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!