With the weights for the first one million pound Grand National sponsored by Crabbie’s released yesterday, here is my third preview of the great race. You can read my previous previews here: Grand National Preview: Update (November 2013) and Grand National 2014: Long Range Preview (July 2013) The main point of interest in the build-up to the publication of the weights, was how lenient Phil Smith would be when assessing the chances of the evergreen thirteen year old Tidal Bay? The answer; a mark of 161 gives him an excellent chance to become the first horse since Red Rum in 1977 to win the world’s greatest steeplechase off top-weight. Apart from one minor blip in the Betfair Chase, which was effectively ran like a race over two and a half miles, his runs this season have been as good as ever. Especially on his last two starts, with a heroic attempt to give away twenty six pounds to strong stayers in Mountainous and Hawkes Point on desperate ground in the Welsh National highlighted that he is still a force to be reckoned with in top staying chases. His run on Sunday behind the impressive Last Instalment showed that three miles is probably on the sharp side as they crawled for the first three quarters of the race before sprinting for home. The Crabbies Grand National would be the perfect race for him to switch off at the back given his running style, and if Daryl Jacob takes the ride and does a similar thing to what he did with Neptune Collonges, then he must go very close. Although the last thirteen year old to win was Sergeant Murphy way back in 1923, you wouldn’t put it past Paul Nicholls’ veteran to take the spoils. Before I go on to look at other contenders, a few interesting comments have been made questioning why Tidal Bay has been given such an advantage at the top when he is still running up to his very best form. For the last couple of Nationals, Phil Smith has tried and succeeded in attracting the class horses like Synchronised and Imperial Commander, to take the mantle of top-weight by offering a realistic mark that would give them a chance of winning a race of this quality compared to a conventional handicap. Tidal Bay would have carried top-weight in last year’s race with a mark of 162 which was nine pounds lower than his mark at the time of 171. This was after a Grade One win in the Lexus Chase and this method of attracting the quality horses will continue until we get a top-weight winner. The compression this year has favoured Tidal Bay the most, but the horses up to Bog Warrior have all had their mark compressed in some way. Out of those horses, the former Gold Cup winner Long Run would have a squeak if he could show improvement on his runs this season whilst his stable-mate and long time ante-post favourite Triolo D’Alene looks readily opposable. Although he has won over the fences in the Topham, he didn’t jump very well and won the race thanks to an excellent ride from Barry Geraghty with him saving every inch of ground he could. His win in the Hennessy showed that he gets three and a quarter miles very well. However, the trip is one of several concerns I have. Add to that his suspect jumping, his age of 7 and that he is French bred and I’m put off completely. One of the other market leaders On His Own, now a dual Thyestes winner, is another to keep away from. His form over the fences doesn’t inspire and although he got round in the Becher Chase, the way he kept backing off his fences was a cause of concern. With Tidal Bay’s compression, some connections have the right to feel annoyed. The horse that is worse off at the weights is Mossey Joe. A recent purchase for 160,000 guineas by Barry Connell, his UK mark was 148 which would have given him 10-11. However, the handicapper said that the hunter chasers were the hardest to give marks too. His actual weight off 11-01 means that he has been raised four pounds to 152 just for staying in his stable which looks particularly harsh. However, his Stratford hunter chase win was one of the most impressive visually seen in a long time and his front running style would be exciting to watch. My main selection for this year’s race is last year’s third TEAFORTHREE. His effort in last year’s race looks all the more impressive as he was the only horse to carry over eleven stone that finished in the first ten. Although he had a small hold up at the start of the season, it would probably have been to his advantage as it takes a couple of runs to get him ready and with the Welsh National being his first run, there was no disgrace in him finishing last, as he blew up in the home straight. He was subsequently dropped four pounds for that effort and his weight of 10-12 looks ideal. With him entered at the weekend at Ascot, his preparation for Aintree looks on track. The main threats include last season’s Scottish National winner Godsmejudge, who has a similar profile to Teaforthree with plenty in his favour, and Monbeg Dude who’s jumping has improved enormously this season and would go to Aintree with a live chance. Some outsiders that will be of some interest in the lead up to the race are Sunnyhillboy, Burton Port, Cape Tribulation and Rose Of The Moon. The Jonjo O’Neill trained pair of Sunnyhillboy and Burton Port both command huge respect. Sunnyhillboy can be forgiven for a lacklustre effort in last year’s race as his trainer admitted that he wasn’t right at all last season and proved that with a success at Cheltenham in December. With a weight of 10-9, if he can reproduce his second of two seasons ago, he would have a big chance. However that’s if he makes the line up as his trainer told the press yesterday that he has a slight niggle. Burton Port was rated at a peak of 166 two seasons ago and with his mark having dropped to 145, he looks well weighted. Although some of his runs have looked disappointing, he is with the right connections for a crack at this race and if he runs on Saturday at Haydock, expect a better performance especially as he has had a wind operation since his last start. Similarly to Burton Port, Cape Tribulation’s mark has been slipping down. Rated as high as 165 last season, he is another that has slowly been creeping down the handicap and he was dropped four pounds for a really good effort behind runaway winner Cloudy Too in the Rowland Meyrick on Boxing Day. Now off 149, if he lines up on the day then he would have a lively each way chance based on his fifth in last season’s Gold Cup behind Bob’s Worth. Rose Of The Moon looks interesting based on his Becher Chase run where he looked to need the run after jumping and travelling well for a fair way. This was proved last time out at Wetherby where he beat Real Milan by nine lengths and at number 65 in the list, should get a run and would be a lively outsider on the day. Although Highland Lodge wouldn’t be on my shortlist and would be on the cut-off point to make the race down at 68th in the list, the quotes of 66/1 from some firms look quite insulting for a horse that has shown excellent handicap form this season. This includes a placed effort in the Hennessy and he ran well on his first start behind Standing Ovation at Wincanton. The Welsh National run can be forgiven as he did have two hard races and if freshened up, a mark of 139 looks tempting. On the subject of where the cut-off point will be, the figures for the last five Grand Nationals were 75, 72, 69 (although Skippers Brig was 71, his overall handicap mark was higher than Golden Kite), 78 and 74 so on last year’s figures, Goonyella at 75 would have just scraped in. This means that a few fancied runners including Alfie Sherrin and Rockyaboya are highly unlikely to make the cut. To conclude, my current shortlist for the Grand National would include Teaforthree, Tidal Bay, Sunnyhillboy, Burton Port, Cape Tribulation and Rose Of The Moon. Now that the weights have been published, what do you fancy for the world’s greatest steeplechase? Let us know in the Comments below.
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