Since the first piece I wrote about the Grand National in July, there have been a few changes involving the great race. The main one being that Crabbie’s have taken over sponsorship from John Smith’s with a three year contract and that it will be the first time the race will have a prize fund of £1,000,000. With the state of the current economic climate, Aintree have a winner here especially as the company has local connections with it being owned by Halewood International who had Amberleigh House that won the 2004 Grand National. Sadly though, one of the ante-post favourites Back In Focus is out for the season. Originally, the Willie Mullins inmate was one of my selections in the original piece but the horse has had his fair share of injury problems. However, he does have time in his favour if he returns next season for the race. Having had a bit more time to think about the race plus with some of the key contenders returning to action, here are my latest thoughts. I feel that Teaforthree wasn’t given enough credit in my last piece. It is rare these days to see a horse campaigned in the manner that he was last season. All his runs came in Grade Three staying handicap chases when most trainers are inclined to protect handicap marks. So Rebecca Curtis deserves credit for using the old fashioned approach. He is likely to be seen for the first time this season in the Welsh National from which he’ll come on for the run with Aintree being the main target unlike last season, where it was the target for the second half of the campaign. It was pleasing to see in Willie Mullins’ Racing Post tour that he mentioned Up The Beat had returned into training and that he sees him as an Aintree National sort. Considering he has had only four runs over fences, he has some excellent handicap form running off big weights including when second to Portrait King in the Punchestown National giving him seventeen pounds. He ran well in the Kim Muir behind Sunnyhillboy who went and confirmed the form when running the race of his life in the National itself, when a short head second to Neptune Collonges. Sunnyhillboy’s trainer Jonjo O’Neill acquired the Trevor Hemmings owned Burton Port from Nicky Henderson this summer, after a season off with leg trouble. O’Neill is renowned for his training of quality staying chasers and he has an excellent record in Nationals and this horse looks to fit the bill. If he retains the ability that saw him finish fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Synchronised, then he would have a live chance. His comeback run at Aintree in a Pertemps Qualifier was satisfactory with him blowing up at the top of the straight before easing down. He will come on for the run enormously and with his campaign leading towards Aintree, it will be fascinating to see where connections send him. There is always an appeal of a class horse running in the race and with Imperial Commander doing so off a very fair mark in this year’s renewal, trainers may consider running their top horses. One that was on my shortlist for 2013 was Tidal Bay, who is still running consistent races even at his veteran stage. Since his change in stables to Paul Nicholls, he has been revitalised with some of his best runs of his career coming over the last eighteen months which include a classy performance in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown and a win at the top level in the Lexus Chase in what was possibly the jumps race of last season. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the big race but showed on Saturday that injury hasn’t affected him at all with his second success in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby. His racing style would suit the National perfectly and although he unseated on his previous attempt back in 2011, he seemed to take to the challenge. The weights for the Grand National 2014 are revealed in February making the picture a little clearer. I’ll be back then with a further update.
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