Tuesday, February 21, 2023

TRAINER John “Shark” Hanlon shrugged off the handicapper’s decision to make Hewick the joint-top weight for the Randox Grand National, as his bargain €850 purchase bids to make horseracing history.

John ‘Shark’ Hanlon with Hewick
Photo: RVN Mangement/The Jockey Club

The Bagenalstown based handler plans to run Hewick in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup on 17 March, before sending him to Aintree for the world’s greatest steeplechase on 15 April.

But in order to join 1934 winner Golden Miller as the only horse to triumph in both races in the same season, the eight year old must overcome top weight of 11st 12lbs after being rated 167.

Hewick was in contention to win last year’s Kerry National when also given top weight, but unseated at the final fence.

Hewick already has a ‘National’ win to his name, having taken the US version at Far Hills, New Jersey, in October. Battleship is the only horse in history to win both the American and Aintree Grand Nationals. Successful in the American version in 1934, he won at Aintree four years later (1938) under 17 year old jockey Bruce Hobbs.

And Hanlon is philosophical about the task ahead. He said: “Hewick has a big weight, but he’s used to carrying a big weight. What can we do? There isn’t anything we can do about it. When they’re good they get those weights and that’s it.

“He gave a stone-and-a-half to everything in Listowel that was going to beat him so I don’t see why we wouldn’t go again.”

And while Hanlon and connections are dreaming of success with Hewick he has a second chance at a fairytale result with Cape Gentleman.

Just getting the 2020 Irish Cesarewitch winner into the race is a historical landmark, as his owners’ family won the Grand National exactly 100 years ago.

Cape Gentleman was successful in Graded company over both hurdles and fences for his previous trainer Emmet Mullins and made his debut for Hanlon when finishing down the field in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.

The seven year old is now owned by Pierre Manigault, whose great-grandfather, Stephen Sanford won the Grand National with 13 year old Sergeant Murphy in 1923.

After learning his weight – 10st 8lbs – for the 15 April race at Aintree, Hanlon added: “That’s lovely, I’m very happy with that. I’m delighted with that weight – he’ll think he is loose. I’d say they’ll both run.”

Meanwhile fellow Irish trainer Ted Walsh claimed he was “absolutely shocked” that his stable star Any Second Now is joint top weight for the Grand National.

Despite the allocation of 11st 12lb he will bid to go one better than he did last year, when finishing two and a quarter lengths behind winner Noble Yeats. Since then the 11 year old has finished second in a 2m 3f hurdle contest at Punchestown on New Year’s eve and fourth in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown earlier this month.

And after learning the weight his JP McManus-owned gelding has been allotted, trainer Ted Walsh said: “All I can say is that I know he’s not Red Rum, I know he’s not a Crisp and he’s not a L’Escargot, so make your own mind up.

“I’m absolutely shocked that he has top weight. He goes there in as good form as he did last year. He is in as good nick as he was last year but he’s got top weight so make your own mind up. I think he’d have to be an exceptional horse to win it with top weight.”

Reflecting on his 2000 Grand National win, he added: “Winning with Papillon was great. Winning the National is an outstanding moment but to have your son on board makes it all the sweeter.”

By The Jockey Club

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