The Willie Mullins-trained The Midnight Club, as short as 16/1 co-favourite for the John Smith’s Grand National prior to his run in the Clonmel Festival Week Chase on February 2, has been pushed out to a general offer of 25/1 (33/1 in places), following a disappointing effort in finishing third of the five-runner field behind the mare Leanne, writes Elliot Slater.
The Midnight Club had been fairly confidently expected to get his name on the score sheet for the first time this term having already had a couple of outings, being unluckily brought down early on in a Leopardstown handicap hurdle in late-December on his seasonal bow then running a respectable fourth to Apt Approach in a listed chase at Tramore a couple of days later. Those searching for Grand National free bets will not have been disheartened.
With Mullins’ team in scintillating form bookmakers were taking no chances in making the 11-year-old a 4/5 favourite, but last season’s Grand National sixth was never travelling with any great purpose and was under strong pressure before the home straight, eventually plugging on at the one pace to be beaten five-and-a-half-lengths by the surprise winner. His rider, Ruby Walsh, was quick to blame the heavy ground, explaining that the horse was never at ease on the surface and refusing to be downhearted at the performance.
It should be noted though that the gelded son of Flemensfirth has shown much of his very best form on heavy ground in the past, indeed he won the Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase in those conditions at Fairyhouse a little less than a year ago to catapult himself to the head of the ante-post list for last year’s Aintree spectacular, a race for which he eventually started clear favourite having been the subject of a massive international gamble down to a starting price of just 15/2.