Paul Ferguson examines the Grand National field and gives us his thoughts about the big race at Aintree, 16.15, Saturday 9th.
The confidence behind last year’s winner Don’t Push It during the past couple of days seems significant once again, as he was heavily backed before the off last year, and I expect Jonjo O’Neill’s 11-year-old to put up another very bold show in tomorrow’s Grand National.
He is set to carry 5lbs more than last year, but is actually 7lb higher in the ratings having won off 153 last year and he now races off 160. However, if you watch last year’s race again, AP McCoy’s mount could have been called the winner someway from home and he was the easiest winner I can remember since Hedgehunter in 2005.
The following year he returned and put up a massive effort under top-weight to go down by just 6 lengths to Numbersixvalverde and I expect Don’t Push It to be involved again.Coral are still offering 14/1 this morning and that is worth taking (each-way) as he will be backed before post time and could well go off favourite.
Last year’s third and the 2009 fourth State Of Play is weighted to go even closer and has deliberately kept fresh for this by trainer Evan Williams.
He’s down 3lbs from last year and 8lbs lower than 2009, so from a handicap point of view a case can certainly be made for him at 25/1, though he does have 25 lengths to find with Don’t Push It.
Calgary Bay is the other English trained runner on my radar, as he relishes decent ground, goes best on a flat track and usually jumps for fun.
He hasn’t won since December 2009, but his recent efforts have been encouraging, especially when second to Wishfull Thinking (who won here yesterday) in a Cheltenham handicap in January.
The trip is the real imponderable with Henrietta Knight’s eight-year-old, but I can see him going well for a very long way and out-running his odds of 33/1.
Of the Irish raiders, the Bobbyjo Chase is certainly the key piece of form and, aside from the Irish National, this is often their key trial.
Oscar Time finished second in the Irish National last year and third in the Bobbyjo in February, on what was his first start over fences since the Irish showpiece last Easter.
He tends to jump big and bold, so I expect he’ll take to the course and his amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen will be bidding for a remarkable Gold Cup / Grand National double.
He has 5 lengths to find with The Midnight Club on their Bobbyjo meeting and Willie Mullins is following the Hedgehunter (who won this as his prep) path with his main hope. Oscar Time has a 4lb pull, while second home Arbor Supreme, who is also trained by Mullins, comes out of the race much the best.
He split the pair off level weights at Fairyhouse, yet gets in here off 10-3 and is twice the price of his stable-mate. When you look at it literally, he is the value call but I expect The Midnight Club to improve for meeting better ground and stepping up to this marathon trip.
He missed Cheltenham this year, but finished third at the two previous Festivals, behind Copper Bleu over 2m5f in the Jewson in 2010 and just beaten by Weapon’s Amnesty and Pride Of Dulcote in the 2009 Albert Bartlett.
At his best the 10-year-old son of Flemensfirth was verging on Grade 1 class over hurdles and is an unexposed stayer, so has to be taken seriously here off 10-13, especially with Ruby Walsh on board for the very first time. Walsh has an unenviable record in this race and his presence in the saddle enhances any horses chance.
He was looking rather short earlier in the week, but has now eased back out to a double figure price, which is much more realistic. I expect the money to come for Don’t Push It on the day, so The Midnight Club could ease out even further and, therefore, now has to enter calculations.
There is also the option of taking ‘faller insurance’ about The Midnight Club, with BlueSQ offering 8/1 about that.
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Last year’s selections included:
Hurricane Fly: 3/1 winner of the G1 Rabobank Champion Hurdle
Copper Bleu: 12/1 winner of the Jewson at Cheltenham
Great Endeavour: 18/1 winner of the Festival Plate
Tranguil Sea: 11/2 winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup
Sizing Europe: 6/1 winner of the Arkle
Weapon’s Amnesty: 10/1 winner of the RSA Chase