Fergal O’Brien: Ready for more festival spirit *H&H VIP*

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    One of the most exciting times of the year is nearly here — the Grand National meeting at Aintree. It’s always a great occasion, as everyone goes and stays up in Liverpool.

    There’s a real festival spirit. While it’s the infl ux of Irishthat add to the atmosphere at Cheltenham, it’s the people of Liverpool that make Aintree; they really go all out.

    We have Perfect Candidate and Chase The Spud entered for the big race. Only if the ground stays soft will Chase The Spud have a run — he’ll like the trip and the track will suit him.

    Ahead of Aintree we don’t change our routine — some people like to school over the
    National fences at Lambourn, and some trainers have them at their yards — but we don’t do that. We just get them as fi t as possible ahead of the day.

    I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in two Grand National winners when I was at Nigel Twiston-Davies’ yard (Earth Summit and Bindaree) and it’s always an exciting time.

    This year, I can’t look past Blaklion, who is also trained by Nigel. I think you have to discount the run in the Grand National Trial at Haydock (where he was beaten by 54 lengths), it was a gruesome race that day, and judging by his win in the Becher Chase he’s a solid National choice.

    He’s the right shape and size for the race, not too big and burly, and he’s got the speed.

    And if there’s someone who knows how to train a National winner, it’s Nigel.

    Reflecting on Cheltenham

    It was a shame the Lambourn Open Day was a bit of a wash-out. However, Nicky
    Henderson’s yard was open, so at least fans were able to visit there. I think it’s a great idea and a brilliant fundraiser. It brings the sport together and it’s good for people to see behind the scenes and meet some Cheltenham winners.

    Cheltenham seems a while ago now, but we were delighted with all our runners. We sent seven to the Festival and four were placed, which was great for the team and the owners. Most handled the testing ground OK, bar Poetic Rhythm, but he goes to Aintree now.

    Cheltenham was a top event, and that was reflected in the record crowd numbers.
    National Hunt racing is a very good place to be right now; there’s been lots of positive feedback and it seems to be growing in popularity outside of the direct community.

    I tipped Native River ahead of the Gold Cup and was thrilled to see him win.

    It was an excellent training performance from Colin Tizzard and a fantastic ride by Richard Johnson. It was a solid race, a great Gold Cup and fascinating to watch.

    Talking of the Tizzards, I think it’s nice they’ve chosen to announce Cue Card’s retirement ahead of time. I’m sure he’ll get the send-off he deserves and his final run will draw in the crowds. The Tizzards always do the right thing by him,and Cue Card has been a great character for racing.

    Dragging up old history

    There has been more talk about banning the whip recently, however, I don’t think that it helps our industry to keep bringing it up when there’s not an issue. If there was a welfare issue, it absolutely should be addressed, but the authorities are happy, and the record crowds show the fans are, too. It’s more damaging to public perception to be dragging it up.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 April 2018