The Grand National is the richest jumps race in the sport and it is a race which generates a huge audience on television every year. It is always great to see some horses line up who have featured at Stratford earlier in their careers. Stratford’s tight circuit doesn’t hold many similarities to Aintree, but our races take sometimes as much winning!
More often than not, Britain’s smaller courses play a role as nurseries to the stars of tomorrow, be they horses, riders or indeed trainers. Where we cannot match big courses with handsome prizes, our fixtures at the start and end of our season give perfect opportunities for trainers seeking good ground and a fair race to introduce a newcomer, or find an appropriate handicap rating.
Here is a look at three horses from this past few seasons’ entries who have impressed at Stratford.
Lord Du Mesnil
Last season’s Grand National Trial winner Lord Du Mesnil is set for his second shot at the Aintree feature in 2022. He was pulled up in last year’s contest which was won by Irish horse Minella Times.
Richard Hobson’s chaser finished second at Stratford in the 2019 J.H. Rowe Memorial Handicap Chase, coming home just a neck by the winner De Forgotten. The French-bred horse was just six years old at the time and had little experience over fences, now corrected 3 years on.
Prior to his next shot at the Grand National, Lord Du Mesnil is expected to line up in the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. He is one of the leading Cheltenham Festival 2022 tips for that race which has been dominated in recent years by Tiger Roll, and which may yet prove that horse’s swansong.
Jonjo O’Neill’s gelding Cloth Cap was in excellent form last season heading into the Grand National. He recorded back-to-back victories in major races at Newbury and Kelso. Unfortunately for connections, he did not complete the course at Aintree. Of course, his well-known and likeable owner, Trveor Hemmings, is no longer with us to enjoy his spin around Aintree this April, but the season has already given him reason to smile down from above after Cloudy Glen won the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury last December.
Those who visited Stratford’s early November meeting in 2018 will have seen Cloth Cap prevail in the J.H. Rowe Memorial Handicap Chase. It was an eye-catching performance from the horse who was having just his second appearance over fences.
O’Neill often uses Stratford as a venue to send some of his novice chasers as they look to get experience over bigger obstacles. His Grand National contender has a lot of ability so more can be expected from him on his return to Liverpool.
Itchy Feet goes into the Grand National this year with strong claims. He made a strong impression at Stratford when he broke his maiden here on just his second career appearance in a bumper.
Olly Murphy’s runner blew his rivals away by 14 lengths. He was a long way clear of the field with two furlongs to go. It was clear that day that this horse was going to be lining up in some big races later in his career.
Itchy Feet later went on to become a Grade One winner as he landed the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in 2020. His performances since then have been mixed, but he has some good form this season behind Allmankind and Bravemansgame who is, of course, a leading fancy for Novice honours at Cheltenham next week.
Murphy has yet to win the Grand National, but with Itchy Feet, he goes into the race this year with a great chance of lifting the trophy for the first time in his career.
Hopefully, all three of the above horses run a big race at Aintree, which will mean regular racegoers at Stratford will have seen a Grand National winner at our Midlands racecourse. But keep looking… Tucked away in our calendar starting next Monday might be a horse about which you could say in the future, “I saw his first run at Stratford”.