The green and gold silks of JP McManus (pictured above) are synonymous with National Hunt racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Irish billionaire is the most successful owner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, a record he will be hoping to gain more of a foothold on with a few more victories this year, while he reached the incredible 4000-winner mark back in January.
The Grand National is a race that has perhaps eluded him more than he would have liked over the years though. AP McCoy gifted him his first success with Don’t Push It in 2010 and it wasn’t until last year that the brilliant Rachael Blackmore delivered his second triumph — riding Minella Times to glory in a renewal of the National that be remembered for years to come.
However, McManus will be hoping that he doesn’t have to wait another decade for his hat-trick. He has a couple of horses already prominent in the ante-post market, but can he win the famous, old race back-to-back? Let’s take a look at some of his best chances.
Any Second Now
One of the favourites to win the Aintree spectacle last year, Any Second Now is back at the fore of the Grant National tips 12 months on. The current ante-post market leader for the marathon contest, Any Second now came home in third for McManus, trainer Ted Walsh and jockey Mark Walsh last April — finishing over eight lengths behind Minella Times and Blackmore.
The National-winning jockey was in the 10-year-old’s saddle for his seasonal reappearance at Navan in December, but could fare no better than ninth in the Grade B contest. Walsh took back his usual place in the saddle in January, this time finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park.
Any Second Now’s winless run was ended in February, landing the Grade 3 Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse and it looks like he’ll head straight for Merseyside on the back of that success. It’s been 22 years now since Walsh trained National winner Papillon, ridden by his son Ruby, so it’s about time the 71-year-old ended that lengthy drought.
Not far behind Any Second Now in the Grand National ante-post market at the time of writing, Enjoy D’allen is currently the third favourite to win the race at 14/1. Yet to compete outside of Ireland, the eight-year-old got off to the perfect start when switched from Dot Love’s yard to Ciaran Murphy’s in January 2021 — winning a novice chase at Fairyhouse just days after the move and then tasting success again at Thurles in a Handicap Chase later in the month.
However, Enjoy D’allen hasn’t been back in the winner’s enclosure since — rounding off last season two second-place finishes and a third. He’s been tested back over hurdles this campaign, coming home in seventh and fifth in his two attempts. It was the run in between that was perhaps the most impressive though, finishing third from 28/1 in the Paddy Power Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
Interestingly, the Murphy-trained horse has placed in the front three in all 10 of his chases. So, the eight-year-old could certainly be both worth a small each-way wager at his current odds of 14/1.
Minella Times’ victory last year was written in the stars for Blackmore and trainer Henry de Bromhead. After what they had achieved at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, picking up six winners each and sending records tumbling galore over the course of the four days, there was a real sense that the Grand National title was heading back to quiet Knockeen in County Waterford — joining the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase on De Bromhead’s mantlepiece.
It was an impressive run nonetheless, with history playing out in front of our eyes as Blackmore and Minella Times jumped the last couple of fences in the lead, came around the elbow and stormed up the home straight to win by over six lengths clear of Balko Des Flos — another entry from De Bromhead’s yard. The 31-year-old becoming the first female winner of the National in the process.
The nine-year-old hasn’t been able to hit the same notes again so far this season though. Derek O’Connor was in the saddle for his seasonal reappearance in December, falling in the Punchestown Chase, before Blackmore pulled Minella Times up in the Leopardstown Handicap Chase in February. At general odds of 66/1 and 25/1, they aren’t exactly races the horse was expected to win. But failing to finish in either is certainly cause for concern.