The 2015 Crabbies Grand National weights were revealed on Tuesday at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden. There were 96 entries for Phil Smith to scrutinise with 2013 runner up Cappa Bleu being retired at the weekend and Qulinton failing to qualify due to his handicap mark not reaching the minimum requirements.
The first question to ask before going through the field is who will likely be top weight on the day itself?
This year is more difficult than most to assess who will carry top weight as last year’s Gold Cup victor Lord Windermere and Irish Hennessy winner Carlingford Lough are the pair alloted joint top weight of 11-10. The latter would be likely to miss the race after a bid at the Gold Cup whilst the former was a surprise entry but his participation isn’t likely. Many Clouds (11-09) goes for the Gold Cup and will definitely miss the race so that potentially leaves the top weight spot open to several below him.
Sam Winner (11-08) has had Aintree as a target since a gruelling success carrying top weight at Cheltenham’s Paddy Power meeting, but like Many Clouds, he also heads to the Gold Cup after improving again with a Listed win at Aintree on the Mildmay course and a third last time in the Lexus Chase behind Road To Riches. His trainer Paul Nicholls made positive noises about going to Aintree, but he also has six others he could depend on including Unioniste (11-06) who has looked an ideal candidate for the race for a while although age is a concern.
To answer the question posed above, I’d expect Sam Winner to carry top weight meaning the weights would rise a further two pounds. The main concern with him is how would he handle forty runners, especially as he can race on and off the bridle.
Nicholls has stated his best chance is Rocky Creek (11-03). For a horse who lacked experience last year, he ran an excellent race and was the only horse carrying above eleven stone to finish in the top ten. He was also struggling to finish off his races last season and a wind operation should help him in that regard. He needed his first outing at Down Royal when runner up to Road To Riches before putting in a disappointing effort in the Hennessy Gold Cup where he never travelled. No excuses emerged from that and we could see him enhance his credentials in Saturday’s Betbright Chase at Kempton.
The current ante-post favourite and the one likely to start clear favourite on the day is last season’s Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor (11-02) who is most likely to be AP McCoy’s twentieth and last ride for his retainer JP McManus and trainer Jonjo O’Neill. The same team combined with Don’t Push It back in 2010 for a famous success. The son of Accordion has only been seen once this campaign in November when taking a graduation chase at Carlisle in taking fashion.
Due to the yard’s drop in form, he has been kept with a Spring campaign in mind and it is hugely significant that connections withdrew him from the Gold Cup, highlighting Aintree as the main target. Even at this moment in time, he looks plenty short enough when looking at the and it’s entirely possible that he could be sent off a similar price to Red Rum back in 1975 when runner up to L’Escargot when sent off 7/2f. Whilst a fan of the horse, this could come a year too early as he still lacks relative experience. Factor that into his current price and what he is likely to go off at and he is worth opposing, although he deserves plenty of respect.
Apart from Double Seven who is sidelined through injury, the placed horses from last year’s race reoppose. Winner Pineau De Re (11-00) has had a fairly quiet season but showed at both Cheltenham and most recently at Exeter that he still retains a fair level of his form. That run qualified him for the Pertemps Final at the Festival where he was third last year before his big success. The plan is to go the same route and even off an eight pound higher mark, he should give another bold account, even though his jumping left something to be desired.
Runner up Balthazar King (11-02) is just a model of consistency and adaptable between conventional handicaps and cross country races where he dominates the division. His win in November signified he is as good as ever and that win was made even more impressive considering how testing the ground was on that occasion. Connections have stated that they will miss the Festival and go straight to Aintree, a decision that looks negative as you tend to want a horse who is racefit as opposed to an extremely fresh horse coming off a break. He should run his usual honest race but he will find it difficult off a career high mark.
ALVARADO (10-03) was given a very patient ride when finishing fourth and you wonder would he have finished closer given a more forceful ride by Paul Moloney. He had a preparation run yesterday at Doncaster and another one in March would benefit him massively. He could have a big say off the same mark as twelve months ago. The price of 50/1 before the weights were revealed was an insult but he’s still best priced 40/1 in a few places such as Titanbet, Winner and betway which still looks a tad big.
Monbeg Dude hasn’t ran a bad race all season including when fourth in both the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh National. He caught the eye at the weekend when third in the Grand National Trial at Haydock and that effort should have put him spot on for Aintree. The only slight doubt I have is whether he truly saw out the trip in last year’s race, but he did take well to the course considering his chequered jumping issues in the past.
Potential Grand National newcomers include Godsmejudge (10-08) who has been a long term fancy of mine for the race. The 2013 Scottish National winner missed last year’s race due to being a week behind in his work but ran two excellent races in the Scottish National when second to Al Co and in the Bet365 Gold Cup behind Hadrian’s Approach. The son of Witness Box 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.
Another that made my shortlist of four is Merry King (10-05) who has been called a fair few names in his time but you cannot deny he is extremely consistent in big staying handicap chases, albeit placing rather than winning. His third in the Hennessy Gold Cup behind Many Clouds was made all the more noteworthy due to AP McCoy reporting he had an issue with his wind. Although he disappointed over hurdles at Newbury last week, that will have blown away the cobwebs and one more run between now and Aintree should bring him to his peak. The slight risk with him is he seems the type of horse that will either love or hate the experience of Aintree.
Other English contenders of note include Dr Richard Newland’s other runner Royale Knight (10-03) who was a very easy winner of the Durham National at Sedgefield and Saint Are (10-07) who has been revitalised for a change of yards to Tom George this season. The former would be his highly shrewd trainer’s second runner after Pineau De Re and it wouldn’t surprise to see him go very well whilst the latter’s win at Catterick has ensured that he will get his chance in the race but whether he can find more improvement to win the Grand National remains to be seen.
The Irish challenge looks to be headed by Spring Heeled (10-13). Specifically trained for the race by an astute operator in Jim Culloty who rode Bindaree to success back in 2002. Winner of the Kim Muir at last year’s Festival, he then ran well enough in the Bet365 Gold Cup when fifth, before getting outpaced in the Galway Plate when fourth to Road To Riches. He hasn’t ran all season to protect his chase mark but the question mark that lingers over him is stamina. 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.
For a yard with the firepower of Willie Mullins, it’s surprising that he has so few entries. His main hope looks to be 2013 National Hunt Chase winner Back In Focus (10-13) who missed last season due to injury. He has looked an ideal candidate for this race since his chasing debut at Listowel in September 2012, with relentless galloping a feature of his performances. Whilst he is a safe jumper and getting on in years, a lack of experience would be the worry having only had five runs over fences. One with plenty of experience is First Lieutenant (11-03) and on his old form he looks very well treated but he needs to show a fair amount of improvement.
Living Next Door (10-10) could represent Tony Martin who has entered a couple of others including Buddy Bolero and Gallant Oscar. Out of those, Living Next Door looks his best chance. He threatened last season to win a big staying handicap and duly obliged over Christmas in the Paddy Power Chase when getting the better of Foxrock. He is another that has slight stamina concerns having not seen out the distance in the National Hunt Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival. Connections may have a right to also feel hard done by, especially with the way handicapper Phil Smith can treat Irish entries. Home Farm (11-02) is another not treated too well. He ran respectably in the Irish Hennessy behind Carlingford Lough and is definitely an interesting contender but on his form where he beat Foildubh, he doesn’t exactly look well in.
My other selection at as big as 66/1 with Stan James and Betway is THEATRICAL STAR (10-02) who is well worth a second look. He is unexposed over marathon distances and has shaped on his last two efforts at Warwick when second to Hawkes Point in the Classic Chase and Sandown when filling the same spot behind Le Reve, that a test like the National could suit very well. At the right end of the handicap, he looks to have potential improvement, appeals more than most in the field and should just make it in the field being number 70 on the current list.
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Whilst I like the claims of both Godsmejudge and Merry King at shorter prices, they won’t dramatically shorten for a while so it seems worth taking bigger prices about ALVARADO and THEATRICAL STAR with both likely to make the cut and at the right end of the handicap. Others that deserve consideration include Rocky Creek, Spring Heeled, Royale Knight and Saint Are.
1pt E/W – Alvarado – 40/1
1pt E/W – Theatrical Star – 66/1
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