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Eyes on the prize – and a record


With a bit of luck Sunday’s Grand National Hurdle (4200m) will be one of the more memorable races of my career.

I take the reins on the Patrick Payne-trained Killarney Kid and if successful, it’ll be a record-breaking fifth GN Hurdle triumph for me.

I won the race four years in a row from 2011 to 2014. The last of those (Sea King) equalled the mark for the most victories. It was set by Frank Douglas back in 1943.

Douglas won his first on Prismatic (1934) and followed up with Dagwood (1938), Saul (1942) and Claudette (1943).

In John Adams’s book Over The Hurdles, the former bookmaker Alf King said Saul’s victory was the best Grand National run that he ever saw. Saul won by 15 lengths after leading all the way.

I won my first Grand National Hurdle on Black and Bent in 2011 and we combined for another victory in 2013. Brungle Cry was my other victor, in 2012.

I’m very confident Killarney Kid will give a great sight on Sunday. I’m forgiving him for his latest failure, when I pulled him up prior to the final jump in the Brendan Drechsler Hurdle at Pakenham (July 21).

He just buckled on landing at the second-last obstacle. At that time we were only three lengths off the eventual winner, Gobstopper, and I hadn’t asked Killarney Kid for an effort.

The stumble unbalanced him and, as I had no chance of winning or running a place, I eased him out of the race.

Patrick Payne tells me Killarney Kid came through that race in good order.

There’s a lot of depth in this year’s field.

Gobstopper is closer to Killarney Kid in the weights after his win at Pakenham. We had to give him four kilos in the Brendan Drechsler. On Sunday we rise from 68kg to 69kg while Gobstopper jumps from 64kg to 66.5kg.

Gobstopper will push forward and give us something to chase again. I will have to keep the Kiwi horse in my sights throughout as he is a very good hurdler.

Gobstopper isn’t the only Kiwi to be worried about. Tallyho Twinkletoe is a talented jumper. Kevin Myers has sent him across to Patrick Payne’s stable for a crack at both the GN Hurdle and GN Steeple. There are big raps on the horse.

Kathryn Durden’s Comics finished off solidly for second at Pakenham recently and is progressing well in his first season over the jumps. He looks a lightweight chance on Sunday.

Felix Bay is better weighted under the handicap conditions of the Grand National. He had 66kg and had to give Gobstopper two kilos in the Drechsler, finishing fourth and five lengths from the winner. Felix Bay meets his three kilos better on Sunday.

Best of the others may be the Aaron Purcell-trained Double Bluff.

He raced below his best at Pakenham last start when carrying 67kg.

His previous form was encouraging. He led all the way to score over 3200m at Sandown three runs back before narrowly holding off Andrea Mantegna in the South Australian Grand National Hurdle.

Double Bluff drops to 64kg on Sunday and can improve.

Wells the one — again

Sunday’s other jumps feature at Sandown is the Crisp Steeplechase (4200 metres).

I’m seeking my fifth win in this coveted event, having scored on Geeorb in 2008, followed by three victories on the great Bashboy in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Unfortunately Bit of a Lad isn’t in the same class as Bashboy and we are taking on the champion Wells.

Wells will bid for his fourth Grand National Steeplechase crown later this month and he showed he’s as good as ever with his tough win over Lucky Tonight in the Mosstrooper Steeple at Pakenham last start (July 21). He carried 70kg under the set-weights conditions of the Mosstrooper and he has the same impost on Sunday.

Bit of a Lad only gets 1.5 kilos off Wells and he is probably too close at the weights to beat him — but we’ll be out there having a crack!

Bit of a Lad won the first jumping race of the season (March 14) and Ciaron Maher and David Eustace have done a great job to have him still in top shape for his shot at the Crisp. I schooled the horse at Ballarat recently and he looks fantastic.

Switch to the smaller obstacles

In the benchmark 120 hurdle on Sunday I have My Four Oh Nine switching back to the hurdles after he finished off well for second behind Sweet Lullaby in a steeplechase.

My Four Oh Nine is a pretty durable galloper, nice and fit, and he should prove competitive.

There are a couple in this race that I’ve had a bit to do with. I won a trial on Aloft for Eric Musgrove back in April and thought he was a great hope to win a maiden at Warrnambool during the May carnival. He started the hot favourite and raced poorly, finishing fifth.

Shane Jackson rode Aloft when the horse won a trial at Traralgon on July 26 so maybe he’s ready to show his best over raceday obstacles now.