Second twice over the Grand National fences in the last two runnings of the Becher Chase, Tom Lacey will be keeping everything crossed that Kimberlite Candy can go one better in the main event this Saturday.
The 2020 Classic Chase winner was due to line up at Aintree 12 months ago only for the race to not materialise, but a year on his trainer reports his horse to be in fine fettle.
“We’ve not missed a beat with him”, Lacey told Tote.
“I think he’s a physically stronger horse now. I’d say he’s the finished article.
“Richie McLernon only sits on him three times a year and he felt that he was a more physically mature horse this season.”
While he couldn’t be happier with his horse, there are two thing that might have gone a bit better in the lead up to his big day on Merseyside.
Lacey’s gelding hasn’t been seen since finishing second at the track in December, and although he’s run well fresh in the past, he had been looking to get a prep into his charge beforehand.
“Ideally we would have liked to have got a run into him prior to the National, but circumstances just haven’t allowed us to. When possibilities of two races did come about, we decided there was more upside in not running, than there was in running.“
Another slight question mark over Kimberlite Candy’s Grand National hopes is the likely quicker surface he’ll face here.
“You want horses to race within their comfort zone over 4m2f.
“If they go particularly hard they’re going to struggle to come back to you on top of the ground and if you’re having to race outside of your comfort zone just to keep tabs on them, it’s a tough ask.
“I would have liked slower ground, but it is what it is, there’s only one Grand National every year. I’m sure they’ll be applying plenty of water, as they’ve got a huge responsibility to make it on the slow side of good ground.”
Adrimel set to drop in trip
Kimberlite Candy won’t be the only runner from Lacey’s Herefordshire base making the trip north, with fellow Warwick winner Adrimel set to be on the lorry.
Having won his first three over hurdles, he disappointed in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, pulling up behind winner Vanillier.
With his stamina called into question, Lacey is contemplating a drop back in trip for the six-year-old.
“If the ground came up too quick we may reassess it, but he’s most likely to drop back to 2½ miles [for the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle],” Lacey explained to Tote.
“He stopped very quickly at Cheltenham, which is obviously a major concern and I just wonder whether his wind caught him. Although there were no excuses as such, because the winner was beside him, so you can’t say he went too hard on the front home, so maybe he just didn’t quite get home in that grade.”
With usual partner Richard Johnson having hung up his breeches, the son of Tirwanako is set to have a new partner on Merseyside with Johnny Burke lined up to take the ride on Saturday.
Handicap hurdlers coming from very different runs
Kateson has run well in previous visits to Aintree, winning at the venue earlier in the season, finishing second in the Grade 2 bumper in 2018 and running respectably enough in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle in 2019, but he arrives here nursing a heavy defeat at Ascot.
“He’s got course and distance form, he’s always run very well at Aintree, but it’s a deep race. We’re going into it off the back of a poor run at Ascot last time so we’re slightly on the back foot going into it.”
The grey is set to line up in the Grade 3 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle on Friday, whereas stablemate heads for the EFT Systems Handicap Hurdle over 3m on Saturday off the back of an excellent third in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham.
While he wouldn’t have got to the winner, he may have been second but having to swerve to avoid a faller at the last.
“He came out of Cheltenham really well and is in great nick. We’ve just been looking forward to stepping him up to three miles really.
“I think it’s fair to say that he may well have finished second had he not been hampered at the last.”
Meeting could be turning point after dry period
The bold run of Tea Clipper at Cheltenham was a turnaround in form for the Cottage Field team, after a lean spell at the start of the year, and Lacey is glad to be looking up heading into Aintree.
“We have had a bug in the yard. Back on January 9th we saw the first horse with a dirty nose, and we’ve had horses out of sorts, it’s been a tough eight or nine weeks.
“But they seem to be running well now. We had a winner on Monday, Hazzaar has just finished second at Exeter, Tea Clipper ran well at Cheltenham and they seem to be back on song.”
One that we haven’t seen in that period is Johnbb, who was a winner at Wetherby in November, before falling at the same venue on Boxing Day.
He could line up in the Grade 3 handicap that precedes the National on Saturday and he’s one that his trainer is looking forward to seeing at a new trip.
“Johnbb would have run previously but he was trach washed prior to his previous engagements, and we just weren’t happy with his health.
“I think he’s the most interesting runner in that race - I’m expecting to see more from him up in trip.”
Last but not least of the Lacey team potentially heading to Aintree is Argonauta, who has an entry in the Grade 2 bumper that closes out the card on Saturday.
“He’ll go if he gets a run. I think he’s improved since Newcastle; he’s had a racecourse gallop in between then and now. I know the race he won hasn’t really worked out, but his closing fractions at Newcastle were incredibly impressive.
“Nicky Henderson’s horse obviously looks like a real jet, but I think he goes there with a real chance of being in the frame.”
By the time the son of Getaway lines up in the 2m event, who knows, maybe Lacey will be still celebrating capping his first Grand National runner with a winner of the biggest steeplechase of them all.