Here’s my 2016 Grand National Pinstickers Guide. It’s a more condensed version compared to last year due to timing constraints. One thing I have aimed for in this year’s guide is to have stronger negative stances against particular horses and their chances of Aintree glory rather than sit on the fence and give a more average rating. Each horse gets a rating out of 10, one gets 10 and three get 9 so you get a 1-2-3-4 at the end. Obviously the lower the rating, the more unlikely the chances are for success on Saturday.
Racecard number – Horse – Age – Weight carried – Trainer – Jockey
1) MANY CLOUDS 9 11-10 Oliver Sherwood Leighton Aspell
We begin this mammoth process with the 2015 hero who, in terms of a return bid, couldn’t have had a more perfect preparation if they had tried. Having needed the run in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby when sixth behind Cue Card, he followed up with a sound effort when second giving 5lb to Don Poli in the 3m1f Listed Chase over Aintree’s Mildmay Course. Another good second behind Smad Place in the Betbright Chase on Cheltenham Trials Day set him up for Kelso where he jumped brilliantly in the Premier Chase to win as he pleased by 10 lengths from Unioniste.
Everything looks primed for another big run and he has realistic claims to become the first horse since Red Rum 42 years ago to get the double. In terms of recent Grand National winners, he probably has the best chance since the same owner’s Hedgehunter back in 2006 who put up a brave effort when second to Numbersixvalverde. He deserves to be clear favourite and, even off top weight, has to be in the shortlist.
For a horse as popular as Silviniaco Conti, his participation in the world’s greatest steeplechase has a polarised view. Just like Marmite, you’re either for or against.
The case for him is pretty simple. The son of Dom Alco is a seven time Grade One winner including two Betfair Chases at Haydock and two King Georges at Kempton, not carrying top weight, and even with Many Clouds in the field is the class act of the race. He should race prominently and use his prime asset; his jumping. He returned to form in first time blinkers last time in the Ascot Chase over 2m5f when thrashing Dynaste by 20 lengths.
The negatives. Apart from his jumping, he hasn’t shown any inclination that he would be an ideal Grand National horse. Trainer Paul Nicholls is convinced he has all the stamina in the world and while in his more recent Grade One victories he has used his stamina to win, the majority of his rivals haven’t been the strongest of stayers at 3m and on both attempts he completed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, stamina has looked the issue rather than the track.
At the prices, he is one near the head of the market that needs to definitely be taken on with the main issue being stamina. Arguably he is better than Neptune Collonges, who won this back in 2012 for the champion trainer, but had confirmed his liking for a thorough stamina test.
Rating – 4/10
3) FIRST LIEUTENANT 11 11-4 Mouse Morris Bryan Cooper
A wonderful servant to connections over the years with his CV including a Cheltenham Festival win and various placed efforts. Ran in this last year and lost any chance with two bad mistakes at the first two fences, eventually completing tailed off. Bounced back to some decent form this season including when chasing home Smad Place in the Hennessy at Newbury and when a fast finishing second to Don Poli in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. Hard to recommend even with Bryan Cooper choosing him.
Rating – 3/10
4) WONDERFUL CHARM 8 11-3 Paul Nicholls Sam Twiston-Davies
Another of the Nicholls battalion which stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies chose to ride, although his choices seemed pretty limited. Either him or Rocky Creek who has completely lost the plot with Black Thunder being sold at the Aintree Sale and the trio of Silviniaco Conti, Just A Par and Unioniste being rides set out for particular jockeys.
Having looked at one stage to be the next big thing in National Hunt racing, the son of Poliglote proved to be rather frustrating and has been trained specifically for the race this season with only one outing when second behind Aachen at Cheltenham before Christmas. The major concern is stamina and the recent rain will have done more harm to his chances. He’s one to avoid.
Rating – 2/10
5) BALLYNAGOUR 10 11-2 David Pipe Tom Scuadmore
It’s a joke he’s running here when he’s shown no inclination for a stamina test in his career. Will travel well for a circuit but the warning signs will soon be showing around second Becher’s. Next!
Rating – 1/10
6) O’FAOLAINS BOY 9 11-1 Rebecca Curtis Brian Hughes
The closer we get to the off, the more his chances appeal. The 2014 RSA Chase winner missed last season due to a leg injury and whilst his return to action in the Amlin Chase behind Vautour at Ascot was a shocking effort, he proved his wellbeing when taking a Graduation Chase at Newbury just before Christmas when beating Sausalito Sunrise by 15 lengths. The wheels soon fell off however when disappointing in the Betbright Chase behind Smad Place before a below par effort in a Pertemps Qualifier at Chepstow at the end of February.
His Gold Cup effort was a lot better in first time cheekpieces and he looked for a long way as though he would have a say in the finish before fading in the closing stages. As a preparation for this it looks a fair effort and with the rain making the ground softer, his chances improve greatly.
Rating – 8/10
7) GILGAMBOA 8 11-1 Enda Bolger Robbie Power
Another that has proven he doesn’t stay 3m yet holds an entry here. Ran respectably in the Ryanair but should have either gone for the Melling Chase or the Topham as he would have had a more realistic winning chance. Next!
Rating – 1/10
8) ON HIS OWN 12 11-1 Willie Mullins Mr Patrick Mullins
A grand old veteran whose career high came when second in the 2014 Gold Cup, he has had three attempts over these fences and since his first experience has looked soured by the place. Travelling well in the 2012 National when baulked by a loose horse and falling at Becher’s second time, he returned as a leading principal the following year and had began to struggle when falling at second Valentine’s. His other effort over these fences in the 2013 Becher Chase was a extremely mulish effort as he tailed himself off before plugging on through beaten horses.
The same character has made this appearance on a few occasions this season, including on his banks debut where you couldn’t blame him in fairness and at Leopardstown in the Irish Hennessy when showing wayward tendencies at various points in the contest. Should give Patrick Mullins a fun spin round but he’s a bit long in the tooth and plenty of others preferred.
Rating – 3/10
9) THE DRUIDS NEPHEW 9 11-0 Neil Mulholland Denis O’Regan
Arguably a case of what might have been last year when travelling omniously well before crumpling on landing five from home and giving Aidan Coleman no chance of keeping the partnership intact.
Unlike last season where the Cheltenham Festival seemed to be the main aim with Aintree as a back up due to him being well-in at the weights, the whole season has revolved around a return to Aintree with three runs since the start of the campaign. A pipe opener in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby behind Kilcooley before an interesting effort at Cheltenham when sixth behind Aachen in December.
His warm up came in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster last month when chasing home The Last Samuri in second having shaped well throughout. The son of King’s Theatre is 9lb higher than last year and probably has decent place chances but the main questions, which was a pre-race fear last year, are whether his stamina will hold out and how will he take to the Aintree experience the second time round.
A former Topham Trophy and Hennessy Gold Cup winner, he missed last year’s renewal due to an injured knee and returned to action this year with a comprehensive display of jumping in a Listed Chase at Kempton when having the measure of Ptit Zig before that rival unseated two out. He consequently disappointing behind Silviniaco Conti on testing ground in the Ascot Chase in February and can ultimately be forgiven the run.
Just like when he contested the race in 2014, similar concerns about his jumping apply. Despite winning the Topham, he made several mistakes on the way round and he cannot get away with those again and also similar worries about his stamina lasting out. This does look another year where trainer Nicky Henderson’s wait for a Grand National year will continue for another twelve months.
Rating – 3/10
11) ROCKY CREEK 10 10-13 Paul Nicholls Andrew Thornton
Sent off a well backed second favourite last year, he disappointed badly and has showed little remnants of that Racing Plus Chase win at Kempton last season. Looked out of love with the game in the Grand Sefton before a poor effort in the Denman Chase. Should suit Andrew Thornton’s style and jump round safely but he won’t be troubling the leaders.
Rating – 2/10
12) SIR DES CHAMPS 10 10-13 Willie Mullins Nina Carberry
Dual Cheltenham Festival winner who looked a live Gold Cup candidate a couple of years ago when second to Bob’s Worth in the 2013 equivalent. Injury woes prevented him from another crack at the blue riband event and he returned from a long absence to win a farce of a contest at Thurles which proved very little about what form he had retained. We got a clearer indication at Christmas when he disappointed in the Lexus Chase and further more in the Irish Hennessy. This seems a desperate last bite of the cherry and his jumping even at his peak wasn’t the most fluent. Readily opposed, even with top amateur Nina Carberry drafted in to take the ride in place of Ruby Walsh who is out injured with a fractured wrist.
There’s no doubting Holywell has plenty of talent when on a going day, a fourth in last year’s Gold Cup a testament to that and two Festival successes in two of the toughest handicaps of the season showcases his mettle for the big days when the pressure is on.
As has become the norm in Holywell’s season, it had been fairly quiet including a miserable display in the Skybet Chase at Doncaster before another crack at the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival where he bumped into a better handicapped horse in Un Temps Pour Tout. He still looks fairly treated here on the pick of his form and Aintree could be the type of test that could just bring him alive, similar to his stablemate Don’t Push It who won the race back in 2010. If he takes to this unique test, the son of Gold Well definitely has the class to go very close but that’s the risk you take backing the horse. Any extra rain is a negative to his chances.
Rating – 7/10
14) SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR 9 10-11 Jonjo O’Neill Barry Geraghty
The 2014 Irish National winner was all the hype twelve months ago when the final ride in the contest for Sir Anthony McCoy the possibility they could win looked more than realistic for three quarters of the race until he weakened after the second last, finishing fifth behind Many Clouds.
The son of Accordion started his season well with a promising effort when third behind Broxbourne in a Pertemps Qualifier back at Aintree in early November before disappointing in last month’s Greatwood Gold Cup where he never travelled a yard before being pulled up. An abcess on his foot was found as an excuse but it’s not an ideal ailment to have just a month before the big assignment.
Whilst there’s a doubt he didn’t get home last year, the lack of a run since November may have counted against him and at least his supporters have the benefit of connections wanting to give him an outing this season. It would be foolish to ignore him with Jonjo O’Neill’s record in staying handicap chases but others are preferred.
Rating – 7/10
15) SOLL 11 10-11 David Pipe Conor O’Farrell
An excellent servant to connections who won the inaugural Veterans Chase Final at Sandown where he beat Aachen in January. As a result, he runs here off a career high mark but while the son of Presenting has shown a liking for the track, he has had enough attempts in the race to suggest his winning chance has gone. He was officially 9lb well in last year and disputed the lead for most of the final circuit before fading quickly due to a broken blood vessel. Should give a good account for a fair distance before tiring.
Rating – 4/10
16) BUYWISE 9 10-10 Evan Williams Paul Moloney
Fortune favours the brave. This is one case however where it won’t. Buywise has a ton of ability and consistently places in big handicap chases. The issues are definitely his jumping, even with the new modification fences, and his way of managing to lose ground midway through a race. His owner Hywel Jones when interviewed at the weights lunch came up with the plan that the son of Tikkanen could go for the holes in the fences on the first circuit which could be a disastrous method of negotating Aintree with 39 other competitors and likely fallers in front of him. Even if he manages to stay upright after making several errors, he needs to prove he can stay the distance which seems doubtful.
17) BOSTON BOB 11 10-10 Willie Mullins Paul Townend
Has plenty of class on his day including wins at the highest level in the Melling Chase here two years ago and the Punchestown Gold Cup when beating First Lieutenant. On that form and his Bobbyjo Chase success last time at Fairyhouse, he appears well handicapped but he can be inconsistent and has had jumping issues in the past.
Rating – 5/10
18) AACHEN 12 10-10 Venetia Williams Henry Brooke
A horse who has taken his form to another level this season, even allowing for the fact he is in the veteran stage of his career. The son of … was given an enterprising ride at Cheltenham in December when setting a good gallop under Charlie Deutsch and maintaining it to win as he pleased with several of these in behind including The Druids Nephew. He followed up that effort off a career high mark when second to Soll at Sandown before a couple of below par efforts. Needs more than a career best to be taking this but should give connections a decent run for their money.
Rating – 5/10
19) MORNING ASSEMBLY 9 10-9 Pat Fahy Davy Russell
One of the more fascinating contenders in this year’s renewal. Third in the 2014 RSA Chase behind O’Faolains Boy and Smad Place, he missed last season due to leg trouble and returned with an excellent comeback when just denied by Bridget’s Pet at Fairyhouse. Another fair effort followed before finishing third in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase behind Un Temp Pour Touts when ridden as seemingly he was going to progress from that effort for this race. The concern would be whether he will stay. Although he has shaped like a real stayer, his finishing effort at Cheltenham does raise some doubts.
Rating – 6/10
20) DOUBLE ROSS 10 10-9 Nigel Twiston-Davies Ryan Hatch
Has problems seeing out 3m in races so why is 4m2f and 74 yards going to suit? Also showed a massive dislike to the course when returning in December behind Benny’s Mist in the Grand Sefton. Next!
Rating – 1/10
21) GOONYELLA 9 10-8 Jim Dreaper Johnny Burke
It’s a case of third time lucky for Jim Dreaper’s charge having missed the cut for the final two renewals, although he has had two attempts over these fences in the Becher Chase. The first ended with an unseated rider at the first and the second was used as a sighter with his handicap mark high enough thanks to his endless reserves of stamina landing him a Midlands National victory at Uttoxeter and his third in the Scottish National at Ayr.
His most recent outing came when chasing home Venetian De Mai in the Leinster National over 3m at Naas last month, a run that will have left him spot on for Saturday. His chances increase with the more rain that falls but the slight concern is whether he gets left behind in the early stages due to the likely early gallop.
Rating – 7/10
22) UCELLO CONTI 8 10-8 Gordon Elliott Daryl Jacob
Silviniaco Conti’s half brother Ucello who has recieved his fair share of dreadful rides over the course of the season, in particular the Thyestes Chase by everyone’s favourite French jockey Jacques Ricou who took an unorthodox route around the outside where he gave the rail up to nobody. All things considered, it was an excellent run to finish as close as he did back in third behind My Murphy and he also boasts strong handicap form from Christmas when run down by Minella Foru in the Paddy Power Chase. Just like his half-brother, stamina has to be the main concern with the way he weakened in the last furlong at Leopardstown lingering on the mind.
Rating – 4/10
23) UNIONISTE 8 10-8 Paul Nicholls Nick Scholfield
Smart grey chaser on his day who is just short of the highest level at his best. Looked an ideal candidate when preparing for this race twelve months ago until falling at the fifth fence. Returned to Aintree in December and although the yard was out of form at the time, it doesn’t explain his poor jumping fully. Has since won the Ivan Straker Memorial over 3m2f at Kelso and ran well enough behind Many Clouds at the same track last month. At the weights in a normal handicap, you would give him a big chance but previous course form tempers enthusiasm.
Rating – 3/10
24) LE REVE 8 10-8 Lucy Wadham Harry Skelton
An admirable and consistent type who has an exceptional record around Sandown including several course wins over an extended three miles and a fine third in last season’s Bet365 Gold Cup behind Just A Par. The main question about the son of Milan is whether he can handle going left handed with all his best form going the other way round. However, his runs at Cheltenham and Doncaster were good enough to suggest Aintree shouldn’t be an issue. Has place claims and won’t mind the ground.
Rating – 7/10
25) GALLANT OSCAR 10 10-8 Tony Martin Mark Walsh
Threatened to win a big staying prize over fences before finally bagging the Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase at last year’s Punchestown Festival in very taking fashion under Mark Walsh. This season has been aimed around Aintree and he was creeping into the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown on his return over Christmas when unseating Donagh Meyler at the second last. Two quieter efforts have set him up nicely, the first coming in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown before shaping eyecatchingly in the Leinster National when fifth behind Venetian De Mai. Doesn’t look badly handicapped on the best of his form and may yet improve for the extreme stamina test. One for the shortlist.
Rating – 9/10
26) ONENIGHTINVIENNA 7 10-8 Philip Hobbs Tom O’Brien
The least experienced member of the field having only ran in four novice chases and runs in the colours of former Grand National winner West Tip.
Having won on chase debut at Exeter where he jumped like an old hand when beating Fletcher’s Flyer before a solid effort when runner up behind RSA Chase winner Blaklion at Cheltenham in December. The son of Oscar followed that effort up with another second at Kempton, this time behind Local Show where the pair served up a treat in the jumping department. His most recent effort came in the Reynoldstown at Ascot where he got too involved in duelling for the lead and, as a result, suffered the consequences by finishing a very tired fifth.
The obvious concern would have to be the lack of experience and he is a definite candidate for future renewals of the race. The last seven year old to win the race was Bogskar back in 1940.
Rating – 7/10
27) THE LAST SAMURI (IRE) 8 10-8 Kim Bailey David Bass
Looked a useful novice chaser last season before moving from Donald McCain’s yard to Kim Bailey where the improvement has been quite staggering. A good third behind Wakanda and Virak in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle was a sign of things to come as he won a competitive Kempton handicap over Christmas, his stamina coming into play in the closing stages. He then followed up with an excellent performance in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster at the beginning of March when beating The Druids Nephew by 10 lengths.
His chance is obvious and of the Rooney horses, he is preferred to Kruzhlinin but he can give his fences plenty of air which could result in him getting behind from an early stage. Apart from that, he holds every chance of becoming his trainer’s second winner in the contest since Mr Frisk back in 1990 who smashed the track record on firm ground.
Rating – 8/10
28) KRUZHLININ 9 10-7 Philip Hobbs Richard Johnson
The other Paul & Claire Rooney runner who has benefited from a switch in yards; this time to Philip Hobbs. Won on his first start in convincing style at Kempton and was my main long term fancy leading up to Cheltenham where he ran in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase when fifth behind Un Temp Pour Touts which on the face of it looks an ideal National trial. However, his jumping fell to pieces in the last mile of the race and did remarkably well to recover from a shocking mistake at the fourth last which stopped him in his tracks. Although he has jumped round Aintree twice before when ridden to give him experience of the track as an inexperienced horse and looks a thorough stayer, the worry has to be whether his jumping will hold up ridden closer to the pace.
Rating – 7/10
29) RULE THE WORLD 9 10-7 Mouse Morris David Mullins
Bids to become the first novice to win the race since Lord Gyllene in 1997 and has yet to win a race over the larger obstacles in thirteen attempts. Had shown no indication of staying a trip until finishing in the runner up spot in last year’s Irish National behind Thunder And Roses, a race that hasn’t worked out at all apart from this horse. Was second to the ill-fated No More Heroes over Christmas in the Topaz Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown. The main issue here is stamina, as he looked out on his feet at the end of the Irish National and this is an extra five furlongs. Others make more appeal.
Rating – 5 /10
30) JUST A PAR 9 10-6 Paul Nicholls Sean Bowen
Last year’s Bet365 Gold Cup winner looked an ideal Grand National type as a novice chaser when winning a Grade Two at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting back in 2013, however his only attempt over these fences in the 2014 Becher Chase was a disappointing effort when pulled up after jumping slowly at a couple. Remains inconsistent and wants decent ground ideally but could go well if the race takes his interest.
Rating – 5/10
31) KATENKO 10 10-6 Venetia Williams Will Kennedy
Looked a chaser heading for the top when taking two handicap chases at Sandown and Cheltenham back in 2013 before a serious bout of colic nearly ended his life. Has failed to recapture that form since and seems very fragile these days. One to avoid. Next!
Rating – 1/10
32) VICS CANVAS 13 10-6 Dermot McLoughlin Robert Dunne
Normally when looking at entries for a Grand National, 13 year olds tend to be ignored as they usually are past their best in terms of form and ability. This son of Old Vic is a different case however as injury problems curtailed his younger days so he started life in point-to-points aged 8. Since going chasing late in life, he has improved for a stamina test having won the Cork National in 2014 and finishing second in the 2015 Bet365 Gold Cup behind Just A Par.
This season began with a preparation in the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle at Haydock where he did well to stay with the field before getting outpaced, finishing in mid-division. Connections then came to Aintree for the Becher Chase where the slight concern beforehand was his size for jumping round. However, his jumping was excellent and he shaped with plenty of promise before getting tired on the run-in when finishing sixth behind Highland Lodge.
Two more runs in Ireland will have kept him ticking over nicely and, at the prices, he deserves to be shorter with stamina not looking an issue and him showing a liking for the fences. The last 13 year old to win was Sergeant Murphy back in 1923 but it wouldn’t be a huge shock were Vics Canvas able to return to the winners’ enclosure. One definitely in the shortlist and still available at 66’s.
Rating – 9/10
33) BLACK THUNDER 9 10-6 Paul Nicholls Mr Sam Waley-Cohen
Possibly the pick of the champion trainer’s quintet as he looks fairly handicapped on the best of his form. A decent novice chaser with form tieing in with Many Clouds when he beat him at Haydock, the son of Malinas has always shaped as though an extreme stamina test will suit. His form this season looks mostly ordinary but he was running well off top weight in a recognised trial at Cheltenham in November when making an awful mistake at the second last, costing him all chance before unseating just after halfway in the Welsh National at Chepstow having just be niggled to stay in touch on atrocious ground. He ran better at Sandown behind Le Reve in early February, and can give his new connections a decent run for their money. Was bought by Robert Waley-Cohen for £90,000 at the Goffs Sale at Aintree for his son Sam to ride which is no negative whatsoever to his chances. Could sneak a place at a big price.
Rating – 7/10
34) BALLYCASEY 9 10-6 Willie Mullins Katie Walsh
Similar to last year, he gets the exact same rating despite showing a liking for the track. A candidate for one of the worst campaigned horses in the past few seasons, the son of Presenting proved yet again in the Thyestes that he wants an intermediate trip and ran well in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate over 2m5f at Cheltenham when fifth behind Empire Of Dirt. Would be much better off in the Topham. Next!
Rating – 1/10
35) HADRIAN’S APPROACH 9 10-6 Nicky Henderson Nico De Boinville
A former Bet365 Gold Cup winner at Sandown back in 2014, the son of High Chapparal has had niggly issues which kept him from the track most of last season however, he shaped with encouragement on his return in the Racing Plus Chase when sixth behind Theatre Guide. The distance shouldn’t pose any issues but the concerns revolve around his jumping which can be sloppy and the ground as he wants decent good ground to be at his very best.
Rating – 5/10
36) VIEUX LION ROUGE 7 10-5 David Pipe James Reveley
A progressive chaser who won a decent handicap at Haydock’s Betfair Chase before falling when in the chasing pack behind Aachen at Cheltenham in December. Ran well enough in the National Hunt Chase but failed to see out the distance. Hard to recommend.
Rating – 3/10
37) PENDRA 8 10-5 Charlie Longsdon Aidan Coleman
Had shaped like a real non stayer over 3m when failing to get up the hill at last year’s Cheltenham Festival behind The Druid’s Nephew but proceeded to dispell those thoughts with an impressive success in the United House Gold Cup back in October at Ascot. However, his finishing effort in the Silver Cup back over the same course and distance just before Christmas was hugely concerning and he doesn’t look an Aintree type. Very difficult to recommend. Next!
Rating – 1/10
38) SAINT ARE 10 10-5 Tom George Paddy Brennan
An excellent old campaigner who benefited hugely for the switch in stables from Tim Vaughan to Tom George last season when returning to form with a bang, culminating with a fine second to Many Clouds in last year’s renewal. He took a while to come to hand earlier in the season when unplaced both at Cheltenham and in the Becher Chase, but a small wind operation and better ground seemed to bring about plenty of improvement when winning a veterans chase at Doncaster after the weights came out.
The son of Network should run his usual honest race but the slight concerns are his jumping as he made several errors on the way round last year and the softer than ideal ground. Has definite place claims.
Rating – 8/10
39) HOME FARM 9 10-4 Henry de Bromhead Andrew Lynch
Looked a promising staying handicap chaser in his younger days when with Arthur Moore but his chase form had tailed off at the back end of last season when pulling up behind Coneygree in the Gold Cup and disappointing behind Menorah at Sandown. The son of Presenting has ran two fair races over hurdles this season but it would take a massive leap of faith to fancy him here.
40) THE ROMFORD PELE 9 10-4 Rebecca Curtis Trevor Whelan
One of my longer term fancies since his return to action at Cheltenham in November over 3m3f when running on eyecatchingly up the hill behind Sausalito Sunrise before falling behind Aachen on ground that was too testing and at a time when the yard was struggling. He bounced back with a decent effort on Trials Day in the Cleeve Hurdle behind the dominant Thistlecrack before shaping really well over an inadequate trip in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.
A former John Smith’s Summer Cup winner at Uttoxeter over 3m2f, he’s unexposed at the distance and has a very good jockey booking in Trevor Whelan who has a remarkable record with trainer Rebecca Curtis. The only slight concern is his jumping which can be haphazard at times, but he should take to these fences and and is well handicapped on his best form.
Rating – 10/10
Many Clouds looks a solid favourite in his bid to win back to back Grand Nationals and with a smooth preparation this season, it’s hard to keep him out of the frame as his main market rivals have questions to overcome with The Last Samuri’s jumping technique and Silviniaco Conti’s stamina. Saint Are can give another bold showing while last year’s fifth Shutthefrontdoor still has slight stamina reservations. The Druids Nephew should go well after his unlucky fall last year but any extra rain is a negative.
The idea of the 2016 Crabbies Grand National winner is THE ROMFORD PELE who has had a fair season despite not winning, looks feasibly handicapped on his best form and is unexposed relating to an extreme stamina test which should suit. Gallant Oscar and Vics Canvas are two others that should make the frame, the former given an ideal Aintree preparation and the latter unique in the sense that he doesn’t tick the majority of the trends but he is more than capable of ruffling a few feathers. Outside the main four, others that could go well include O’Faolains Boy and Black Thunder with Sam Waley-Cohen now riding.
The 2016 Crabbies Grand National weights were revealed earlier this afternoon and with 126 horses entered to take their chance on 9th April, the biggest amount since 2008. For the last couple of years, the main point of interest in handicapping terms is how Phil Smith would assess those near the head of the weights including last year’s victor Many Clouds (11-10). Before the weights came out, it was evident Oliver Sherwood’s charge would carry top weight as he was the highest rated horse in England with Silvinaco Conti (11-8) having been dropped to a rating one pound lower. The only drastic changes made by Smith were lowering the marks of the top five in the weights by a pound and raising Houblon Des Obeaux (11-7) to an unrealistic mark of 160 after winning the worst renewal of the Denman Chase seen for a while last weekend.
The right place to start when going through the field is with last year’s hero Many Clouds whose chances are fairly obvious. He carried 11-9 when succeeding last year, only has a pound more to carry and most importantly; has been in excellent form despite not winning a race this season. Having needed his first run at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall, his subsequent efforts behind Don Poli over Aintree’s Mildmay fences and Smad Place in the Betbright Trial at Cheltenham have proven his well-being after such a tough season last year.
One more run at Kelso early next month should put him spot on for a repeat bid and although he carries top weight, the son of Cloudings looks to have the best chance since the owners’ Hedgehunter attempted the double back in 2006 when runner up to Numbersixvalverde carrying joint top weight. Is there any value in backing him now? Likely so. He won’t be 12/1 come the day if performing well at Kelso and with the public weight of cash with once a year punters recognising the name, he could go off one of the shortest priced favourites in recent years.
The class horse of this year’s renewal Silviniaco Conti has been dangled a tempting carrot by Phil Smith as he doesn’t carry top weight in a handicap, highly unusual for a six time Grade One winner with all of those dual successes in the Betfair Chase, King George and the Betfred Bowl. However, he doesn’t appeal in the slightest as a horse who fits the bill of a Grand National winner.
Whilst his jumping would be a huge asset over these fences, the main issues are his stamina and the fact he looked a shade of his former self in the King George when pulled up. The Ascot Chase on Saturday will tell connections what to do with him but hopefully he avoids this race and goes elsewhere. His trainer Paul Nicholls has eight other entries but none of them attract much as Grand National types.
Other contenders entered from last year’s race include runner up Saint Are (10-5), Alvarado (10-2), Shutthefrontdoor (10-11) and Royale Knight (10-1). All of them like Many Clouds will have been prepped with one day in mind and should all give a good accounts of themselves again but other competitors appeal more as ante-post propositions.
One horse who has experience over the Grand National fences that appeals plenty is the Philip Hobbs trained KRUZHLININ (10-7). Having moved from Donald McCain in the autumn to Hobbs, his only start so far this season came at Kempton in January when landing a 3m handicap chase in easy fashion despite jumping left handed. He was ninth in the 2014 Grand National when relatively inexperienced and caught the eye on that occasion when staying on well through beaten horses on the run in. This race was the plan last season but for injury to intervene and holds an entry in the Betbright Chase at Kempton which provides an opportunity for him to shorten considerably if he goes close.
The Rooneys also have The Last Samuri (10-8) and Operating (9-11) entered. The latter doesn’t appear likely to get a run but the former was also an impressive winner at Kempton over 3m at Christmas when showing a hugely likeable attitude to run down Viva Steve on a track that wouldn’t play to his strengths. Aintree will suit more than Kempton but the concern about his chance this year is a lack of experience and he looks more one to concentrate on in 2017. Similar comments apply to the real dark horse of the race Onenightinvienna (10-8) who, as a novice, has only had three starts over fences to date. Owned by Judith Luff, whose husband Peter owned Aintree legend West Tip, his jumping has been professional on the whole but like The Last Samuri; 2017 is when he will be of most interest.
Arguably The Druid’s Nephew (11-0) would have gone very close had he not fallen five out in last year’s renewal and has been aimed at this all season. Another bold bid is expected from Neil Mulholland’s charge but a horse with a similar profile who jumps off the page is THE ROMFORD PELE (10-4) for Rebecca Curtis. The yard has had a poor season in terms of form but he performed with plenty of credit when third behind Thistlecrack in the Cleeve Hurdle, a race The Druid’s Nephew used as a springboard for the Cheltenham Festival when winning the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase on the first day; a potential target The Romford Pele may well take in before Aintree.
His jumping has been a cause for concern in the past and although he fell at Cheltenham in December, the ground was too soft for him on that occasion so the likely sounder surface will bring out improvement in the jumping department. With the fences not as stiff than they were in yesteryear, he should cope with the demands of Aintree and he may well even improve for the stamina test having won a John Smith’s Summer Cup at Uttoxeter over 3m2f back in 2014 easily plus he shaped eyecatchingly at the Paddy Power meeting at Cheltenham over 3m3f when a staying on seventh behind Sausalito Sunrise.
One of the major trials held at Aintree over the National course is the Becher Chase which has an excellent record in throwing up winners in Amberleigh House and Silver Birch (Earth Summit won the Becher after his National success) plus numerous placed horses including the likes of Clan Royal, Samlee and McKelvey. Highland Lodge (10-6) won this season’s renewal and looks likely to get a run with the handicapper using the Aintree factor to guarantee him a place in the line up.
The most fascinating contender to emerge from the Becher was VICS CANVAS (10-8) who wouldn’t be your typical 13 year old lining up in the race. Most 13 years old who line up in the Grand National tend to be in their twilight days and are vulnerable to improvers. However, the former Cork National winner has only had nine starts over fences due to various problems throughout his career and his best performance came when second behind Just A Par in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last April. A pipe opener in the Fixed Brush race at Haydock set him up for Aintree where he put in a highly credible effort giving weight to all those around him at the finish and jumping soundly for a horse who lacks size. The run last time in the Thyestes at Gowran can be forgiven and of those at bigger prices, he appeals most with his form over marathon trips and on the way he handled the course back in December.
Last year’s winner Many Clouds deserves to be clear favourite as he looks to have an excellent chance of becoming the seventh dual winner of the world’s greatest steeplechase but it would be wrong to put him up as an ante-post bet with there being plenty of value elsewhere. The first suggestion is KRUZHLININ who has looked an ideal National type since his run as an inexperienced seven year old back in 2014 and the move to Philip Hobbs has brought about improvement. The remnants of 33/1 will soon be gone and he could easily be prominent in the betting come the day. THE ROMFORD PELE cannot be ignored at 50’s with improvement likely for better ground in the spring key to his chances and he should relish the stamina test whilst VICS CANVAS is overpriced at 66’s on his form in staying chases. Others worthy of consideration are Gallant Oscar and Cause Of Causes, both owned by JP McManus and both looking to have had this as the sole aim all season.
As soon as one preview is completed, another word document begins for the following season. It starts off with a small list which grows throughout the campaign, culminating with a vast array of different horses. This list contains 30 horses and mainly concentrates on novices and handicappers with only one horse I’d consider to be challenging for top ranks in the championship divisions. With the 2015 Flat preview so far working out to £20.74 profit to a £1 stake, I hope this jumps preview can work out a profit as the season progresses. Whilst there’s an inevitability with a few that they will start at short odds in novice events, other selections may negate that.
To counter the issue of shorter priced horses, I made a conscious decision to include no Willie Mullins horses in this list. Some of them are just too blatantly obvious to have down as a horse to follow, especially the established stars like Faugheen, Un De Sceaux and Annie Power. For instance, Douvan is already as short as 9/4 for the Arkle without having jumped a fence in public but should reach an exceptionally high standard over fences. Other novice chasers to keep a close eye on include the imposing grey Alvisio Ville who looked immature last season and Albert Bartlett fourth Arbre De Vie.
The amount of novice hurdlers that could feature from the yard is stupendous. The likes of bumper winners Bellshill, Yorkhill, Petit Mouchoir, Nambour and Castello Sforza mixed with the new expensive purchases over the summer in Townshend, Min, American Tom and Inspired Poet. The list is a bottomless pit of talent which also makes it impossible to pinpoint targets throughout the season due to the quantity and quality based in Closutton.
With a lack of seasoned Graded horses in the piece, I thought I would do a quick overview of each division, highlighting the leading contenders we may see throughout the season. The Champion Hurdle looks a one horse race with the unbeaten Faugheen looking for back to back successes. The main threats to his crown are Triumph Hurdle winner Peace And Co, last year’s runner up Arctic Fire and the potential flies in the ointment, Nichols Canyon and Windsor Park who both have options to come back in trip or go up to 3m and tackle the World Hurdle. However, come March, I fully expect Faugheen to prove himself the best hurdler at 2m again.
The staying hurdle division looks more wide open than last season with no real stand out performer. Cole Harden stays over hurdles in an attempt to retain his crown in March but will face stiff competition from the likes of Whisper who remains hurdling after a difficult season last year, Zarkandar who will head for the race a fresh horse after jarring himself in the summer at Auteuil and Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower who connections have decided should stay over hurdles, a wise decision considering the lack of top class 3m hurdlers in Ireland.
The 2m chasing division lacks strength and depth with Dodging Bullets leading the home charge and looking to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown. The obvious main danger is the impressive Arkle winner and ante-post favourite for the race Un De Sceaux, unbeaten over fences when completing with his bold front running style a joy to watch. Other novices from last season who may play a hand in the division include Aintree winner Sizing Granite whilst a horse that has the potential to be a surprise package is Traffic Fluide who looked a horse firmly on the upgrade when slamming a decent enough field at Sandown and wasn’t disgraced at Aintree behind Sizing Granite.
The one division that has everyone chomping at the bit is the staying chasers, headed by Gold Cup winner Coneygree who may yet still have more to come having only had four chase starts which is a frightening thought. He will face a stiff task in defending his Cheltenham crown, as he could potentially face the most impressive novice chase winner seen in recent years (beside Coneygree himself) in Vautour who slammed his opposition in the JLT by a staggering 15 lengths. Add to that list RSA Chase winner Don Poli, the highest rated chaser in training Don Cossack, the pair that chased Coneygree up the hill in Djakadam and Road To Riches, two times Grade 1 novice winner Valseur Lido and the dark horse of the bunch who features further down the page in Saphir Du Rheu.
The last thing to do is thank those who I have pestered with this project, most notably Luke Elder (against his own will) and Will Kedjayni for taking their time to read and suggest improvements. If there is anything you wish to discuss, drop me a message in the comments underneath or contact me on Twitter at @AdamWebb121 and I will be more than happy to respond.
ARPEGE D’ALENE – 5 – Paul Nicholls
We begin this season’s list with the first of several entries for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who proved himself last season to be head and shoulders above his opposition in the UK. Nicholls has regrouped over the last couple of seasons with the retirements of key stable stars and has established a strong team of young horses to go to war with for this upcoming season, particularly in the novice chase department with the likes of Aux Ptits Soins, Emerging Talent, Le Mercurey and Sirabad.
This son of Dom Alco looks to be near the top of the pecking order and has made a considerable impression on his three starts to date in England. Having finished third in a stakes race in December 2013 for Marcel Rolland, he was bought by Potensis Limited and made his hurdling debut at Ascot in November over 2m3f. Sent off an unfancied 12/1, in a field that looked on paper to have a fair bit of potential, he trounced his rivals with a real staying performance by 9 lengths. The most pleasing aspect of the performance being the professional manner in which he disposed of Its A Steal after the final flight, shaping as though he would be suited by much further in the future.
Connections then pitched him in at the deep end in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury just after Christmas where he didn’t disgrace himself, only beaten less than 10 lengths by Parlour Games, in what looks a decent renewal of the race going forward with two long term chasing prospects around him at the finish in One Track Mind and Native River. His final start at Ascot in February over the same distance as his November win saw him off the bridle some way from home but he showed a determined attitude to beat odds on favourite Tea For Two in a driving finish.
His season could start in the race Southfield Theatre won at Chepstow last season in the middle of October with other potential early targets including the Rising Stars Novice Chase at Wincanton, the Berkshire Novice Chase over 2m4f or possibly the Worcester Novice Chase over 3m early in the campaign at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting. Long term, the RSA Chase would likely be his Cheltenham target given how he looks more of a stayer than a speedier type.
BALBIR DU MATHAN – 6 – Gordon Elliott
Bought for €300,000 by Barry Connell, his chasing debut at Fairyhouse was where he first caught my attention, jumping neatly in an above average beginners chase over 2m5f before capsizing when still in front at the second last. The form of the race worked out particularly well with the winner Adriana Des Mottes going onto place at the highest level and finish fourth in the RSA Chase behind Don Poli. The race also contained the first two home from this year’s Irish National in Thunders And Roses (third) and Rule The World (second) with National Hunt Chase third The Job Is Right back in fifth.
Over the Christmas period, he went to Leopardstown for a beginners chase over 2m3f where he proved no match for the ill-fated Le Vent D’Antan, beaten 8 lengths by that rival before disappointing back at Fairyhouse when upped to 3m, finishing fifth behind Thunders And Roses with no excuses seeming to emerge.
The son of Saint Des Saints has yet to get a handicap mark over fences and retains his novice status for next season. He could start off in an easy beginners chase to gain some confidence before making into a decent handicap chaser. His best trip would likely be around 2m4f and whilst he has done all his running on testing ground, better ground should hold no concerns for connections.
BARTERS HILL – 5 – Ben Pauling
The son of Kalanisi made the list after his second bumper win at Warwick with expectations that he would make into a decent novice hurdler who would pick up several races over the course of the season, in a similar fashion to how Blaklion made the list twelve months ago. Whereas Blaklion exceeded my expectations of him over timber, Barters Hill did likewise in his following two runs in bumpers and now rates as one of England’s leading staying novice hurdle prospects.
At Warwick he beat Joe Farrell of John Ferguson’s in decisive fashion but before that success, he had been sent off 25/1 on debut in a Huntingdon bumper where he looked beaten a furlong out but rallied back tenaciously to see off Simply Rouge. The performance at Warwick saw him make every single yard of the running, a trait that would continue for the rest of the season.
Thinking he could potentially be a left field selection for the list at the time, it was a huge surprise to see him improve as much as he did in bumpers. He relished the step up in grade in the Listed Bumper on Betfair Hurdle day at Newbury, fighting off all challengers including the strong travelling Buveur D’air who loomed up menacingly on the bridle.
Instead of going for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, connections selected the Aintree Bumper where the main concern was whether a speed track would suit. Whilst he looked vulnerable halfway up the home straight, he dug deep to repel Bellshill to maintain his unbeaten record by just over a length. The runner up then went on to complement the form with success in the Grade 1 Bumper at Punchestown whilst the third Potter’s Corner has come out in the last week to make an impressive start to his hurdling career at Chepstow.
A resolute galloper, Barters Hill looks tailor made for a step up in distance and would fit in either the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett come March. He has already been penciled in to make his hurdling debut back at Huntingdon over 2m3f on the 1st November before tackling higher quality races. Potential targets early season include the Winter Novice Hurdle at Sandown’s Tingle Creek meeting where the stiff finish would play to his strengths. Other targets could include the Challow Hurdle at Newbury or the Neptune Trial on Cheltenham Trials Day which should help determine where he ends up come March.
BE DARING – 4 – Paul Nicholls
Paul Nicholls excels with the progeny of Dom Alco with examples including Neptune Collonges, Al Ferof and Unioniste. The trio are all owned by John Hales who has another grey here in the shape of Be Daring.
His debut outing at Wincanton in a newcomers bumper was an eye-catching effort on ground plenty quick enough, finishing strongly to take second behind Star Trouper. The pace throughout was sedate and he did well to make up ground from several lengths back considering how he would appreciate a stiffer stamina test. Looking through his pedigree, his great-grand dam Alconea’s half sister Fortanea is a notable producer in the family, with Grade 1 winner and 2015 Grand National runner up Saint Are. She also produced two half sisters to Saint Are. The first being Naiade Mag who is the dam of the highly talented mare Vroum Vroum Mag and Pazadena, the dam of useful juvenile hurdler Bivouac.
With the promise shown on debut, he is sure to improve up in distance. He could potentially start off in another bumper just to gain some valuable experience before going novice hurdling. He could possibly follow a similar route to stablemate Arpege D’alene before going chasing in twelve months time.
BINGE DRINKER – 6 – Rebecca Curtis
Teaforthree was the horse that gained Rebecca Curtis prominence amongst the top trainers when taking the 2012 National Hunt Chase and she looks to have another ideal candidate for the gruelling stamina test in this son of Spadoun.
Having shown enough promise in bumpers, he started his hurdling career with a trio of victories at Worcester, Ffos Las and Chepstow before stepping up in grade in the Bristol Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham’s International meeting where he had to be cajoled along to keep in touch before fading away tamely after the second last to finish fifth behind the impressive Blaklion. Whilst outclassed, it was his fourth run in a short space of time so he could be forgiven for performing slightly below par.
His next start in the River Don at Doncaster showed more promise as he stayed with the leaders longer and travelled through the race better before getting left behind to plug on into fourth, beaten 12 lengths by Caracci Apache. Dropped into handicap company for the first time on his next start, he duly bolted up off a mark of 133 at Bangor beating the difficult Western Jo by 7 lengths. He was then tried at the highest level at the Punchestown Festival where he was disappointing, finishing last behind Killultagh Vic.
For the future, he very much shapes like a staying handicap chaser with this season probably aimed around the National Hunt Chase as mentioned in the introduction. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him appear at Chepstow a couple of times throughout the season with their October meeting hosting a 3m novice chase which Teaforthree contested back in 2011. Elsewhere in the calendar, the Listed novice chase at Warwick on Classic Chase day won by Sego Success could prove to be an ideal stepping stone during the season.
CAROLE’S DESTRIER – 7 – Neil Mulholland
The Grand National is a race that I particularly like to find a long term fancy for at the start of the season and this year, two horses make this list that could potentially make up into ideal candidates for the world’s greatest steeplechase next April. The Druids Nephew will be high up on several people’s list after his display in this year’s renewal when travelling powerfully before over-jumping and falling five from home but his stable mate Carole’s Destrier has a fair amount of appeal as an Aintree type.
For a novice chaser, the son of Kayf Tara had a busy campaign with his debut coming at Ffos Las where he carried top weight in a novice handicap. He looked the winner most of the way up the home straight before being denied by the late rally of Doing Fine in the final strides. Mulholland’s charge built upon that chase debut at Exeter where he made all the running and jumped soundly in the main, whilst fighting off the attention of the loose If In Doubt, winning comfortably from Carraig Mor by 6 lengths. The runner up went on to boost the form at Newbury, beating Southfield Theatre by just under 2 lengths in the Grade 2 Worcester Novices Chase.
With his Exeter form looking solid, he was sent off a warm favourite in the Welsh National Trial at Chepstow but disappointed, a mistake at the eleventh fence proving costly and was pulled up shortly after turning for home. He was given some time after that run before next appearing on Trials Day in the novice handicap chase. A change in tactics benefited him over the shorter distance and he looked a key player on the turn for home before staying on one paced up the hill to finish fourth, shaping like a return to 3m would suit perfectly.
The handicapper surprisingly dropped him 1lb for that Cheltenham effort and he was sent off a strong favourite on his next start in the Wetherbys Hamilton Listed Handicap Chase at Ascot where he looked vulnerable at one point as Clondaw Warrior was travelling much better after the third last. However, his endless reserves of stamina kicked in and he ended up a fairly easy winner by 8 lengths.
Whilst having several options at Cheltenham, he missed the Festival and was aimed towards Aintree via a relatively facile option in a novice chase at Wetherby where all he needed to do was jump round safely to beat Wolf Shield with the regressive Creepy finishing last of three. Connections decided he was worth a go at the highest level in the Mildmay Novices Chase but he was outclassed by the impressive Saphir Du Rheu whilst potentially feeling the effects of a long season.
He begins this upcoming season rated 149, the handicapper having dropped him 3lb after Aintree, and he appears to have the makings of a top quality staying handicap chaser. Potential targets may include the Murphy Group Handicap Chase at the Paddy Power meeting, the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh National. Hopefully, all routes lead towards the Grand National itself where his sound jumping and endless reserves of stamina will be a huge asset.
CHATEZ – 4 – Alan King
It seems surprising that Chatez gets a second chance in this list but the circumstances explained below means my view of the horse has somewhat changed and is able to be forgiven for some poor efforts last winter.
The son of Dandy Man had a mixed spell over hurdles with two fluent victories at Bangor and Warwick to begin with, establishing himself as an above average juvenile but trainer Alan King was keen to stress that the Triumph Hurdle wasn’t necessarily an option. Over Christmas, he went to Kempton in a handicap hurdle with an introductory mark of 128 and with the juvenile allowance taking almost a stone off his back, he looked well treated. He travelled kindly until the field turned for home, where he stopped in a matter of strides like something was ailing him, subsequently finishing a well beaten eighth behind Cloonacool.
Similar also happened in the Chatteris Fen Hurdle at Huntingdon where he came off the bridle after the fourth last briefly. That was just before he made a costly error at the following flight which saw the writing on the wall for his chances as he was pulled up soon afterwards. It was found subsequently that his breathing was causing him to cut out quickly in his races and having had treatment to correct the issue, he returned to the flat in the Spring Mile at Doncaster where he duly bolted up.
Off a mark of 125, he looks a well handicapped horse now his breathing issues seem to be behind him. His current mark may not be high enough for a race like the Greatwood so a good early season target could be the Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot at the end of October. After that, hopefully all other big 2m handicap hurdles would come under consideration.
CHOCCA WOCCA – 5 – Nicky Henderson
Chomba Womba was a fine racemare for both Margaret Mullins and Nicky Henderson throughout her career, winning 10 of her 23 starts and over £250,000 in prize money. Her first offspring came to prominence last year for Henderson and for owners Mr & Mrs Kelvin Hughes with Chocca Wocca.
She made her debut just before Christmas in a bumper at Ludlow over 1m6f. On paddock appearance, she looked a relatively small filly compared to her rivals. However, it was an impressive debut with her showing a very taking turn of foot to see off her main challengers on ground that was pretty holding by the end of the card. The daughter of Kayf Tara was only seen once more after that in the Mares Bumper at Aintree where she travelled strongly through the race and was one of the last off the bridle. However, she just found Hollies Pearl too good for her on the day but it was a highly commendable effort on only her second start.
She looks to be one of the leading prospects in the UK for mares novice hurdles and you would imagine that all roads would lead to the new race at the Cheltenham Festival. Two possible early season engagements could be on Hennessy day at Newbury with the mares novice hurdle won in previous years by As I Am and Carrigmoorna Rock and a Listed novice event at Taunton just after Christmas, the race won last year by Tara Point. She would also get further than 2m if required to do so.
DEFINITE OUTCOME – 6 – Rebecca Curtis
A winner of his sole point-to-point at Dromahane in December last year after making all the running, the son of Definite Article looked vulnerable as the chasing pack closed in on him turning for home but he pulled out more for pressure to take a decisive win by 5 lengths. He was then sold for £35,000 as a wildcard entry at Cheltenham’s Brightwells Sale the following week and ended up with Rebecca Curtis.
His only start for his new connections came in a bumper on Midlands Grand National day at Uttoxeter where he faced some stiff opposition with What A Moment who had beaten the useful mare Briery Queen at Towcester and Fortunate George who had won nicely on debut at Wincanton. He was taken wide throughout by AP McCoy in search of better ground and whilst his main rivals failed to run their races, it was hard not to be impressed by the manner of his success as he galloped all the way to the line despite showing signs of greenness to win by 9 lengths.
Both of his starts have come on testing ground and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pick up novice hurdles at tracks like Chepstow and Ffos Las in the upcoming months with his ability to handle conditions although it wouldn’t be a concern if he ran on decent ground.
(Definite Outcome is entered twice at the weekend at Chepstow, including the Grade 2 Persian War Novices Hurdle)
DIAMOND KING – 7 – Gordon Elliott
A late addition to the list after finding out recently that the son of King’s Theatre had moved over the summer from Donald McCain’s to Gordon Elliott. When compiling my first ever horses to follow piece two years ago, Diamond King was one of the top names on the list for his novice hurdle campaign after two effortless wins at Wetherby and Bangor.
Big things were expected of him but he was only seen in lower grade events, winning at Wetherby on hurdling debut before suffering defeat at Bangor after making a shuddering error at the final flight which enabled Masquerade to pick up the pieces and Goohar to grab second. His final run at Doncaster was a comfortable success, making every yard of the running and jumping economically. A setback meant that he missed the Cheltenham Festival but was entered up for Aintree before failing to take up his entry.
Instead of going chasing, he stayed over hurdles and returned on Festival Trials Day in the closing handicap hurdle. On paddock appearance, he shaped as if he would need the run which was confirmed in the closing stages after travelling strongly until the turn of home. He was also slightly inconvenienced by the bunching field trying to go round the omitted final flight but it was a fair enough return, beaten 16 lengths into seventh by Lightentertainment.
His only other appearance came at Ascot when stepped up in distance on really testing ground and he failed to land a blow, pulled up before the second last behind Unique De Cotte. It was reported that he bled on this occasion which is a slight concern but the switch of yards can only do him the world of good and it will be interesting to see what route Elliott decides to embark upon. He is still leniently treated on his hurdles mark of 130; whilst having the size and scope to go and jump fences.
DISKO – 4 – Noel Meade
As always, Gigginstown had a decent amount of potential from a variety of horses in bumpers last season with the likes of Tycoon Prince, Nambour and Petit Mouchoir but the one that caught my imagination most for the upcoming season was the imposing grey Disko. The son of Martaline created a big impression, bursting onto the scene in devastating style on debut in a Punchestown bumper where he travelled all over his field and the well bred Jett, putting the race to bed in a matter of strides to beat Chain Gang by 15 lengths.
Whilst that performance was breathtaking, it was a big surprise to see him go off favourite for the Punchestown Champion Bumper where his lack of experience showed as he was keen in rear under Nina Carberry who did an excellent job of settling him. Leaving the back straight, the pair moved up menacingly but he was left behind by Bellshill who kicked for home on the turn for home. Under pressure, he showed greenness but stuck his head down to battle past Modus to finish second.
Even with the ammunition of Gigginstown, he looks to be one of their best prospects for novice hurdles. Races like the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, the Future Champions at Leopardstown over Christmas and potentially the Deloitte back at Leopardstown in February should feature prominently before Cheltenham where he could turn up in either the Supreme or the Neptune.
GENEROUS RANSOM – 7 – Nick Gifford
The days of Straw Bear winning Grade 1’s may seem a distant memory for the team of Nick Gifford but recently their stable stars have shone at the biggest National Hunt festivals with Fairy Rath giving connections the thrill of a lifetime, chasing home Rajdhani Express in the Topham Trophy and Gifford may have the ideal candidate for the race with a favourite of the blog last season in Generous Ransom, himself placed at the Cheltenham Festival behind Irish Cavalier.
The son of Generous was for the most part a model of consistency last season after an unfortunate introduction to chasing in a novice handicap at Ascot, slipping up at Swinley Bottom on the heels of the leaders. His next outing was used as a confidence booster at Leicester, where he was fifth behind Three Kingdoms in a decent beginners chase which contained the likes of Thomas Crapper and Deep Trouble in behind.
He returned to novice handicap company at Sandown’s Tingle Creek meeting where he was ponderous at a couple of early fences but warmed to the task and travelled well on the heels of the leaders before taking up the running between the final two fences. In a fantastic Sandown finish, four came to the last with claims but a good jump helped his cause and although he idled up the run in, he looked better than the bare result in beating Howlongisafoot by just over a length. His next start on Boxing Day was in a more competitive novice handicap where he looked in trouble having made an error mid-race and looked well beaten before the second last before stamina reserves kicked in and he finished an eye-catching third behind Stellar Notion.
With the horse still looking idle through races, a set of cheek-pieces were added on Cheltenham Trials Day in the novice handicap chase which were a huge positive as he travelled almost too well throughout the race, scooting clear after the second last. A last fence blunder didn’t stop his momentum in the slightest either and even with the runner up Astigos closing on him at the line, he looked as though there was plenty left in the tank. That performance was a career best effort which meant he went into the Festival as a strong fancy for the novice handicap where he ran respectably behind Irish Cavalier in third, that rival reversing the form from Trials Day in a race worth keeping a close eye on form wise for the upcoming season. His season ended with a disappointing effort at Sandown in the race named after Gifford’s father Josh, travelling with little zest behind runaway winner Cocktails At Dawn.
His mark of 140 still looks a competitive one for all the big handicap chases and at some stage, a step up to 3m could even bring about some improvement. He will likely start off in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November but a race that could be on the radar long term is the Topham Trophy at Aintree, with his dam’s half brother Latimer’s Place finishing third back in 2007.
HEATHFIELD – 8 – Tony Martin
On the final day of the National Hunt season in Ireland, Tony Martin and JP McManus both combined together in the two feature staying handicap chases with strong chances. The second of the pair was Gallant Oscar who duly confirmed how well handicapped he was, annihilating his field in the Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase by 9 lengths. Although he was more impressive of the pair visually, McManus’s first winner on the card Heathfield still looks to be a fair way ahead of the handicapper.
Having started life in point to points for Edna Bolger, the son of Definite Article moved to Martin’s yard in May 2012 and began his career under rules attempting to get a handicap over fences. It took four attempts before he was allotted a mark of 95 but it took him another two starts before he got off the mark last November rated 102 at Uttoxeter, looking to fight a losing battle but an excellent jump at the last sealed the race. He then ran over hurdles at Bangor where he didn’t travel with much fluency but did well to finish second behind Saint John Henry.
A return chasing beckoned at Leopardstown at the end of January off a 1lb higher mark than Uttoxeter where he was narrowly beaten by Bishop’s Road, that rival’s jockey Bryan Cooper actually managing to hit Heathfield across the face on the run in. Up 7lb for that effort, the run suggested a step up in distance would really suit him. After missing a potential engagement in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter due to being balloted out, he ran the following day over 3m in a novice handicap at Navan where he duly bolted up after travelling like the best horse throughout.
The handicapper reacted by giving him a 10lb rise and the performance at Navan persuaded JP McManus to purchase the horse before the Punchestown Festival, where he went for the 3m6f handicap chase on the final day on testing ground thanks to heavy overnight rain. Given a lovely patient ride by Paul Townend, he crept into contention almost unnoticed on the inside and once he loomed on menacingly going to the second last, there was only going to be one winner. A fine leap at the final fence sealed the prize and he was ridden out with hands and heels to win with a fair amount in hand beating Audacious Plan by just over 4 lengths.
His new mark in Ireland is 133 and with his connections, you can guarantee that he will be laid out for a big handicap prize. I still think he could be at least a stone well ahead of the handicapper so with that in mind, he could win a couple more big pots over the upcoming months. A race like the Paddy Power Chase over Christmas would suit even with 3m potentially being on the sharp side for him. Longer term, he will likely contest the Irish National but, if he came over for the big one at Aintree he would be a fascinating contender and there shouldn’t be any issue with him handling a sounder surface.
HEDLEY LAMARR – 5 – Jonjo O’Neill
The colours of the Hitchins haven’t tasted the success of yesteryear recently in both codes with past examples including Toby Tobias, Princeful, Tagula and Halmahera but they have two fairly exciting horses with Jonjo O’Neill in Mad Jack Mytton (see below) and this son of Gold Well who has only been seen twice on the racecourse.
Out of Donna’s Tarquin who also foaled Grade 1 placed Donna’s Palm, his racecourse debut was filled with promise, finishing second behind Great Try at Bangor after jumping well and travelling smartly under Richie McLernon before his inexperienced showed in the closing stages. His only other start came at Warwick in a weaker race where he was lucky to survive a dreadful mistake at the third last and made heavy weather of beating Aston Cantlow by less than a length. It was pleasing however to see him jump the last two flights well under pressure after such a mistake.
Given a handicap mark of 128 and with him maintaining his novice status until the end of October, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him out of the blocks early to gain some vital experience before going into handicap company. A potential early season target could be the intermediate handicap hurdle at the Paddy Power meeting where the step up in distance will suit well.
IBIS DU RHEU – 4 – Paul Nicholls
In December 2013, Paul Nicholls unleashed Saphir Du Rheu properly onto the UK scene where he turned a competitive Pertemps Qualifier into a procession at Sandown; showing real improvement for a step up in trip. Two years on, he could very easily do the same with Saphir Du Rheu’s half brother Ibis Du Rheu having shown signs of immaturity last season for the champion trainer.
The son of Blue Bresil had just two runs in France, trained by Guilliame Macaire. The first of those a 1/2 length second behind Triumph Hurdle runner up Top Notch, given what is best described as an educational ride at Bordeaux. The promise from that first effort was duly confirmed on his next start at Enghien, demonstrating a decisive turn of foot to win by 7 lengths.
His first run in the UK came at Cheltenham on Trials Day in the Finesse Hurdle where he looked in the paddock that he still had some growing up to do both physically and mentally. In the race itself, he ended up setting a really slow pace in front due to nothing else wanting to make the running. As a result, he was far too keen and threatened that he would run out approaching a couple of hurdles but this was more down to greenness rather than being ungenuine. He was soon beaten once push came to shove and finished last beaten some distance by Peace And Co. His only other run came at Taunton on handicap debut, where he settled better due to chasing the pace but was still too keen to see his race out, eventually finishing a one-paced fourth beaten 11 lengths by Fox Norton.
He was dropped 2lb by the handicapper to 131 and stepping up in trip over hurdles will highlight how well handicapped John Hales’ charge is. The start of the season may begin slowly just to build him up before potentially following a similar route to his stable-mate with the Pertemps Qualifier at Sandown and the Lanzarote at Kempton two likely destinations. He could even be contesting Graded hurdles by the end of the season.
KRACKATOA KING – 7 – Noel Williams
Noel Williams isn’t exactly the biggest household name in the sport of horse racing but he has had a bright start to his training career, most notably with Briery Queen who looked a smart mare in bumpers last season. Whilst she remains one to keep a close eye on, the former assistant to Alan King has a son of Kayf Tara that would undoubtedly win the award for the biggest horse in this list.
Having failed to cut much ice in his three bumper appearances at Wincanton and Towcester on two occasions, he hugely benefited from going over obstacles and running over further than the minimum distance of 2m on debut at Plumpton beaten less than a length by Murrayana, despite some lacklustre jumping throughout. He returned for a similar race over course and distance the following month where apart from a mistake three out, his jumping was a lot better and he stayed on resolutely to finish second behind the ill-fated King Edmund.
In the New Year, his next outing came at Lingfield on testing ground over 2m7f where his jumping lacked fluency and looked very one-paced when second for the third time in a row behind the comfortable winner Broadwalk Empire. Going further up in distance next time at Warwick on handicap debut with a mark of 116, jumping again was the issue and he plugged on into third, 17 lengths adrift of Heronshaw. Connections decided for his final run of the season to put cheek-pieces on at Newbury and they worked the oracle, enabling him to concentrate more on the job in hand. Whilst his jumping had been suspect during the season, two fine leaps at the last two hurdles helped his cause and he galloped on resolutely to deny Manballandall by 3 lengths in an attritional finish.
Unfairly, he was hammered by the handicapper who put him up 13lb but that shouldn’t be a concern to his connections as chasing should be the number one plan this season. With him looking to relish a stamina test, he will be one for those real slogs around tracks like Chepstow and Uttoxeter, the Midlands National looking an ideal long term target. His full brother King Kayf is also one to look out for in novice hurdles after performing a lot better in bumpers, including a victory at Ffos Las on good ground in the spring.
MAD JACK MYTTON – 5 – Jonjo O’Neill
A half brother to John’s Spirit and a full brother of The Game Changer, Jonjo O’Neill’s inmate took a fair amount of time to come to hand last season due to a variety of reasons including the yard’s virus and potentially being on the weak side. Two runs in bumpers showed a glimmer of promise before going hurdling at the start of last season with two lower key efforts at Bangor and Southwell, typical of the yard’s approach.
The first of those he became outpaced at the third last before plugging on to a distant 24 lengths third behind Zaidiyn before a second to the useful Some Buckle at Southwell, beaten 14 lengths, at a time when the yard wasn’t completely firing. A mark of 116 looked fair enough on handicap debut at Ludlow where he raced keenly for the majority of the race so did well to finish 1 3/4 lengths second behind Ascendant.
The son of Arcadio finally got his head in front in a maiden hurdle at Huntingdon in March, benefiting from Fair Loch setting a strong gallop from the front to win comfortably by 5 lengths. He ended his season with another win, defying a penalty at Kempton to beat main market rival Nicolas Chauvin, despite running down the last two flights of hurdles.
Now rated 132 over hurdles, that mark can be transferred to novice handicap chases and with his relation to John’s Spirit, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if his season revolved around the novice handicap chase at the Festival whilst potentially taking in various races throughout the season including one on Boxing Day at Kempton and on Cheltenham Trials Day in January.
MAJOR IVAN – 6 – Malcolm Jefferson
Named after the late Major Ivan Straker who played a key role in saving the Grand National in the mid 1980’s and part owned by his wife, this handsome son of Fruits Of Love had some fairly decent bumper form when chasing home two Nicky Richards horses in Sir Vinski at Kelso and only going down a short head at Perth to Looking Well.
He made his debut over hurdles last September at Ayr over the minimum 2m which looked to be on the sharp side for him, but ran with enough promise when 20 lengths fifth behind Hurricane Hollow. The performance that caught my attention for this piece was his following start at Sedgefield over 2m3f, where he travelled all over a 120 rated horse in Black Jack Rover and beat him easily by 15 lengths, jumping the last and scampering away like a fresh horse.
The following month, he returned to Sedgefield on softer ground with a penalty but was beaten 6 lengths by Sharp Rise. Whilst on first reflection it looked a disappointing effort considering the impression he made the previous month, the winner went on to improve a fair amount over both hurdles and fences with him ending up rated 130.
Recently, he made his reappearance at Perth over a trip just shy of 3m still in novice company. He travelled all over the field and made smooth headway onto the heels of the leader Tradewinds but a lack of a recent run told in the closing stages as he got tired going to the final flight, dropping back to third. Something the horse has is a fair amount of scope to go jump fences and if he goes chasing over the winter months, he will be definitely picking up either novice or novice handicap chases at Northern tracks like Catterick and Newcastle between 2m4f-3m.
MATORICO – 4 – Jonjo O’Neill
A fairly expensive French purchase, the son of Mastercraftsman had some decent form to his name in big 3 year old handicaps with two seconds at Longchamp over 1m2f before being sold for €115,000 at the 2014 Arqana Mixed Sale to Jonjo O’Neill.
His new connections had fairly high thoughts of him with his hurdling debut coming at Huntingdon in the Chatteris Fen Hurdle. Settled in rear by Tony McCoy, he moved smoothly into contention when the race began to hot up and loomed up menacingly on the quarters of Arabian Revolution. However, when push came to shove, he failed to make any inroads on the leader under tender handling to finish second beaten just over 3 lengths. The run caught the attention of the stewards which makes for interesting reading.
Despite his inexperience over hurdles, he took his chance in the Triumph Hurdle and travelled kindly through the race in mid-division for Paul Carberry. Having moved onto the heels of the leaders turning for home, he weakened on the long run to the last ending up 25 lengths behind Peace And Co in tenth. His season ended at Punchestown in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle where he ran a similar race to Cheltenham, this time finishing eighth to Petite Parisienne, 41 lengths away.
Although the horse has had three runs which would qualify him for a mark, the handicapper is yet to give him one. It is likely that he will start off the campaign in a novice hurdling before being of serious interest when getting a handicap mark, preferably around the mid 130’s which would allow scope for improvement and appeals as the type to excel in 2m handicaps.
MAXIMISER – 7 – Simon West
Formerly trained in Ireland by his breeder Brian Hamilton, this strapping grey made his debut in a hotly contested bumper at Punchestown where he looked relatively weak but ran well to finish eighth to the one and only Faugheen. His only other start for Hamilton came in a Point to Point at Tattersalls Farm which he won.
Having changed hands between his Point win and his UK debut for Simon West, the son of Helissio was sent off 10/1 on hurdling debut at Carlisle over 2m4f with odds on favourite Master Dee bringing some interesting form to the table having finished third to Un Ace at Doncaster in February 2014. Racing prominently throughout, he wound the race up from a fair way out and routed the opposition by 36 lengths without Joe Colliver having to get too serious on him.
Sadly, we only saw the horse once more in the season at Haydock’s Betfair Chase meeting. Under a penalty (negated somewhat by Joe Colliver’s 5lb claim) he relished the fixed brush hurdles, jumping beautifully to see off the keen Vago Collonges with relative ease by 11 lengths. The Challow Hurdle was next on the agenda but a tiny pelvic fracture meant that he missed the rest of the season.
With Vago Collonges going on to boost the form several times in Graded company, it makes me wonder how far Maximiser would have gone over hurdles. However, the upcoming months are of huge excitement for his connections with a novice chase campaign likely. A potential early season target could be the Junior Novice Chase back at Haydock in November over 2m6f where he will likely get soft ground which he reveled in on both occasions over hurdles. A scary thought as well is that he will improve for 3m when asked to go that far.
MEET THE LEGEND – 4 – Keith Dalgleish
When nearing the end of writing this piece, I didn’t expect to be adding any extra horses but this is one deserved exception, albeit unexpected. When checking Paul Nicholls’ website, it appeared that Vago Collonges wasn’t in training for the season. So with me being insistent on having 30 horses for the piece, this son of Midnight Legend scraped in after creating a big impression on debut a couple of weeks ago.
A £65,000 purchase from the Doncaster Sales, he made his racecourse debut at Kelso where he was well supported beforehand and duly obliged in impressive style. Having raced keenly early on, he pulled his way to the lead and showed a taking turn of foot to dispatch of his rivals by 7 lengths. It was also noteworthy that he took a fair while for Craig Nichol to pull up after the race, indicating there was plenty left in the tank.
With the owners having sold Nexius and Warriors Tale, this looks an exciting prospect for connections. Whilst he handled quick ground at Kelso, he will appreciate more cut in the ground and as a half-brother to Kayfleur plus related to former Cheltenham Festival winner Young Spartacus, he certainly has inherited some of their ability. If he remains in bumpers, a penalty won’t inconvenience him on his next start and could be the type to turn up in one of the Listed bumpers at Ascot or Newbury.
MORITO DU BERLAIS – 6 – Paul Nicholls
Chica Du Berlais has been an excellent broodmare with the majority of her progeny proving themselves at Listed level and beyond with Grade 1 winner Bonito Du Berlais, twice Grade 2 winner Nikita Du Berlais and two Listed winners in Bonita Du Berlais and Carlita Du Berlais. Whilst this son of Turgeon hasn’t scaled those heights yet, he looks more than capable of improving on his handicap hurdle form in novice chases.
His first novice hurdle campaign failed to lift off properly with all three runs proving disappointing. However, a wind operation last summer worked a treat which allowed him to deliver on the promise he showed in his bumpers at Sandown and Exeter. He returned to the latter for his first start last season over 2m7f in an amateur riders novice hurdle. Sent off 14/1, he was dropped out in rear by Will Biddick and crept smoothly into the race travelling ominously well before being delivered soon after the second last to win comfortably by 3 lengths from The Nephew. For the type of contest, the form reads well with The Tourard Man in third going on to place in the Pertemps Final and Howlongisafoot who showed decent form in novice handicap chases.
The handicapper reacted surprisingly in a lenient manner by giving him a mark of 120 and confirmed how well treated he looked at Cheltenham’s Paddy Power meeting in the intermediate handicap hurdle over 2m5f won by the likes of Punchestowns and Grand Crus in recent years, beating two decent horses in Knight Of Noir and Cup Final. Only upped 5lb, he turned out quickly the following week at Haydock where a mistake three out left him with ground to make up and a scruffy jump at the last saw him land flat-footed before staying on stoutly to take third behind On Tour.
He continued his progression with a second place at Newbury, only beaten a short margin by Polamco after a prolonged battle after the final flight before stepping up in distance to 2m7f at Exeter in a Pertemps Qualifier where they went a crawl for the first half of the race which suited the speedier types in Regal Encore and Alavian, staying on into a one paced sixth beaten just under 7 lengths. His final start came over 3m at Ascot where he ground it out against a non stayer in Greybougg who looked the likely winner until his petrol ran out shortly after the final flight.
Now rated 139 over hurdles, his future looks to lie over the larger obstacles and looks the type we haven’t yet got to the bottom of yet. His mark is probably too high to send him for novice handicaps but he should pay his way in staying novice chases. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him appear again at Exeter, with a 3m novice chase on Haldon Gold Cup day looking an ideal starting point at a track Nicholls likes to send novice chasers too for an education.
(Morito Du Berlais is entered on Thursday for a novice chase at Exeter, a 3m2f handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot on Friday and a 3m novice chase at Chepstow on Sunday.)
SANDYGATE – 5 – Philip Hobbs
One of the lower rated horses to make the list, he made his racecourse debut in the same race that Chocca Wocca won at Ludlow, shaping with enough promise beaten 9 lengths back in third, running on at the one pace. Fancied to go well at Bangor on his next start, he was slightly disappointing when showing signs of greenness in the final furlong when fourth behind Nutcracker Prince.
He returned to Ludlow over the minimum 2m for his first experience over hurdles where he caught the eye having pulled fairly hard off a sedate early pace. When the tempo quickened he was outpaced and like his bumper efforts, was staying on one paced in the closing stages back in fourth behind Slowfoot. His jumping wasn’t entirely convincing over the last two flights but he improved on that effort at Fontwell when upped to 2m4f. Having travelled well into the race, he loomed up looking the likely winner turning for home but a clumsy leap at the last cost him any winning chance when third behind Towering.
A mark of 118 seems fair on his Fontwell run and he can only improve for a further step up in distance in handicap hurdles over the next few months. He could potentially head to Aintree on Old Roan Chase day for a 0-125 conditional jockeys handicap hurdle over 3m with Ciaran Gethings on board, a race won last year by Parish Business and a track where owner Trevor Hemmings enjoys having runners.
SAPHIR DU RHEU – 6 – Paul Nicholls
Part of the excitement of the National Hunt game is trying to find the next potential star of the future. It’s incredible how at the start of 2015, fans were discussing how weak the staying chase division looked. Fast forward nine months and the division has been brought back to life with one of the best renewals of the Gold Cup in recent times. Trainer Paul Nicholls has conceded defeat with Silviniaco Conti ever winning the race but has potentially found the successor of Kauto Star and Denman in the shape of Saphir Du Rheu.
One of the highest rated hurdlers his trainer has sent novice chasing with a mark of 165, his season began at Newbury where he was sent off favourite in the Berkshire Novices Chase despite trainer Paul Nicholls indicating beforehand that he would need the run. He jumped well just behind Coneygree until getting in too close to the seventh; unseating Sam Twiston-Davies who was given no chance to recover. A week later he made a quick reappearance at Exeter in the Harry Dutfield Memorial Novices Chase over 2m3f, where he was pitched in against the 2014 Albert Bartlett runner up Deputy Dan. It was easy pickings as he made amends for Newbury, a spring heeled round of jumping under a confident Nick Scholfield saw him consummate ease by 11 lengths from Horizontal Speed.
On the back of that win, he was sent off a warm favourite for the Feltham at Kempton but another error similar to Newbury at the seventh fence gave Twiston-Davies no option but to jump off as he skidded on landing. Initial comments following Kempton were to get plenty of schooling into him over fences but the decision changed, as he went to the Cleeve Hurdle at the end of January. Unlike Kempton, Saphir Du Rheu was fairly weak in the market on the day with Un Temps Pour Tout going off favourite but he got his season back on track with a real game performance to see off Reve De Sivola, albeit receiving 4lb.
The World Hurdle was the obvious target rather than go back chasing for the Festival and he ended up being sent off 5/1 favourite but on ground probably the quickest he has encountered, he was flat out the whole way chasing Cole Harden who was given a superb ride by Gavin Sheehan who set the perfect fractions from the front. He still ran with plenty of credit to finish second beaten just over 3 lengths, pulling clear from the remaining pack which was headed by stable mate Zarkandar and At Fishers Cross.
Reverting back to the larger obstacles at Aintree’s Grand National meeting in the Mildmay Novice Chase, the horse and Sam Twiston-Davies both silenced their doubters with an electric performance, jumping beautifully to win eased down by 15 lengths from Carraig Mor and stable mate Irish Saint. There was one slight semblance of an error at the third last but, unlike Newbury and Kempton, he was completely unfazed and galloped on in a dismissive manner which was hugely pleasing to see.
The Gold Cup is the ultimate aim but he still needs chasing experience at the top level before he can go there. The son of Al Namix is likely to start at Sandown in the Future Stars on the 8th November, a race that has moved forward a month where he will likely need his first outing before a tilt at the Hennessy Gold Cup. To emerge as a creditable Gold Cup contender, he needs to be going very close against the likes of Coneygree and Many Clouds. If all goes to plan, other potential races in the season include the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown and potentially a visit to Cheltenham on Trials Day to gain vital experience around Cheltenham before the acid test next March. The only ante-post bet I currently have for the season so far is Saphir Du Rheu at 16/1 and he will hopefully confirm his trainer’s belief in the horse that he is their next Gold Cup winner.
SIZING JOHN – 5 – Henry De Bromhead
In recent years, one of my all time favourite horses was Sizing Europe whose record spoke for itself. Winner of 22 of his 45 races which included 8 Grade 1, 2 Cheltenham Festival successes and over £1,300,000 in prize money, he was finally retired back in April at the grand age of 13 leaving a massive hole to be filled in the yard of Henry De Bromhead. Whilst De Bromhead has a number of promising horses that could be considered to be the next stable star, Sizing John looks to have the most potential to reach a similar heights to what Sizing Europe did over fences.
The son of Midnight Legend showed some promise in bumpers, his fourth at Punchestown behind runaway winner Forgotten Rules being his best effort but left his bumper form in his wake once sent over hurdles. His debut came at Naas in early November where having tracked the leader travelling powerfully, he showed his authority in the closing stages to see off Phil’s Magic by 2 lengths. Later on in the month, he went to Gowran Park for a 4 year old novice hurdle where he met Douvan who beat him comfortably on the bridle by 11 lengths. The performance left connections disappointed but as the season progressed, it turned out he may potentially have bumped into a future superstar of the National Hunt game.
As a result of his Gowran performance, he was sent off outsider of the field in the Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. In an incident packed race which saw odds on favourite Nichols Canyon unseat Ruby Walsh at the third flight and McKinley pull up several strides after that hurdle, Johnny Burke kept Sizing John out of trouble by making every yard of the running to earn his first Grade 1 success as a rider. There was a slight moment for concern when he nearly ran out due to the loose Nichols Canyon charging past, but his jumping on the whole was impeccable and quickened nicely off the final bend to see off Sub Lieutenant by just under 7 lengths.
Given an intentional break after that win, the plan was to head to Cheltenham for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle where he belied his odds of 25/1 to run an excellent race in finishing a 7 lengths third behind Douvan having travelled up strongly to lead at the second last flight. Having led into the straight, he was a sitting duck with the favourite looming up menacingly on his tail and ended up fighting a losing battle for second place with the Mullins second string Shaneshill. To end the season, he reopposed Douvan at Punchestown but the result was the same as Cheltenham, the margin this time being a half length further than at Prestbury Park.
Of all the novice chasers in this list, this is the one to most look forward to on chasing debut with De Bromhead having an unbelievable ability to get horses to jump as well as they do. You would expect him to make his chase debut in the next couple of weeks with the first big target likely to be the Craddockstown Novices’ Chase at Punchestown in November, a race De Bromhead likes to target with both Sizing Europe and Days Hotel being successful in 2009 and 2011 respectively. The Racing Post Novices’ Chase would also be likely to appear on his radar before a potential crack at the Arkle in March all being well. Apart from Douvan, he rates as the most exciting 2m novice chaser in Ireland.
STELLAR NOTION – 7 – Tom George
When looking for well handicapped horses to make the piece, this son of Presenting stood out like a sore thumb with his official rating of 137. Bought for £140,000 by Roger Brookhouse in May 2013 at Brightwells, he started off by winning a bumper in December 2013 at Bangor and a novice hurdle the following month at Newcastle before a promising last start of the season when second behind Un Ace at Doncaster.
Given a BHA rating of 120, connections decided to exploit that mark in novice handicap chases, starting off at Leicester over 2m at the end of November where he made every yard of the running jumped efficiently to win by 13 lengths with his main rival Crookstown falling at the final fence when looking held in second. He then followed up in a competitive novice handicap chase at Kempton on Boxing Day when stepped up to 2m4f, using similar tactics to jump and gallop his rivals into the ground. The only scare came at the last when horse and jockey had a slight disagreement, but there was plenty left in the locker to fend off Knock House by just over a length.
On the back of that success, he was sent off favourite on Trials Day for the novice handicap chase where he attempted again to make all the running by setting a strong gallop from the front but his assured jumped from both Leicester and Kempton lacked slightly, an error at the eleventh was compounded by a shocking mistake at the third last. He weakened away shortly after to finish seventh behind Generous Ransom who reversed Kempton form.
Softer ground was blamed for that performance and he was well fancied back on decent ground for the novice handicap at the Festival but a bad mistake at the fourth last seemed to knock the stuffing out of him as he dropped away tamely coming down the hill, eventually completing beaten 31 lengths by Irish Cavalier. Interesting to note was that he was tongue tied for the first time which may signify that he may have needed a wind operation.
With his current rating, it would be a huge shock if he wasn’t better than 137 but he may be worth keeping away from Cheltenham as his two disappointing efforts have come there over fences. A potential early target on a flatter track could well be the Old Roan at Aintree in October or, if he isn’t ready, the valuable 2m4f handicap chase at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting could prove ideal as long as the ground is half decent. You would also hope that he would prove to be better than a handicapper with the promise shown so far.
TARA POINT – 6 – Paul Nicholls
When looking at the list of big race winners during throughout the career of Paul Nicholls, a particular absence from them is Graded success with a mare. However, he may just have the right horse to change that and again, like last season, she seems to have slipped under the radar.
The daughter of Kayf Tara created a strong impression in the Point to Point field, winning by 36 lengths at Mollington in March 2013 for owner/trainer Chloe Roddick in a 4-7yo Open Maiden over 2m4f under Nico De Boinville before being sold to Nicholls. Her debut for the yard came over a year later in April 2014 in a mares bumper at Taunton on good ground where she bolted up under Harry Derham, quickening clear of her field in a number of strides to win eased down by 8 lengths from Catherines Well.
She was put away after that one run for the new National Hunt season, making her debut in November at Exeter over 2m3f where she made all the running and jumped nimbly under a confident Sam Twiston-Davies. Up the home straight, Twiston-Davies gave her half an inch of rein and she sauntered clear without coming off the bridle to win by 15 lengths on testing ground.
Off the back of that performance, connections decided to let her have a crack at the geldings in a decent renewal of the Grade 2 Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown over 2m4f where she was allowed to get into a lovely rhythm out in front, albeit racing a tad keen. Her jumping again was a huge asset for the most part and at one stage, she had all her rivals off the bridle but a slight mistake at the last and her earlier excursions told in the end with Vyta Du Roc and Shantou Bob outstaying her up the hill. To her credit, she battled back up the hill to just be beaten over a length.
We only saw her once more after Christmas back against her own sex in Listed company at Taunton, with the racing bordering on farcical due to five of the nine hurdles being omitted because of the low sun. Like Exeter she stamped her authority, but this time she was given more of a race by better quality mares, winning by 4 lengths from Dusky Legend.
A small injury kept her out of action for the rest of the season but she returns this season to hopefully be part of the strong Nicholls novice chase team. Although she will likely be kept within her own sex on debut where she rates as one of England’s leading lights, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see her mixing it with the geldings at some point during the season.
VALUE AT RISK – 6 – Dan Skelton
A trainer expected to have a big season by many is Dan Skelton who looks to have an array of smart prospects for the future. Of his novice chasers, his three stand outs all merited a place in this list. Blue Heron will make his mark over 2m and could make up into a lively outsider for the Arkle whilst Three Musketeers looks the type to make up into one of the yard’s long term flagship horses along with Value At Risk.
Having proven himself to be a very useful bumper horse for Philip Fenton, he moved to Skelton’s yard at the beginning of last season after the controversy surrounding his former trainer. From the start, Skelton was keen to state that he needs plenty of time, highlighted when missing the fixed brush race won by Maximiser at Haydock with the trainer stating that he needed a couple more weeks before a run. Instead, he went to Newbury just before Christmas over 2m3f and demolished a capable field without coming out of second gear by 22 lengths. The fact Harry Skelton wasn’t moving a muscle and he was still going further clear of his rivals was extremely pleasing on the eye. To add some context, the second Foryourinformation had ran the previous time at Newbury in a decent novice hurdle and was beaten just over 7 lengths by Out Sam, Thomas Brown and Tea For Two who all looked decent prospects in their own right. Value At Risk beat him 22 lengths on the bridle, showcasing how deeply impressive he was for a hurdling debut.
The son of Kayf Tara’s next assignment came on Trials Day in the Neptune Trial to see whether 2m5f or 3m would be the right way to go in March. In a race that wasn’t run to suit due to a stop/start pace, he raced keenly early on and looked in trouble on the turn for home. However, he showed great tenacity after the final flight to battle back, only beaten less than a length by Ordo Ab Chao. This confirmed him to be more of a staying type and we only saw him after that in the Albert Bartlett where he settled a lot better than he had done in his previous starts and travelled down the hill as good as any until he began to weaken when the three ahead of him kicked for home, ending up fifth beaten 12 lengths by Martello Tower.
The plan has always been to go novice chasing this season, with him already pencilled in to make his chase debut on the 27th October at Bangor before going on to the Hennessy meeting at Newbury. Long term, he does look a real stayer with his dam Miss Orchestra being a Midlands National winner and the ideal target would be the RSA Chase at the Festival. Of the horses that make the list, he rates as one of the more exciting prospects.
VINTAGE CLOUDS – 5 – Sue Smith
With Great Try another that appears not to be in training this season on Paul Nicholls website, another Trevor Hemmings horse that was in my tracker last season was this grey son of Cloudings who looks to have a fairly decent future over obstacles.
His debut came last December at Catterick where he showed signs of inexperience but stayed on nicely to finish third beaten 4 lengths by After Toniight. On his next start, he was sent off favourite at Sedgefield on Boxing Day where he gave Bedale Lane too much rope in front when beaten 7 lengths in second.
That experience wasn’t lost on him as a change in tactics at Wetherby on his next start did the trick. Sent off in front by Danny Cook, he made every yard of the running and showed an excellent attitude by galloping all the way to the line to win by 14 lengths from Bollin Ace. The same tactics were used when trying to defy a penalty at Newcastle, in what looked a decent bumper on paper, but he was swallowed up by the well backed Brain Power, eventually finishing fifth beaten less than 7 lengths.
A half brother to useful staying chaser Vintage Star, he will improve once stepping up in distance over hurdles and will probably start over 2m4f before getting further in time. Considering his high knee action, soft ground will likely be a necessity for him so we will likely see him at a track like Haydock over the upcoming few months with the races over the fixed brush hurdles a likely target.
YANWORTH – 5 – Alan King
The final horse to make the never-ending list was arguably not given the greatest of rides at last year’s Festival in the Champion Bumper but this son of Norse Dancer looks more than capable of being one of England’s leading novice hurdlers. Originally owned by his trainer Alan King, he made a winning debut in May 2014 at Wincanton when lowering the colours of the well regarded Urubu D’Irlande, both of them pulling nearly 30 lengths clear of the third Admiral Miller.
Kept to bumpers last season, his return at Newbury was one of the easiest wins you will witness. Although the margin was 2 lengths, the runner up Rabunda was hugely flattered by the winner who hardly broke sweat in a race that was effectively an exercise canter. He then headed to Ascot for the Listed bumper just before Christmas and whilst the slow pace early on inconvenienced most, he travelled nicely into contention but found Supasundae too strong for him in the closing stages, the pair pulling 11 lengths clear of the third Rio Treasure.
His final outing came in the Champion Bumper where, as mentioned above, it wasn’t exactly Tony McCoy’s finest hour as he allowed the race to develop too much in front of him and was momentarily shuffled back crossing the path before the turn for home, costing him valuable ground on the leaders. Once in the clear, he stayed on eyecatchingly up the hill, beaten just under 4 lengths by Moon Racer. The body language from McCoy on pulling up suggested he could have finished closer than his finishing position of fourth.
It appears that trainer Alan King already wants to start him over 2m4f over hurdles and the way he finished at Cheltenham suggests he should have no issue starting off over further. He could even clash with Barters Hill who features earlier in the list a couple of times and, long term, the Neptune would probably be the ideal aim for this season. Hopefully he can provide his lad Steve Ayres with some big success to cheer about after sadly losing his pride and joy Balder Succes at Aintree in the spring. The future’s bright. The future’s Orange. The list finally comes to an end. Halleujah.
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.
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….
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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
4) 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.
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.
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.
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
6) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
8) 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.
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.
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.
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
10) 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.
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
11) 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.
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.
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.
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
13) 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.
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
14) 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.
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
15) 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.
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
16) 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.
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
17) 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.
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.
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
18) 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.
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
19) 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.
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
20) 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.
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.
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.
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
22) 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.
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
23) THE RAINBOW HUNTER – 11 – 10-7 – David Bass – Kim Bailey
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
24) 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.
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
25) 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.
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.
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
27) 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.
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
28) 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
29) 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
30) 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.
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
31) 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…
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
32) 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.
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
33) 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.
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
34) 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
35) 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
36) 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.
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.
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.
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
38) 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.
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
39) 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
40) 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.
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
The very best of luck to you if you are having a bet and many thanks for taking the time to read this piece!
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!