Grand National - At The Races

Carl Llewellyn

    Carl Llewellyn, an Aintree legend and assistant trainer to Nigel Twiston-Davies, gives his verdict on Blaklion’s bid to improve on last year’s fourth place - he also reflects on riding Earth Summit in 1998 and Party Politics in 1992 to Grand National glory.

Dual Grand National winner Carl Llewellyn insists the weather is the key to BLAKLION’s chance in Saturday’s renewal - even though the gelding has won top prizes on good and heavy ground.

Llewellyn, who rode PARTY POLITICS (1992) and EARTH SUMMIT (1998) to Aintree glory and is long-time assistant to the nine-year-old’s trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, said: “If it dries out to good to soft, or even better, he’s the one they’ve all got to beat.

“But if it stays soft or goes heavy, his prospects will be diminished. Yes he goes on all sorts of ground, but he’s a small horse with a big weight to carry and the softer it gets the harder his task becomes.

“When Earth Summit won, the better performance ratings-wise came from runner-up Suny Bay. He put up a terrific display under 12 stone, but couldn’t give 23lb to my horse who also stayed forever and relished testing conditions.

“Blaklion will face a similar scenario if the ground is attritional. It won’t stop him running very well, but he’ll be more vulnerable to horses lower down the handicap.”

Last year’s fourth (travelled like the winner turning for home and seemingly hit the front too soon) has had a wind operation since his well-beaten second in the Haydock trial two months ago.

Llewellyn says the signs at home have been promising and he appears in tip-top shape for the return to Aintree, where he justified heavily-backed favouritism in the Becher Chase before Christmas.

“He would have had an easy time after Haydock anyway so didn’t miss any key work after the wind op. He came back when we wanted him to and has done everything we’ve asked of him, so he’s had a good preparation.

Race replay: Blaklion finishes fourth in the 2017 Grand National.

“I thought he ran better last time than the winning distance suggests. The ground that day was as bad as it gets anywhere and he had topweight. Only three of the eight runners finished and we beat the third even further than the winner beat us, which tells you how desperate conditions were.

“Despite his size, he’s looked a natural over the National fences from day one. He’s such an athletic jumper he quickly gets into a rhythm round there and is a joy to watch.

“He got there going too well for Noel Fehily last year and I’m sure Sam (Twiston-Davies) will want to hold on to him for a bit longer this time.”

Twenty years ago the pre-race deluge was greeted with open arms by Llewellyn - now he’s hoping for a couple of significant drying days towards the end of the week.

“I remember being out the night before in Liverpool and it was pouring with rain,” he said. “I couldn’t have been happier because the softer the ground became the better it was for Earth Summit.

“At the start he could be a bit funny trying to plant himself and that was the first anxious moment, but he jumped off.

"I purposely went out wide, as I wanted to keep out the way of the other horses and the ground was fresher there. I didn't want to be around other horses, as he could curl up under you.

"The race went very smoothly. He travelled very well. He got distracted at one fence, I think it was one of the ditches he got in close to, but he was very clever.

“Apart from that, he never touched a twig and never gave me a nervous moment. The further he went, the more the opposition went away. He got there travelling as good as you can in a National. The only thing that could get him beat was me and luckily I didn't do that.

Race replay: Carl Llewellyn wins the 1998 Grand National aboard Earth Summit.

“The first time I won it, on Party Politics, I didn't take it all in. It was a bit of a blur and I couldn't really believe it had happened. I enjoyed the second win as I felt as confident as you can be with the ground and the horse.

“It was the best walk-in in the world into the unsaddling enclosure and it was fantastic doing it again. You want it to go on forever, as all the crowd get behind you and it’s an unbelievable atmosphere.”

Race replay: Carl Llewellyn wins the 1992 Grand National aboard Party Politics.