Current titleholder Many Clouds is the clear 8/1 favourite in the Grand National betting at Aintree but this is a different proposition with an exceptionally high quality field (5.15pm Saturday on CH4). Multiple Grade 1 winner Silviniaco Conti (12/1) lines up as well as progressive types who may be ahead of the handicapper.
The Last Samuri (10/1) and Kruzhlinin (25/1) are two upwardly mobile staying chasers, both owned by Paul and Clare Rooney. The Last Samuri won his second start for his new trainer, Kim Bailey, at Kempton over Christmas. He reinforced his National claims when taking the Grimthorpe at Doncaster over three miles two furlongs at Doncaster in March, untroubled by a 9lb hike in the handicap. He was eased down in the final stages by David Bass but beat The Druids Nephew 10 lengths. That was on soft ground.
This eight-year-old son of Flemensfirth is an amenable, relaxed character who can be put anywhere in a race. He is very well treated by the handicapper and jumps efficiently rather than flamboyantly. This will be only his ninth run over fences and his first visit to Aintree. His attitude is excellent but this is still a big ask for such an inexperienced horse.
Kruzhlinin has course and distance experience, finishing about 40 lengths behind Pineau De Re here in 2014. Previously trained by Donald McCain, the Rooneys always had the National in mind for this nine-year-old. After a year’s absence he won well on his debut for Philip Hobbs at Kempton in January on ground that Richard Johnson thought might be too much of a test for him.
We last saw Kruzhlinin beaten more than 20 lengths by Un Temps Pour Tout at Cheltenham. His jumping looked fairly random which does not bode well for his chances of putting in a clear round here.
A horse with a very different profile is Silviniaco Conti (12/1). Paul Nicholls believes that the handicapper has framed the race to give his charge a decent chance. Nicholls made it known a long time ago that he would only run if fairly treated. This 10-year-old has seven Grade Ones to his name and is perfectly bred for the job. Like Neptune Collonges, Nicholls’ 2012 National winner, he is by Dom Alco. He also has the same relaxed temperament and might benefit rather than be troubled by the hubbub of the preliminaries.
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This season many wondered what the problem was when Silviniaco Conti pulled up for the first time in his life at Kempton over Christmas. Troublesome sarcoids were successfully treated and a small breathing op presumably helped him get back to his best when taking the Ascot Chase in February. He was impressive in first time blinkers, jumping like a buck at the last and easily staying on to beat Dynaste 20 lengths over a distance slightly shorter than ideal for him. Nicholls has always said that all he does is stay. His very capable jockey Noel Fehily who has a retainer with the owners must be optimistic about gaining his first National win.
Nicholls saddles another son of Dom Alco, Unioniste (33/1). This eight-year-old fell at the fifth under Fehily in the 2015 National but managed a steady clear round in the Bechers in December. A sequence of lacklustre efforts resulted in his mark dropping 10lb but his last two runs have been more promising. He won a very weak four runner chase at Kelso in mid February and finished 10 lengths behind Many Clouds at the same course a month ago, staying on well. He was receiving just 4lb from Many Clouds then but meets him on much more favourable terms here. Nick Scholfield has partnered him on his past six runs and takes the ride again. Unioniste should not mind softish conditions and is not without hope of giving owner John Hales his second National success.
Stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies partners Wonderful Charm (50/1) who has only been out once this season. He finished second, 17 lengths behind Aachen (100/1) at Cheltenham in a three mile two furlong handicap in December, tiring on the run in. This eight-year-old is entitled to come on plenty for that run but others look better treated and his tendency to make jumping errors is a concern.
Twiston-Davies presumably preferred the chances of Wonderful Charm to the talented but unreliable Rocky Creek (66/1) who was disappointing last year. Just A Par will be ridden by his regular jockey, Sean Bowen, for the same stable. He is proven beyond three miles but seems most effective on good ground.
The now-injured Ruby Walsh had to choose between On His Own (50/1), Boston Bob (33/1), Ballycasey (66/1) and Sir Des Champs (25/1) for Willie Mullins. Late on Tuesday morning he let it be known that he would be on Sir Des Champs owned by Gigginstown. Walsh had previously been listed as partnering Boston Bob who is presumably ‘best of the rest’ coming into the race on the back of a win. His pick is a good pointer for us, despite the fact he now cruelly misses the ride due a late wrist injury, leaving it to the excellent Nina Carberry to take up the reins.
The 10-year-old Sir Des Champs won easily on his seasonal debut in November after a two year absence with leg problems but it was a very weak race. He has been well beaten in the Lexus Chase and in the Irish Gold Cup since and was described as ‘one paced’ in both. Walsh presumably thought that this horse was favourably treated as Sir Des Champs is rated nearly 20lb lower than when at his peak.
In 2013 he won the Punchestown Gold Cup, beating Long Run, and was the runner-up to Bobs Worth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Sir Des Champs has never been to Aintree but he scored in two of his three trips to the Cheltenham Festival. He has only fallen once in his 18 starts over obstacles. Walsh usually picks the right horse so we have to favour him over his stablemates and it looks like super-sub Nina Carberry could be in for a great spin.
The Mouse Morris yard is in great form, reinforcing the Irish trainer contingent. Three of his six runners at the end of March won. Two of them were unfancied 16/1 outsiders. He saddles two in the National for Gigginstown. Rule The World (50/1) is a nine-year-old who has never been to Aintree and is yet to post a win over fences but has finished second in seven of his 13 runs. He was runner-up in the 2015 Irish National (over three miles five furlongs) under his Aintree rider David Mullins and ‘kept on at the same pace’ suggesting that further might suit.
He has finished second twice this season, including to No More Heroes in a Grade One novice chase in December. He did score five times over hurdles and was the runner-up to The New One in the 2013 Neptune Hurdle but is he a horse who does not really want to win? If he takes to these obstacles a placing looks likely. At his current price he is an interesting each-way prospect.
Bryan Cooper, Gigginstown’s first jockey, obviously rates Morris’ 11-year-old First Lieutenant, as this is the horse he has chosen to ride. First Lieutenant was beaten 95 lengths by Many Clouds last year under Nina Carberry. This season he was a creditable third in the Hennessy and was runner-up to Don Poli in the Lexus. Those efforts have been noted by the handicapper and will not help him improve his Aintree record.
Tom George’s stable is another enjoying a purple patch. Seven of his last 16 runners have scored. Little has been said about George’s Grand National runner-up Saint Are (16/1) who went down by less than two lengths to Many Clouds last year. Saint Are was beaten more than 30 lengths in his first two starts this season in a cross country race at Cheltenham and the Becher but won off a mark of 146 in a veterans’ handicap at Doncaster in February.
He meets Many Clouds on slightly better terms this time. Jockey Paddy Brennan mentioned on Thursday that the ground was ok for him but that he did not want any more rain to fall. The weather forecasters think it will. If they are wrong he has a very decent chance of making the frame again or even going one better and he has to be on this preview’s betting tips’ shortlist.
The chances of Jonjo O’Neill’s pair would be strengthened by good ground. Shutthefrontdoor (20/1) did not quite get home in 2015 under AP McCoy, fading to finish fifth. Barry Geraghty will probably try riding him less prominently but it is difficult to imagine him carrying JP McManus’s colours to victory.
O’Neill admits that Holywell (16/1) is a bit of a character that will either love this challenge or hate it. If he takes to it O’Neill thinks he ought to get the trip but there are a lot of ‘ifs’. Unlike his stablemate, Holywell comes into the race on the back of a good effort at the Cheltenham Festival. He was the runner-up in a solid handicap chase behind Un Temps Pour Tout. Shutthefrontdoor pulled up at Newbury in early March.
We do not know if Neil Mulholland’s The Druids Nephew (16/1) gets this distance yet. He took the lead five from home but then slithered to a slow-motion fall on the landing side after jumping the fence fine. We do know that he likes good ground lessening his appeal even though Mulholland says he has thrived in the past fortnight.
One horse who loves a marathon trip in mud is Jim Dreaper’s Goonyella (20/1). This nine-year-old is not a typical son of Presenting – they generally prefer good ground. Goonyella romped home in the Midlands National on soft last March and followed up by finishing a close second in the Scottish National on unsuitably quick ground in April.
Goonyella’s ability to stay the trip is beyond question but his course form is unconvincing. He unseated Jonathan Burke at the first fence in the Becher in 2014 and was beaten 45 lengths in 2015. Yes, the Becher distance is inadequate for him but the soft ground should have helped him finish closer to the action. His latest run in March was encouraging. He finished second in a three mile handicap on heavy ground at Naas. Dreaper is adamant that he wants ‘Irish soft’ not ‘British soft’ and if he jumps well he has a good each-way chance. That’s another big ‘if’. A bet on the morning of the race if the rain arrives looks a sensible approach.
A lot of people thought that Many Clouds (8/1) needed soft ground to win last year. His chances should be enhanced if he gets it but this looks a tougher task against such high quality opposition. On the positive side he has been laid out for the race but he did pretty well when it was an afterthought. Trainer Oliver Sherwood (pictured) did not want to run him last year and it was only thanks to his astute owner Trevor Hemmings that he turned up.
Sherwood is happy with Many Clouds, saying that he only reached 100% fitness when winning at Kelso last time. He had his usual wobble afterwards which connections insist is normal for him but is still a concern. He is a very strong contender with obvious claims.
A more impressive trainer in valuable handicaps is Gordon Elliott. He sends out Ucello Conti (25/1) in the familiar green colours of Munir and Souede. This eight-year-old is yet to score in his three runs for Elliott but is untested much beyond three miles and looks as if he might enjoy a longer trip. The Elliott factor makes him interesting.
In such a competitive race it is worth having a look at jockeys who can make a difference. Paul Moloney fits the bill with a superb National record, consistently delivering placings. His old pal Alvarado did not make the cut so he partners Evan Willliams’ Buywise (50/1) instead. This nine-year-old has a metal plate in his back which prevents him from making a proper shape over fences but he would not be the first physically compromised runner to do well at Aintree. If he copes with the obstacles he should enjoy having less than 11 stone to carry and generally puts in his best work at the end of a race. This is his first attempt beyond three miles.
Nico De Boinville used to be known as Sprinter Sacre’s work rider but has proved himself as a very competent jockey winning the Gold Cup on Coneygree and the Champion Chase on Sprinter Sacre. De Boinville is a natural horseman with a good racing brain but his presence does not attract punters’ money. His mount, Hadrian’s Approach is available at 66/1.
This nine-year-old has had problems galore since he won over three miles five furlongs at Sandown two years ago. He was last seen finishing a respectable seventh at Kempton after a racecourse absence of over a year. Nicky Henderson’s horses are running well and it would not be a surprise to see Hadrian’s Approach put in a good performance if the ground is not too soft.
Our Preview’s Grand National Betting Tip
This race is a particularly tough call. Many Clouds has obvious claims to retain his title but 8/1 seems poor value in a field of this quality when an each-way punt looks a good option.
It will be a horse that is well treated and enjoys conditions that will prevail. The Last Samuri (10/1) fits the bill but his inexperience is a concern. Saint Are (16/1) has two National completions and a better profile than last year but rain could compromise his chances. If Silviniaco Conti (12/1) deals with the obstacles he could well take the race but the yard form is not great form by Nicholls’ standards.
- So our preview’s Grand National betting tip has to be SIR DES CHAMPS each-way for Willie Mullins and late-booking Nina Carberry, currently best priced at 25/1 with Coral Bookmaker, whose each-way place terms are 1/4 the odds a place for the first five finishers.