ONE of the great competitions takes centre-stage at Central Park this Sunday evening (28th) with the final of the Cearnsport Grand National.
The canine version of the famous Aintree showpiece, the Grand National was first staged at White City, London, in 1927 when the perhaps appropriately named Bonzo struck gold. Only the Derby and the Oaks have been staged longer than the Grand National when it comes to greyhound racing’s major competitions.
This year’s final is a five-runner affair after the withdrawal of Jason Foster’s Barricane Jack in midweek, which denied the trainer a chance to add the Foster name to the Grand National roll of honour - again. Both Jason and his father Tommy have won Grand Nationals in the past - but so, too, have four of the trainers involved this year.
Both Seamus Cahill (Caislean Fifi) and Ricky Holloway (Turnhouse Jet) have three Grand National wins to their name and their great rivalry in the top hurdling events continues in the 2019 running of the great event.
Holloway was successful with Jos Cigar at Wimbledon in 2007 and, here at Central Park, with Mo’s Bullet (2015) and Razldazl Raidio (2017). Raidio reached no less than three Grand National finals, running-up in both 2016 and 2018, and will go down as one of the best ever given his prolific-scoring record and track records notched.
Raidio is a former GBGB Hurdler of the Year, so too Ballymac Manix, who enjoyed a stellar 2016 for Seamus Cahill. Winner of the Grand National and Springbok then, Manix joined Hotdog Jack (2009) at Wimbledon and Mash Mad Snowy (2013) at Central Park as Cahill-trained winners of the event. Cahill, like Holloway, eyes a fourth title this year.
Of course, Cahill and Holloway are not the only trainers involved this year to have fielded a Grand National winner, with both Barry O’Sullivan (Castlehill Wally) and Jim Reynolds (Emiles Eske) sending out previous champions. O’Sullivan trained Dynamic Display to win at Hall Green in 1996, while Reynolds struck with Four Handed at Wimbledon in 2004.
And even Ernie Gaskin (Mane Mane) has been touched by Grand National glory previously given he was head man to father Ernie snr when Elegant Brandy won at Hall Green in 1995. Gaskin himself, not generally a trainer of hurdlers, has trained a Springbok winner and sent out Mane Mane to reach this year’s final of the novice hurdlers’ event.
Given the Champion Hurdle is now also staged at Central Park - the first running takes place in July - it means Central Park will host all jumps racing’s triple crown events. It took on the Springbok in 2017 having first staged the Grand National in 2012 - so promoter Roger Cearns is delighted to complete the set,
Cearns, whose family-built Wimbledon Stadium, has long been a fan of this code of racing and is looking forward to final night.
He said: “Seeing a top-class hurdler in action is just fantastic, so exciting, and we’re looking forward to another great race Sunday. I’m proud to call Central Park the home of hurdling and it was great to see six different trainers qualify runners for the final - commiserations to Jason (Foster) for having to withdraw Barricane Jack.
“However, good luck to the connections of the other five finalists. They are aiming to follow in the line of some real champion hurdlers over the years. It’s a famous trophy dating back to the 1920s and we are delighted to be racing for it again this year. Hopefully whoever wins comes back and tries to win the Champion Hurdle, too!”
CEARNSPORT GRAND NATIONAL RUNNERS
Trap 1 Castlehill Wally
Owners: Oak Racing Syndicate
Trainer: Barry O’Sullivan, Central Park
Representing one of the great trainers of hurdlers in Barry O’Sullivan, Castlehill Wally is the latest in a host of Grand National finalists for the local handler and his father Terry - with the family also now able to call on Barry’s daughter Rose. Their schooling track in Kent has helped many a jumps champion and Castlehill Wally aims to do what Dynamic Display achieved when winning the Grand National for the O’Sulllivans back at Hall Green in 1996. Formerly based at Romford with Philip Simmonds where he ran in both the English and Scottish Derby and won open races at Nottingham on the flat, Castlehill Wally had no luck in the Springbok but is an H1 winner here.
Trap 2 VACANT
Trap 3 Emiles Eske
Owners: Liquor And Gravy Boys
Trainer: Jim Reynolds, Crayford
From another kennel which has enjoyed Grand National glory in the past after Four Handed won for Jim Reynolds back at Wimbledon in 2004, Emiles Eske made a winning debut for connections in a puppy race at Towcester in June 2017 - he therefore lines up as a much experienced sort. Owned by Paul Bunker, Jamie Brinkley and Stephen Bradshaw - otherwise known as the Liquor And Gravy Boys! - Emiles Eske has won races on the flat at home track Crayford from 380m to 540m including heat and final of the Crayford Maiden 540 in November. Made a winning hurdles debut in H2 and still mixes flat and hurdles contests. Will look to lead the charge inside.
Trap 4 Mane Mane (m)
Owner: Tom Mumford
Trainer: Ernie Gaskin, Central Park
Lines up in another major hurdles final at Central Park having started favourite to win the Springbok decider for novice hurdlers last month. The only unbeaten runner now left in the competition, Mane Mane will vie for favouritism with Caislean Fifi to lift the £8,000 prize. A sprint winner on the flat on his UK debut at Hove for his trainer and previous owners, Mane Mane was bought by owner Tom Mumford to go hurdling - and it has proved a shrewd move! Ernie Gaskin has not trained a huge amount of hurdlers, but won a Springbok with Blackmagic Jamie (2007), while his father, Ernie snr, won the Grand National with Elegant Brandy in 1995.
Trap 5 Turnhouse Jet (w)
Owner: Mark Cottle
Trainer: Ricky Holloway, Central Park
Lines up as the least experienced hurdler bidding to provide his trainer Ricky Holloway with a fourth Grand National title after Jos Cigar at Wimbledon in 2007 and here with Mo’s Bullet (2015) and Razldazl Raidio (2017). Incidentally, Raidio lined up in three consecutive finals having also run-up in 2016 and last year. Turnhouse Jet made a winning hurdling debut for Holloway in January and, while knocked out early in the Springbok, has progressed since. Good class on the flat at Newcastle for Gary Carmichael previously, he won two handicaps on the flat there as well as running the top-class Droopys Expert to half a length at the north east track in September.
Trap 6 Caislean Fifi (w)
Owners: Joss Barnfather, Tony Camsell, John Hardman & Jimmy Wright
Trainer: Seamus Cahill, Hove
Represents another kennel with a fantastic Grand National history given Seamus Cahill has won it no less than three times - with Hotdog Jack (2009) at Wimbledon and here twice with Mash Mad Snowy (2013) and Ballymac Manix (2017). Caislean Fifi finished second in last year’s Irish Grand National at Cork, so now looks to go one better in the English version. A consistent sort never out of the first three in his hurdles career, Caislean Fifi won races on the flat at Galway and then Newcastle for his owners, which still include his former trainer Jimmy Wright. Holder of the sprint track record here at Central Park, he renews rivalry with Mane Mane, whom he beat over C&D last month.
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