06th April 2017

Grand National Festival – Day 1 review

She was the first woman to ride a Grade One winner and on Thursday, Lizzie Kelly became the first to ride a Grade One winner at the Aintree Festival when Tea For Two beat the ‘People’s Champion’ and last year’s winner Cue Card to land the Betway Bowl Chase.

Tea For Two, who carried Kelly to that landmark victory in the Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park last season, had parted company with his pilot as early as the second fence in last month’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, dashing her hopes of becoming the first lady to ride the winner of the Blue Riband event and that made Thursday’s success all the more sweet.

"Falling [off] at the second fence in any race is never nice, and to do that in a Gold Cup is taking it to another level,” Kelly reflected. “The walk back to the weighing room was the longest in my life. I wanted to crawl back, but these colours are quite bright and I couldn't quite do that. It's been a tough road to here.

"Before the Gold Cup came into the equation we were always more confident he would run well at Aintree because he's been winning on flat tracks.”

Tea For Two did not travel particularly well in the early stages, but picked up well the further they went and Kelly explained: "When I decided we ought to get into it he began pulling my arms out and I thought 'grand, we'll take a step back'. My jockey coach, Rodi [Greene] was keen to remind me that it's a long run-in here and I ran it beforehand and agreed on that.”

"My lad is as brave as a lion - you only had to look at him at the last where I didn't ask him for that. Fair play to all the girls at home who do a lot more with the horse than I do. They spend so much time with him it's almost annoying when we've got other horses in the yard.”

A footnote to the race was the retirement of dual King George VI Chase winner Silviniaco Conti.

40 years on from Red Rum’s third Grand National triumph means that it is also the 40th anniversary of when Charlotte Brew became the first woman to ride in the great race on Barony Fort. The racing world still awaits a first female winner of the race from the saddle and Kelly admits that it would be her ultimate dream: “There would be nothing better. It is something that whoever that lucky person, that woman, is will have a lot of respect from a lot of people for the rest of her life.”

Champion

Elsewhere on the card, Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air completely allayed any pre-race fears that stamina might be an issue by powering away from his field to win the feature Betway Aintree Hurdle in fine style under Barry Geraghty, who had to sit and suffer his partner’s success at Cheltenham, missing out to Noel Fehily due to injury.

The race saw another 1-2 for trainer Nicky Henderson, whose My Tent Or Yours again ran a cracker to be bridesmaid in a Grade One contest.

Henderson’s Top Notch could not get the Seven Barrows team off to a flier in the opening Grade One Manifesto Novices’ Chase, losing out to the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Flying Angel, with Cloudy Dream again putting up a gallant effort to be runner-up.

Meanwhile Defi De Seuil underlined that he is clearly top of the juvenile tree for the season, making it eight successive victories and adding to his JCB Triumph Hurdle success by collecting another Grade One in the Doom Bar 4-Y-O Anniversary Hurdle, completing a double for both owner J P McManus and pilot Geraghty.

Dineur went one better than last year in the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase, carrying James King to a well-earned victory, while the race also saw Katie Walsh unseated from Distime.

Other success stories on day one included the Malcolm Jefferson-trained Double W’s, who took the Betway Red Rum Handicap Chase under Brian Hughes and Dame Rose who won the Grade Two Mares’ Bumper under Alain Cawley to bring the curtain down on a fabulous four hours of action.