Happy National Day! Hope that fortune is smiling on you and your horses today, and to show appreciation for the support we’ve had during our successful season together, here’s a preview covering every horse in the big event for free. Let’s gamble responsibly, be as civil as possible (although I won’t be), and wish for all horses and jockeys back safely! For those who can’t digest the whole read, there’s a podcast preview on iTunes (top episode) https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/horses-for-courses/id1097348167?mt=2&mc_cid=ea202223fa&mc_eid=029390c1a4 & https://soundcloud.com/hfcpodcast/the-greatest-race-of-them-all. Enjoy! The Grand National, the world’s most famous steeplechase, has long given rise to legend and many famous stories. Think of Red Rum galloping into the hearts of Liverpool and the Nation. Crisp galloping for all of Australia and making the biggest of fences look like stepping stones. Aldanti beating the impossible to make himself a filmstar. Foinavon making the fence and the race his own. Devon Loch snatching defeat form the jaws of victory. Corbiere doing it for the girls. The race that never was – twice – Ginger’s comeback.
The 30 fences, four and a half miles and nearly ten minutes are ideally geared towards making legends and a second win for Many Clouds would catapult him into the history books and the Nations’s hearts. And what’s to say he can’t? Luck in running and the usual caveats apply but everything seems to be in his favour. A gutsy winner last year, he had undergone a very unorthodox preparation, winning the Hennessey and Betbright Cup in hard fought and gutsy success before finishing sixth in the Gold Cup and then coming here with 11-9. After becoming one of the youngest winners every, there has only been one single target since for him and he arrives today having had the perfect preparation. After a pipe opener in the Charlie Hall he gave 5lbs when a close second to Don Poli and was a solid second in the Betbright Chase; he warmed up by winning the Premier Chase at Kelso by 10 lengths. He is gone up only 5lbs for all those efforts on ratings and carries only 1lb more. He arrives seemingly in perfect condition, won’t care about the ground, has been there and done it before and is going to go off shorter than 9/1. Bet Victor pay six places and give 8/1, and that price is worth taking. While we’re at it, why not have last year’s second Saint Are as well? It was touch and go for Tom George’s charge to get into this year’s event but he has done by two places and he’s gone up just 3lbs for last year’s effort. Since then he’s had just the three runs, two of them clear sharpeners for this, one when making yet another successful round over these fences when seventh in the Bencher, and post weights release he went and won at Doncaster. It’s hard, all things considered, not to see a big effort with a clear round although rain staying away would help. JP McManus has won both races over the National fences and his Gallant Oscar looks a ready-made natural for the race. Progressive ever since being a winner of the Leinster National, he was closing hand over fist to take third in last year’s Ultima Handicap Chase and while he was too lowly rated to get in but bolted up at the Punchestown Festival afterwards and was coming into the Paddy Power Chase nicely when he unseated coming into the straight. A nice effort over hurdles and a staying on effort at Naas in the Leinster National should have set him up just right for this and he’s surely capable of going well. Last but never least in terms of the main portfolio is Morning Assembly.
The rising quality of the race has seen better horses to come to the fore recently and past Grade 1 winners taking a bigger and bigger hand in proceedings has become the norm – Neptune Collognes is a fine example of this. A past RSA third, he came back from two years off the track with a strong second in a conditions chase when he gave nearly a stone to the runner up and there was no shame in being beaten 11 lengths by Smashing. At the Cheltenham Festival he travelled well into the straight before fading into fourth in the Ultima Handicap Chase. That was a fine preparation for this today and perhaps the slower ground will play to his strengths for the well handicapped nine year old. Second that day was Holywell, who ran a fine race returned to the ground that suits him so well when travelling like the winner but being unable to give weight away to a well handicapped novice. He should go well, although he has to have a dry night and day and has hit a couple of fences in most of his major races. Third in the Bowl last year for Jonjo O’Neill, he still has very strong claims and a fine handicap mark. Jonjo also has Shutthefrontdoor, the winner of the Irish National in 2014 who travelled like the winner until the straight last year as favourite to send Tony McCoy off with a final winner. He travelled well, perhaps too well for his own good, and the vibes are strong for a horse with the same mark, although he will need to settle perfectly to get the trip this time around as his stamina gave way badly when push came to shove last year. Those who want a really big price must consider Vics Canvas. Under Ruby Walsh he crept into the Beet365 Gold Cup and took a fine second, before finishing a close filth in Becher when he would have been more involved over the trip today. One can cur his next two efforts from the record, and it is worth nothing that his best run over the last year has come on the soundest surface. Bet Victor pay 6 places and offer 100/1, a staggering concession for those who want a big priced flyer. That could be a serious problem for Silivinaco Conti, who loves it around here but has often appeared to be at the end of his tether over 3 miles, albeit in top company. He was impressive in the Ascot Chase but it now appears that he didn’t beat much that day and he is hard to trust. The Last Samuri, twice a winner of strong handicap chases this season, is deserving of second favouritism and has a wonderful chance. His victory at Kempton has worked out quite well, and the amount of ground he made up late in a well-run race suggested that this may well be right up his street, and he confirmed that impression when bolting up in the Grimthrope at Doncaster, coming right away on a rain softened surface from The Druids Nephew. He’s obviously a massive player.
The Druids Nephew was going as well as anything when coming down in front last year and has been aimed solely at this since, with two runs that can be forgotten simply before a nice effort behind the The Last Samuri at Doncaster when he’d have been at less of a fever pitch and would have bene less in love with the ground than the winner that day. The negatives for him that mean he doesn’t make the on the day portfolio are the rain softened ground and a 9lbs higher mark, but it would be no surprise to see him make amends. Scottish National second Gooneyella is going to have loved every drop that’s hit the course, and it’s worth remembering that he was second in a good ground Scottish National off just 3lbs lower, but the softer the better so backers should watch the rain forecasts as much as possible. He has been given every chance by the handicapper, although laying up with the van was tough for him in the Becher. Nina Carberry is a fine replacement for Ruby Walsh on Sir Des Champs but how much of his old ability the former Gold Cup second retains remains to be seen and he didn’t exactly convince in either the Lexus or the Hennessy Gold Cup. Uncello Conti has run two good races for Gordon Elliot in the Paddy Power and Thyestes, when he got what could be called a questionable ride in the latter occasion. He’s more interesting than most with Daryl Jacob on board and can be trusted to go well. A distant 10th in this in 2014 at the tender age, Kruzhlinin is now a different horse having since left Donald McCain for the Phillip Hobbs yard, as a deeply impressive return win over Le Reve at Kempton in January would indicate. It’s no surprise that he was strongly fancied to land the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Festival, but he jumped very poorly going onto the final circuit and he’s made bad mistakes in his previous runs here. Unioniste is very interesting. A strong staying second behind Many Clouds at Kelso, he’s now 12lbs better off for that and this is a historically sound mark; He won the December Gold Cup as a four year old off 6lbs lower and raced in last year’s race off 159. His third behind Le Reve at Sandown in February was another sound effort and he also won easily at Kelso before finishing second to Many Clouds. The more rain the better again for him. Boston Bob is very interesting. A four time Grade 1 winner, he showed great guts to win the Bobbyjo when getting the best of his stablemate On His Own; He will be a little more-well weighted, and looks as likely a stayer as anything on pretty much all the evidence we’ve seen. A sound jumper, you can do much worse. O’Faolins Boy won the RSA in 2014 and has been bought back in good style by Rebecca Curtis, trashing a useful runner up at Newbury Conditions Chase. He’s since not been quite the same, although he went swimmingly for a long way in the Gold Cup since. He’s on a fair mark but has something to prove. Triolo D’Alene has won the Topham (2013) and Hennessy (same year) but since had several wind problems and relapsed when miles behind in the Ascot Chase last time. Onenightinvienna’s earlier form this season makes a mark of 149 look very lenient indeed, although his blowout last time is unaccounted for. Inexperience is the main worry for him given that he’s had just the four chase runs but he must be seriously respected with Philipp Hobbs having sent him. The Romford Pele has gone under the radar since thrashing his opppostion in the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter two years ago, but he caught the eye when staying on soundly into seventh over 3m3f at Cheltenham in November. Dropped in trip since, he’s always looked to be going ufurther and ran a fine race in the Coral Cup over 2m5f ion fast ground at Cheltenham. This trip will be a godsend and so will a dry night although he has some form on heavy. Just a Par will stay – he won the Bet365 Gold Cup last year and took the length of the straight to do so – and has prepared for this quietly. The worry is that he was behind when he was pulled up in the Becher Chase last winter and making up the ground can get hard around here so he must lay up. Buywise ran another decent race when third in the SkyBet Chase but coming from as far back as he does can be difficult and his jumping is a huge worry. First Lieutenant is in better form than last year when a remote 16th but he’s also 5lbs higher and hasn’t won a chase against more than seven rivals. Wonderful Charm ran a great race over the Mildmay in the race before this last April, but he needs to find more from a handicapping point of view if he’s to come here. Rule The World’s Irish National second reads well in this context and he caught the eye despite being a maiden over fences. Ballynagour was second in the Bowl last year and returned in good style in the Charlie Hall but has been woefully out of form since. He was a bit better when he finished seventh at Cheltenham but he still looks high. Gilgamboa’s Ryanair fifth was a fine effort and so was his Paddy Power fourth but he has never looked like a stayer and the trip is a hug e worry. Soll burst a blood vessel when ninth last year and has been in good heart since but he’s now rated 152 and that mark could be high. On His Own has plenty of high class form but has never really appeared to like this course, falling twice in 2012 and 2013. Le Reve’s great efforts may have left him a bit high in the weights based on his fifth at Kempton in February. Hadrian’s Approach was seventh behind him but has actually got much more going for him, having taken the Bet365 Gold Cup in the last strides in 2014. He has not been on the track much since but races off the same mark and jumps better nowadays in the main too, so could easily outrun 66/1 quotes. Black Thunder now has the assistance of Sam Waley-Cohen in the plate which is a major bonus and he looked like he’d be a great national horse as a novice, but he has failed to recover that form in the last 12 months. Balleycasey was enjoying himself when being bought down in this last year but his stamina has failed him before. Pendra struggled off his revised mark when trying to follow up October’s Ascot win and now steps up another notch here. Rocky Creek was fifth in 2014 but dire last year and has since struggled badly this winter. Katenko has nor run a good race since January 2014 and doesn’t look well handicapped; Vieux Lion Rouge didn’t get home in the National Hunt Chase; Double Ross looks too high in the weights and unlikely to stay; Aachen stole a valuable Cheltenham handicap in December with a great ride and then ran Soll to half a length, but has since failed to repeat that, ad Home Farm may have a chance if repeating his 2013 Irish National effort.
Advice 2 pts each/way Many Clouds (8/1 Bet Victor) 1 pt each/way Saint Are (16/1 Bet Victor, general) 1 pt each/way Gallant Oscar (16/1 Bet Victor, 18 Hills) 1 pt each/way Morning Assembly (16/1 Bet Victor, 22/1 general, 25/1 Hills*) 1 pt each/way Vics Canvas (100/1 general) Bet Victor pay out for 6 places each/way; and most bookmakers are going 5, but Hills are going only 4. Do shop around.