Grand National Review 2023: Corach Rambler Scores for Russell

Lucinda Russell & Derek FoxThere was drama galore before the 2023 Grand National and plenty more after the field were finally away but the 8/1 favourite Corach Rambler made light of it and won easily under Derek Fox for Lucinda Russell at Aintree on 15 April. Based in Scotland, it was a second win for Russell and Fox who triumphed in 2017 with One For Arthur.

Corach Rambler beat Gavin Cromwell’s gallant grey Vanillier (20/1) and Sean Flanagan by just over two lengths. Vanillier stayed on while Corach Rambler appeared to idle approaching the line, crossing it with his ears pricked. The next five horses home were also trained in Ireland. Willie Mullins’ Gaillard Du Mesnil (10/1) finished third under Paul Townend, beaten seven lengths. The titleholder Noble Yeats was sent off at 10/1 under Sean Bowen for Emmet Mullins and defied his substantial burden of 11 stone 11 pounds to take fourth.

Fox had recently injured his shoulder and was only passed as fit to ride on the day. Animal rights protesters were present in force and, despite a heavy police presence, breached the defences placed round the course. Without the help of the pro-racing public the race might have been delayed for more than 15 minutes.

Immediately after the race Fox praised Corach Rambler for being so clever. This nine-year-old son of Jeremy was bred by part owner Paul Hillis out of a Fourstars Allstar mare. Fourstars Allstar is known for producing thinkers, some of whom have the brains not to give their all and risk injury on a racecourse. Corach Rambler has never fallen and, despite his high head carriage, probably looks where he is going more carefully than most thoroughbreds.

He took time to grow into his frame and pulled up on both his point-to-point starts as a five-year-old but scored on his second attempt as a six-year-old in September 2020. Hillis described him as ‘a slow burner’ but was forced to sell him when his original joint owner wanted to dissolve the partnership. He was purchased for a paltry £17,000 by Russell’s partner, the eight-time champion jump jockey Michael Scudamore, at Goffs’ UK November sale in 2020.

After the reluctant sale Hillis rang Russell and asked if he could retain a share in the horse named after his favourite football team. Russell agreed and formed an unusually diverse syndicate that includes a Glaswegian based in Australia, a 30-year-old accountant and the similarly aged Abby Wood who had enjoyed having shares in other horses at the yard. There is also a widower in his sixties and a student in his 20s, Cameron Sword, who became a racing enthusiast during the pandemic.

Corach Rambler thrived in his new environment. Scudamore described him as ‘a character’. They have formed a strong bond and Scudamore rides him all the time at home. Corach Rambler had clocked up earnings of £200,000 including £70K from the Cheltenham Festival a month earlier. He won the three mile one furlong Ultima Handicap Chase under Fox. He started as the 6/1 joint favourite and took the lead after the last fence, beating Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow a neck.

Before the Grand National, Hillis, who works in construction and is a small scale breeder, said if Corach Rambler won he would dedicate the win to his wife whom he lost to leukaemia in 2022. For young Sword it was already a dream investment. He was studying for a business degree at the time and his good fortune has highlighted that you do not have to be rich to enjoy racehorse ownership.

What happened in the race?

Ironically the animal rights protests that delayed the start of the race almost certainly caused more early casualties than usual. The runners’ pre-race routine was disrupted with an exit and re-entry into the paddock, adding to their stress in the amphitheatre of the Aintree parade ring.

All the highly strung types were disadvantaged and it was an obvious source of concern for any trainer with a horse that had refused to race before. Both Gordon Elliott’s Dunboyne (50/1) and Emmet Mullins’ Mr Incredible (14/1) had form on that front. When the runners galloped away at the start there was a young man pursuing them at a speed way beyond that ever shown by any eager racecourse start attendant. Either Emmet Mullins or Elliott has a talented athlete in their team.

As the entire field of 39 started, Willie Mullins’ appropriately named Recite A Prayer (80/1) took the lead at the first with Elliott’s Coko Beach (28/1) almost equalling his pace on the wide outside. Recite A Prayer cleared the fence under Jack Foley but was cannoned into by Venetia Williams’ Cloudy Glen (80/1) who sprawled on the landing side, unseating Charlie Deutch and Foley. Sandy Thomson’s Hill Sixteen (80/1) fell midfield while Elliott’s Galvin (22/1) made a bad mistake and unshipped Davy Russell, prematurely ending his hopes of gaining a third National win. Noel Meade’s Diol Ker (100/1) made a hash of it at the back and unseated Kieren Buckley.

Harry Cobden led the field into the second fence on Coko Beach. It claimed Joe Tizzard’s The Big Breakaway (40/1) who was midfield and fell under Brendan Powell as did Elliott’s Fury Road (33/1). Joseph O’Brien’s Darasso (100/1) was badly hampered and unshipped his jockey. Henry de Bromhead’s Gabbys Cross (50/1) had similar problems but retained the partnership with Peter Carberry as did Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now (14/1) under Mark Walsh.

Coko Beach continued in the lead and was most closely pursued by Jessica Harrington’s Lifetime Ambition (33/1) and a bunch of loose horses over the open ditch at the third. The Nicky Henderson trained Mr Coffey (33/1) was prominent too under Nico de Boinville and survived interference from one of them at the fourth fence.

Two loose horses chose to jump Bechers ahead of Coko Beach who was two lengths clear of Lifetime Ambition. Donald McCain’s Minella Trump (50/1) was not far behind Mr Coffey. Corach Rambler’s white nose was visible in his wake along with Thomas Gibney’s Velvet Elvis (33/1). Brassil’s Longhouse Poet (20/1) was next under J J Slevin followed by Martin Keighley’s Back On The Lash (22/1).

The loose horses continued to lead at Foinavon and the Canal Turn, leaving Cobden trying to pick the best path. Longhouse Poet guessed at the Canal Turn and got it wrong, unshipping Slevin. The loose horses chose to run across Valentine’s and Mr Coffey took the lead as Coko Beach had to be reined back to avoid them. One of them ran across Lifetime Ambition’s path at the foot of the fence causing him to put the brakes on, sending Sean O’Keefe skywards over the obstacle, well ahead of him as he scrambled through it.

Sam Thomas’ Our Power (25/1) emerged to take third under Sam Twiston-Davis while Fox wasted no ground on Corach Rambler behind him. Vanillier and Gaillard Du Mesnil were both hacking round at the back with the most fancied English runner, Dan Skelton’s Le Milos (12/1) ridden by his brother Harry. Rachael Blackmore adopted similar tactics on the one time favourite, De Bromhead’s Ain’t That A Shame, a son of Jeremy with dubious stamina beyond three miles. Noble Yeats raced towards the rear of midfield while Dunboyne brought up the rear, not appearing to enjoy the experience.

Most of the loose horses were out of the way by the time the field reached The Chair where Coko Beach headed Mr Coffey. Our Power clouted it whilst Gabbys Cross unseated Peter Carberry and Antony Honeyball’s Sam Brown (66/1) fell. Peter Fahey’s The Big Dog (12/1) was third after the water ahead of Minella Trump. Emmet Mullins’ Mr Incredible (14/1) edged into contention under Brian Hayes alongside Corach Rambler.

Dunboyne, Any Second Now and Velvet Elvis all pulled up before the second circuit. Elliott’s Delta Work (11/1) almost went at the 21st, unseating Keith Donoghue. Tim Vaughan’s Eva’s Oskar (50/1) was hampered and unseated Alan Johns. Roi Mage (33/1) worked his way into contention by Foinavon second time as had Born By The Sea (50/1).

Mr Coffey gained a two-length lead at the Canal Turn and Mr Incredible lost Hayes soon after it when the saddle slipped. The Big Dog and Our Power pursued the leader as Coko Beach seemed to empty. Le Milos and Ain’t That A Shame edged into the picture as Mr Coffey jumped the penultimate fence with a two length advantage over Corach Rambler. The positions were reversed as they jumped the last, ending Nicky Henderson’s hopes of victory in the race that had always eluded him.

Fox was ice-cool on the strong-travelling Corach Rambler. He had a significant advantage approaching the elbow and only went for his stick after it. It was Vanillier who stayed on best but he couldn’t get close enough to launch a challenge.

Blackmore, Skelton and Townend all adopted classic, extremely patient tactics and timed their efforts perfectly but their mounts lacked the stamina required. Mr Coffey faded to finish eighth, beaten nearly 26 lengths but was the best of the English trained horses followed by Le Milos who was tenth of the 17 horses that completed the 2023 Grand National.