Grand National Preview & Betting Tips

Paul NichollsCan the 2015 Grand National provide a perfect conclusion to the career of champion jockey, AP McCoy who takes the ride on the 7/1 favourite, Shutthefrontdoor at Aintree (Saturday 4.15pm)? Possibly, but fairytale endings are rare in racing.

There are good reasons for Shutthefrontdoor to be strongly fancied. This Irish-bred son of Accordion proved that he has stamina in abundance last season, winning the Irish Grand National under Barry Geraghty in April. He also finished only three lengths behind the winner in a four mile novices’ chase for amateur riders at the Cheltenham Festival a month earlier.

Like Don’t Push It, McCoy’s 2010 Grand National victor, Shutthefrontdoor is owned by his boss, JP McManus, and trained by Jonjo O’Neill. O’Neill had problems this season with many of his horses obviously unwell early on but Shutthefrontdoor was not one of them. He won on his debut at Carlisle under Geraghty over three miles on soft  ground in November, beating nothing much. An abscess in his sinus that took some time to clear up in the New Year denied him the prep run that O’Neill admits would have been ideal. Fortunately he is apparently an easy horse to get fit.

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Whilst the interrupted preparation is a slight concern there are other larger ones. This will be only the seventh time Shutthefrontdoor has run in a chase and his jumping at Cheltenham wasn’t great. Aintree is a less severe test of jumping now but it’s still a massive ask for such an inexperienced horse.

AP McCoy is second to none in a finish but will he get that far? He wouldn’t be my first choice of jockey on a relatively inexperienced horse facing the National fences for the first time. Statistically he is up against it too. No eight-year-old has succeeded since Bindaree in 2002.

JP McManus also owns Cause Of Causes (18/1) who finished 30 lengths behind Shutthefrontdoor in the 2014 Irish National. Has McCoy chosen the right horse? This one won the four mile chase for amateurs at Cheltenham a month ago, having acquired a tongue-tie and headgear.

His trainer Gordon Elliott won the National with his first runner, Silver Birch in 2007. Since then he has established himself as force to be reckoned with, especially in valuable handicaps. This son of Dynaformer is just seven years old but he has 11 chase starts under his belt. He has never hit the deck.

His jockey Paul Carberry won this race in 1999 with Bobbyjo and has a very decent record round Aintree. No horse of this age has won since 1940 but this is still a very interesting partnership with tempting each-way prospects.

The Druids Nephew (14/1) also comes into the race on the back of a Cheltenham Festival win. He won a valuable Grade 3 three mile one furlong handicap chase by nearly four lengths under Barry Geraghty.  He was also a close second to Paul Nicholls’ (pictured) Sam Winner in a similar contest over two furlongs further on soft ground in November at Prestbury Park.

This eight-year-old son of King’s Theatre has improved by over 10lb since joining his talented young trainer, Neil Mulholland. Mulholland believes he is as fit and well now as he was when winning a month ago. He thinks that Aintree will suit him and his jumping ‘will be all right’.

There are certainly more stylish jumpers in the field but, now the National is less of a test on that front, he has realistic chances.  He will be partnered by Aidan Coleman for the first time as Geraghty is injured. Coleman is a good jockey but I would have preferred to see Geraghty on board for his first tilt at Aintree.

Another son of Kings Theatre with obvious claims is Balthazar King (10/1). He finished five lengths behind Pineau De Re in second last year, having won the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival three weeks earlier.

This time his trainer Philip Hobbs has campaigned him more sparingly, deliberately saving him for this race. We haven’t seen Balthazar King since he won the Cross Country Chase at Prestbury Park in November.

Now an 11-year-old, he is the same age as the past three winners. He starts off a slightly higher mark (3lb) this year which shouldn’t inconvenience him too much. That rise should be more than countered by the benefits of being fresh. He looks likely to run very well but he is fairly rather than favourably handicapped, unlike the two recent Cheltenham winners and a number of others. His jockey Richard Johnson deserves a win here but place money looks more likely.

The current titleholder, Pineau De Re (25/1) is worth a look. Winning consecutive Nationals is a rare feat as the victors tend to get seriously punished by the handicapper. Dr Newland’s charge starts off an 8lb higher mark this year, which does not look prohibitive if he comes alive at Aintree.

Admittedly he will need to as he has not shown the same form in his prep runs over hurdles this year under Leighton Aspell who won with him. Aspell’s defection to Many Clouds (33/1) who seems to need softer ground than he is going to get here is less than encouraging. But, unlike some of the more fancied horses, Pineau De Re has proved that he gets the distance. He won easily despite being compromised by the loss of a front shoe in 2014. Daryl Jacob, who won the National on Neptune Collonges, can be trusted to give him a decent ride. Pineau De Re would not be available at this price if he were sent out by a top trainer. He provides much better value than the average past winner.

The David Pipe trained Soll (20/1) comes into the race with much better recent form. He has won his only two starts this season. He beat Paul Nicholls’ Rebel Rebellion (50/1) at Exeter in a three mile handicap chase first time out by four lengths. Next time he got the better of Venetia Williams’ Relax at Newbury in a veterans’ chase at the end of February over a slightly longer distance in first time blinkers

Soll lined up in the 2013 National and finished a distant seventh. The application of a tongue-tie this season and blinkers in his most recent run seem to have transformed him. Pipe has National form with headgear, winning it in 2008 with the blinkered Comply Or Die.  When interviewed on Thursday Pipe said that he had his ten year old as good as he could get him. He exuded confidence. As a ten-year-old son of Presenting out of a Montelimar mare, Soll is the right age and well-bred to get the job done. He has to be one for the shortlist.

Another serious contender is Paul Nicholls’ Rocky Creek (10/1). He finished fifth last year, 19 lengths behind Pineau De Re. It was not a bad achievement considering that Nicholls thought his now nine-year-old son of Dr Massini was not finishing his races at the time. He had a breathing operation soon afterwards and finished second to Road To Riches, the Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up, on his debut this time at Down Royal in the Champion Chase.

Next time out, in the Hennessy at Newbury in November, he was never travelling well and pulled up when a tongue-tie was tried. Nicholls thought he didn’t enjoy it and ‘spat out the dummy’. Most recently he jumped superbly to victory in the three mile Betbright Chase at Kempton in February (without a tongue-tie). Fortunately that was after the National weights had been allocated. He has gone up 10lb in the handicapper’s estimation since. Stable jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies is understandably bullish about his chances for good reason.

2015 Grand National Betting Tips Conclusion

This looks to be a very open race with many runners having excellent chances. The Cheltenham Festival winners, Cause Of Causes and The Druids Nephew are tempting as they look well-handicapped if younger than ideal for this race. Soll is the right age and showing all the right signs to follow up on Comply Or Die’s victory. Nicholls’ ROCKY CREEK is an obviously well-handicapped horse with strong claims. Nicholls sent out two winners on the first day and Rocky Creek has to be our pick, each-way, best priced currently at 10/1 with Betfred.

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