1. Lord Windermere
Top rated on 161, the 2014 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup winner looked on his way back to that level of form when finishing a creditable third in the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown in February. However, he was dismal in the Gold Cup 29 days ago, and is therefore impossible to recommend under top weight.
2. Many Clouds
One of the stories of the season, his progress has been a pleasure to watch. A win at Carlisle was followed by a fluent success in the Hennessy, before heading to Cheltenham in January where he bagged the BetBright Cup. Deep down though, I would love to know if trainer Oliver Sherwood would like to run here, or save him for the 2015/16 campaign? Either way, this is a race his owner Trevor Hemmings quite understandably loves to target, and he’s a confirmed starter. Certainly has the class to have a say, but faster ground than ideal may be his undoing. Has the assistance of last year’s winning rider Leighton Aspell in the saddle.
Third in Newbury’s Denman Chase behind subsequent Gold Cup hero Coneygree last time we saw him, this seven-year-old is really tough, and operates on any ground. His season has consisted of a sixth behind Many Clouds in the Hennessy, a win at Sandown Park, and that aforementioned run at Newbury. Has plenty of experience despite being just seven years of age.
4. Rocky Creek
Like Unioniste is trained by bang in form Paul Nicholls, and brings very strong credentials to the table. Fifth in this race off a 2lbs higher mark in 2014, he comes here fresh off the back of a 49-day break since his win in the old Racing Post Chase at Kempton Park. Also second in a Grade 1 at Down Royal this season. Major form contender.
5. First Lieutenant
Ridden by the excellent Nina Carberry, fresh from her Foxhunter win on On The Fringe, this horse has been second or third 13 times in his 23 chase starts. A Cheltenham Festival winner in 2011, he is without a victory since taking the Betfred Bowl in 2013. This will be a very different examination to the single figure fields he normally finds himself in.
6. Balthazar King
Hard not to be excited by this horse’s chances. The sunny weather and decent ground seem to bring out the best in him, he’s ultra-consistent and stays all day long. Had a sighter when 15th in 2013, but came of age in this race 12 months ago, following up his Cross Country win at the Festival with a fine second off a mark of 146. Trainer Philip Hobbs couldn’t be certain it wasn’t those same Cheltenham exploits that took the edge off him and ultimately cost him victory that day, so this time around he has swerved the Cotswolds to be cherry ripe for the big day in Liverpool. He’ll need to be sharp as he’s three pounds higher (153), but granted luck in running he looks a major player.
The Champ AP McCoy’s final ride in the race (and possibly his last ever if he wins!), and a last chance to add to his 2010 win on Don’t Push It. On an identical mark to Balthazar King, he is going to be the falsest of false prices due to the hysteria regarding his rider’s retirement, but the horse doesn’t know his price! Terrible value aside, he’s a stout stayer who powered home to win the Irish National at Fairyhouse 12 months ago. Only seen out once this season, when scoring easily at Carlisle pre-Christmas. Goes on any ground.
8. Pineau De Re
Catapulted his genius trainer Dr Richard Newland into the spotlight 12 months ago, when taking this at 25/1 under Leighton Aspell. It’s Daryl Jacob in the saddle this time around and he’s racing off a mark 151 instead of 143. Down the field in his prep run – the Pertemps at the Festival – as opposed to third in 2014. May have had his day in the sun.
Demands plenty of respect, if only because he’s the sole representative from the all-conquering Willie Mullis stable, and has Ruby Walsh on board. A winner at Gowran Park in November, he was pulled up in the Ryanair Chase last time out.
10. Spring Heeled
Stablemate of top weight Lord Windermere, like him he also won at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, taking the Kim Muir. Tough stayer who handles quicker ground, since his last win he’s been fifth in the 3m 5f bet365 Gold Cup, fourth in the Galway Plate, plus fourth in Fairyhouse’s Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase. Stable having a tough time.
11. Rebel Rebellion
A third string to Paul Nicholls’ bow, Ryan Mahon takes the ride. Huge question mark about his stamina as he has been mainly campaigned at two and a half miles, but handled these fences okay when fifth in December’s Grand Sefton. Arrives in form after winning at Newbury last time out.
Ex-Paul Nicholls horse, now with rising star Warren Greatrex. Sent off favourite for the Grand Sefton over these fences in December, but could finish only eighth. Better when taking Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick at Christmas time. Campaigned over hurdles since.
13. Mon Parrain
A fourth string to Paul Nicholls’ bow, top conditional Sean Bowen takes the mount (but cannot use his claim). Second in the Topham of 2011, he perhaps hasn’t fulfilled his early promise. Well beaten off this mark of 148 when last seen in Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chase, but did pop up in first time blinkers to win at Cheltenham on January 1st under this rider. Unsurprisingly the blinkers are retained.
14. Carlito Brigante – NON RUNNER
A 16/1 winner of the Coral Cup for Gordon Elliott back in 2011, this lad finds himself rated 147 nowadays after a 12 months which has yielded an excellent second in Uttoxeter’s Summer Cup, plus a wide margin win at Kelso in October.
15. Night In Milan
A first taste of the big fences for a horse who loves Doncaster, as his third place finishes this season in both the SkyBet and Grimthorpe Chases suggests.
16. Rubi Light
Third in the Ryanair of 2011 and fifth in the same race in 2012, his only previous UK starts. A field of 16 is the biggest he’s ever experienced in Ireland, so an new assignment. Comes here bang in form though, and on a hat-trick after Soft ground wins at Thurles and Wexford.
17. The Druids Nephew
At only 34, trainer Neil Mulholland is creating massive impression in his field, and a win with this horse at last month’s Cheltenham Festival only re-enforced that notion. A strong traveller who jumps well in the main and handles decent ground, he can certainly play a part with Aidan Coleman booked to ride.
18. Cause Of Causes
It was Silver Birch back in 2007 that announced trainer Gordon Elliott’s arrival into the big time, and he hasn’t looked back since, including when winning the four miler with Cause Of Causes at last month’s Cheltenham Festival. An extremely tough horse who has also previously been second in both a Leopardstown Paddy Power Chase and a Kim Muir, my one abiding concern would be his jumping. Top amateur Jamie Codd had to survive a few hairy moments early on at Cheltenham, and over these fences Paul Carberry will have to be at his best. If he is then expect a mighty run.
A thorough stayer, this horse has bags of marathon chase form on his cv, including a second in Warwick’s Classic Chase, a third in the Cheltenham four miler, a win and a second in the last two runnings of the Scottish Grand National, plus a third in the bet365 Gold Cup. Has had a very quiet season and was never sighted over hurdles at Bangor last time (worse than expected), but could bounce back. Has long had this race as his aim, and the better ground will be a bonus.
20. Al Co
Popped up at 40/1 off a mark of 140 under the sidelined Jamie Moore to take last April’s Scottish National. It’s Denis O’Regan who’ll be on board this time, as this talented but unpredictable horse tries to cope with a mark of 145 on his first spin over the big obstacles.
21. Monbeg Dude
A raft of big race experience, including a creditable seventh in this race 12 months ago when he might have got closer but for a couple of blunders. Has to be a negative that Paul Carberry prefers Cause Of Causes, but even so this horse has been there and done it, with a cv that boasts a win and a fourth in the Welsh National, two thirds in the Haydock Grand National Trial, plus a fourth in the Hennessy. Lively outsider for an excellent stable.
22. Corrin Wood
Three from seven over fences but very disappointing when last seen in Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase back in January. Never run in a field bigger than 17, and that was in his bumper days.
23. The Rainbow Hunter
Season to date has yielded 57 winners for The Rainbow Hunter’s trainer Kim Bailey, and he’ll be hoping for a big run from the 2014 Sky Bet Chase winner. However, he blundered and unseated at the first Valentines a year ago, and a clear round will be the first priority. Pulled up tamely in the BetBright Chase on his only subsequent appearance.
24. Saint Are
Obvious stamina doubt about a horse who was ninth in this two years ago. Albeit on Soft ground, he faded into a distant third over 3m 3f at Cheltenham pre-Christmas, but goes well over these fences as his third to the old boy Oscar Time in December’s Becher Chase suggests. Arrives here off the back of an authoritative win at Catterick in February.
25. Across The Bay
Trained, like Corrin Wood, by Donald McCain, this horse has met all sorts of trouble in running when finishing 14th two years on the bounce. Has some good form in the book but tough to fancy on his most recent efforts.
26. Tranquil Sea
Ex-Edward O’Grady inmate, now in the care of Warren Greatrex (also runs Dolatulo). Is 13 years young now and didn’t shape as if he was a National winner waiting to happen on sole appearance this season.
27. Oscar Time
At 14 the oldest horse in the field. Coming into this season the vibes were that he wouldn’t be asked to attempt this race again, but after he gamely fended off 24 rivals to win the Betfred Becher Chase back over the big fences back in December that was hastily re-assessed. Second off a 3lb higher mark in 2011, fourth off a 3lb higher mark in 2013, his amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen riders these fences as well as anyone. Despite his advancing years he could be a live contender to pick up more place money.
28. Bob Ford
Powered through the mud at Ffos Las to win the West Wales National in attritional conditions at the end of January, but either side of that run was pulled up Chepstow and Uttoxeter. On the plus side top Irish jockey Paul Townend has struck up a great partnership with trainer Rebecca Curtis.
29. Super Duty
Outstanding novice over hurdles and fences for Donald McCain, but injuries affected his progress and is now with Ian Williams, for whom he hasn’t sparked yet in two starts over fences. Got within a whisker of winning the 2013 Kim Muir, but difficult to recommend based on more recent evidence.
30. Wyck Hill
Has completed over these fences, finishing ninth in the 2013 Becher Chase. Also has stamina to burn, as proven by his win in the 4m 1f Betfred Eider Chase in February 2014 (on Heavy ground). Fell when trying to win the same race for a second time last time out, but not too many miles on the clock and Tom Cannon a good booking in the saddle for this lightly weighted contender.
31. Gas Line Boy
A second runner for Philip Hobbs, and a horse who was in blistering form before Christmas, winning races at Exeter and Haydock. Pulled up in the Welsh National though, and a well beaten fourth in the Grand National Trial at Haydock Park latest. Jumping has to be a concern.
32. Chance Du Roy
A third runner for Philip Hobbs, and a horse who loves the unique test posed by this course. Won the Becher Chase in December 2013, sixth in the National off a 2lb lower mark 12 months ago, and then fifth off this mark in the most recent renewal of the Becher. Each way claims for this streetwise 11-year-old.
33. Portrait King
Thorough stayer and effective on a range of ground. Won the 2012 Eider Chase at Newcastle (4m 1f), and was ninth in this year’s renewal. Prior to that run was second in Punchestown’s Grand National Trial, and has since opened the pipes with a spin over hurdles at Down Royal. Not without a squeak each way.
34. Owega Star
No win since October 2013 but no stranger to big field staying chases, having found only Balbriggan too hot to handle in Navan’s Troytown Chase back in November. Since then fifth in the valuable Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown, and sixth in the Leinster National at Naas.
35. River Choice
The sole French-trained representative in this year’s field, he represents owner Fergus Wilson and trainer Richard Chotard, who is based in Picardie in northern France. Won a 2m 3f claimer at Enghien back in November, and warmed up with a run over hurdles at Fontainebleau. Rarely runs on anything other than Soft or Heavy going.
36. Court By Surprise
A first trip to Aintree for this hat-trick seeking son of Beneficial. Thorough stayer who was second in the 2013 London National at Sandown Park, and started off this season on a high note with a comprehensive win at Exeter. Scored an unusual victory at Wincanton in November, being promoted to first after the disqualification of The Young Master, who had finished seven lengths ahead of Emma Lavelle’s runner. Still a creditable run, and put away to protect his handicap mark in readiness for this test.
Jockey Paul Moloney rides these fences better than most, and got a great ride on this horse 12 months ago when finishing fourth. He’s a pound higher this time, but comes here a fresh horse having been seen out only once this time around. Stays all day and could improve on last year’s fantastic effort.
Has completed on both occasions he’s tackled these fences, firstly when finishing seventh behind Auroras Encore in this race in 2013, and then when managing 11th in the Topham a year ago. Comes into this race in a rich vein of form after victories at Exeter and Newbury.
39. Ely Brown
Quality hurdler a couple of years ago, but lacks experience over fences, with only four career starts to date. Two of those have yielded wins, but in small fields at Leicester and Wetherby. Out of sorts last time we saw him in January.
40. Royale Knight
As well as last year’s winner Pineau De Re there could be another big contender for a repeat win for the Worcestershire stable of Dr Richard Newland, with Royale Knight sneaking into the race by the width of a fine coat of paint. He isn’t without a shout either, having been campaigned over hurdles since his easy win in Sedgefield’s Durham National back in October.
4.15 Aintree – Crabbie’s Grand National – 6 Balthazar King (each way) @ 10/1 Betfair
4.15 Aintree – Crabbie’s Grand National – 30 Wyck Hill (each way) @ 66/1 (BetVictor n.b. 6 places)Posted 1 year, 10 months ago