“It’s a lottery” – no doubt you’ll have heard this line on the Grand National repeated again and again. Well, it isn’t. That’s not to say that the result is obvious or a foregone conclusion. With 40 horses tackling the ferocious Aintree fences, even sound jumpers can make mistakes and even experienced jockeys can make rash and race-ending decisions. But a combination of the increase in winning prize money up to £500,000 and the easing of some of the more fearsome obstacles has altered the character of the race. In recent years the race has been run at a non-stop merciless pace from start to finish. This means that younger horses are doing better, and that placed horses are more and more likely to have proven class and arrive at Aintree race-fit in good form. These trends can help us reduce the field down from 40 to a more manageable shortlist.
All of the last ten winners have been aged 8 to 11, and no 7-year-old has won since Bogskar in 1940. Twelve-year-olds have a slightly better record, but with the modern National being a strongly-run race throughout, younger horses are preferred.
Horses To Rule Out: Carlingford Lough (12), Gas Line Boy (12), Saint Are (12), Raz de Maree (13), Baie Des Iles (7), Maggio (13), Lord Windermere (12), Bless The Wings (13), Double Ross (12)
Horses Remaining: 31/40
Until recently you could always draw a line through any horse carrying 11 stone or more over the marathon trip of the National, but more and more classy horses are taking their chance every year, rendering that stat less and less relevant. However, this year’s National looks sure to be run on testing ground, and no matter how classy some of these animals are – particularly proven Grade One horses Minella Rocco, Blaklion and Anibale Fly – carrying more than 11 stone may prove beyond them after the persistent wet weather.
Horses To Rule Out: Minella Rocco, Blaklion, Anibale Fly, The Last Samuri, Valseur Lido, Total Recall, Alpha Des Obeaux, Perfect Candidate, Shantou Flyer
Horses Remaining: 22/40
Fitness & Staying Ability
The National trip of 4m2.5f is an extreme test for any horse – and only very few can stay the course. Some horses have already proved they can do it in a previous National, while others in the field haven’t had the chance. But to have any hope at all of finishing a marathon, these untested horses must have shown they can win at 3 miles or further already in their career. Furthermore, any horse – even a proven stayer – needs to be race-fit for the National. Only 1 out of the last 27 winners have failed to have a prep-run within the last eight weeks.
Horses To Rule Out: Warriors Tale, Pleasant Company, Ucello Conti, Virgilio, Buywise, Childrens List, Captain Redbeard, Road To Riches
Horses Remaining: 14/40
This is still a handicap race – despite all the bells-and-whistles and the £500,000 purse – and form is still king. Even the archetypal modern “no-hoper” winner, Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009, had finished in the top ten the previous year and won a race that season. If a horse is showing nothing, then it’s too much to ask for it all to suddenly click in the biggest test of all. In addition, if a horse has never been entered in an extreme distance race (of 3m2f+) previously by its trainer, and so has no ‘National’ form (as such races tend to be called), they’re difficult to back over this marathon.
Horses To Rule Out: Tenor Nivernais, The Dutchman, Beeves, Pendra, Chase The Spud, Vicente, Final Nudge
Horses Remaining: 7/40
That leaves us with...
The Magnificent Seven
Tiger Roll – The winner of the Cheltenham Cross-Country race over 3m6f on soft ground this season, and of the 4-miler at Cheltenham last season, he seems sure to stay and is in great form. Of the short-priced horses, he looks the best option.
Regal Encore – Anthony Honeyball’s 10-year-old was an impressive staying-on third in this season’s Ladbrokes Trophy and is allowed to run officially 4lbs well-in by the handicapper after a recent impressive success at Ascot. 8th last year after a troubled run, he has every chance of improving on that effort.
Vieux Lion Rouge – Another candidate with proven Grand National form (6th last year), David Pipe’s inmate doesn’t come into the race in sparkling form, a well-beaten 4th behind Regal Encore in the same Ascot race. However, his form last season on good to soft ground merits serious respect: he won the Becher (over these fearsome fences) and followed that up by beating Blaklion giving only 6lbs away. If he gets his good ground, he should be a major player.
Seeyouatmidnight – It’s fair to say this horse is well-fancied by those closest to him: Scottish trainer Sandy Thomson was so desperate to qualify for the race that he took the 10-year-old on an epic round-trip to Newbury three weeks ago; once qualified, the horse was bought for a tidy sum by Cheveley Park Stud ahead of its National run. He stays – third in last season’s Scottish National – and has class, having handed Blaklion a serious beating in a Grade Two and having placed in the 2014 Grade One Sefton Hurdle at this venue. But with just two runs since November 2016, race-fitness could prove a bigger obstacle than the fences.
I Just Know – Sue Smith knows how to prepare a horse for this race, and this 8-year-old has already proven its stamina with a comfortable win in the 3m6f North Yorkshire National in January. He’s up 14lbs for that win, however, in what was a weak race, and furthermore was pulled up when well-fancied at this meeting last season.
Houblon Des Obeaux – 100/1 was available for the veteran Venetia Williams mudlark only days ago, but with the forecast rain arriving, and with the legendary trainer’s yard finally back in form, those prices have long gone. The 11-year-old was 10th in the National last year, but that was off 7lbs higher, and if he does sparkle on the day, then he can use his featherweight to an advantage in the tacky ground.
Milansbar – Bryony Frost’s mount is sure to get column inches ahead of the big day, but this horse warrants respect for more than just its talented rider, arriving at Aintree in excellent form with 2nd place in the Midlands National following an impressive front-running win in a 3m5f handicap at Warwick in January. The 11-year-old is lightly raced, with only 16 chase career starts, and could still be improving.
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