Monthly Archives: April 2015

2015 Greenham/Scottish National Day Preview

Here is our preview covering the Channel Four action from Newbury with the Fred Darling and the Greenham one of the last chances for Guineas contenders to emerge and Ayr with a full field of 30 runners going to post in the Scottish Grand National. Just Luke Elder and Adam Webb on with an extended introduction covering various subjects surrounding the events of the Grand National.

Out In The Open

For the third year running, the Grand National has provided an eight-minute spectacle unequalled by any other sport; with a successful mix of danger, excitement, enticement but ultimately, safety.

Every year the Grand National is the worst and best day for racing fans. A day to reveal to the world the excitement that we get three hundred and sixty two days of the year. But, this publicity that jumps the sport from zero to hero for just a few minutes also leaves it at the mercy of perhaps the strongest condemnation a modern sport could ever undergo. What hurts the racing fan the most? The celebration of a fantastic sport being torn apart by the sudden façade of morality in those people who had failed to object about a horse’s welfare for the previous three hundred and sixty one days of the year. Even worse, those that don’t even understand the simple, natural, reasons as to why horses for centuries have willingly given their all for the sport of Kings. The Grand National brings about a revelation that their inner ethics that have, for reasons evidently unknown, previously only manifested in their minds. Because more horses die during those other three hundred and sixty one days than they do that day, so why do those forty horses matter more? It’s all about appearance. Superficial appearance; appearing moral while you contradict yourself every single day. Everyone’s his or her own hypocrite.

How dare you suggest we don’t care. How dare you. While you wear leather, sweatshop clothes and pretend you don’t know that bacon you’re eating is from a pig that used to be a family pet, we accept our sport will claim casualties. We know how much a horse gives on that track and it just makes us love them more. To us, the strange forty horses you see on the morning of April 11th are no strangers to us, but part of our tight-knit racing family. Humans have always desired animalistic qualities and what could you desire more than the bravery and willingness to run four miles jumping thirty fences in eight minutes? We love them. Every single day, we try to reach their unattainable level of humanity.

I’ve never met Balthazar King in my life, but I feel like I know him. A horse can give you a pick-me-up when you really need one and Balthazar is something so special for all close and distant. I was working at Cheltenham when he won last year and I, a reluctant roarer at the racetrack, couldn’t contain the excitement, pride and joy – spilling it over my colleagues like an infection as he charged up that hill. The hole I fell into when he fell at the Canal Turn this year was like no other, the beat of the heart changed course like a flick of a switch to overwhelming, shattering fear. Get up. Please. Get up. Gone is the boyish excitement, informing my parents of their horses’ progress. They’re bypassing the Canal Turn. Screens. Numb. A horse won, who cares. Balthazar? Nice winner. Tell me about Balthazar. Dread.

You show me your humanity, if you’re hoping that that horse stays down. Makes a good headline doesn’t it? Calling for a ban on what you don’t understand, you could rattle off a self-indulgent curriculum vitae on your incessant morality, easy. But while you hope he dies, our conscience in that moment only has the eyes for a confirmation on one of our own. Please boy. The messages came through “I hope he’s okay”, “I had to leave the room”, “Balthazar? :/” and “On the verge”, all racing fans knowingly empathising with the vertigo-like state I was in. Mate: “You look like you’ve seen a ghost”. I don’t care. Tell me, I need to know. Pray. Atheist. Still, pray.

“Philip Hobbs has assured me Balthazar King has walked away ok”. Euphoria.
“Is my horse ok? I will do an interview but I can’t see my horse, I need to know he’s okay” (Oliver Sherwood). Humanity. Compassion. Ruby Walsh desperately waving his flag to protect the injured horse? You tell me who cares.

Horse racing has finally realised how to come at this age old ‘moral’ question, from the angle it always needed to be: up front. Horses do die, but they die doing nothing in a field too. Unlike those abandoned creatures who are apparently more morally looked after, racehorses receive care only millionaires could even dream of. But hiding from the fact horses do die is not the way it should be done and thankfully, most racing news channels now inform viewers of a horse’s passing. Seedling’s was handled perhaps a little late by Channel 4, but it ultimately told the viewers that yes a horse died, but we are not deceitfully hiding it. Rather than hiding the fact weakly behind translucency for a malicious journalist to discover and magnify, we’re laying it as it is. Further tributes should be given to the cameramen on Saturday, appropriately cutting the injured horse frame to avoid unnecessary scenes of discomfort for all viewers. There have been lessons learnt from 2011 there. Or did you want to see a horse in pain? Would sell a story, but it wouldn’t help the horse… that’s what actually matters, isn’t it?

The Grand National, the race that despite all the other races run in the world, matters the most once again delivered with all horses OK. But we’ll still mourn the ones you forget; Seedling, Balder Succes and all those that have ever died. We care, we care too much. They make us care more than you could ever imagine.

Read More from Michael Andrews

 

 

2015 Crabbie’s Grand National Day Preview

Luke Elder and Adam Webb take you through tomorrow’s card at Aintree with detailed analysis of the six races on the undercard with a small mention of the Grand National with that video recorded last night with more extensive views aired.

2015 Grand National Guide

Watch the video or scroll down to view each horses write up! Short summary at bottom.

Here is this year’s Grand National 2015 Selection Video:

1 – Lord Windermere (4/10)

Carrying top-weight is no easy task in any handicap, never mind the Grand National run over four miles, three furlongs and one hundred and ten yards. Although Lord Windermere is actually, somehow, a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in 2014, he hasn’t won since. The renewal was a weak one in the eyes of many racing fans and he’s struggled since. He was in fact pulled up in this year’s renewal and has been racing off equal weights since November 2013.

2 – Many Clouds (6/10)

Progressed well this season, winning three including the Hennessy under 11st 6lb before going on to defy good performer Smad Place. Looked to have a good chance in the Gold Cup where he finished a respectable sixth beaten 25L. In good hands but questions raised whether this is a year too early for the eight year old (last 8yo to win was Bindaree in 2002).

3 – Unioniste (7/10)

The same connections appear here as they did in the winner’s enclosure in 2012 with Neptune Collonges and, although Unioniste is a very different sort of horse he also has a big chance from the same weight. He’s very much been laid out for this race by master trainer Paul Nicholls and even boasts a good record at Aintree with two wins from three starts. His class sits below those that precede him in the weights, but even from 11st 6lb he should be very capable of putting on a bold show.

4 – Rocky Creek (9/10)

Was very eye-catching when finishing fifth in this race last year (beaten 19 lengths) and even carries 2lb less than he did on that occasion. He’s had a wind op since and produced an excellent display last time when proving he was back in form. Main question lies with if he can stay that last two furlongs in 2015 where he failed in 2014, but if he can his chances scream winner as large as Hedgehunter did on his second attempt in 2005. He also hasn’t struggled from constipation this season which is a major plus when you’re running nearly four and a half miles, which I’m sure you can empathise with.

5 – First Lieutenant (5/10)

Mouse Morris’ horses are running very well of late (second and forth in the Irish National on Monday) and the Lieutenant is without doubt a classy performer who has lost his way in the last year. His highlights include when he won the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl around here in 2013. You could argue that he’s been running in competitive grade one races all year, but on his last start, when odds on to beat vastly inferior opposition, he failed to win again. Nina Carberry takes the ride so this old boy is likely to be popular on the day, but the national fences would need to rekindle a spark that’s been lost for a while. I don’t think it’s the Lieutenant that will break history for women in the world’s biggest race.

6 – Balthazar King (10/10)

One of the most popular horses amongst National Hunt racing fans and I am no exception. I’ve been signed up to The King’s fan club for years now and he knows how to deliver each season, winning six of his last ten starts and finishing five lengths second in last year’s National. He carries 3lb more this time around but weight carrying has never been a major problem, with all of his wins in 2014 coming while carrying top weight. If he gets into a battle around the elbow, it would take some horse to out-battle him. The ground, if soft, would be his major foe while the lack of a run in 148 days (while planned) has significant stat problems, with most national winners needing a run in at least that calendar year. Nevertheless, he does actually enjoying racing fresh having only been beaten twice from breaks over 100 days, winning eight of the other ten. Unfortunately one of those failures was in the National of 2013. But no one is telling Balthazar that, and #BalthazarIsOurKing.

7 – Shutthefrontdoor (6/10)

Will be extremely popular in the betting and will also live long in the minds of horse racing fans as Tony McCoy gives the Grand National his final performance. Unfortunately for McCoy, there are significant flaws in the master plan of JP McManus. Before winning the Irish Grand National last year, the horse had shown serious signs of ability without really producing it. Sam Winner et al put him in his place at Cheltenham before only finishing sixth in the four-miler at the Festival. He won the Irish equivalent in eye-catching fashion for this, but the form from that race is hardly inspiring with the first six home failing to win a race since (excluding himself). His only start since proved his wellbeing but the stat remains from Balthazar King and 152 days is a long time to grow rusty before your biggest gig of your career. He’s also one of the least experienced members of the field, with only six starts over fences. The McCoy factor adds two points.

8 – Pineau de Re (5/10)

Last years winner gets away with not carrying as much weight as his predecessors have done due to the classy inclusions in this year’s race. However, this year he’s been largely disappointing, failing to blossom at any point during the season (unlike last year before his triumph at Aintree in 2014). He carries an extra 8lb this time around which as already pointed out isn’t excessive, but a bigger problem may be his jumping. He was fortunate to get around last time, helped by a dose of the old National luck, but he may easily come a cropper without that fairy dust on this occasion. The stats point out how impossible it is to win Grand Nationals but he goes there with the same chance as any previous Grand National winner. He’s been there, got the t-shirt, can he snatch a jumper?

9 – Ballycasey (1/10)

It’s rare that a horse in these colours, with Ruby Walsh aboard for Willie Mullins has so little chance on at a major festival. Although the three of them won at the Cheltenham Festival, it’s more likely for Nigel Farage to win around the Aintree course on Saturday than Ballycasey.

10 – Spring Heeled (6/10)

Won a staying handicap at the Cheltenham Festival last year, although perhaps slightly fortuitously after having the run of the race and with his main rival (Cause of Causes) making a mistake at the last. Not beaten far next time in the Bet365 Cup at Sandown before a fourth-placed finish in the Galway Plate. Had comeback run in February so should strip fitter here, but unconvinced whether this marathon trip is exactly what he wants. Certainly has the class, and a danger if getting into a rhythm over the fences, but expected to just come up short.

11 – Rebel Rebellion (4/10)

Already won over these fences over a lesser trip in December 2013 and ran well when fifth in that race last year. Won twice since but never raced further than 3 miles and his two starts over three miles were when second to Soll and beaten 60L last October. That’s not conclusive evidence, but looks short of the class considering the weight he’s carrying.

12 – Dolatulo (10/10)

A big price for a really likeable horse. Had a good year with a strong second at Sandown on his comeback run before running over these fences in December giving him vital experience – and he was far from disgraced beaten less than 12L by Poole Master. It was also a trip perhaps on the short side for him nowadays and he duly stepped up to take the Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick chase from an extremely well handicapped and well fancied Cape Tribulation at Wetherby over three miles.

He then followed the route of last year’s winner Pineau de Re in qualifying (just) for the Pertemps final at Cheltenham, where he finished well beaten. It did look a much stronger renewal this year than the 2014 equivalent, but it’s without doubt he wasn’t asked too many questions from rider Dougie Costello. He was settled at the back nearly twenty lengths behind the leader and never really put into the race proper.

This is Warren Greatrex’s first year of National runners but broke into the big time in the National Hunt sphere this year, landing the World Hurdle last month with Cole Harden.

Dolatulo gives a really good chance at a big price for each-way backers.

13 – Mon Parrain (3/10)

He’s more likely to be a talking point because of his excellent young jockey, Sean Bowen, rather than his own skill. He’s been a moody performer but Sean gets the best out of him including when winning on New Years Day over 3 ¼ miles. That form has worked out OK, with re-opposing Saint Are finishing 4L third. Lit up over these fences in the Topham (over these fences, shorter distance) but faded badly on the run-in to be outstayed by three-time winner Always Waining. Temperamental, questionable stamina but should give Sean a grand run on his first Grand National ride.

14 – NON RUNNER

15 – Night In Milan (3/10)

I’ve never been convinced of this horse at top-flight level, having seen him beaten often around Sedgefield a few years back. However he has been revitalised in recent years, winning three staying handicaps including the Grimthorpe in 2014. Ran well in that race this year and will appreciate the ground but arguably a little short of class in my mind.

16 – Rubi Light (1/10)

Posted better efforts last two times, winning over 2m ¼ (soft), but poor runs before that and hasn’t run over 2m4f since 2012. Not the ideal preparation for a contest run over 4m 3f and easy to swerve.

17 – The Druids Nephew (6/10)

Progressed well this year and well clear of the others in competitive handicap at Cheltenham last start. Had ran well in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle before that as well as a grand run in the Grade 3 Hennessy chase before that. Been a revelation this year but question whether his jumping will stand up to this stead having put in some questionable leaps at points during his career.

Regular rider, and a jockey who is virtually unbeaten for trainer Neil Mulholland, Barry Geraghty however is unavailable. Neither is second choice Davy Russell so it falls to Aidan Coleman to take the ride.

No strong reasons to avoid him but not convinced this is the race he desires. Could easily pop up but not for me.

18 – Cause of Causes (7/10)

Hadn’t actually won over fences until breaking his duck at Cheltenham last month but some excellent placed efforts before. Clearly stayed well for Jamie Codd when winning that day and was unlucky when narrow second in that contest the year before. Today’s jockey Paul Carberry is the master of timing hold-up horses to perfection and should give it a good shot once again. Stamina virtually assured and each-way possibilities.

19 – Godsmejudge (4/10)

One of my old favourites and tipped to win this last year before not running in the Scottish National instead when second to Al Co. However hasn’t been in good form all season. Pulled up on return before well beaten by Rocky Creek and last to finish in minor event last time. Doesn’t carry much weight as a result and there is evidence to suggest he’s a spring horse with his best runs in March and April, but odds leave no value for a horse who’s not suggested he’s at his best all season.

20 – Al Co (6/10)

Cleverly handled, showing next to no form before winning big races including valuable Chepstow handicap and the Scottish Grand National. Ran some respectable races in preparation for this with placed efforts at Doncaster and Bangor and would be no surprise to see him slowly make his way through the field on the second circuit. Pulled up on only start over these fences last year and jumping could be a question mark. Delivers on the big occasion.

21 – Monbeg Dude (7/10)

My selection last year who ran a grand race finishing seventh. Carries 2lb less and thrown in some very fair efforts this season once again including a fourth in the Hennessy. Respectable runs since; was well behind The Druids Nephew at Cheltenham last time but perhaps not asked for everything that day. Nevertheless, his form last season going into this was stronger than this time around as a whole. It would be just my luck for him to win it the year after selecting him, but he appeared not to quite stay the last two furlongs last time and, despite 2lb pull at the weights, that’s enough to prevent me from backing him for win purposes. Could place.

22 – Corrin Wood (1/10)

Bold front-runner who put in some great efforts in small fields last season, but quickly put in his place this season on three starts since. Best to look elsewhere.

23 – The Rainbow Hunter (2/10)

Has plenty going for him in staying chases, winning SkyBet Chase last year on desperate ground. However ran in this past two years and unseated his rider on both occasions at the same fence (Canal Turn). Pulled up on only start this season so little to go on from that and his Aintree record, unless it’s third time lucky, makes him OK to discount.

24 – Saint Are (6/10)

Shown plenty of temperament in the past but new trainer getting the best out of him this season. Had an excellent trial for this when only beaten 3 ¾ L by Oscar Time in the Becher (over these fences in December, 3m ¼) and held form since behind Mon Parrain at Cheltenham and recording easy win at Catterick. Finished ninth in this in 2013, beaten nearly 50L but as I said has been rejuvenated this year.

One of those horses that I won’t be backing but I don’t have big enough reasons to discount.

25 – Across the Bay (1/10)

Caused drama last year when leading around the bend to be taken virtually out of the race by a loose horse. Finished 14th, but no form this time around and easy to dismiss.

26 – Tranquil Sea (1/10)

Too old to make an impression here and hasn’t been at best for a long time.

27 – Oscar Time (3/10)

Likely to have a grand time once again, having placed in this race in 2011 and 2013 and won over these fences over shorter trip last December. Fourteen now, and will run well for good National jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, but vulnerable to younger legs.

28 – Bob Ford (2/10)

Runs in the colours of last years favourite Teaforthree and won West Wales National on desperate ground in January. Only one other horse finished that day (and had virtually pulled up) and ground nothing like that this time around. Up against it here for all stamina is assured.

29 – Super Duty (2/10)

Didn’t go on from great effort at Cheltenham in 2013 and came back from long layoff with little shown on his two starts this year. Easy to oppose for now.

30 – Wyck Hill (2/10)

Really good stayer when it’s his day but disappointing, frankly, since JP McManus bought him. Only effort of significance was Eider Chase win on heavy ground last year, so stamina guaranteed but tends to avoid good ground so that a worry. Not enough to suggest today is the day.

31 – Gas Line Boy (5/10)

In a year when at lot of the bottom weighted horses look to have it all to do, Gas Line Boy could be one who has a sneaky chance. Won two staying contestes already this year, including when beating future Welsh Grand National winner in November. Beaten 20L forth in the National trial on his last start, only beaten a short head by Monbeg Dude. Might be one that sneaks into a place at a big price carrying only 10st 4lb.

32 – Chance du Roy (6/10)

Loves these fences, only falling once from six starts: finishing second over them in 2012, ninth in 2013 before sixth in the actual National last season and fifth in December. He also won over them in December 2013. Likely to give it another good shot this year but expected to come up just short once again.

33 – Portrait King (4/10)

Irish raider that’s not really known about having never really strutted his stuff on the big stage against big National horses. Won a staying handicap over three miles in January and good second last time. One of the ones that doesn’t really have the form to take this but that doesn’t mean he can’t.

34 – Owega Star (1/10)

Very little to suggest a prominent showing.

35 – River Choice (1/10)

I like French horses but this very much above his level, winning a claimer being his highlight this season.

36 – Court By Surprise (3/10)

Another down the bottom that has a better chance than most, with some really nice runs in last couple of years. Second in London National in 2013, before winning on return last October over three miles. Ground shouldn’t be a problem and decent run behind progressive The Young Master in November (awarded race on technicality). Hasn’t run since however so may lack slightly for fitness.

37 – Alvarado (5/10)

Was a storming home forth in this last year but never got close to the winner who had already flown. Main aim is to not get to far behind like he did last year, as well as most horses that run in these colours have done in the past (State of Play and Cappa Bleu). Had comeback run in February not considered as had pulled up on his prep run before last year and goes in again with solid each-way claims.

38 – Soll (4/10)

Remain unconvinced by Soll who does seem to lack gears despite winning his past two starts in a faultless 2015 so far. The featherweight he carries is an important factor for backers and he ran respectably over these fences in the Topham Chase (over a shorter distance). Not for me, but could feature.

39 – Ely Brown (4/10)

Likeable horse who’s had a quiet season with only the one run in over a year. He was pulled up there but has been schooling well over these fences at home. Stays 3 miles at least but unknown quantity over further. Has already won twice at Aintree, both off long layoffs but they were over hurdles. Could place.

40 Royale Knight (5/10)

The last one to sneak in and not out of it by any stretch of the imagination, having won the Durham National easily in October over 3m ¾. Opposition that day clearly not up to this level but carries a mere 10st 2lbs and comes from the very shrewd yard of Dr Richard Newland – last years winning trainer. Not out of this.

My two main selections for this Grand National are DOLATULO and BALTHAZAR KING who both have excellent chances. ROCKY CREEK has very strong claims while other each-way possibilities include UNIONISTE, CAUSE OF CAUSES and ELY BROWN.

Adam Webb’s 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National Pinstickers Guide

Whilst the 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National lineup seems to lack a certain oomph, it’s still one of the classiest fields assembled with the bottom end of the handicap as high as ever. I’m going to keep the intro short as there is plenty of content, views and opinions about every runner in this year’s race.

In addition to this extensive guide, myself, Luke and Calum recorded this Grand National preview where we went through every runner in racecard order and gave our views on the race with our ideas of the winner.

So without much further ado, here goes….

Lord Windermere Red

1) LORD WINDERMERE – 9 – 11-10 – Jim Culloty – Robbie McNamara

The class horse of the race having won twice at the Cheltenham Festival including last year’s Gold Cup and the previous year’s RSA Chase with an emphasis of stamina on both occasions. This season before Cheltenham had looked promising when third behind Don Cossack in the John Durkan when needing the run before a quieter effort on soft ground at Christmas in the Lexus Chase behind Road To Riches. His Gold Cup preparation went to plan in the Irish Hennessy when ridden differently to be third behind Carlingford Lough but his run in the Gold Cup itself left an awful lot to be desired as he never travelled a yard on the rain softened ground behind Coneygree where he was pulled up before the second last.

Can Lord Windermere become the first top weight to win since 1977?
Can Lord Windermere become the first top weight to win since 1977?

The better ground here will suit him a lot better and the extreme stamina test won’t be an issue but my one concern is how he will be ridden. If he is dropped out the back like in the Gold Cup, recent history has suggested he will face an uphill struggle. If ridden closer to the pace, he could easily run a big race and is handicapped to win the race. First time visor is interesting with a capable rider in Robbie McNamara in the saddle and he is officially five pounds well in at the weights with handicapper Phil Smith’s discretion.

Rating – 7/10

2) Many Clouds Silks MANY CLOUDS – 8 – 11-09 –  Oliver Sherwood – Leighton Aspell

One of the most improved horses in training having finally fulfilled the promise his trainer has had by winning both the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and the Betbright Cup on Cheltenham Trials Day. His career has been built around this season but he had shown moments of real quality in his novice chase career including his win at Wetherby where he beat Indian Castle. Things didn’t go completely to plan at either spring festival as he unseated (form book says brought down but he made a horrific mistake himself) his rider at Cheltenham before running below par at Aintree.

Many Clouds could be feeling the effects of a hard season.
Many Clouds could be feeling the effects of a hard season.

This season began in an intermediate chase at Carlisle where he beat Eduard with a slick performance that lead to him being a key contender for the Hennessy Gold Cup. The two concerns beforehand were whether the horse would fully see out the distance of three and a quarter miles and whether the increase of seven pounds in the handicap to 151 would stop him. He answered his critics (myself included) in empathic style to beat Houblon Des Obeauxs and Merry King in a gruelling race.

As the Hennessy had been a real war of attrition, question marks leading into the Betbright Chase were along the lines of the horse recovering in time after a two month break but he proved himself a quality performer when outbattling Smad Place and Dynaste up the hill. He was rightfully given his chance in the Gold Cup but he never looked entirely happy with the gallop Coneygree went and to his credit, his jumping kept him in the race for most of the way before fading to finish sixth beaten twenty five lengths.

The form from his Hennessy win would give him a real chance here having handled the big field with aplomb and his jumping on the whole is pretty solid. The main concerns are whether this is one run too many this season after a hard enough campaign plus the fact he has been to the past three Grand National Festivals and disappointed each time.

Rating – 6/10

 

Unioniste Silks3) UNIONISTE – 7 – 11-6 – Paul Nicholls – Noel Fehily

No seven year old has won the Grand National since Bogskar back in 1940 but he isn’t like many seven year olds attempting the race. Most that have contested the race are too inexperienced for the unique demands of Aintree at that stage in their career but Unioniste is different in the sense that he already has plenty of experience including a big handicap win at Cheltenham when he was a four year old. He looked a chaser on the up last season when he won a Listed Chase at Aintree’s Becher Chase meeting but the wheels fell off after that and his season ended over the same course and distance where he lacked fluency in his jumping behind Duke Of Lucca.

Unioniste has been prepared for the race all season.
Unioniste has been prepared for the race all season.

His return this season was behind Many Clouds in the Hennessy where he shaped well for a fair way before looking in need of the outing before building on that promise when sauntering home in a Sandown handicap beating Bertie Boru by ten lengths which he was raised eleven pounds by the handicapper. On his final start, he was a staying on third behind the Gold Cup winner Coneygree in the Denman Chase after getting detached at a crucial point.

Aintree should pose no problems for this dour stayer with the trip looking no issue however, he doesn’t appear to have the tactical pace to lay up early doors so he could require a Neptune Collonges-esque ride from Noel Fehily to keep out of trouble.

Rating – 7/10

Rocky Creek Silks4) ROCKY CREEK – 9 – 11-03 – Sam Twiston-Davies – Paul Nicholls

If there was a horse to take from last year’s renewal, Rocky Creek stood out like a sore thumb. The concern going into twelve months ago was whether he had enough chasing experience for a test like the Grand National. He proved himself over the fences, travelling and jumping superbly for most of the way before weakening after the second last when finishing fifth behind Pineau De Re with an interrupted preparation. Over the summer, trainer Paul Nicholls sent the horse for a wind operation as he wasn’t completely seeing out his races.

Rocky Creek looks to be the best of Paul Nicholls quartet.
Rocky Creek looks to be the best of Paul Nicholls quartet.

His season began in the JN Wine Champion Chase at Down Royal where he was a good second behind a racefit Road To Riches when needing the run before returning for a second crack at the Hennessy, a race in which he had finished second to Triolo D’Alene the year before. The first time tongue tie was fitted but he was hugely disappointing for reasons connections don’t even know themselves. Given a break, his most recent effort was a career best in the Betbright Chase at Kempton when finally confirming the promise shown as a novice chaser when winning in decisive fashion from Le Reve.

He is now officially nine pounds well in as the weights don’t change after they are released in mid-February and having had a better preparation than last year, he is definitely shortlist material. There is every chance he will be ridden with a bit more patience and with Sam Twiston Davies, stable jockey to Nicholls, having a fantastic record over these fences; this could potentially cap off an incredible first season working together.

Rating – 9/10

 

First Lieutenant5) FIRST LIEUTENTANT – 10 – 11-03 – Nina Carberry – Mouse Morris

An admirable performer for connections having raced at the top level for the last five seasons but he hasn’t looked the force of old recently. The former Cheltenham Festival and Betfred Bowl winner has been disappointing mostly throughout the season including on his return to action when well beaten in fourth by Road To Riches in the JN Wine Champion Chase.

Can First Lieutenant show any of his older form?
Can First Lieutenant show any of his older form?

Christmas held some promise in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown when wearing a first time tongue tie on ground that wouldn’t have suited when again behind Road To Riches; only beaten eleven lengths. He returned to Leopardstown for the Irish Hennessy where on a surface that would have been more in his favour than the Lexus, he ran below par when last behind Carlingford Lough before finishing third in a conditions hurdle at Thurles.

Supporters of First Lieutenant can stand by the fact that he has been clearly aimed at this race for a while and the cheekpieces being reapplied will help his cause but it does remain to be seen whether he retains that old ability. He also has question marks over his stamina which makes him easy enough to look over.

Rating – 5/10

 

Balthazar6) BALTHAZAR KING – 11 – 11-02 – Richard Johnson – Philip Hobbs

One of the most popular horses currently in training who can transfer his form from normal steeplechases to cross country events and the Grand National in which he was a fine second to Pineau De Re last year when given a more patient ride than in 2013.

The lack of a preparation run looks a concern for Balthazar King.
The lack of a preparation run looks a concern for Balthazar King.

After his exertions at Aintree, he ended his season by going to Le Lion-d’Angers for a cross country chase where he took a nasty fall when making a move into the contest. He then returned to Craon in September to win the same cross country race for the second year in a row but he made heavy weather of it having looked in trouble at one stage. His final start last November was yet another win around Cheltenham’s cross country on ground much softer than ideal and his class got him through to beat the veteran Uncle Junior. Trainer Philip Hobbs decided then to deliberately miss this year’s Festival to come straight to Aintree a fresh horse.

Although he has gone well fresh in the past, this would be a big worry. Especially when you look at one key trend that had stood up well against the test of time. Winners of the Grand National have had a run somewhere within 50 days of the race (Aldaniti a rare case in 1981 but he did run in February of that year) and whilst some horses have ran well having not run in that timeframe including Mely Moss in 2000 and Alvarado in last year’s renewal, it underlines that you need a racefit horse as opposed to one that’s fresh. In 2013, he came here having had the exact same break and disappointed although he did go too quick in front. The other worry is that he will find it difficult off a career high mark. Whilst I have the utmost respect of his chances, I just don’t see him winning with the concerns above.

Rating – 7/10

 

Shutthefrontdoor7) SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR – 8 – 11-02 – Tony McCoy – Jonjo O’Neill

The horse that has the potential to go off the shortest priced favourite for the race since Red Rum did in 1975 when he was sent off 7/2 mainly down to the fact this is Tony McCoy’s final ever ride in the Grand National, a race in which his fortunes have differed somewhat over the years.

Can Tony McCoy win his second National on his final ever ride in the race?
Can Tony McCoy win his second National on his final ever ride in the race?

Having shown plenty of ability in bumpers and hurdle races, his novice chase campaign didn’t completely go to plan after his win at Aintree which included a real disappointing effort at Cheltenham behind Sam Winner. It was subsequently found that his breathing was being affected so that was duly operated on. His jumping in the National Hunt Chase was littered with errors when sixth behind Midnight Prayer but he came right in the Irish National at Fairyhouse under Barry Geraghty when getting up late on to deny Golden Wonder by half a length.

 

The horse has only been seen once this campaign in November when taking a graduation chase at Carlisle in taking fashion beating Vintage Star by eight lengths. He was due to go to Ireland for the Lexus Chase but due to the yard’s drop in form caused by a virus, he was kept with a spring campaign in mind but missed Cheltenham altogether in favour to come to Aintree fresh and it would take a brave man to doubt Jonjo O’Neill’s ability to peak a staying chaser on the big day.

Shutthefrontdoor has the potential to go off the shortest priced favourite in recent history.
Shutthefrontdoor has the potential to go off the shortest priced favourite in recent history.

Whilst you know he will be there on the day fighting fit, he is another like Balthazar King that isn’t racefit which can be held against him. Other factors against him are that he lacks the relative experience needed for Aintree even though he has won an Irish National. The form of his last two wins haven’t worked out at all and, put simply, he is far too short in the betting. This is mainly due to the main factor of McCoy riding him whereas you can make strong cases for the likes of Rocky Creek and The Druids Nephew who have proved themselves more recently as more worthy of being shorter than him in the market.

Rating – 6/10

 

Pineau8) PINEAU DE RE – 12 – 11-00 – Daryl Jacob – Dr Richard Newland

Last year’s winner returns to defend his crown having spent a whole season over hurdles to protect his chase mark. His return to action at Cheltenham behind Katkeau caught the eye of many people, the stewards included, as he wasn’t given a particularly hard time of it at any stage through the race but showed enough to suggest he was in good heart with himself.

Can Pineau De Re become the first horse to win back to back Nationals in 41 years?
Can Pineau De Re become the first horse to win back to back Nationals in 41 years?

His next effort at Carlisle in a Pertemps Qualifier was worth forgiving as it was run on testing ground in which he never looked particuarly happy before actually qualifying at Exeter when just scraping in when eighth behind Regal Encore having travelled with much more zest through the race. In a strong renewal of the Pertemps Final, he wasn’t disgraced having travelled well for most of the contest before getting outpaced and staying on up the hill to finish eleventh behind Call The Cops.

This year has all been around a repeat bid of twelve months ago and whilst the services of Leighton Aspell have been retained elsewhere, Newland has found the perfect replacement in 2012 winning jockey Daryl Jacob who gave Neptune Collonges one of the finest rides Aintree has ever seen. One thing that marked the horse’s performance last year was the amount of jumping errors he made on the way round, most notably at the thirteenth fence. If he manages to jump round again then he has solid each way claims but may find one too good off a seven pound higher mark.

Rating – 7/10

Ballycasey9) BALLYCASEY – 8 – 10-13 – Ruby Walsh – Willie Mullins

The all-conquering Willie Mullins stable only has one contender surprisingly and this looks to be one of the worst chances the stable has ever had in trying to win the race. For jockey Ruby Walsh, this is most certainly his worst chance in his attempt for his third National.

Ballycasey should be at least double his price if not bigger.
Ballycasey should be at least double his price if not bigger.

Having convinced at the end of last season that he didn’t last home over three miles at both Cheltenham and Punchestown, this season has not gone to plan whatsoever. He won on his first start in a conditions event at Gowran over two and a half miles before not being able to go the pace over Christmas behind stablemate Twinlight at Leopardstown. There were excuses for his run in the Ascot Chase behind Balder Succes where he returned distressed and scoped badly but his run in the Ryanair was hugely disappointing for a horse that would have appreciated conditions on the day.

His pedigree suggests that the distance would be no issue whatsoever but on every occasion he has raced over a distance of three miles or further, he has never given the impression that a stamina test is what he wants plus with his inconsistent profile, he is extremely hard to fancy. He is priced up due to connections and if he were with other connections, you can guarantee he would be a three figure price. It’s rare that the Walsh/Mullins/Ricci combination would get such a low rating when chances are weighed up but this is fully merited.

Rating – 1/10

 

Lord Windermere Silks10) SPRING HEELED – 8 – 10-12 – Nick Scholfield – Jim Culloty

One of Ireland’s leading contenders having won last year’s Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival under an excellent ride from Robbie McNamara when beating Cause Of Causes. His final start last season was in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown where he was one of the first beat but stayed on eyecatchingly through beaten horses to finish fifth behind Hadrian’s Approach.

Will Spring Heeled see out the distance?
Will Spring Heeled see out the distance?

Over the summer, he contested the Galway Plate where he travelled strongly only to get outpaced after the final fence when fourth to Gold Cup third Road To Riches before not being seen until after the National weights were revealed when running well in the Bobbyjo Chase behind Roi Du Mee on ground that wouldn’t have suited.

His season has revolved around the race and the drying ground will definitely be in his favour plus the booking of Nick Scholfield is no negative at all. The main doubt I have is his stamina as in the past he hasn’t looked the most convincing stayer even though he did stay on in the Bet365. He is a strong traveller though and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was cantering all over the field crossing the Melling Road for the final time. What happens from thereon is another matter.

Rating – 7/10

 

rebel rebellion11) REBEL REBELLION – 10 – 10-12 – Ryan Mahon – Paul Nicholls

A horse who is currently in the form of his life having struck up an excellent association with Jack Sherwood and a winner over these fences courtesy of his success in the 2013 Grand Sefton.

Rebel Rebellion has course form but stamina concerns.
Rebel Rebellion has course form but stamina concerns.

His last three starts have been where the significant improvement has come which has earnt him the right to run in the race with wins in competitive handicaps at Ascot and Newbury with a second in a veterans chase behind Soll at Exeter. He was also fifth in this season’s Grand Sefton behind Poole Master after making a couple of fiddly errors.

Whilst Ryan Mahon gets on well with the horse, the claim of Jack Sherwood has looked to help him plenty and although he is well in on the ratings, there is a huge question mark over his stamina as he has looked to struggle over three miles in the past.

Rating – 3/10

Dolatulo12) DOLATULO – 8 – 10-11 – Dougie Costello – Warren Greatrex

Warren Greatrex has his first runners in the race and of his pair, this looks to hold the best chance. A dual performer over both hurdles and fences, he has had a decent season over fences with a staying on second over two and a half miles at Sandown behind Sound Investment before not being disgraced over these fences in the Grand Sefton when seventh to Poole Master after making a significant mistake at the seventh fence. He followed that run up with a career best in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby over three miles and one furlong when beating the well handicapped Cape Tribulation with a strong suit of stamina.

Dolatulo has a very interesting profile.
Dolatulo has a very interesting profile.

Connections then decided to return to hurdling as they believe he is a better horse if they keep changing his routine. He qualified for the Pertemps at Haydock before always looking on the back foot in the Final itself at the Festival due to the searching gallop set. He did stay on between the last two hurdles before fading to end up well beaten behind Call The Cops.

Whilst he could have ran better there, it most certainly wasn’t the big plan to be in tiptop condition for his preparation and there should be more to come from that effort. The only concern is whether he will fully appreciate the extreme step up in distance but he wasn’t stopping in the Rowland Meyrick so he’s worth his chance compared to others.

Rating – 7/10

mon parrain13) MON PARRAIN – 9 – 10-11 – Sean Bowen – Paul Nicholls

Truth be told, it doesn’t feel like four years ago when this horse jumped for fun in the Topham Trophy and looked the winner from a fair way out only to stop at the Elbow which allowed Always Waining to surge on past to take his second success in the race.

Mon Parrain should give Sean Bowen a good spin on his first ride in the race.
Mon Parrain should give Sean Bowen a good spin on his first ride in the race.

Since then, his career has never taken off in the way it promised too with injury problems being a culprit along with his attitude which has been questionable at times. He finally got a win when cheekpieced first time last April at Cheltenham under a fine ride from Nick Scholfield before running no race whatsoever when returning to action back at Cheltenham in October. The Becher Chase was also a strange effort as the fences didn’t really look to re-spark his enthusiasm as he plugged on to finish eleventh to Oscar Time.

On New Year’s Day at Cheltenham, he was sent off 25/1 with first time blinkers applied and we saw a completely different horse to the one we’d seen in his previous two races, jumping with that relish we had seen all those years ago in the Topham and proved to be too good for Our Father under a confident ride from promising claimer Sean Bowen. His National prep run in the Grimthorpe was much better than his run in the same race the previous year when fifth behind Wayward Prince.

As Sean Bowen rode his tenth winner in a steeplechase on Saturday, he is able now to have his first ever ride in the National and if the Mon Parrain from New Year’s Day turns up, he should have a decent spin round for a fair way but the trip is a big concern.

Rating – 4/10

carlito14) CARLITO BRIGANTE – 9 – 10-10 – Brian Harding – Karen McLintock – NON RUNNER

Scotland’s only representative and a first runner in the race for Karen McLintock having purchased the horse two summers ago for £32,000 with him bidding to become the first Scottish winner since Rubstic in 1979. Since his move from Gordon Elliott’s yard, he has only finished outside the first three on one occasion when outclassed in the Martin Pipe at last year’s Festival behind Don Poli.

Carlito Brigante is one at bigger odds than has some appeal.
Carlito Brigante is one at bigger odds than has some appeal.

Unlike most who have ran through the winter, he went for a summer campaign with him finishing second to the handicap snip that was The Romford Pele in the John Smith’s Summer Cup at Uttoxeter before another solid effort in the Inverness Cup when just beaten by His Excellency. His final run before a break in October was at Kelso where he won a handicap chase over three and a quarter miles off top weight in convincing style by seventeen lengths.

Put away for the winter months due to deteriorating ground, he returned at Kelso at the end of February where he was third behind Runswick Royal on rain softened ground which wouldn’t have helped his cause but it was a fair effort which he will definitely come on for.

Of those at the bigger prices, he appeals more than most as he is unexposed over stamina distances and has vital experience of big field handicaps being a former winner of the Coral Cup at Cheltenham. Brian Harding is a positive booking, the drying ground will certainly be in his favour and he is an uncomplicated ride.

Rating – 8/10

Night Mil15) NIGHT IN MILAN – 9 – 10-9 – James Reveley – Keith Reveley

A horse that has been a model of consistency throughout the season in staying handicap chases at Doncaster, a track which has served well in the past for Aintree candidates. He only just missed the cut for last year’s renewal having won the Grimthorpe Chase after the weights came out at Doncaster.

Night In Milan looks a solid jumper but might be handicapped out of it.
Night In Milan looks a solid jumper but might be handicapped out of it.

He started his season with two low key efforts over hurdles at both Sedgefield and Haydock before returning to fences at Doncaster where he was a close second to the ultra consistent Grandad’s Horse. He then ran respectably behind RSA Chase fifth If In Doubt in the Skybet Chase on ground probably softer than ideal.

A repeat bid at the Grimthorpe was his last run before Aintree and he was ridden with more waiting tactics than usual. He did make an uncharacteristic mistake at the first fence but he ran an excellent trial to finish third behind the reformed Wayward Prince. His bold jumping should hold him in good stead and with the drying ground definitely in his favour, he holds solid each way claims.

Rating – 8/10

rubi light16) RUBI LIGHT – 10 – 10-9 – Andrew Lynch – Robert Hennessy

Runs for the same owner/trainer combination that won the Champion Hurdle with Sublimity back in 2007. This two and a half mile specialist has scaled the heights at Grade One level which included a win in the 2011 John Durkan Chase at Punchestown and a third in the 2011 Ryanair behind Alberta’s Run. Whilst he isn’t at that level anymore, he is still running well and has won his last two races including a veterans chase at Wexford where he beat He’llberemembered and a conditions chase at Thurles where he beat Arnaud.

Rubi Light is a two and a half mile specialist who will struggle.
Rubi Light is a two and a half mile specialist who will struggle.

Earlier in his career, he attempted three miles twice which included a good second to the ill-fated Synchronised in the Lexus Chase and a fourth behind China Rock in the Punchestown Gold Cup beaten thirteen lengths. The main concerns are the drying ground with his love for soft ground and the distance which I don’t think he will appreciate.

Rating – 3/10

 

 

druids17) THE DRUIDS NEPHEW – 8 – 10-09 – Aidan Coleman – Neil Mulholland

If someone had said to me this time twelve months ago that I would be putting up The Druids Nephew to win a Grand National, I would have probably laughed at you. So here I am putting up The Druids Nephew to win the 2015 Grand National. The more I’ve thought about his credentials, the more convinced I am that he has a brilliant chance.

The Druids Nephew looks to tick every single box.
The Druids Nephew looks to tick every single box.

Having raced for Andy Turnell until the start of this season, he moved to Neil Mulholland and has thrived all season for his shrewd trainer. He started out in an easy race at Huntingdon to gain some confidence and he won with plenty in hand under champion jockey Tony McCoy. Cheltenham was the next port of call where he was ridden to get the trip over three miles and three furlongs. The tactics used probably cost him any chance of victory but in saying that, Sam Winner would have been extremely difficult to pass but he proved he stayed that distance on testing ground.

With the weights already out for the Hennessy Gold Cup, connections took their chance and he did very well to recover from a bad mistake early on. Given a sympathetic ride by Davy Russell, he was taken wide of the field and came there with every chance four out but the early mistake looked to cost him and potentially the hard race had at Cheltenham two weeks earlier.

To preserve his handicap mark before the Festival, he ran in the Cleeve Hurdle on Cheltenham Trials Day and was not disgraced when only beaten sixteen lengths by World Hurdle runner up Saphir Du Rheu. At the Festival itself, he was well fancied by connections and duly delivered on the day with an excellent performance which he had promised for a long time when beating the likes of Grand Jesture and Gallant Oscar.

Trainer Neil Mulholland has improved the horse plenty and is a shrewd operator.
Trainer Neil Mulholland has improved the horse plenty and is a shrewd operator.

The handicapper put him up ten pounds for that win however he escapes a penalty here which makes him the best handicapped horse in the race. In the past, his jumping had been suspect but his jumping at Cheltenham was solid and with Aintree less of a test than it used to be, the fences should pose no problem. With the better ground, staying the distance should be less of a problem as he wasn’t stopping behind Sam Winner in November and with him being such a strong traveller, he should be thereabouts crossing the Melling Road with two to jump. Whilst he has been running in handicaps, he does have a touch of class about him having finished sixth in an Albert Bartlett back in 2012 behind the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze.

Whilst Barry Geraghty is injured and unable to take the ride, the replacement of Aidan Coleman is a top booking and he does have a fair record over these fences, just not in the Grand National itself. It would also ensure that Coleman can forget the regretful decision made in 2009 when he chose Stan over the winner Mon Mome, both trained by Venetia Williams. If he gets a clear round and some luck in running, he looks the likely winner for me.

Rating – 10/10

cause of causes18) CAUSE OF CAUSES – 7 – 10-9 – Paul Carberry – Gordon Elliott

A second season novice over fences who finally broke his maiden tag in the best way possible when winning the National Hunt Chase under a fantastic patient ride from Jamie Codd who got him jumping well in rear and stayed on resolutely up the hill to fend off Broadway Buffalo.

Cause Of Causes has a good jockey booking in Paul Carberry.
Cause Of Causes has an excellent jockey booking in Paul Carberry.

Even though he has been a novice for the last two seasons, he has been thrown in the deep end in some of the most competitive staying handicap clases including the Paddy Power Chase when just denied by Rockyaboya and in the Kim Muir when a last fence blunder cost him his chance behind Spring Heeled. He was also a former winner of the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot over the minimum distance of two miles.

Whilst he deserves respect with his big field handicap form, the impression is a stronger tempo compared to the National Hunt Chase where he was given time to get into a rhythm could prove to be his undoing around Aintree. However, he does have a top pilot in Paul Carberry who won on Bobbyjo back in 1999 to guide him round. He is one I would rather leave than be backing.

Rating – 5/10

godmesjudge19) GODSMEJUDGE – 9 – 10-8 – Wayne Hutchinson – Alan King

This horse has been on my shortlist as a potential Grand National horse for around two years and he finally makes it here. The 2013 Scottish National winner missed last year’s race due to being a week behind in his work but ran two excellent races to compensate in the Scottish National when second to Al Co and in the Bet365 Gold Cup when third behind Hadrian’s Approach.

Godsmejudge has been trained for one day and has a live chance.
Godsmejudge has been trained for one day and has a live chance.

He returned this season in the Skybet Chase at Doncaster where he looked in desperate need of the run when pulled up behind If In Doubt before a more encouraging effort in the Betbright Chase when a staying on fifth to Rocky Creek. A spin over hurdles last time at Bangor was disappointing when he was last behind a potential future Grand National horse in Binge Drinker.

He most certainly has the right attibrutes to win a Grand National. He is a very sound jumper, is an uncomplicated ride and has a strong suit of stamina. This looks one of Alan King’s strongest chances for Aintree success and for rider Wayne Hutchinson who has an excellent association with the horse and he doesn’t look badly handicapped.

Rating – 9/10

al co20) AL CO – 10 – 10-8 – Denis O’Regan – Peter Bowen

Last year’s Scottish National winner showed resolute stamina when seeing off Godsmejudge and Trustan Times despite jinking twice on the run in and almost unseating Jamie Moore. This season started off disappointingly at Haydock over hurdles where he was the first beaten behind On Tour but improved more recently with two thirds. The first of those coming at Doncaster when third to subsequent Festival winner Call The Cops and the latter behind Binge Drinker where he shaped with a lot of promise.

Jumping is a real concern for Al Co.
Jumping is a real concern for Al Co.

This has been the long term plan and his profile would normally interest me a lot. However, one run not mentioned above was his second start when he came to Aintree for a sighter over the National fences in the Becher Chase. His jumping throughout left an awful lot to be desired when pulled up before the final fence. Without that run, I would probably be putting him up as an each way selection but he looked to really dislike the challenge of Aintree and he looks one to steer well clear of.

Rating – 3/10

monbeg21) MONBEG DUDE – 10 – 10-7 – Liam Treadwell – Michael Scudamore

One of the most consistent staying handicap chasers in training who very rarely runs a bad race. The former Welsh National winner has had yet another excellent season without getting his head in front including filling the runner up spot on his return at Chepstow behind Victor’s Serenade before running an excellent race in the Hennessy when fourth to Many Clouds. He filled the same position in the Welsh National behind Emperor’s Choice before finishing third behind the game Lie Forrit in Haydock’s Grand National Trial. His last effort was a surprising below par effort at the Festival where he didn’t look particularly happy at any stage through the race behind The Druids Nephew.

Monbeg Dude looks to have slight stamina concerns.
Monbeg Dude looks to have slight stamina concerns.

The jockey booking of former winner Liam Treadwell is an excellent decision from connections as surprisingly, he hasn’t ridden in the race since his debut on Mon Mome so he gets a thoroughly deserved opportunity. The slight doubt was whether he fully saw out the trip last year after making a couple of fiddly errors on the way round. Each way claims at best.

Rating – 6/10

 

 

corrin22) CORRIN WOOD – 8 – 10-7 – David Casey – Donald McCain

The first of Donald McCain’s two runners with this bold jumping front running grey sure to make a fair bid early on. He looked a highly promising novice chaser last season when winning his first three novice chases in convincing style including notable wins at Catterick when he thrashed Dursey Sound by twenty three lengths and at Warwick where he claimed the notable scalp of Black Thunder with a superb round of jumping. Considered good enough for a crack at the RSA Chase, he unfortunately got taken on for the lead by Annacotty and they each cut each other’s throats practically ending both their chances.

Corrin Wood should give a bold sight for a fair distance but stamina questions to answer.
Corrin Wood should give a bold sight for a fair distance but stamina questions to answer.

His return this season at Sandown was promising enough as he looked to really need the run beforehand behind the horse he beat at Warwick in Black Thunder before a more than satisfactory effort behind Dolatulo in the Rowland Meyrick carrying top weight before a disappointing run in the Peter Marsh which you can forgive as the ground was dreadful on that occasion.

His style will definitely suit Aintree with his bold jumping an asset but the concerns are whether his exuberance will get the better of him and whilst he has got form over three miles, the step up in distance is a step into the unknown.

Rating – 5/10

rainbow23) THE RAINBOW HUNTER – 11 – 10-7 – David Bass – Kim Bailey

The Rainbow Hunter bids to put behind him two unlucky experiences in the Grand National.
The Rainbow Hunter bids to put behind him two unlucky experiences in the Grand National.

One of the more recent unlucky horses of Aintree having been hampered on both visits which have resulted in Aidan Coleman being unseated onto the Aintree turf. The horse has only been out once this season when pulled up after hating the soft ground in the Betbright Chase behind Rocky Creek. Good ground here will suit better but coming into this off the back of one poor effort lingers in the mind and does the horse retain the same level of form shown when winning last year’s Skybet Chase at Doncaster.

Rating – 5/10

saint are24) SAINT ARE – 9 – 10-6 – Paddy Brennan – Tom George

A prime advert for what a change of stable can do for a horse. Formerly with Tim Vaughan, he moved to Tom George’s yard at the start of the season and has come back to form with a real vengeance. Twice a winner at this meeting including the Grade One Sefton Novice Hurdle, his season began at Cheltenham where he ran his best race for a long time before getting tired when third behind Sam Winner. His next start came in the Becher Chase over these fences where he got outpaced before staying on eyecatchingly to be third behind Oscar Time. On New Year’s Day at Cheltenham he raced on the pace but again found Mon Parrain and Our Father too good for him.

Saint Are should run well but probably won't be good enough.
Saint Are should run well but probably won’t be good enough.

With this race being the long term plan, he needed his mark to go up sufficiently to allow him a chance of getting in at the weights so it was a must win race at Catterick where he duly obliged by seven lengths. He has experience of the Grand National having finished ninth to Aurora’s Encore as a seven year old. The extra experience he has gained will hold him in good stead but the concern is how well handicapped he is compared to others in the race. He strikes as one that will jump round safely to finish sixth or seventh rather than win.

Rating – 6/10

across25) ACROSS THE BAY – 11 – 10-6 – Henry Brooke – Donald McCain

Arguably the unluckiest horse of last year’s renewal having been carried out by the enigmatic Tidal Bay just after the Water Jump losing in the region of forty lengths before continuing around to finish fourteenth behind Pineau De Re. This season had seen him not show very much with a laboured effort at Bangor before a slight spark of improvement in the Becher Chase where he led for a fair distance until getting tired behind Oscar Time and the same at Haydock in a Pertemps Qualifier when he faded away quickly when beat.

Across The Bay deserves more luck in running this year.
Across The Bay deserves more luck in running this year.

Last time out in the Kim Muir, he showed signs of a resurgence when travelling kindly through the race until he was brought down at the fourth last where he took a crunching fall, happily coming back safe and sound. He is similar to his stablemate in that he will be up forcing the pace but the concern is whether he’ll last home over the trip. His jumping which has been a problem in the past seems to have been sorted around here so he should give Henry Brooke another good ride round.

Rating – 5/10

tranquil26) TRANQUIL SEA – 13 – 10-5 – Gavin Sheehan – Warren Greatrex

Tranquil Sea isn't the same force of old and has major stamina doubts.
Tranquil Sea isn’t the same force of old and has major stamina doubts.

The 2009 Paddy Power Gold Cup winner is Gavin Sheehan’s first ever ride in the race for an up and coming young star of the sport. Now thirteen, he attempted to get in last year’s race but won after the weights were announced at Doncaster so was too late to make the cut for the race. He also ran in the Kim Muir where he missed the start and was eventually pulled up before running on Grand National day in the three mile handicap chase where he didn’t show very much.

He has been out once this campaign when a never nearer fifth to Soll in a veterans chase at Newbury. He bids to become the first thirteen year old to win the National since Sergeant Murphy in 1923 but he faces an uphill task, with stamina being a big concern plus he looks past his best which makes the veteran very easy to overlook.

Rating – 2/10

oscar t27) OSCAR TIME – 14 – 10-5 – Mr Sam Waley-Cohen – Robert Waley-Cohen

The oldest horse in the field has an exemplary record over these fences with him reaching the frame on all three starts over them including twice in this contest when second to Ballabriggs in 2011 and fourth to Aurora’s Encore in 2013. Whilst he’s now at the age of fourteen, he has shown very few signs of age catching up with him as he has won plenty of Point to Points mixed in with some hunter chases, one even over two and a half miles at Wetherby showing he still possesses a fair bit of pace.

Oscar Time looks overpriced with his superb record over the fences.
Oscar Time looks overpriced with his superb record over the fences.

He returned to Aintree for the Becher Chase where he was sent off overpriced at 25/1 and he showed his younger rivals a clean pair of heels, holding off the well ridden Mendip Express and beating a fair few of these that reoppose. His only other start since at Doncaster was promising when fourth behind Aachen in a veterans chase.

He is attempting to become the first fourteen year old to win the Grand National in its history and on the basis of his Becher Chase win, he holds every chance but there is that small doubt he is too old to do it. His price though compared to others in the race is ludicrous and, with a rider in Sam Waley-Cohen, a damn fine amateur who has a record second to none over the fences, he is definitely worth an each way punt.

Rating – 8/10

bob ford28) BOB FORD – 8 – 10-4 – Paul Townend – Rebecca Curtis

Sadly for Rebecca Curtis, her main fancy Teaforthree has had to be sidelined due to injury so instead she relies on Bob Ford to potentially become the first horse to win the National for Wales since Kirkland in 1905. The horse is inconsistent and needs his own way out in front which he definitely won’t get here. He tried these fences in the Grand Sefton in December and jumped poorly and he most certainly didn’t deserve a twelve pound hike in the weights for winning what was effectively a walkover in a farce of a race that was the West Wales National at Ffos Las. Pulled up last time in the Midlands National after failing to get his own way in front, he will surely struggle here and looks to have very little chance.

Rating – 1/10

super duty29) SUPER DUTY – 9 – 10-4 – Will Kennedy – Ian Williams

A decent performer in the past for Donald McCain and was second to none other than Simonsig at this meeting over hurdles three years ago. His form as a novice chaser was solid enough with it culminating in an excellent run in the Kim Muir when just denied by Same Difference in a close finish. Since then he has had his injury problems but his return to the track over hurdles at Wetherby saw some promise when sixth behind Join The Clan before a slightly below par effort in the Grimthorpe when seventh to Wayward Prince. Whilst he has form on decent ground, the concern is whether he’d want the going a bit softer but he is a sound enough jumper so should get round.

Rating – 5/10

wyck30) WYCK HILL – 11 – 10-4 – Tom Cannon – David Bridgewater

At one time in his career, this horse looked to have a real future when taking the Silver Cup at Ascot in December 2012 beating Katenko who went onto dominate two handicaps before a severe attack of colic ruined his progressive career. Wyck Hill was bought after that by JP McManus but was mostly disappointing which included a sour effort over these fences in the 2013 Becher Chase. He finally got it together in last year’s Eider Chase where the test of stamina played to his strengths.

Wyck Hill may prefer softer ground to be at his best.
Wyck Hill may prefer softer ground to be at his best.

His return this season in a novice hurdle at Chepstow had some promise going forward but his repeat bid for a second success in the Eider ended at the sixth fence when taking a tumble. Whilst he should appreciate every yard of the distance, he gives the impression that softer ground would suit better and his jumping would need to improve.

Rating – 5/10

gas31) GAS LINE BOY – 9 – 10-4 – James Best – Philip Hobbs

Owned by the Mick Fitzgerald Racing Club, Fitzgerald rode Rough Quest to victory in 1996 and proceeded to declare on BBC Television that winning the National was better than sex! Imagine the interview were this horse to win…

Gas Line Boy is worth a couple of quid each way at 100/1.
Gas Line Boy is worth a couple of quid each way at 100/1.

The horse has shown some fairly useful form this season with two wins at Exeter and Haydock, the latter of those a thorough stamina test where he beat Welsh National winner Emperor’s Choice by thirteen lengths. He was disappointing in the Welsh National himself but it was the worst ground he had encountered in his career to date so he can be forgiven. His final start in the Grand National Trial was littered with a few jumping errors but he ran respectably behind Lie Forrit when fourth.

The key to the horse is getting into a rhythm and if he does, he could make a mockery of his large odds and very easily run into a place. If he doesn’t, it will be a long walk home for James Best who is having his first ever ride in the race. For small stakes, that looks a risk worth chancing with the softer fences a plus.

Rating – 7/10

chance du32) CHANCE DU ROY – 11 – 10-4 – Tom O’Brien – Philip Hobbs

The second string of Philip Hobbs behind Balthazar King but his own form around these fences stands up handsomely. Winner of the 2013 Becher Chase and also runner up in the 2012 Topham, he finished sixth in last year’s National after making a bad mistake early doors but was given a wonderful patient ride by Tom O’Brien who takes the ride again. He was bang there crossing the Melling Road but ultimately failed to see out the distance.

Chance Du Roy should get round but whether he's in the same form as last year remains to be seen.
Chance Du Roy should get round but whether he’s in the same form as last year remains to be seen.

His return in the Becher Chase was a fair effort when fifth behind Oscar Time before a run in a veterans chase at Exeter where he was fifth again behind Soll after getting behind at a crucial point before staying on through beaten horses. He is likely to run a similar race to last year and give you a run for your money but may just miss out on placings, if your bookmaker is paying five/six places, use that to your advantage.

Rating – 6/10

 

portrait33) PORTRAIT KING – 10 – 10-3 – Davy Condon – Maurice Phelan

One horse that is assured of getting every yard of the trip being a former winner of the Eider Chase at Newcastle way back in 2012. That performance convinced me that he would be a future Grand National candidate but since then, injury problems have curtailed his career.

Portrait King should get around in his own time.
Portrait King should get around in his own time.

This season saw him return over an inadequate trip at Punchestown when eighth behind Grand Jesture before losing all chance when badly hampered in the Paddy Power Chase over Christmas at Leopardstown, eventually being pulled up. He won his next start at Fairyhouse with a real staying performance being Rogue Angel and followed that up with a good second in the Punchestown Grand National Trial behind the easy winner Embracing Change. Just like his Leopardstown run, he was badly hampered in this year’s Eider and never got back into a comfortable rhythm. Last time out, he was a fair second over hurdles at Downpatrick.

His jumping shouldn’t be an issue round here but the concerns are whether he is badly handicapped and does has the pace to keep up with the gallop on the first circuit. If he can, then he could be one to surprise as he does love a stamina test plus the drying ground isn’t too concerning either having won the Eider on good ground but the handicap mark doesn’t look particularly lenient.

Rating – 6/10

owega star34) OWEGA STAR – 8 – 10-3 – Robbie Power – Peter Fahey

Has the assistance of Robbie Power who won the race on Silver Birch back in 2007. The horse has shown some useful big handicap form in Ireland including a second in the Troytown Chase to the ill-fated Balbriggan at Navan and a fifth in the Paddy Power Chase to Living Next Door at Leopardstown however his final start in the Leinster National at Naas was a disappointing effort when sixth behind Miss Xian beaten thirty two lengths. That didn’t look the ideal preparation coming here and the concern is whether he’ll have the stamina to see it out with his breeding suggesting not.

Rating – 4/10

river choice35) RIVER CHOICE – 12 – 10-3 – David Cottin – Richard Chotard

The first French trained challenger since Musica Bella back in 2009. He attempts to become the third French trained winner in the history of the race with the last of those coming in 1867. Should jump these fences having jumped round Auteuil which is a fairly stiff track. Looks to have real stamina doubts. One to avoid.

Rating – 1/10

court by36) COURT BY SURPRISE – 10 – 10-3 – Richie McLernon – Emma Lavelle

It’s surprising that over the years Emma Lavelle has never had a runner in the National with this being her first ever representative. The horse has proven himself in various big handicap chases over the last couple of seasons with his first main success coming at Doncaster in December 2012 where he beat Night In Milan. Last season saw solid efforts at Chepstow, Wincanton and at Sandown over three miles five furlongs when second to There’s No Panic before his form tailed off with two sour efforts to end the season.

Court By Surprise has a tendency to hit a fence which could be his undoing.
Court By Surprise has a tendency to hit a fence which could be his undoing.

He started this season with a very easy win at Exeter when beating According To Trev before benefiting from cruel misfortune to The Young Master who was disqualified for not being qualified for the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton. To combat his form tailing off this season, connections have given him a winter break to freshen him up and he should give a good account of himself but there are several concerns I have. He has a tendency to clout a fence, has stamina doubts having looked a non stayer at Sandown and the lack of a recent run are all enough to put me off.

Rating – 5/10

alvarado37) ALVARADO – 10 – 10-3 – Paul Moloney – Fergal O’Brien

One that was backed ante-post at 40/1 in February as he looked the each way value of the race at that particular time and even at his current price now, you could argue he still represents value to place. He was fourth in last year’s renewal after being given a very patient ride by Paul Moloney who has placed every year since 2009 on the likes of State Of Play and Cappa Bleu for the Rucker family, both those horses trained by Evan Williams. Just like those pair, he seemed to get outpaced before staying on through beaten horses into fourth.

Alvarado looks the place certainty of the race.
Alvarado looks the place certainty of the race.

His only start this season came in a veterans chase at Doncaster where he ran respectably without landing a blow behind Aachen. He has also had a racecourse gallop at Newbury to sharpen him up. One thing is for sure, he looks to have a real each way chance but if Paul Moloney decides to ride him closer to the pace and keeps tabs with the leaders crossing the Melling Road, he has every chance to finally win the race for the Ruckers. That is a big if however.

Rating – 9/10

soll38) SOLL – 10 – 10-2 – Tom Scudamore – David Pipe

The Pipe family have had success in the National before with father Martin training Miinnehoma to win in 1994 and son David winning with Comply Or Die in 2008. During that season, he was a revelation in blinkers which is similar to this horse who was tried in blinkers on his last start and they looked to work really well on him as he beat Relax in a veterans chase at Newbury. Before that, he managed to qualify for the race when winning another veterans chase at Exeter under a brilliant ride from Tom Scudamore as it didn’t look a likely success from an early stage as he was scrubbed along to get a prominent position and needed every urging in the closing stages to win.

Soll may just lack the tactical pace to keep up with the field.
Soll may just lack the tactical pace to keep up with the field.

He has previous experience over the National fences. He got round when seventh to Aurora’s Encore two years ago when making a few jumping errors on the way round and also in last year’s Topham where he was completely taken off his feet and badly hampered by the fall of Fago at the final open ditch. The distance shouldn’t be any issue but the concern is whether he has that tactical pace to keep up early on plus his jumping will need to improve if he is to figure.

Rating – 5/10

ely39) ELY BROWN – 10 – 10-2 – No jockey – Charlie Longsdon

One that has very little chasing experience having only raced over fences six times in his career, two of those coming in Point to Points. He did win the Grade Two Towton Novices Chase at Wetherby last season with a solid round of jumping before he disappointed at Ascot in the Reynoldstown behind O’Faolains Boy. He was found afterwards to be injured and has only been seen once since back at Wetherby over hurdles where he was pulled up. Whilst he looks a safe jumper, his lack of experience and his preparation are surely major causes for concern.

Rating – 3/10

royale40) ROYALE KNIGHT – 9 – 10-2 – Brendan Powell – Dr Richard Newland

The final contender in this year’s Grand National is Dr Richard Newland’s second runner who has shown an aptitude for marathon trips with victories in the Borders National at Kelso over four miles in December 2013 and in the Durham National at Sedgefield last October where he absolutely bolted up under Daryl Jacob which helped his handicap mark go up enough to ensure a run here.

Royale Knight is Dr Richard Newland's second representative.
Royale Knight is Dr Richard Newland’s second representative.

His most recent outings have come over hurdles including a low key effort at Towcester where he might have still been feeling the effects of his Sedgefield win. Given a planned break, he showed promise when second over hurdles at Chepstow over three miles recently. This sound jumper has never raced in a race as competitive as this but the distance should bring out improvement and he should give Brendan Powell a deserved good spin after his first ride ended at the start on the recalcitrant Battle Group last year. The main concern the trainer has is whether he can keep up early as he isn’t the quickest in the field.

Rating – 7/10

 

Keeping the end short and sweet as I’ve rambled on long enough above, here are the horses that I will be backing. (The Druids Nephew, Godsmejudge, Alvarado, Carlito Brigante, Oscar Time & Gas Line Boy) The 1-2-3-4 is more inclined with the way my head sees the result but I believe Rocky Creek is short enough now so he can be left unbacked even though he has strong claims.

1) The Druids Nephew
2) Rocky Creek
3) Godsmejudge
4) Alvarado

The very best of luck to you if you are having a bet and many thanks for taking the time to read this piece!

2015 Crabbie’s Grand National Video Preview

The 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National is almost here and we at OnTheOtherHoof have recorded an extensive preview with all forty runners and their chances discussed by Luke Elder, Adam Webb and Calum Madell.

The very best of luck to you if you are having a bet on the race!