Paul will be giving an Aintree preview on Tues 10th April, 8pm, in Thomas Rigby’s, Liverpool
After a lean couple of weeks quality wise I’m happy to have been asked to take a break from the day-to-day action and take an early look at the Grand National, which is now only nine days away.
For those who are desperate to get involved today, the novice chase at Ludlow looks the pick of the action, where Paul Nicholls allows his Domtaline to make his fencing bow against the useful Lancetto. Both horses need to prove their stamina over this trip, but catching the former fresh is usually the key and it’d be no surprise to see him score first time up.
The jumps action should improve from Sunday onwards with Fairyhouse staging the Irish Grand National meeting, then of course Aintree gets underway a week today.
A lot will be written between now and post time about the conditions of the course and, as I live just a stone’s throw from the track, I will try to keep you posted with regards to weather conditions through my daily column.
At the time of writing, we’ve endured a fair bit of rain over the past couple of days, though the strong winds today will have counteracted against some of that so I suspect the ground is on the slow side of good at present.
Right, on to the big one itself and the best place to start would appear to be at the head of the market and the head of the weights.
Gold Cup winner Synchronised falls into both of those categories and as fellow columnist Charlie (McCann) eludes to, he is well handicapped despite carrying top-weight.
Jonjo O’Neill’s nine-year-old certainly won’t be wanting for stamina and could bid to give AP McCoy a second win in the race in three years. If given the go-ahead, he has to enter calculations purely from a class angle, but I have concerns about his jumping around here. That said, if he can safely negotiate the first couple, he’ll be staying on better than anything late on, despite his huge weight.
Last year’s winner Ballabriggs gets just 1lb off the Gold Cup winner and is officially rated 10lbs higher than he was 12 months ago (160 now as opposed to 150 last year).
Whilst he is likely to put up a bold show, it would take some effort to become the first horse to land back-to-back Nationals since Red Rum did it for the McCain’s in the 70’s.
Current joint-favourite alongside Synchronised is Junior who bids to become the first horse to win at Royal Ascot, the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National. That would be some achievement, though he’s a Flat bred with just eight chase starts to his name and of the trio mentioned Synchronised makes most appeal to me.
If we get more rain in the area, that would hugely benefit the chances of Giles Cross and West End Rocker, who both want testing conditions to be seen at their best.
The former has finished runner-up in the last two Welsh Nationals (behind Synchronised last season and Le Beau Bai this time around) and travelled really well when winning the Grand National Trial at Haydock last time. At both Chepstow and Haydock he seemed to be coming to the end of his tether and it could be he’s at his best over trips just shy of this. However, I felt the same about Ballabriggs this time last year and, as he travels and jumps so well, I think he’s a must for any shortlist. Connections will be desperate for further rain and the same can be said of Becher winner West End Rocker, who had last year’s fifth Niche Market 22 lengths away in second when winning on this course in December. Up 12lbs for that success, he is another to consider if the heavens open, but I prefer Giles Cross of those two mud-lovers.
If the rain stays away then Nicky Henderson will be more than happy and the trainer who took the Cheltenham Festival by storm this season will be hoping to cap a magnificent campaign with Shakalakaboomboom here.
The eight-year-old was high up in my thoughts for the National after winning at Cheltenham in December and he ran a solid race when runner-up to Calgary Bay in the SkyBet Chase on his penultimate outing.
Barry Geraghty’s likely mount finished seventh in the Topham here last year, jumping well before being outpaced over a trip short of his best, he has fine credentials on paper and will be a leading contender if the ground is good. I must admit, however, I was slightly disappointed by his prep run in a Warwick novice hurdle last time, but Henderson has proven on numerous occasions that he is very astute at bringing a horse to hand on the day that matters.
Calgary Bay deserves a mention for beating him at Doncaster and Henrietta Knight’s nine-year-old arrives here in the form of his life. A sound jumper of regulation fences, he only made it to the fourth fence last year and is worth another shot, but it is worth noting that he has only ever won races in December and January.
Two more I’d like to mention before moving on to the Irish raiders are Cappa Bleu and Always Right. The former won the Foxhunters at Cheltenham in 2009 and looked on the way back when winning at Haydock in November.
He’s since finished third in the Welsh National (on ground softer than ideal) and third at Ascot, when he stayed on well from off the pace. He threatens to improve for a marathon trip on decent ground and his connections know the time of day when it comes to this contest, having produced State Of Play to finish fourth, third and fourth in the last three Nationals. Paul Moloney has stated that he will ride Cappa Bleu over State Of Play this time around.
Always Right doesn’t boast great form figures this season (1PP) but he ran really well for a long way on terrible ground at Haydock last time before pulling up as if something were amiss. Clearly it was, as he has since had corrective surgery and he could well play a big hand in this if it has worked. He’ll appreciate the better ground and the way he breezed upsides Giles Cross last time suggests that he’s not far away from returning to his best. He’s just 5lbs higher than when third in last year’s Scottish National and, if his jumping stands the test, he’s a player.
Right, on to the Irish starting with Black Apalachi who is another who would appreciate rain and has ran just the once since finishing runner-up to Don’t Push It in 2010. He returns on the same mark and on the back of a fine trial behind long time ante-post favourite Prince De Beauchene in the Bobbyjo Chase, so the 2008 Becher winner isn’t one to dismiss lightly despite him now being 13.
The rapidly improving Seabass and Chicago Grey are a pair of nine-year-olds who want differing conditions. The former has won seven on the spin (including a point) and only has form on soft or heavy and over much shorter. He, therefore, needs to prove himself on quicker ground and prove his stamina, but he could well be a springer in the market if Ruby Walsh takes the mount for his Dad, and he clearly has a touch of class as he disposed of some useful two-milers last time.
Chicago Grey on the other hand appreciates decent ground and he has proven stamina, having won the 4m National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last season. Gordon Elliott’s charge hasn’t won since however and hasn’t exactly been in blistering form this season. If he takes to the fences he can go well, but he does make the odd mistake too and the two Irish runners I prefer are Becauseicouldntsee and Killyglen.
Noel Glynn has opted for the typical National prep with Becauseicouldntsee who had a run over hurdles prior to chasing home Sunnyhillboy at the Cheltenham Festival. Second to smart Flat performer Galileo’s Choice at Fairyhouse in February (a fine effort over an inadequate 2m) he ran a cracker to finish runner-up in the Kim Muir, jumping well from the front. The nine-year-old proved he stays further when runner-up in the National Hunt Chase last season and he is 4lbs lower than when being well backed ahead of last year’s race.
His preparation appears to have gone well and, if he doesn’t remember his early fall from last year (fell at the second), he looks capable of a bold showing from the front.
A similar comment applies to Killyglen though he lasted much longer, crashing out four fences from home while in the process of running a massive race. The 10-year-old who won the Mildmay Novices’ Chase here in 2009 (when trained by Howard Johnson) is now 3lbs lower and has clearly been aimed at this race all season by his shrewd trainer Stuart Crawford, who is adapt at sending raiders over to the north.
The son of Presenting, who appreciates a decent surface and a flat galloping track, has progressed nicely on his last three starts; after finishing third to the aforementioned Cappa Bleu at Haydock in November, he shaped well for a long way when fourth over hurdles at Cheltenham the following month and rounded off his preparation for the National by winning on unsuitably soft ground at Down Royal last month. He looks a major player at 20/1 (Coral and Ladbrokes).
If you’ve not had enough of listening to me talk about the National, I’ll be talking through my thoughts on the meeting as a whole in Thomas Rigby’s pub (Liverpool City Centre) on Tuesday evening, but will be back here with my normal column on Saturday. Until then, enjoy tomorrow’s Bank Holiday.
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Last Year’s Tips Included 40 Leading Prospects: £499.80 profit to a level £10!
- AL FEROF won Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 10-1
- BENSALEM won Stewart Family Handicap 5-1
- BOBS WORTH won A Bartlett 15-8, 4/4 for year
- CAPTAIN CHRIS won Arkle Trophy 6-1
- FIRST LIEUTENANT won Neptune Investment 7-1
- (plus Grade 1 in Ireland 16-1)
- JAMES DE VASSY won Lanzarote Hurdle 8-1
- LONG RUN won King George 9-2, Gold Cup 7-2
- OSCAR WHISKY won Aintree Hurdle 6-1
- Peddlers Cross (Fighting Fifth Hurdle)
- Medermit (Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase)
- FINIAN’S RAINBOW (Maghull Novices’ Chase)
- WISHFULL THINKING (Manifesto Novices’ Chase)