The Last Samuri: his Grand National bid was among topics discussed PICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
The Opening Show set the scene for the weekend’s racing from Newbury on Saturday morning, with Alice Plunkett filling in for regular host Oli Bell. Alice was joined in the studio by Luke Harvey and trainer Kim Bailey and if you were having a lie in or were on the road, here’s what you missed.
John still all the rage
More than a week has passed since Sizing John delivered his brilliant Gold Cup success at Cheltenham but the team still had plenty to discuss as viewers were treated to the wonderful scenes in at his home town of Moone in Ireland, as locals came out in force to celebrate the victory.
“I’ll never forget it, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” said trainer Jessica Harrington in a feature accompanying the footage.
There was a consensus in the studio that such moments are what makes jump racing great, with Bailey summing up why he loved seeing it so much.
“It’s jump racing at it’s best,” he said. “I’ve said it before, when has the Derby winner ever paraded through the town?
“Jump racing encompasses everybody’s attitude of what racing should be. Jessie [Harrington] is a wonderful person, she’s got great support in Ireland and to see the locals come out like that for a Gold Cup winner is lovely.”
A blow for Harvey
Recalling his first ever ride under rules, which came at Fakenham, Luke Harvey said:
“I was in front three fences from home when the horse fell. I was winded and I was stuck underneath it but I was absolutely fine. The little St John Ambulance lady came over and very kindly undid my skull cap because I was having trouble breathing.
“She took my helmet off and the horse kicked me on the back of the head and knocked me out – I was fine before she came along!”
Plunkett fights back tears
On the subject of Sizing John’s win, Alice Plunkett took time to read from a piece by former MP Esther McVey in the Racing Post earlier this week, in which she shared the story of her friend who is dying of cancer and how she picked out the winner of the Gold Cup based on her husband’s name.
Plunkett welled up as she told how Lee Evertt Alkin, terminally ill and only awake for a few hours a day, became transfixed by the final circuit of the race, sitting up and cheering as Sizing John crossed the line in front.
The presenter was clearly struggling as she read from the piece a text sent by Lee’s husband John to McVey, which read: “Thank you for the fun. Thank you for a final memory of the woman I married. Memories are made from shared moments like this.”
Plunkett herself added: “There are so many reasons to watch racing, why it touches you and why you pick a winner and I though this was a really special story.”
Make your mind up, Kim!
Kim Bailey said recently that he felt “convinced Charbel would have won” the Arkle had he not fallen two from home at Cheltenham.
Asked again about the fall on Saturday morning though, it appeared the passage of time has mellowed the trainer’s position.
“It was two out, would we have won? I don’t think, most probably, that we wouldn’t have done.”
Burke calls them home
Jonathan Burke was rocked last month by confirmation he will miss the remainder of the season with a tendon injury but the jockey has been putting his spare time to good use, it seems, as he showcased another of his talents.
He joined Richard Hoiles at Kempton last weekend where he had the opportunity to grab the mic and call home one of the day’s races, something he revealed he had dreamed of doing since he was a young boy.
Burke’s delight after the race was clear to see and he said: “It’s definitely a buzz, a different one [compared to riding] but it’s a buzz doing it.
“I got a kick out of that, especially when I got it right. I’m definitely focussed on the riding at the moment but it’s great to be able to do this and it’s definitely something I could look to do in the future.”
Bailey reveals a fortunate error
Kim Bailey was introduced with a montage of his greatest training hits, including Mr Frisk’s Grand National win in 1990. Reflecting on that success, Bailey said:
“Mr Frisk was a bit of a mistake when we bought him. I hated Bivouac as a sire and the only reason I bought him was because I recognised the underbidder, John Curtis, who I assumed must have known more about the horse than I did, so I bought him.”
Samuri all set for Aintree battle
Naturally, the show’s guest was quizzed on the wellbeing of his Grand National hopeful The Last Samuri, runner-up 12 months ago and a general 16-1 to go one better this time around.
Bailey said he was thrilled with the horse’s run in the Grimthore at Doncaster last month, a race he again stated was merely a prep for the big day and also dismissed concerns about The Last Samuri having to shoulder 12lb more than last year.
“He wasn’t tuned up to the minute [at Doncaster] and I was really pleased with the way he ran on,” Bailey said. “Touch wood, he is a phenomenal jumper.
“David Bass is not a light jockey, so he’s going to have less on his back in terms of dead weight. It’ll sit on his wither, he’s very strong in his front and at the end of the day weight will stop most things but he’ll run a cracking race.
“He worked well this morning and if the ground stays good it’ll be fantastic because he’ll bounce off it. Provided nothing goes wrong between now and then, he goes there in the form of his life.”
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