The turf

My top tip for the Grand National in 2023

1 May 2021

9:00 AM

1 May 2021

9:00 AM

Want to know the winner of the Grand National in 2023? You heard it here first: when the ante-post books open, get in early on Kitty’s Light, trained by Christian Williams and to be ridden, I hope, by Jack Tudor.

Being married to a racing scribe is a bit like being an angler’s wife: you hear rather too often the tales of the one that got away. Mrs Oakley is so inured to my hard luck stories that she tells all her friends they can be sure that any horse I recommend will finish second. But after Sandown Park’s jump racing finale last Saturday, she conceded my point and consolingly opened a bottle of the expensive Condrieu we reserve for special occasions.

Kitty’s Light caught my eye in the three-mile Badger Beers Chase at Wincanton on 7 November last year. He was kept in the rear by Jack Tudor but started to improve from four fences out. At the third last, still 20 lengths behind the leader, he was almost brought down by a faller but then began to motor, scything through his rivals. Still eight lengths down at the last, with El Presente and Potterman battling in front of him, he was still gaining fast at the line to finish just three lengths behind them. He went straight into my notebook and was recommended to Spectator readers as one of our Twelve to Follow.

When I learned that Christian Williams was targeting him at the Bet365 Gold Cup over 3m 5f on championship finals day, I went in ante post and doubled my bet on the day. Williams, having tuned him up in an all-weather bumper and by winning a chase at Kelso, had Kitty’s Light looking a picture and Jack Tudor, as usual keeping his mount in the rear, rode a perfect waiting race. I was certain that, if he was in touch with the leaders over the last, he would win and sure enough Jack worked his way through the field to be fifth at that point. Enrilo led at the last, with Kitty’s Light’s old rivals El Presente and Potterman challenging. The quickening Kitty’s Light went left to challenge Enrilo, Potterman went right and just as Kitty’s Light reached Enrilo’s girths the leader swerved left hampering his challenger and carrying him towards the stands. After a 25-minute deliberation, the stewards disqualified Enrilo for the interference and placed him behind Kitty’s Light. But since the unimpeded Potterman had, on the other side of the course, reached the finishing line just a short head in advance of Kitty’s Light it was Potterman who had to be given the race. Christian Williams contented himself with saying gracefully that he felt sorry for Kitty’s Light’s owners and rider since he had proved himself the best horse in the race, but it was a truly cruel twist of fate.

Kitty’s Light isn’t a big horse but, as the saying goes, ‘It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight which matters but the size of the heart in the dog.’ Tiger Roll is none too big either but Kitty’s Light is like him in that he is running on with zest at the point when others start feeling the pain of oxygen starvation and rolling like sailors on the foredeck in a storm. And why the 2023 Grand National? Because he is still too young at only five to qualify to run in 2022.

It was sad that Harry Skelton was riding Enrilo because the disqualification and four-day ban he incurred took the gloss off the celebrations over him becoming champion jockey, a wonderful family triumph for showjumper Nick Skelton and his sons since brother Dan trained 136 of the 152 winners Harry rode in wresting the title from northern rider Brian Hughes. You might think that the loss of the £115,000 prize for the Bet365 Gold Cup would by comparison have mattered little to Enrilo’s trainer Paul Nicholls, who headed the trainers’ table for the twelfth time with 176 winners of £2,476,477, but you would be wrong. What keeps Paul on top of that table is a totally undimmed thirst for winners every day. He has now trained nearly 3,300, including a personal-record 172 this season.

It is a measure of how much he dominates his sport that Harry Skelton started his riding career at Paul’s Ditcheat stables, that Dan was his assistant trainer before he set up on his own, that the effervescent Bryony Frost, England’s nearest answer to Rachael Blackmore, has made her career with Nicholls and that even Kitty’s Light’s trainer Christian Williams has been a Ditcheat jockey too. Dan Skelton is the bookies’ favourite to succeed Nicholls as the champion trainer, but I suspect he will have to wait a while. Paul is only 59 and as he said at the end of his first autobiography (there will surely have to be another) the very thought of retiring frightens him to death. ‘Without training I would be lost. It is the only thing I know and the only thing I want to do.’

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