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Wednesday 6 April 2016

It's been a great jump season - now the finale!

Readers and followers of the blog have had a great season, and though there have been ups and down, there have been more ups, and that's what counts.
Now, after a couple of weeks rest, it is the Aintree festival culminating in the Grand National. This year (unusually) I am between contracts, so not working (I return to the office on Monday). As such, I'm able to give the meeting a lot more attention than I usually do, and what a meeting is looks like being.
Thursday opens with 4 consecutive Grade 1 races, including the Betfred Bowl Chase which (hopefully) should see Cue Card gain recompense for his fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Friday brings us another 4 Grade 1 races, including the Betfred Mildmay Novices Chase in which Blaklion will hope to confirm he is the best staying novice chaser of this season. It also includes the Crabbie's Topham Chase (handicap) over the National fences, and a brief look over the runners entered suggests that this will be no easy matter in finding the winner.
The onto Saturday, with the feature race being the Crabbie's Grand National as well as a supporting cast of 3 more Grade 1 races, and the Listed Betfred Handicap Chase over 3m1f which has a high-class entry of top chasers.

Today, I'm taking a look over the Grand National runners trying to find a bit of value and - hopefully - the winner.  I've done it before (Ballabriggs in 2011 - and not one tipster in the Racing Post even included the horse in their shortlists!) and I've had a few placed selections in the years since then. Way back in 2009, I tipped 100/1 winner Mon Mome on the Tuesday before the race on the Betfair forum and then wrote what some considered the "post of the century" when tipping Mon Mome at 12:17pm on the day of the race.  I myself won over £1500 on that race for a stake of only £12 (Mon Mome was at 170 on the Betfair exchange).

First up, can Many Clouds repeat last years win? With similar ground conditions to last year (good-to-soft) and only an extra 1lb to carry in weight, there's no reason why he couldn't. He's shown himself to be as good as he was last season, so I expect he will run at around 158-160 (my ratings) should he complete the course. And that is the risk element - will he complete the course?  Last year, 19 of the 39 starters completed so, as Many Clouds has never fallen and will stay every yard, then he should complete the course.

In 2012, Paul Nicholls sent Neptune Collonges to win the race,  and this year he sends a better horse in Silviniaco Conti to try and repeat that win. "Conti" loves Aintree, as he's won the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl twice, and he's shown he's as good as ever this season. He's not quite at home around Cheltenham but, like Kempton, this flat Aintree track brings out the best in him. Receiving 2lb from Many Clouds, should they both finish I'd expect "Conti" to be about 5-lengths in front.

There are some horses that don't have much chance of winning, and First Lieutenant is one of them. Another is Wonderful Charm who is still suffering (rated OR158) for a successful novice chase season in 2013-14.  Winners of the Grand National are proven stayers, having a win at 3-mile on the record, and Ballynagour has not won beyond 2m5f; and the same goes for Gilgamboa.

O'Faolains Boy beat Many Clouds over 3-miles as a novice chaser when in-receipt of 4lb, and he's shown this season he still has plenty of ability being a lot better than his OR151 rating. He couldn't keep up the pace in the Gold Cup when he made a brave effort, but he's on my shortlist being a class horse running off a fair weight, and he should be a lot shorter odds than 33/1.

The 12yo On His Own isn't the horse he once was, but The Druid's Nephew is possibly at his peak. He was leading and going like a potential winner when crumpling on landing in this race last year, but that was off OR146 and this year he's on OR155, and I don't think he's up to winning off that mark.

The 2013 Hennessy Gold Cup winner Triolo D'Alene hasn't done much racing since then, but he did run in the 2014 National and he pulled-up. That isn't good on the CV, and I think he'll struggle again; as I think Rocky Creek will. H's best effort in this race was 5th in 2014, and he was well beaten last year. Sir Des Champs is best on soft ground, and is another who's best days are behind him.

Holywell went into a lot of notebooks for this race when running a cracker to be 2nd in the handicap chase on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. He also beat a high-class novice field here in 2014 over 3m1f on the Mildmay course, with non-other than Don Cossack, Many Clouds and O'Faolains Boy behind him that day on level weights. A repeat of that form will see him win this race easily and, running off OR153 and carrying just 10st 12lb, he has been given every chance. Odds of 16/1 are still available, and I can see him starting the 2nd-fav at under 10/1.  His stablemate Shutthefrontdoor, didn't look like he stayed the trip when fading to 5th last year, and I cannot see him winning. David Pipe's Soll was also well beaten and, though there was an excuse, he looks up against it on OR152.

Next, when have the enigma that is Buywise; can he win for the first time since April 2014 over fences? I can't see it myself and, at 50/1, neither can the bookies. Boston Bob is the intended mount of Ruby Walsh, and he's been thought of as a National horse since winning here in 2014 over 2m4f, but a win in the Puchestown Gold Cup NTO meant he was aimed at the Cheltenham Gold Cup instead (which he missed). This year, this race has been the target all season, and his win in the Bobbyjo Chase LTO will mean he's in peak form. He's better than OR151 on his day and 25/1 currently available is generous for a jockey/trainer combination looking to crown an already mighty season.

The 12yo Aachen is not on my radar, and Morning Assembly - following his great run LTO at Cheltenham - would be but (as I wrote in my assessment of that race) he emptied out quickly in that race and he may find the extra mile here too much for him. It's most unlikely that Double Ross will have the stamina for this race, and while Scottish National 2nd and Midlands National winner Goonyella will have the stamina, he didn't run like he enjoyed Aintree's National course when here in December.

You can never underestimate a Gordon Elliot runner, but I think I will pass over Uncello Conti. Another Nicholls runner is Unioniste who fell at the 5th fence in this race last year when running of OR157. He runs off OR149 this time and, on past form, he has a chance if he's in the mood - and that's the key to this horse, his mood on the day. He could run a cracker and win, or refuse to jump the 3rd fence. However, his best form is on soft/heavy ground.

Le Reve is very consistent and will almost certainly run to his rating of OR149, but no better. He is the sort of horse who is good for a place-only wager as he may sneak into 5th. The Irish-trained Gallant Oscar is one of the likely gambles in the race, as his win last May in the Pat Taaffe handicap earmarked his National potential. Unfortunately, he's not well handicapped with The Druid's Nephew (they met at Cheltenham last year), and much will depend on whether his trainer has brought him here at his peak. The 7yo Onenightinvienna is too young for a race as competitive as this, as is the 7yo Vieux Lion Rouge.

LTO The Last Samuri had everything in his favour (ground and trip) and the race fell into his lap. That will be unlikely to happen in this race and although that win means he comes into this race apparently 12lb well-in (he now has a rating of OR161, yet races in this off OR149) my opinion is that he was well flattered by that result LTO, especially when you look at the form of his win prior to that in December.

The race Kruzhlinin ran at Cheltenham LTO suggests he wont be good enough to win this, or even stay the trip. Rule The World has yet to win a chase.  Just A Par won the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last April and comes alive at this time of year, running his best race since that win LTO at Exeter last month. At 50/1, Just A Par is a lively outsider, and on the shortlist. Both Katenko and Vics Canvas have no chance.

Black Thunder is another class horse on his day, who has lost his way, and it's asking a lot to expect him to recapture his form in this race. Ballycasey is another who has never won beyond 2m5f,

Hadrian's Approach also won the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, bit in 2014. Very lightly race since, his seasonal debut in February could have brought him back to peak fitness for this and Nicky Henderson will leave no stone unturned. He's another lively outsider at 50/1 as he's much better than OR147 on his day.

Pendra was my handicap snip of the season, and he did the business winning his seasonal debut over 3-mile at Ascot.  However, much as I like the horse, he's not a 3-mile chaser, as was proved when he tried to repeat that win in December. If he stays well enough to be placed in the 1st-4, I will send £50 to the Injured Jockeys Fund.

However, Saint Are looked an unlucky loser last year, and looks an even better horse with his win LTO at Doncaster. Running off OR146, just 3lb higher than last year, he has a tremendous chance of winning, and odds of 16/1 look very reasonable.

Home Farm is another will next to no chance, while The Romford Pele could be returning to form and - if he is - would have a good chance at his best.

My shortlist:
Silviniaco Conti
O'Faolains Boy
Boston Bob
Just A Par
Hadrian's Approach
Saint Are

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