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Big Fella Thanks and Character Building Continue on John Smith’s Grand National Trail 23/02/11

Ferdy Murphy is delighted with John Smith’s Grand National hope Big Fella Thanks following the nine-year-old’s fourth place in the Grade One Ascot Chase at Ascot last Saturday, and is planning to get one more run into his charge before the Aintree spectacular on Saturday, April 9.

Big Fella Thanks ridden by Assistant Trainer Tory Hayter at trainer Ferdy Murphy's yard at West Witton
© Grossick Racing Photography

Big Fella Thanks
The Margaret Findlay-owned gelding joined the Leyburn trainer after finishing fourth in last year’s running of the John Smith’s Grand National for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, and Murphy is excited about the gelding’s prospects ahead of this year’s renewal of the iconic chase over four and a half miles, which carries record prize money of £950,000.

Big Fella Thanks is 20/1 with totesport, official betting partner of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National meeting.

Murphy revealed today: “We were absolutely over the moon with Big Fella Thanks on Saturday - he ran an absolute blinder. Even better, he has come out of the race incredible. He was a handful on Monday morning - really fresh and really well - so we are delighted with him.

“We could have done without the rain at Ascot and even with that he was close to being third in a Grade One. We are really pleased with him and we’ll take him to Newbury on March 5. He was a bit fresh the other day and we just need another run to get the freshness off him. He will go straight on to Aintree from there, he won’t go to Cheltenham.”

Big Fella Thanks’ fourth to Riverside Theatre at the weekend followed a fall in the Hennessy at Newbury the time before, while the form of his seasonal bow at Carlisle in October is working out well. Hey Big Spender, who defeated Murphy’s charge by a length in Cumbria, went on to score impressively at Warwick earlier this month.

Murphy continued: “We should have won at Carlisle when he was second. Hey Big Spender missed the second-last and made a bad mistake - we have ended up in front and he has just pulled up. Graham (Lee) had intended not to hit the front until after the last. Ruby Walsh had told Graham that the horse thinks he has enough done when he gets to the front, so we tried to get our timing right and it just didn’t work out.

“That form is working out though and we learned a bit about him in the Hennessy when he fell, he was too fresh so because of that we rode him wide on the track at Ascot on Saturday and gave him plenty of time to look at his fences.”

Character Building (right)
© racing-images.co.uk

Character Building
John Quinn is looking to get another run into Character Building (40/1 with totesport) as he steps up the grey gelding’s preparation for this year’s running of the John Smith’s Grand National.

The historic race has always been the target for the 11-year-old, who emerged as a leading fancy for the 2009 John Smith’s Grand National after winning the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at that year’s Cheltenham Festival, only to succumb to injury shortly before his Aintree date.

Character Building was purchased by David and Patricia Thompson of Cheveley Park Stud on the eve of the 2010 race, in a move similar to that which saw the owner buy Party Politics before the giant gelding won the 1992 John Smith’s Grand National. But history was not repeated as Character Building came home seventh under Nina Carberry behind Don’t Push It.

Quinn revealed today: “He will definitely have a run before the John Smith’s Grand National.

“On the face of it, he ran fairly well in last year’s National. He had a run over hurdles and then ran at Cheltenham in the Festival Trophy when he ran alright but they were just too good and too quick for him. He only had the two runs because he had an interrupted prep, so he is certainly in better shape this year.

“He ran really well first time at Aintree and then disappointed at Cheltenham in a tongue tie, which we have left off him since. He put up a good effort to be fifth in a competitive handicap at Cheltenham in January.

“We sent him to Ffos Las last time for the good ground but unfortunately it teemed down with rain on the Friday night and Saturday morning, so the ground ended up being too soft. He still didn’t run too badly - he finished sixth and it was another competitive handicap chase.

“He has run OK this year. He is having a lot better prep than he was last year - he only had two runs to get him ready for last year’s John Smith’s Grand National.

“He goes on good to soft or soft ground but when it gets very soft or heavy, he’s not as good. The ground is important for him.”

Character Building would become only the third grey to win the Grand National should he prevail at Aintree in April. The Lamb scored twice (1868 & 1871), while the most recent grey victor was Nicolaus Silver in 1961.

The John Smith’s Grand National forms the second leg of the traditional Spring Double, the first leg of which is the Lincoln Handicap on the Flat at Doncaster on April 2. Quinn landed the Lincoln in 2006 with Blythe Knight but the trainer does not have an entry in this year’s race.

totesport currently has joint market leaders for the John Smith’s Grand National. Following his victory in Saturday’s totesport.com Grand National Trial at Haydock, Silver By Nature, who is also grey and trained by Lucinda Russell, joins the Donald McCain-trained Ballabriggs at the head of totesport’s betting on 14/1.

Last season’s winner, the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Don’t Push It, is a 20/1 shot, while Backstage, Oscar Time, The Midnight Club and Niche Market are all 16/1 at present.

The next scratchings deadline for the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National is on Tuesday, March 1, details of which will be revealed on Wednesday, March 2.

 

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