HORSE RACING: Live On BBC1: Sat 16:15 Leading pundit Charlie McCann previews Saturday’s Grand National. Charlie has backed Big Fella Thanks and State of Play with preference for the latter.
Four-and-a-half-miles over thirty demanding fences the John Smith’s Grand National remains a unique test. Mon Mome caused a shock last year when becoming the first horse since Foinavon back in 1967 to win at odds of 100/1 suggesting the Great race has lost none of its charm or mystique.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls saddles today’s favourite Big Fella Thanks (7/1 at StanJames.com) named after owner Harry Findlay’s legendary white greyhound who won the Irish Coursing Derby back in 1999. Big Fella Thanks was sixth in the race last year behind Mon Mome when trying to become the first seven-year-old since Bogskar in1940 to land the prize. It was the idea of jockey Ruby Walsh to run the horse over two-and-a-half-miles at Newbury for his prep run for Aintree and he duly obliged despite the trip being well short of his best.
That run allied to the poor performance of Tricky Trickster (another 7-y-o trying to break the 70 year Aintree hoodoo) in the Gold Cup persuaded Walsh to side with Big Fella Thanks this afternoon. Nicholls didn’t have the best of Cheltenham festivals by his own high standards following the defeat of short-priced favourites Master Minded and Kauto Star and he has never saddled the winner of the National; the one glaring omission on his remarkable CV.
Walsh rode his first National winner in 2000 on Papillion for father Ted (no his dad’s a racehorse trainer called Ted. Fr Ted Crilly never trained horses at Craggy Island to my knowledge although with Fr Dougal Maguire he did have an unsuccessful Eurovision song entitled My Lovely Horse) and his second in 2005 aboard Hedgehunter. Five years on and Big Fella Thanks has every chance of keeping the sequence going for the excellent Walsh.
I have backed Big Fella Thanks but also State Of Play (16/1 with StanJames.com) and it is the latter who is the recommendation despite the fact that the statisticians will tell you he has no chance given his lengthy absence from the course. Trained in Wales by Evan Williams the horse has a touch of class but has been off the track since disappointing in the Hennessy Gold Cup back in November. He will love the drying ground, goes well fresh and ran a cracker to finish fourth in the corresponding race last year with a similar preparation.
The selection would have finished much closer to Mon Mome but for a couple of mistakes on the run to Bechers Brook second time around and he has a weight pull with many of the fancied runners including Big Fella Thanks who he finished 4l in front of in 2009.
Lottery was the first winner of the Grand National and after Mon Mome’s 100/1 shock there will be many sharpening the pin ahead of the today’s race. My own pin has come down on State Of Play and Big Fella Thanks although there are 38 dangers and 30 of the most demanding fences in the world to negotiate.
If you are backing each way do remember that different bookmakers will offer different place terms; at StanJames.com we are betting ¼ odds the first 5 home in today’s National.
In todays other feature the Aintree Hurdle Champion Hurdle third Zaynar (2.50) will appreciate the extra half mile and is taken to reverse placings with Khyber Kim who finished one place ahead of the selection at the festival. Zaynar will always be remembered as the horse who got beat at 1/14 in his prep race for Cheltenham but the grey looks a thorough stayer in the making and can return to winning ways although he wouldn’t want the race to develop into a sprint.
Next week sees the Newmarket Craven meeting and the beginning of the flat turf season in earnest with a number of significant trials for the StanJames.com 2000 & 1000 Guineas. Workforce of Sir Michael Stoute has been very well backed for the former in recent weeks and if he lines up in the Craven Stakes on Thursday he is worth following.