Trainer David Bridgwater has unfinished business with the Grand National and believes The Conditional could win it. Bridgwater was narrowly denied victory as a jockey in Aintree’s showpiece in 1996. He was beaten and slightly hampered by an elated Mick Fitzgerald on Rough Quest when riding Encore Un Peu for Martin Pipe. It was a breath-taking dual that played out 16 lengths ahead of their closest pursuers.
Bridgwater told Fitzgerald that The Conditional would win the National after he finished second in the Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot on December 22. Ridden not far from the front by Brendan Powell, he belted the tenth fence so hard that he dropped back through the field but gradually regained momentum. He challenged for the lead before what would have been two from home if the last fence had not been omitted and finished nearly two lengths behind Colin Tizzard’s Mister Malarky.
The winner had been prominent from the start under Harry Cobden and established a clear lead by the eighth fence. Owned by the Hezels, this son of Malinas put in an impressive round of jumping that included some spectacular leaps out of the heavy ground. He had his ears pricked and seemed to gain a second wind as he circumnavigated the last over the stamina-testing three miles. Cobden enjoyed the experience and said that he would ride him in the National. It was a remark fuelled by Mister Malarky’s exceptional jumping display rather than any intentions expressed by the trainer.
The Conditional started as the 7/2 second favourite whilst Mister Malarky was largely ignored by punters at 16/1. The Tizzard stable was not in the best form and Mister Malarky had failed to complete in two of his three runs since his win in a Grade 3 Handicap Chase at Kempton in late February.
The Conditional won in the Spring too, over three miles and a furlong in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, Mister Malarky was pulled up two out. He beat the Ben Pauling-trained Kildisart a neck under Powell on the soft ground providing his octogenarian owner Peter Cave and Bridgwater with a first Festival winner.
It was the second time this nine-year-old son of Kalanisi out of a Saddlers’ Hall mare had demonstrated his proficiency at Prestbury Park. He won a Class 2 handicap chase there over three miles and a furlong in October 2019. Ridden by Tom Cannon, he was sent off at 14/1 and beat Tizzard’s West Approach, the 4/1 favourite by nearly two lengths.
There is no stiffer test of jumping ability than Cheltenham and The Conditional can certainly cope with it. He has only hit the deck once in his 23 starts over obstacles. He fell in December 2018 on his second run over regulation fences when he was trained in Tipperary by Martin Hassett and has found a leg ever since.
His owner has taken a serious tumble more recently. In 2019 Cave was knocked over by two young horses at Bridgwater’s yard and hit the concrete pretty hard. He was unconscious for four days and broke his hip. After a month in hospital, it took a similar time to recover fully at home. The Ultima win was a welcome tonic. Bridgwater mentioned then that The Conditional had been bought as a long-term National prospect so his comment to Fitzgerald was not a throwaway line.
It would be great for horse racing if The Conditional could fulfil the dreams of his owner and trainer but what chance does he stand? He is usually an efficient rather than spectacular jumper which is no bad thing over the Grand National fences. He does make the odd mistake but his record demonstrates his ability to stay upright. On paper he looks to stand a better chance than most of surviving Aintree’s fences but his stamina for extreme distances is unproven.
There was confidence that he could handle the three mile, five furlong trip of a Grade 3 handicap chase on soft at Warwick in January. He started as the 4/1 favourite but did not appear to get the distance and emptied close to home, he was beaten 22 lengths into fourth by Tom Lacey’s Kimberlite Candy. The Conditional was shouldering 11 stone 6 at the time.
He is likely to have a lighter weight in the National and less testing ground could help him get home. The general consensus is that The Conditional is at his most effective on a left-handed track so that is one tick in the box for his chances at Aintree and an excuse if one were needed for his defeat at the right-handed Ascot. Bridgwater’s characteristic optimism may not be completely misplaced. At his current price of 25/1 in the Grand National betting he looks a decent each-way prospect.