Grand National Preview by Community Member, Geoff Handley
The Becher Chase run at Aintree in December could be one of the key races to focus on for this year’s Grand National.Two winners of this event Amberleigh House and Silver Birch have gone on to win the big event and also Earth Summit won the 2008 Becher after winning the Grand National in the same year.
Another race to focus on is the Grand National Trial at Haydock. It’s a race that the winner of the Trial has never provided the winner of the big race though many have used the race as a platform to winning the main event including Red Rum and is often worth making a note of the placed horses. The conditions were very different this year, very much spring like and much more akin to Aintree. Normally, the race is run in heavy going that is typical for the Merseyside track in the winter but this season it was run two minutes quicker than the previous year. The first two home Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion fought it out and we will focus on these two later.
Also keep a note of all the different Nationals, Welsh, Irish, Scottish plus the classic staying chasers like the Hennessy. I was at Aintree in December to see the Becher and made a note of three of them; the winner Vieux Lion Rouge, the fourth Ucello Conti and the fifth One For Arthur (I will talk about The Last Samuri later).
My two main fancies are Blaklion and One For Arthur both available at 14/1 with William Hill.
Blaklion is a second season chaser (won it last two years) trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, who stated after finishing second in the Grand National Trial:
We will win the National and forget about being second today, had a long time off and that should put him spot on for Aintree. He was much more like his old self. His jumping was spot on at almost every fence and even when he was tired he put himself right and that’s what you need for Aintree.
He has a touch of class about him having won the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last season and a good fifth in this season’s Hennessy. He was 3rd behind Defiantly Red on Boxing Day under top weight and then made Vieux Lion Rouge fight all the way at Haydock, jumping with great enthusiasm suggesting that he will cope with the big fences.
One for Arthur went into my notebook after the Becher when he was held up at the back before making good headway to finish fifth. It can be hard to make up a considerable amount of ground at Aintree and it would be wise for him not to be too far behind. However the same can be said about Warwick and it can often pay to follow a horse that makes headway from the back to win at such a tight circuit. That’s what happened in the Betfred Classic when hampered by a faller at the second. He found himself in rear but he then sluiced through the field on the bridle to stay on strongly, a sight not often seen at Warwick. One for Arthur is trained by Lucinda Russell in Scotland, is improving and will stay the trip. He carries 10st 6 lbs and five recent winners have had that weight.
At a general 20/1 is Ucello Conti, trained by Gordon Elliott (trainer of 2007 Grand National winner Silver Birch). He finished sixth in last year’s race off a mark of 149 and ran really well for a long way. Travelling strongly for the first time over these fences on the inside, he did well to remain in the race after a bad blunder at the big open ditch (19th). He didn’t quite get home on the soft going after it had rained nearly all day at Aintree. That was it for the 15/16 season and he made his seasonal debut over hurdles at Leopardstown, shaping though he needed the race. He headed back to Aintree for a tilt at the Becher over the big obstacles. Held up in mid div, he made good headway and a slight mistake at the last didn’t help but he ran on at one pace to be a close up fourth. But a promising run over the unique fences showing a willing attitude to them. Has since run in three of the biggest handicap chasers in Ireland coming 7th in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown, a fine second in the Thyestes at Gowran Park and then after a seven week break finished fourth of the eighteen runners in the Leinster National at Naas, jumping soundly and travelling fluently.
Ucello Conti runs off the same mark as last year’s race and it looks like he has been trained for the race. Experienced at the fences and having run in three of Ireland’s top handicaps this season, he must have a good each way chance. The big stat against him though is that he hasn’t won a chase more than 3m and the last time that happened was Gay Trip back in 1970.
Of the others, Definitely Red is top rated on Timeform and is 10lb well in but in his two races over fences with 14+ runners, he has failed to get round and there must be question marks over his stamina.
The ante post fav Vieux Lion Rouge won both the Becher and Grand National Trial plus as a 7yo finished a cracking seventh in last years race. A 7yo hasn’t won since 1940. No doubt he has strengthened up and looks to have every chance but is now only an 11/1 chance. Cause Of Causes won the Cross Country (I had a good word for it at the a Cheltenham Preview) but that’s probably it until next year’s Cheltenham event. As for The Last Samuri, he was my NAP last season and I backed him throughout the winter but was gutted come the race to see it rain all day and witness a soft ground horse outsider get up to beat it. Such a gallant horse but has another 12lbs to carry this year and that will be difficult. In my 10 to follow is Drop Out Joe from Charlie Longsdon’s yard. He hasn’t been seen this season and the stats count against him as it pays to have a fairly recent run. However at 100/1, I will be having a small each way on it. Just look how Pendra performed at the Cheltenham Festival first time out.
All the money today is for Pleasant Company, currently at 20/1 (from 33’s) so it looks like Willie Mullins lightly raced 9yo heads to Aintree and could well be Ruby Walsh’s ride. He won well last time at Fairyhouse, travelling strongly and jumping well to get up close home. He’s very much unexposed as a staying chaser (only his sixth chase run) and this second season chaser is the dark horse in the world’s greatest steeplechase.
Finally, I have made a note of quite a few runners over the last few months who will hopefully be Aintree bound. Having picked out Willoughby Court for Cheltenham, I was keen on another one of Ben Pauling’s runners. Ben wasn’t happy with the jockey’s ride on it last time. He runs very soon so I will let you know his identity shortly.
Best of luck to all readers and fellow Community Members. Let’s hope for another nice winner!
The NH season stepped up another gear with a cracking Saturday card at Chepstow a few weeks ago.The opening race on the card, a “National Hunt” Novice Hurdle looked a particularly decent event ( the Supreme winner Alitor won this event last year ) and the form should stand up, the first three in this event are all worth following from powerful yards, Geordie De Champs /Rebecca Curtis, Casper King/ Phillip Hobbs and Capeland/Paul Nicholls
However the one I took out of this event was Call To Order who finished sixth of the eleven runners.Travelled really well in midfield at the Welsh track on his seasonal debut and was not that fluent at a couple of flights in the home straight basically finished him off and then handled considerately to come home in his own time for Aidan Coleman.
Came back to Chepstow on October 25th, was very well backed and travelled well for along way again until a slight mistake 2 out and finished third.
Call To Order is now qualified for Handicaps and is worth keeping an eye on.
Update as at 16 Feb:
Call To Order has ran twice since both at Cheltenham,stepped up in trip to 2m 5f ran a respectable race to be third at 11/1 in his first handicap off a mark of 120.
Last time out running off the same mark, stepped up to 3m in a Class 2 handicap, he led all the way and ran on strongly at odds of 11/2
He was taken out of a race a few weeks ago when morning fav with the going too soft, so he is obviously one to watch out for given better going,
Call To Order has plenty of improvement in him and has an entry at Haydock on Saturday in the Pertemps Qualifier ( runs off a 7lb higher mark ) so Jonjo could be targeting this race at the Festival and the yard has a decent record in getting one right for a Cheltenham handicap.
1 ( 11/2 )
2. Twenty Eight Guns : Michael Scudamore
Twenty Eight Guns is a maiden hurdler and she made her chasing debut in a Novice Handicap Chase at Hexham off a mark of 105 and started the 7/2 joint fav. However her running virtually went unnoticed as this was the race that Henry Brooke took a nasty fall at the 2nd on Old Guard and receiving nasty injuries but thankfully he is on the mend and best wishes to him, we can all criticise jockey’s at times but it just shows how tough a career it can be and fair play to them.
During the race itself, Twenty Eight Guns was still travelling OK when making an almighty blunder three out, the open ditch, virtually coming to a halt, jockey Adam Wedge got her going again and was running on at the end to finish fourth.
She stays further than this 2 1/2 mile event and is one to look out for in a similar event especially on soft/heavy going.
Update as at 16 Feb:
Twenty Eight Guns has gone on to win 3 races and still don’t know how she got beat at Ffos Las that would have made it four in a row
Returned back to the same course, jumping well she was clear at the last only to slightly idle near the line and got headed on the post ( touched 1/50 in running ) (OR 105)
Michael Scudamore then sent her to Bangor-On-Dee just before Christmas, loved the soft conditions and never really looked like being beaten, easily holding off Coole Charmer and looking a big improver ( OR109 )
On her final race she travelled to Wincanton to gain her third success winning easily again despite a rise of 11 lb in the weights ( OR 120 )
She has numerous engagements this weekend, is tough and is improving but she is now racing off 130 ( a rise of 31 lbs ) and life won’t be easy anymore.1 (2/1)
3. Our Kaempfer : Charlie Longsdon
Update as at 16 Feb:
At last Our Kaempfer put it all together on his last appearance at Kempton over 3m winning a Class 2 handicap off a mark of 138 at 5/1, Sam Twiston-Davies riding for the first time.
This followed 3 defeats, beaten in a match, 3rd of 5 at Newbury and then unseated early on at Wetherby on his first venture into handicaps, ( class 1 )
Still qualified for Novices, Our Kaempfer has an entry at Ascot on Saturday and two entries at Cheltenham. Charlie Longsdon clearly has a smart handicapper in the making.
1 ( 5/1)
4. No No Mac : Charlie Longsdon
It was great to see Hereford back in action again, had staged Point To Point and Arab Racing in the interim but had not seen NH racing since December 2012 and a big crowd turned up on the day for a decent card.
No No Mac was going for a hat-trick in a decent Class 3 Handicap Chase after four months off, tried to make all with Richard Johnson on board and probably went off too quick before not surprisingly weakening to finish third
Now racing off a mark of 134, this smallish gelding will be all the better for his seasonal debut and should take some stopping next time, though whether he can defy another rise in the weights is open to debate.
Update as at 16 Feb:
Was subsequently sold to Ayrshire trainer Ian Duncan on the advivce of one of Charlie’s jockey’s Graham Watters and was not seen until yesterday at the trainers local course Ayr.
Available at 20/1 in the morning, it was available at 12/1 and backed down to 7/1 for this class 3 handicap ( still the outsider ). Made a successful stable debut after a 101-day break without the blinkers. The 8yo looked in trouble turning for home, but he rallied bravely and his proven stamina for further came into play from two out. He’s now 3-7 over fences and connections have a very useful acquisition on their hands.0
1 ( 7/1 )
5. Monbeg River : Martin Todhunter
Looks a ready made winner judged on his seasonal debut at Wetherby, stayed on well at the North Yorkshire venue to finish runner up to Owen Na View and should come on a bundle for the run . A fast run 2m should be ideal and remains with plenty of potential.
Update as at 16 Feb:
Monbeg River has still not won in his 3 starts since but I’m sure his turn is not far away.
5th of 9 in a very competit.ive race at Cheltenham over 2m , he was then sent to Aintree over 2m 4f, Starting at 10/1, he was travelling really well along with Old Grangewood when both of them were brought down 4 out, the previous mentioned has won both races since for Dan Skelton
On his last run again Monbeg River ran well on going softer than he likes finishing 3rd, the trip just stretching his stamina at Wetherby.
He is weighted to win soon off 129 and Im sure the trainer Martin Todhunter is lining him up for a handicap at Aintree where conditions will be far more suitable.
6. Tjongejonge : Charlie Longsdon
Tongejonge first came to my attention at the stable’s Open Day which I have attended for the last few years,
He was one of the few to school on the morning and he certainly impressed me and I knew some of the stable lads were keen on him. A dual winner in France last year, he made his debut at Cheltenham last November in an Intermediate Handicap Hurdle, 7/1 in the betting and with Richard Johnson aboard, he was going well in the lead when appearing to lose his action 3 out and was quickly pulled up.He was fine afterwards but subsequently ran three more times but was rather disappointing.
Hopefully that can be put down to experience and Tjongejonge will go novice chasing this Autumn.
Update as at 16 Feb:
Tjonejonge made his UK chasing debut in a handicap at Market Rasen, well backed from 5/1 down to 11/4, the money proved well founded as he gained an easy success.made a few mistakes but it was a good performance for a 5yo.
Stepped up considerably in class he cut no ice in a class 3 Handicap.
Last time he again was backed all day from 20/1 to 12/1 and ran much better in a Novices Handicap at Leicester to finish fourth to suggest he can find another race very soon.
1 ( 11/4 )
7. Drop Out Joe : Charlie Longsdon
He was another to school at the Open day, this smart handicap chaser went on to win tat Chepstow, the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton and finally the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter ( two from two at the Midlands track ) off a mark of 144.The decent ground certainly helped him but the only problem now is that his Open Rating will shoot up and competing in some handicaps won’t be an option, however his ultimate aim this season is the Grand National and his jumping should hold good over the unique Aintree fences.
Trained by Alan King at Barbury Castle high up on the Marlborough Downs. It’s a marvellous place to train racehorses and there is also a Point To Point Course; an excellent racecourse, a natural amphitheatre for watching all the action and miles away from the main road but if you go wrap up well as it can be freezing up there, windy and wet.
Cosmeapolitan has only run on the flat but this three year old gelding is a fine prospect for juvenile hurdles. Won at Newbury for the first time when stepped up in trip to 12f for the first time in the Ladies Derby Handicap easily beating older rivals and powering clear to win by 10 lengths.Then went to Haydock where he was beaten by The Graduate trained by Andrew Balding ( another who would make a cracking hurdler ) this was over 14f on much softer going.Finished the season at Newmarket and ran much better than his position would suggest finishing 9th but coming from off the pace to lead until weakening.
He also has the option of returning to the flat next season as a four year old and looks a good prospect.
Update as at 16 Feb:
1 ( 1/3 )
9. Three Musketeers : Dan Skelton
Came to my attention as one to follow when I saw him win at Warwick last year ( pictured ) thats always a useful Novice Hurdle and then finished the season with a very decent third in a hot Novice’s at Aintree and looking all over a chaser in the making.
Last season, he did switch to chasing, winning well at Newbury but disappointing at Cheltenham in January ( the yard weren’t firing at the time ) His final outing saw him run in the JLT Novices Chase at the Cheltenham Festival finishing a very good fourth but very much giving the impression that a step up to 3 miles will be in his favour.
I was at Aintree when it ran last week in the Old Roan Chase, couldn’t believe it started fav as the trainer Dan Skelton said he would need the run and needed 3m, the shorter distance was to run the ‘freshness’ out of him, jumped boldly at Aintree but weakened to be sixth of the seven runners, Can win a decent chase over 3m.
Hopefully Three Musketeers can now go on improving and Im sure it will be even better over 3m, there is a good handicap in him, has an entry on Feb 25th in the Betbright at Kempton and that should be ideal.ur
1 ( 7/2 )
10. Two Taffs : Dan Skelton
Hardly unexposed but looks the type to win a decent race for this shrewd stable.
Looked a smart hurdler when winning at Ayr at the end of the season and rewarding punters who had followed him all season having been placed twice at Kempton and fourth at Sundown in a well contested 18 runner Novices Handicap Hurdle. ( started 7/1 fav )
A facile winner of a novice hurdle at Carlisle last week, Two Taffs looks a smart hurdler in the making and also has the size to make a chaser longer term.
Update as at 16 Feb:
Still not won in four subsequent starts.
7th in a very hot handicap hurdle at Haydock, travelled strongly but weakened, not sure why it ran on such heavy going
Then made a hugely eye catching chasing debut when second behind Poker School at the big Boxing Day meeting at Kempton
Very disappointing next time out when beaten at 1/6 at Catterick, however the yard’s runners were not performing that well at the time,( said to have have had flu jabs )
Much better last time out when third at Warwick in the Kingmaker, slightly stopped in his track on the home turn he ran respectably back down in trip
Don’t give up on Two Taffs, Im sure there is a decent Novice Chase in him over 2m 4f on good going.
The other five make little appeal.
SIS HORSES IN-RUNNING NURSERY HANDICAP
One from each side of the track, Miss Rosina and Mama Africa.
DAVID CHAPMAN MEMORIAL HANDICAP
13 runners in total.
21 ENGINEER REGIMENT SAPPER HANDICAP
The danger could be the only other 3yo Kajaki, though not as progressive as Silva Eclipse, the North Yorkshire yard of Kevin Ryan is in great form with 7 winners with their last 19 runners.
SIS TRADING SERVICES FILLIES´ HANDICAP