Could there be a fairytale ending for the soon-to-be retiring racing legend Tony McCoy in Saturday’s Grand National, due off at 4.15pm and televised live on Channel 4?
If ‘AP’ does win on the favourite Shutthefrontdoor he’s likely to hang up his riding boots there and then. But there are plenty of potential party-poopers in the 40-strong field.
To separate the realistic contenders from the also-rans in the 4 miles 3.5 furlongs Aintree marathon, it’s important to bear in mind these key factors before placing your bets.
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Stamina. Form in one of the various ‘Nationals’ or in long-distance staying chases is a big plus. Last year’s winner Pineau De Re had won an Ulster National and in 2013 the first three home had finished in the first three in Irish, Scottish or Welsh Nationals. Twelve of the last 18 winners had been at least placed in a National, or the 4m1f Eider Chase at Newcastle.
Age. The best ages for a Grand National winner are nine, ten and 11 - an age range which covers 17 of the last 19 winners. Interestingly, the last three winners have all been 11. Eight-year-olds like Shutthefrontdoor do win, but infrequently: there’s been just two since 1983.
Experience. The last 23 winners had all run at least eight times over fences. It stands to reason that in a hurly-burly race like the National, you need an experienced, battle-hardened campaigner. It’s also an advantage to have had at least one run since the New Year: the last 50 winners all fulfilled that criterion.
Weight. The compression of the handicap means that we can no longer rule out horses carrying 11st or more. But although a horse carrying 11st 6lb won in 2012, the last two Grand Nationals have been dominated by horses carrying less that 11st, showing that despite the modification of the fences, weight remains an important factor.
The spring factor. It’s worth looking at horses that produce their best form in the spring - especially if they’ve performed well at the Aintree Festival meeting in the past. The 2013 66-1 winner Aurora’s Encore had three previous April wins to his name (including one at Aintree five years earlier), the same number as the 2012 33-1 winner Neptune Collonges. Interestingly five of the last six winners, including last year’s winner Pineau De Re, had won at least one race in the month of April.
Now let’s take a closer look at the 39 runners in race card order…
**** Likely winner
*** Each-way possibility
** Outside chance
* No hoper
1. LORD WINDERMERE ** Age 9; weight 11st 10lb; best odds: 40-1.
He clearly has the class having won the 2014 Gold Cup – though he never got involved in this year’s Cheltenham classic. Also, no horse carrying 11st 9lb or above has won the National since Red Rum in 1974, while his come-from-behind style is not ideally suited to this race.
2. MANY CLOUDS ** Age 8; weight 11st 9lb; best odds: 33-1.
Has had a great season, winning the Hennessy in November and a Grade Two chase at Cheltenham in January, before finishing a creditable sixth in the Gold Cup. But as with Lord Windermnere (above), weight is an issue.
3. UNIONISTE ** Age 7; weight 11st 6lb; best odds: 33-1.
Dual Aintree winner who finished third behind the subsequent Gold Cup winner Coneygree at Newbury in February. But while a good run can’t be ruled out, he does have his fair share of weight and no seven-year-old has won this since 1940.
4. ROCKY CREEK**** Age 9; weight 11st 3lb; best odds: 10-1.
Fifth last year when ridden quite aggressively, he has had a wind operation since then and is 2lb lower in the weights. Given a more restrained ride, there’s a good chance he can improve on his 2014 placing and he rates a solid contender.
5. FIRST LIEUTENANT*** Age 10; weight 11st 3lb; best odds: 25-1.
A classy performer when racing at his best. He’s never fallen, and has run well at the Grand National meeting for the past two years; each-way possibilities.
6. BALTHAZAR KING*** Age 11; weight 11st 2lb; best odds: 10-1.
This admirably gutsy performer came 15th in 2013. But he was ridden with more restraint last year and ran a blinder to finish second. He’s got 3lb more to carry this time, but did bypass a good winning opportunity at the Cheltenham Festival to be fresh for this. The fact that he hasn’t run since November could count against. Even so, he has each-way possibilities.
7. SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR**** Age 8; weight 11st 2lb; best odds 15-2.
The mount of the soon-to-be retiring racing legend AP McCoy, and trained by Jonjo O’Neill, this eight-year-old would be a hugely popular winner. The case for backing him relies on form grounds and not just sentiment: he is an Irish National winner, who has won at Aintree before and has an April win to his name. The concerns are his relative lack of experience over fences (just six runs) and the fact that he hasn’t raced since November.
8.PINEAU DE RE*** Age 12; weight 11st; best odds: 25-1.
An impressive winner of last year’s Grand National, he faces a more difficult task this time as he has to race off an 8lb higher mark. While becoming the first repeat winner of the race since Red Rum in 1974 will probably be beyond him, don’t rule out his making the frame again.
9.BALLYCASEY** Age 8; weight 10st 13; best odds: 40-1.
The longest race he’s won over was 2m 6f, so there are real question marks over his stamina - and he ran poorly at Cheltenham last time out. A positive is the presence of Ruby Walsh, who has such a good record in the saddle at the National.
10. SPRING HEELED*** Age 8; weight 10st 12lb; best odds: 22-1.
The 2014 Cheltenham Festival winner bypassed this year’s Festival to wait for this. He has a nice weight and definite possibilities of getting involved. The poor form of his trainer, Jim Culloty, who hasn’t saddled a winner for over a year, is the main concern; that said, the 1992 National winner Party Politics was trainer Nick Gaselee’s first winner of that year.
11. REBEL REBELLION** Age 10; weight 10st 12lb; best odds: 50-1.
Has a good record at Aintree, including a win over the National fences, but in races over much shorter trips. And he has never won under Rules at a distance greater than 2m 5f 110yd. Likely to go well for a while, but with his stamina unproven, others look more solid.
12. DOLATULO** Age 8; weight 10st 11lb; best odds: 50-1.
Made mistakes when finishing eighth in a race over the National fences over a shorter distance in December; did win a Grade 3 chase at Wetherby in December so not without ability. A positive is that French-bred horses have won three of the last six Nationals.
13. MON PARRAIN**** Age 9; weight 10st 11lb; best odds: 50-1.
Finished second in a race over the National fences in 2011, and was staying on at the finish in the 3m 2f Becher Chase, also over the National fences, in December, indicating that a longer distance would suit. He’s a good age for a National winner and has won in April before: could be one of the better outsiders.
15. NIGHT IN MILAN*** Age 9; weight 10st 9lb; best odds: 28-1.
A solid handicapper who has finished in the first three in half his 18 chase starts. He was an eye-catching third over 3m 2f at Doncaster last time. That doesn’t prove he’ll stay the 4m 3.5f National distance, but if he does he’d be in with an each-way squeak.
16. RUBI LIGHT* Age 10; weight 10st 9lb; best odds: 100-1.
Has had 27 chase starts so plenty of experience. The big negative though is that the furthest he’s won over is 2m 4f so his stamina is unproven. Overnight rain will aid his cause as all his wins have come on soft or heavy, but even so others make more appeal.
17. THE DRUIDS NEPHEW *** Age 8; weight 10st 9lb; best odds 14-1.
Won impressively at the Cheltenham Festival and because the National weights were unveiled before that, he’s able to race off a mark 10lb lower than his current, revised rating. The downside though is that in the last 54 years only one Cheltenham Festival winner has followed up with a win in the National a few weeks later.
18. CAUSE OF CAUSES** Age 7; weight 10st 9lb; best odds 18-1.
Very useful performer in big handicaps who won the four-miler at the Cheltenham Festival last time. While his stamina looks strong, the big negative is his age: as no horse as young as seven has won since 1940.
19. GODSMEJUDGE**** Age 9; weight 10st 8lb; best odds 22-1.
Has finished first and second in the last two Scottish Nationals, so clearly has the stamina and is a horse who does well in the spring. Has never run at Aintree, but if he takes to the fences he looks set to run a big race off his current mark. One for the shortlist.
20. AL CO *** Age 10; weight 10st 8lb; best odds 25-1.
The positives are that he’s a Scottish National winner so stamina shouldn’t be an issue. The negatives are that he isn’t over-big and didn’t jump too well over the National fences in the Becher Chase in December. If he jumps better on Saturday, he’ll be a contender.
21. MONBEG DUDE*** Age 10; weight 10st 7lb; best odds: 40-1.
Was a quite well fancied 16-1 shot last year when he finished seventh, but has come in somewhat under the radar this year. With rain forecast for Friday night, his current odds could represent some each-way value when you consider he’s 2lb lower in the weights than 12 months ago and his CV includes a win and a fourth place in a Welsh National.
22. CORRIN WOOD** Age 8; weight 10st 7lb; best odds: 66-1.
Has some useful novice form in 2013/4 but hasn’t done so well this season. His lack of experience over fences - he’s only had seven chase starts - is another negative.
23. THE RAINBOW HUNTER** Age 11; weight 10st 7lb; best odds 66-1.
Has come in for market support in each of the last two Grand Nationals but came down both times on the first circuit. His supporters will hope it’s a case of “third time lucky” but while he does have ability the fact that he’s failed to complete in seven of his last 17 races doesn’t inspire confidence.
24. SAINT ARE*** Age 9; weight 10st 6lb; best odds: 33-1.
What makes this one interesting is his good record at Aintree, and his form in April. He won at the Aintree Festival in both 2011 and 2012 and wasn’t disgraced when finishing ninth in the Grand National of 2013 when only seven. He’s also got a third place in the Becher Chase to his name. Definite place possibilities if he sees out the trip.
25. ACROSS THE BAY*** Age 11; weight 10st 6lb; best odds: 50-1.
Really unlucky in last year’s race when his chances were ruined by a loose horse when he was going very well. He’s been in poor form this season; that said it’s always possible that a return to Aintree will spark a revival.
26. TRANQUIL SEA** Age 13; weight 10st 5lb; best odds: 100-1.
Ran well in two previous outings over the National fences, but they were over shorter trips. It’s not only stamina that’s an issue – there’s his advanced age, too. No teenager has won the Grand National since 1923.
27. OSCAR TIME*** Age 14; weight 10st 5lb; best odds: 50-1.
He’s got a tremendous record over these fences; he’s been placed in two Grand Nationals and last December won the Becher Chase. The only negative is his advanced age: you’ve got to go all the way back to 1853 to find a horse older than 13 winning this.
28. BOB FORD ** Age 8; weight 10st 4lb; best odds: 100-1.
Won the West Wales National in January but that was on very heavy ground and although any rain which falls overnight will aid his cause, conditions are unlikely to be testing enough for him to produce his best form. He may find things happening too quickly for him.
29. SUPER DUTY ** Age 9; weight 10st 4lb; best odds: 66-1.
The greatest distance he’s won over is 2m 5f and so his stamina must be taken on trust. He had some smart form as a novice and has run well at the Aintree festival before. But while he could out-run his odds, others look more solid.
30. WYCK HILL *** Age 11; weight 10st 4lb; best odds: 66-1.
He won the 2014 Eider Chase - so stamina is not a problem. The negative is his sometimes sketchy jumpin: he did fall early on in the Eider Chase this year. That said, the 2013 hero Aurora’s Encore fell in a chase two races before winning at Aintree. If he does manage to put in a clear round he could be dangerous.
31. GAS LINE BOY** Age 9; weight 10st 4lb, best odds: 100-1.
Finished fourth in the Grand National trial at Haydock - a race the 2012 winner Neptune Collonges used as a stepping stone for this. While he could outrun his odds, his overall form doesn’t look quite good enough.
32. CHANCE DU ROY*** Age 11; weight 10st 4lb; best odds: 40-1.
Has a very good record over the National fences, but his best form is over shorter distances. He finished sixth last year though off a 2lb higher mark. Could run into a place.
33. PORTRAIT KING *** Age 10; weight 10st 3lb; best odds: 66-1.
As an Eider Chase winner, stamina shouldn’t be a problem and after an injury-truncated two years, he’s been in some fair form this season. He’s another who could make the frame if all goes well.
34. OWEGA STAR * Age 8; weight 10st 3lb; best odds: 100-1.
The greatest distance he’s ever won over is 2m 6f so stamina has to be in doubt; his age is not ideal either and, all things considered, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about his chances.
35. RIVER CHOICE* Age 12; weight 10st 3lb; best odds 150-1.
French raider who has never won a race over more than 2m 5.5f. His only win this season has come in a claiming chase and he looks to be really up against it here.
36. COURT BY SURPRISE** Age 10; weight 10st 3lb; best odds: 50-1.
Has won both his starts this season, but his last outing was in November, a negative considering that the last 50 winners of the National had all run at least once since the turn of the year.
37. ALVARADO*** Age 10; weight 10st 3lb; best odds 20-1.
Fourth in this last year, when staying on at the finish, he’s only 1lb higher in the weights this time round and has had his entire campaign built round a repeat bid. His jockey Paul Moloney certainly knows what it takes to get a horse placed in the National as he’s chalked up an incredible six placed finishes in six years. All things considered, Fergal O’Brien’s charge has to be worth an each-way bet.
38. SOLL *** Age 10; weight 10st 2lb; best odds: 22-1.
Finished seventh in the 2013 National and has a 7lb higher mark to contend with this year. But he has been performing better since switching to the stable of David Pipe, who won the National in 2008. Likely to get round and could make a place, with overnight rain aiding his chances.
39. ELY BROWN * Age 10; weight 10st 2lb; best odds: 100-1.
The big concern is his lack of experience over fences: he’s only had four chase starts and that’s hardly ideal for a race of this nature.
40. ROYALE KNIGHT**** Age 9; weight 10st 2lb; best odds 33-1.
Represents last year’s winning trainer Dr Richard Newland and is no forlorn hope of following in the footsteps of Pineau De Re. He was an easy winner of the Durham National at Sedgefield in October and has been kept to hurdling since then to protect his mark. If he takes to the Aintree fences he could run a very big race.
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