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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Preview of the 167th Grand National

At 4:15pm on 5th April 2014 we will witness the start of the 167th Grand National run at Aintree. This is a race that I have long been aligned with, having grown-up in the nearby town of Maghull just 3-miles north of the Aintree racecourse. For those who don’t know, horseracing started at Maghull in 1827, with horseracing at Aintree starting in 1829. The neighbouring tracks fought for superiority over the next few years but it was no contest really as the ground at Aintree was far superior to the swampy floodplain of the river Alt on which the track at Maghull was situated. As such, racing was unable to flourish at Maghull and the track closed for good in 1835.

Aintree racecourse has also had a chequered history and the track has changed considerably over the decades, with significant changes being undertaken to the course in my lifetime. The latest changes undertaken prior to the race being run last year resulted in just 2 of the 40 starters falling during the course of the race. The entire complexion of the race seems to have changed from one which required an exceptionally safe jumper of a fence to win, to one which calls more for stamina and endurance as a priority. As such, it may be that we will see over the next few years a different set of criteria are required to find the winner.

Some things tho’ won’t change, and weight is always a significant barrier to victory when racing over extreme distances. Last year, only Tea For Three with 11st 3lb carried more than 11st from the first 11 finishers in the race.  With neither last years winner nor the runner-up taking part this year, Tea For Three who ran 3rd has to have a great chance of being there again at the finish on Saturday with 5lb less weight to carry (even if his official rating is 2lb greater at OR153 than in 2013). Because of the weight factor, I cannot consider top-weight Tidal Bay with 11st 10lb. He ran in the race in 2011 (when trained by Howard Johnson) and never looked happy until losing his rider at the 10th fence. In 2011, only 1 horse from the 1st-7 carried more than 11st and that was the 2010 Grand National winner Don’t Push It. For the same reason I can’t have Long Run, who I think is also badly handicapped on OR160. Hunt Ball on OR158 with 11st 7lb is essentially a 2m5f horse and he won’t stay this trip. I think the last 7yo winner was in 1940, so for that reason I shouldn’t consider Triolo D’Alene but he won  the Topham Chase over these fences last year and then followed-up in the Hennessey last autumn; he could be one for the places especially as he’s been targeted as a National horse for the past 12 months. I also like the chance of Rocky Creek on 11st 6lb who chased home the Hennessey winner and has also been trained with this race in mind all season. The doubt I have with him is his lack of chase form as this would be only his 8th chase race. On 11st 1lb, Quito De La Roque has all his best form on soft/heavy ground which he’s not going to get on Saturday. All-in-all, I can’t see the winner coming from those carrying more than 11st, but 1 or 2 could get in the frame. Remember to take advantage of the bookies terms in this race: several major firms are paying 5-places on eachway wagers (Bet365, Skybet, Boyles, Paddy Power, Stan James) and Bet Victor are paying 6-places. So get your money down early with one of these firms.

It seems most likely that the winner will be carrying 11st or less, but more than 10st. Back in the mid-1980’s, I read the autobiography of well-known punter Alex Bird, hoping to find a nugget or two in genuine knowledge. He gave nothing away but one fact: he declared he’d backed the winner of the Grand National every year since 1947 and said it was one of the easiest races to fathom. This set me thinking and after reviewing the winners I noticed that since 1947 only 5 of the subsequent 39 winners (this was prior to 1986) had carried just 10st – all the others had carried more, therefore were in the handicap “proper”. I realised that by dismissing the chances of horses with more than 11st and those from outside the handicap, you could reduce the contenders from 40 runners to maybe less than 10 to consider. That year, I backed the winner Maori Venture with 10st 13lb at 40/1 antepost and persuaded all my friends to get on at 28/1 on the day. As such, I’m not interested in any of the 65 still entered for the race that are handicapped to carry less than 10st – if they manage to get into the race they are unlikely to hold a winning chance.

I’m not going to look at each horse in turn as that is too time-consuming, but there is a lot of dead-wood in this race in the form of Colbert Station, Wayward Prince and Burton Port amongst others. For instance, Balthazar King couldn’t win off OR146 last year so he’s unlikely to win off OR159 this year.  In fact, apart from Tea For Three, I’m happy to dismiss the chance of any of those that ran in the race last year.

Of the remainder, the Irish-trained Munster National winner Double Seven looks very well treated on the form of that race off OR148 with 10st 11lb to carry. The ground will be in his favour and the likelihood is he’ll be ridden by AP McCoy (not yet confirmed).  Not so Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude off OR146 with 10st 9lb. He’s 9lb worse-off with Tea For Three on that form and will find it difficult to peg back the front-running Tea For Three in what will certainly be a fast-run race.  This seasons Welsh National winner, Mountainous, is a confirmed mud-lark and he won’t get his ground this weekend; and nor will the runner-up that day – Hawkes Point. Not far behind them that day was Vintage Star and he is a much better horse on better ground. He never ran a yard at Cheltenham LTO, but he doesn’t like that track and the rest of his form this season has been excellent and, of course, he’s trained by Sue Smith who sent out last year’s winner of the race. 

Form over the National fences is worth its weight in gold and I’m already big on the chance of Triolo D’Alene and Tea For Three; but don’t overlook Chance Du Roy who won the Becher Chase last December, and has previously run 2nd in the Topham Chase in 2012. So long as the ground isn’t too quick he could run a big race.

That’s my current assessment of the race on Saturday. I’d advise taking 5 against the field in  the race as luck always plays it’s part at some point.

My 5 are:-

TEA FOR THREE @ 8/1 (available generally)

DOUBLE SEVEN @ 20/1 (Bet Victor)

TRIOLO D’ALENE @ 20/1 (Bet365, Paddy Power, Stan James)

CHANCE DU ROY @ 33/1 (Bet Victor)

VINTAGE STAR @ 40/1 (Bet Victor)

Hopefully we’ll have the winner amongst them and at least one or two other placed horses.

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