Amberleigh House  The name of Donald “Ginger” McCain will, of course, always be synonymous with that of the legendary Red Rum, whom he trained to win the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977. However, it should not be forgotten that, in 2004, 27 years after Red Rum galloped imperiously into the record books, McCain trained his fourth National winner, Amberleigh House, and became just the third trainer, after George Dockeray and Fred Rimmell, to do so.

 

 

McCain bought Amberleigh House, specifically as a National horse, for £75,000 in November, 2000, after watching him win the Emo Oil Handicap Chase, over 2 miles 4 furlongs, at Punchestown for Co. Limerick trainer Michael Hourigan the previous May. Amberleigh House made his debut in the Grand National, at 150/1, in April, 2001, and officially “chased leaders until badly hampered and brought down 8th (Canal Turn)”. However, McCain recalled the incident rather more vividly, saying, “The first time he went to Aintree he was hit sideways on by Paddy’s Return at the Canal Turn so he was at the bottom of the pile-up.”

 

 

Amberleigh House was balloted out of the Grand National in 2002, but returned in 2003 to finish a highly creditable third, beaten 14 lengths, behind Monty’s Pass. Afterwards McCain reportedly told his son, Donald Jnr., “All you’ve got to do is improve him 7lb”. Officially, Amberleigh House had only improved by 3lb by the time the Grand National rolled around again, but met his old rival Monty’s Pass on 11lb better terms than the previous year.

 

 

In any event, having been patiently ridden by Graham Lee, Amberleigh was left with plenty to do with three fences to jump, but made relentless progress in the last half a mile, eventually overhauling the wandering leader, and favourite, Clan Royal a hundred yards from the winning post and staying on to win by 3 lengths.

 

 

Amberleigh House ran in the National again in 2005, and 2006, with distinction, but Graham Lee later paid tribute to the little horse, saying, “I rode him in four Grand Nationals and he was brilliant. Although he only measured very, very small, when you showed him an Aintree fence he grew a hand. He thrived on those fences and that was before they got modified. He was a very special and brave little horse.”

 

 

The last word, though, is reserved for Ginger McCain, who told live radio listeners, “It was f****** magic, cock.”

 

 

Manifesto Novices' Chase  The Manifesto Novices’ Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 200 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. As the name suggests, the race is restricted to novice steeplechasers, aged five years and upwards, and is currently scheduled as the first race on the opening day of the three-day Grand National Festival.

The Manifesto Novices’ Chase commemorates Manifesto, who was one of the best, if not the best, Grand National performers of all time. Between 1895 and 1904, Manifesto contested the celebrated steeplechase a record eight times, winning twice, in 1897 and 1899, and finishing in the first four in 1900, 1902, 1903 and 1904; his victory, under 12st 7lb, in 1899 equalled the weight-carrying record for the Grand National.

The Manifesto Novices’ Chase was inaugurated, as a Grade 2 contest, in 2009, before being promoted to Grade 1 status three years later. In its relatively short history, Nicky Henderson and Philip Hobbs have won the race twice apiece and are, jointly, the most successful trainers in its history. The race often features horses that contested the Arkle Challenge Trophy or the Turners Novices’ Chase so, looking ahead to the 2023 renewal – due off at 1.45pm on Thursday, April 7 – those that feature prominently in the ante-post betting for either race merit close consideration.

At this still early stage, the likes of Jonbon (who is trained by Nicky Henderson), Sir Gerhard and El Fabiolo all have the potential to become top-class novice steeplechasers, but the pecking order in the division will, no doubt, become clearer as the National Hunt season unfolds. Reigning champion trainer Paul Nicholls has already gone on the record as being ‘really strong with our novice chasers’, so keep an eye on the likes of Gelino Bello, Monmiral and McFabulous, to name but three.

The War National  The War National, or ‘War National Steeplechase’ to give the race its full title, was the name given to two of the three renewals of a substitute ‘Grand National’ run at Gatwick Racecourse during World War I. Built as a replacement for Croydon Racecourse, on land beside the London to Brighton railway line – nowadays occupied by Gatwick Airport – Gatwick Racecourse opened in 1891. In 1916, with Aintree requisitioned by the War Office, the first substitute ‘National’, known as the ‘Racecourse Association Steeplechase’ was run on a specially constructed, albeit right-handed, course at Gatwick over the Grand National Distance.

The following year, the fences were stiffened somewhat and the inaugural War National Steeplechase, run on heavy going, was won by Ballymacad, ridden by Edmund ‘Ernie’ Driscoll. The second, and final, renewal of the War National Steeplechase was staged at Gatwick in 1918 and was won by Poethlyn, ridden by Ernest ‘Ernie’ Piggott, grandfather of Lester. Poethlyn went on to jusify 11/4 favouritism in the 1919 renewal of the Grand National, back at Aintree, thereby becoming the shortest-priced winner in the history of the race.

Gatwick Racecourse is, of course, long gone, having staged its final fixture on the day after German forces entered Paris during World War II. However, in 2017, Gatwick Airport marked the centenary of the inaugural War National by installing authentic jockey scales, on which passengers could weigh their luggage, in the South Terminal.

Top Novices' Hurdle  As the name suggests, the Top Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle, run over 2 miles and 103 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. Open to horses aged four years and upwards who, at the start of the current season, have yet to win over hurdles, the race is currently scheduled for the second day of the three-day Grand National Festival.

The Top Novices’ Hurdle was inaugurated in 1976, awarded Grade 2 status following the revision of the National Hunt Pattern in 1989 and further elevated, to Grade 1 status, in 2016. In its history, two winners – Granville Again (1991) and Buveur D’Air (2016) – have gone on to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, while the 2012 winner, Darlan, was ante-post favourite for the two-mile hurdling championship when suffering a fatal fall at Doncaster a month before the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

The position of the Top Novices’ Hurdle in the National Hunt calendar makes it an obvious late-season target for horses that previously contested the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival; the 2022 winner, Jonbon, for example, finished second at Cheltenham. However, the last horse to win both races was the ill-fated Browne’s Gazette, trained by Michael Dickinson, way back in 1984.

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Darlan and Buveur D’Air, also saddled General Miller (2010), My Tent Or Yours (2013), Josses Hill (2014) and Jonbon (2022) to victory for a total of six wins and is the most successul handler in the history of the Top Novices’ Hurdle. Granted his previous record, punters might do well to keep an eye on the Master of Seven Barrows, who appears to have a strong team of novice hurdlers for the 2022/23 season.