After two near-misses at Cheltenham last week, trainer Martin Brassil could do with a change of luck as he prepares Longhouse Poet for another run in the Randox Grand National next month.
Having his first try over the unique spruce-topped fences in last year’s renewal, he travelled strongly and was still in with a chance two out before fading to sixth under Darragh O’Keeffe.
A general 20-1 chance for the race this time, he is on an unchanged rating of 155 and is currently due to carry 4lb less than last year’s 11st for his return in the Liverpool spectacular.
The nine-year-old has had his chase mark protected by running over hurdles this term and he was quick enough to land a two-and-a-half-mile handicap at Limerick on Boxing Day.
Though he unseated JJ Slevin at the first obstacle on his return to fences in the Bobbjo Chase at Fairyhouse, he showed his well-being with victory over Roi Mage over three and a quarter miles at Down Royal last Friday.
Brassil feels that prep run will bring him on and said: “He came out of the race great and we are really looking forward to Aintree with him.
“He just did a bit too much in the race last year. He over-raced a bit.
“It was his first time there and he was very exuberant. He is such a good jumper, he was making ground over the fences and Darragh (O’Keeffe) was inclined to let him enjoy it.
“He needed to have a little quiet time at some stage in the race, to slot in behind a few. He did all the donkey work, really.”
Brassil is hopeful Slevin will be able to take the ride this time, but is anxiously awaiting the outcome of a possible totting-up suspension for the rider.
He explained: “JJ Slevin will ride hopefully. He is not sure yet because he got an eight-day ban for An Epic Song and he got three the other day for something else.
“So he is having a look at that and hasn’t yet come back to me to tell me what’s the story. I haven’t got anyone else in mind, though.”
Though hopeful of another big run, dangers abound and Brassil, who won the National with Numbersixvalverde 17 years ago, thinks there are some well-handicapped horses in opposition.
He added: “You can never be confident in the National. The horse who beat Fastorslow at Cheltenham (Corach Rambler) seems to be fired in on his form and has no weight.
“Roi Mage has a nice weight too and that grey horse of Gavin Cromwell’s (Vanillier), he is nicely-in, too – he’s a nice staying type of horse.”
For the Kildare handler it was a case of so near but yet so far at Cheltenham, with Fastorslow beaten a neck in the Ultima and An Epic Song downed by Langer Dan in the Coral Cup, a head separating the pair.
“Even if one of them won it would have been great,” said Brassil. “It was a great meeting, but I felt a bit sorry for Fastorslow, as the winner got the ride of the meeting, I’d say.
“It happened right for that horse in particular, but if we’d have got to the front a bit sooner, we might have beaten him.
“He’s come home great from it and we are very happy with him.
“There are no plans for Aintree, but Punchestown maybe. There will be something for him anyway, although I haven’t looked at it yet.”
An Epic Song, who was equipped with cheekpieces for the first time, may be held back for a novice chasing campaign next season, should the ground firm up.
Brassil added: “We were thrilled with his run, but I think the winner was laid out for the race, because he had a bit of bad luck the last couple of years. He ran into a machine the first time (in Galopin Des Champs) and then he was brought down the following year. I’d say they had the plan for that.
“The cheekpieces seemed to work, but the ground on the slow side helped him more than anything, He is very ground dependent.
“We have to wait and see what the ground is, but he will probably go chasing in the autumn.”
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