his fences when he usually makes ground at them,” said Balding. “At the cross fence (five out) Norman (Williamson) asked him to stand off and Moor Lane put down. But he did not touch a twig and is very clever; that’s why he should suit Aintree.”

After losing his pitch two out Moor Lane stayed on really well again to take second on the run-in and, in the circumstances, has run a good race on an off day.

“He only lost half a kilo when normally he would lose about 10,” reported Balding. “He has come home sound, quite fresh and has eaten up.

“What disappointed me, was that he didn’t jump with his usual enthusiasm. Had he done so, I have absolutely no doubt he would have won. At this stage I don’t think his Grand National prospects have diminished.”

  • Click here to read why last year’s Grand National winner Red Marauder will be missing from this year’s race.