Shutthefrontdoor heads the market for Saturday’s Grand National and, while victory for Jonjo O’Neill’s eight-year-old would provide the fairytale ending to Tony McCoy’s career that many will hope for, he looks a shade on the short side and will probably continue to contract until post time.
A smart novice chaser last season, he won at Aintree on his debut over fences and rounded off his season by landing the Irish Grand National off a mark of 142. We have seen the son of Accordion just the once this season, when landing a graduation chase by 8 lengths at Carlisle, doing his best work in the closing stages.
The trip should not be an issue on Saturday, nor the ground and he is unexposed as a stayer. On a negative note, he is pretty inexperienced for a Grand National, having had just the six chase starts and he didn’t jump particularly fluently when only sixth in the 4m National Hunt Chase at last year’s festival. I’m sure he has the class to run a big race but, prior to the announcement of McCoy’s impending retirement, Shutthefrontdoor was around 20-1, so the value has dried up.
For that reason, I’m looking elsewhere and the best place to start is last year’s renewal, with several of the main protagonists back for another crack.
Last year’s winner Pineau De Re is 8lbs higher this time around (151) and didn’t travel as smoothly through his prep race (Pertemps Final at Cheltenham) as he did 12 months ago.
Second last year was Balthazar King who is the first for any shortlist, with connections having forgone another tilt at the Cross Country race (a contest he won at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival) in order to keep him fresh for his third attempt at the race.
Only 15th in 2013, he was an improved performer last season and has been in fine form this, winning at Cheltenham when last sighted in November. The drying ground is in his favour and, if Richard Johnson takes the shorter route this time (raced wide last year), he can once again go close.
The one I really like from last year, however, is ROCKY CREEK, who is fancied to provide Paul Nicholls with a second Grand National in four years.
The nine-year-old jumped for fun last year and looked certain to finish first or second as the field crossed the Melling Road. He struggled to see out his races last year and has subsequently had a wind operation in an attempt to rectify this issue.
Runner-up to Gold Cup third Road To Riches on his reappearance at Down Royal, the son of Dr Massini struggled in the ground in the Hennessy, but he bounced right back to his best at Kempton last time, running away with the Betbright Chase.
He races off the same mark at the weekend, which is 2lbs lower than in last year’s race, and I thoroughly expect another bold showing.
Another last-time-out winner for any shortlist is The Druids Nephew, who appeared to win a Cheltenham handicap with a bit to spare last month. He is a much improved performer since joining the upwardly mobile trainer, Neil Mulholland, and showed he stays well when runner-up to Sam Winner at Cheltenham in November.
He disappointed in the Hennessy a fortnight later, which is a slight concern (can he back up his festival win?), but he is undoubtedly well handicapped and, though he has made mistakes in the past, he jumped soundly last time. If he hasn’t left his race behind at Cheltenham, he can give Aidan Coleman a great spin.
Jim Culloty saddles two runners, with last year’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere set to carry top-weight, but it is Spring Heeled that offers him a better chance, in my opinion.
Another winner at last year’s festival when successful from Cause Of Causes (franked the form by winning at this year’s festival and re-opposes here), the Old Vic gelding is another who will relish the conditions at Aintree, as he is at his best on a sound surface.
Nick Scholfield takes the mount aboard the eight-year-old, who followed up his Cheltenham success with a fifth in the Bet365 Gold Cup, before finishing fourth to the aforementioned Road To Riches in the Galway Plate. Beaten 18½ lengths on his prep in the Bobbyjo Chase, he shaped better than the official result would suggest, travelling strongly for the majority of the contest, before fitness took it’s toll on ground softer than ideal.
Of those at bigger odds Court By Surprise has the ability to outrun his odds and goes well fresh, so the absence is a positive in his case, while the pick of the ‘outsiders’ would be Saint Are who has shown improved form since joining Tom George.
Twice a winner at the Grand National meeting on the Mildmay course, the nine-year-old shaped better than the margin of defeat would suggest behind Sam Winner and The Druids Nephew on his debut for the George stable, before finishing third in the Becher Chase in December. 9th in the 2013 National, the Network gelding ran out an impressive winner at Catterick when last seen in February and, while he does have the tendency to hit a fence, he has got round before and is potentially over-priced.
Fergie’s National 1-2-3-4
- 1. ROCKY CREEK
- 2. BALTHAZAR KING
- 3. THE DRUIDS NEPHEW
- 4. SPRING HEELED
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