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John Smiths Grand National and the Kent Derby - Central Park 480m - £8,000/£7,000

 

RAZLDAZL RAIDIO (pictured above setting a new track record at Sheffield) will start one of the hottest favourites of the Grand National in recent years when he lines up in Tuesday’s £8,000-to-the-winner John Smiths-sponsored final with a chance to land trainer Ricky Holloway a third victory in the jumpers’ Classic.

 

However, in doing so, the prolific-scoring timber-topper will need to dethrone old rival and current GBGB Hurdler of the Year Ballymac Manix, who chased him home in Wednesday’s semi-finals at the Kent venue. The pair have dominated the hurdling scene in recent years.

 

Pacing up well to edge fast-starting Fridays Sean into the turn in the second semi, Razldazl Raidio drew clear down the back to win by six and a half lengths from running-on Ballymac Manix in 29.14sec (-10), with 2015 runner-up Julius George, trained by Tony Taylor, qualifying in third.

 

The first semi went to another noted trainer of top-class hurdlers in Barry O’Sullivan’s Mystical Charlie (29.46sec) who was always in command as he strode out to score from staying-on Razldazl Star, a second Holloway-trained finalist, by one and a half lengths. Third-placed Ballymac Leo completes Tuesday’s finalists for the David Mullins team.

 

Wins for Jos Cigar at Wimbledon in 2007 and Mo’s Bullet at Central Park in 2015 give Holloway two Grand National wins, with Seamus Cahill having landed a trio of titles courtesy of Hotdog Jack (2009), Mash Mad Snowy (2013) and, of course, Ballymac Manix twelve months ago.

 

Barry O’Sullivan, trainer of Mystical Charlie, has a Grand National title on his CV with Dynamic Display having won at Hall Green in 1996, while Ballymac Leo’s handler David Mullins dead-heated with Pottos Storm in 1999, ironically with Hello Buttons, trained by his mother Linda.

 

“It promises to be a great final,” said Dan Homewood, deputy racing manager at Central Park. “We’re delighted to have another showdown between the two big stars of recent years in Razdazl Raidio and Ballymac Manix. Raidio is one of the fastest hurdlers of recent times and has done Ricky proud, but Manix will not give his title easily I’m sure!

 

“On times alone, he has a lot to find going into Tuesday's final, but Seamus’s dog has always risen to the challenge on the big night. Who can forget that fantastic run at Towcester to get up on the line to snatch the Champion Hurdle title, when he looked out of contention at halfway.

 

“You certainly can't forget the rest of the field, however. Mystical Charlie and Ballymac Leo put plenty of early speed to the race, and Ricky is two-handed of course with Razdazl Star making this Category One final in only his fourth hurdles race - a great achievement for a novice. And then we have that grand servant of Tony Taylor’s in Julius George. What a story that is at five years of age.”

 

Homewood also oversaw with his racing office colleagues the semi-finals of the Cearnsport Kent Derby, which produced a host of terrific performances not least from near-senior Barricane Tiger who secured a spot in another Category One final as he led home a Patrick Janssens one-two in the first semi.

 

The race saw favourite Black Zack left at the traps as he stumbled on exiting, losing all chance, with Bockos Alfie leading up before being outstayed by his kennelmate, the 2016 Sussex Cup champion and last year’s Kent Derby third, who went on to score by almost three lengths in 28.68sec.

 

The Seamus Cahill-trained Silverhill Conor (28.92sec) struck late and fast to claim a half-a-length victory in the second semi, denying longtime leader Dorotas Del Mar (Kevin Hutton) who nevertheless qualifies for Tuesday’s £7,000 final, while the Cahill double was completed in the third semi-final by favourite Droopys Gold (28.92sec), who led home Liz McNair’s King Kid in a superb finale.

 

Deputy RM Homewood feels Tuesday’s final is wide open. “Droopys Gold is the only unbeaten runner, but Barricane Tiger impressed in his semi, showing pace throughout to post the quickest of the semi-final times. Both wide runners are strong sorts - especially the McNairs' King Kid. 

 

“He’s a dog who clocked 15.99sec for two bends at Wimbledon but still hasn't broken round Central Park, but has been finishing well.”