Big Shu ready for National test
(Healy Racing Photos)
A lifetime in racing and being surrounded by stallions that produced winners of the Aintree spectacular such as Team Spirit, Foinavon and L'Escargot tells him Big Shu is the real deal for what is the supreme test of a steeplechaser.
"I've always dreamed of having a National runner and now I have him. He's as good a horse that's in the National," said Maher, who is based at Ashfield Stud near Donore in Co Kildare.
Maher's grandfather Frank Latham was responsible in the 1960s and 1970s for standing some of the most influential stallions, the likes of Le Bavard and Vulgan, at nearby Blackrath Stud. But it is at Ashfield where Maher trains a team of 10 racehorses, with Big Shu his star performer.
The Big Shu story began when he was bought for €15,000 as a three-year-old at the Land Rover Sales. He was picked out by Maher's partner Caroline Woods as her father had trained Big Shu's ill-fated brother Big Boots. She retains a third of the horse along with Hugh Duffy and Richard Robinson.
Big Shu was broken-in at Ashfield Stud before learning his trade in the point-to-point field and then going hunter chasing, and he has gone to the top of the tree in the cross-country arena. He put his trainer on the map with victory in the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase at Cheltenham last year, but could not quite repeat the trick this season.
Nevertheless, Maher was delighted with his pride and joy's effort in finishing third to Cheltenham specialist Balthazar King as he felt he was not quite 100 per cent having been ill just a month earlier.
"He came out grand. Good ground is not his business and it was a better race this year. Big Shu is always best on his third run. I think he was short at Cheltenham. He'd been sick a month before," said Maher.
"Cheltenham was a remarkable run for everything to go against him. The ground went against him, things didn't go right and Balthazar King is a good horse round Cheltenham. I was just so pleased to get him back in one piece from Cheltenham after what happened during the week to the horses and jockeys that got hurt.
"Everything will go back nice and quiet. I didn't enjoy Cheltenham, there was too much pressure, and we'll slip under the radar again. If ever there was a National horse it's him. He's brave, he stays - forget about Cheltenham, but I don't want the ground too quick at Aintree.
"He was beaten far and square on the day and it was a prep run for Liverpool. Obviously we were trying to win at Cheltenham. Big Shu has won me a La Touche and won at Cheltenham. He's done more for me than I ever dreamed about.
"He'll be 105 per cent fit for Liverpool. I got a good run at Cheltenham and the cobwebs were blown off. Paul (Carberry) did a great job at Cheltenham. He got him jumping and left him confident. I can't wait to go to Liverpool."
Tidal Bay remains at the summit of the weights for the Crabbie's Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, for which 65 horses are still in contention.