The Grand National is the biggest betting race of the year and there is a record breaking £1 million prize fund on offer for Aintree’s marathon this year (4.15pm, Saturday). We assess some the contenders in search of likely Grand National tips.
The betting market is led by Teaforthree (8/1). He finished nine lengths third in the National last year when carrying 11st 3lb. His trainer, Rebecca Curtis, thought that it was the weight that stopped him. He has a slightly lesser load to lump of 10st 12lb this year, but more importantly is running off a handicap mark that is 3lb lower.
Now a ten-year-old, he was said to need the run when finishing 27 lengths behind Richard Lee’s Mountainous in the Welsh National in December. He followed up with a promising close second to Robin Dickin’s Restless Harry in a three mile handicap chase at Ascot in February but was unimpressive in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He finished more than 20 lengths behind the winner, Jim Culloty’s Lord Windermere. He looked very one paced and appeared to weaken rather than stay on in the closing stages. If fit and well he should put in a decent performance but looks likely to be vulnerable to fast finishing types. Nick Scholfield once again takes the ride.
Tidal Bay is also fancied at 16/1. One of the veterans of the field at 13-years-old, he always comes into his own at the business end of a race. This extraordinary horse would be a popular winner. Trainer Paul Nicholls (pictured) describes him as ‘a legend’. He has stamina in abundance and was fancied by some to win this race last year but an injury prevented him lining up.
This season he has already defied his advancing years and posted some monumental performances. He was only half a length third in the Welsh National when shouldering top weight. He was four years older than the two horses in front of him and carried nearly two stone more than them. In his latest start he was second by eight lengths to Philip Fenton’s Last Instalment in the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown. Both those starts were on heavy ground and he is not going to get it here.
The statistics suggest that both Tidal Bay’s age and his top weight of 11st 10lb are against him. But the handicapper has given him a real chance by putting him in 7lb lower than his usual rating. The capable Sam Twiston-Davies takes the ride. Sam won with him on his seasonal debut which was on good to soft ground. If the partnership is maintained he ought to be there with a chance at the finish, especially if rain arrives in abundance.
Nicholls also sends out Rocky Creek (20/1). Unlike his stablemate, this eight-year-old is a bit on the young side for this contest. He’s also relatively inexperienced with only 11 runs to his name but his two outings this season were encouraging. He began by finishing three lengths second to Nicky Henderson’s Triolo D’Alene in the Hennessy at Newbury in November.
In January he was seven lengths second to David Bridgwater’s The Giant Bolster in the 3m1f Argento Chase at Cheltenham. Nicholls believed the heavy ground was not in his favour, especially as he had missed some work following a bout of colic after the Hennessy.
Rocky Creek was due to line up in the Gold Cup but an attack of ringworm prevented him participating. Nicholls thinks that it might have been providential and that there is more to come from him. He has never been tried beyond 3m2f but Nicholls’ former stable jockey, Ruby Walsh, thought that he was more of a National horse than a Gold Cup type. It was Walsh who told the connections of On His Own to go for the Gold Cup rather than the National. Mullins’ charge came a very close second. If the injured Walsh is right about Rocky Creek he has to be worthy of serious consideration.
Nicholls’ arch rival, Nicky Henderson, sends out three. Stable jockey Barry Geraghty has chosen to partner the seven-year-old Hennessy winner, Triolo D’Alene (20/1) rather than Shakalakaboomboom (33/1). Geraghty not only has a National win to his name but usually manages to pick the best of the yard’s runners available to him. No seven-year-old has won this race since Bogskar in 1940 – but that was before the era of precocious French-bred horses.
Triolo D’Alene has already demonstrated his proficiency over the National fences. He won the 2m5f Topham Chase at this meeting last year, beating Alan King’s Walkon (50/1) by three quarters of a length. That is form that also gives outsider Walkon a chance in this race at a big price.
We have only seen Triolo D’Alene once since his Hennessy win when he disappointed in the Gold Cup, finishing 30 lengths behind the winner in tenth place. A breathing problem was mentioned and a tongue strap may well be used. That is a concern but the biggest worry is that his Hennessy victory wrecked his handicap mark. It is possible but not probable that he will feature.
Henderson’s other interesting runner is booked for his owner/rider, Sam Waley-Cohen and is sure to be the subject of many experts’ Grand National tips. Long Run (14/1) has more in common in with the last two winners than most. He carries 11st 9lb having been given a rating of 160 but he could be well handicapped if he is back on form. He was rated 182 after his Gold Cup win as a six-year-old in 2011. He hasn’t looked the same horse for some time but posted his first win (albeit a facile one) for some time in his latest run, beating Knockara Beau.
His jockey has an awesome record round this course and his confidence will be on a high after he won the Foxhunters on Thursday. We can trust him to ride a tactically solid race and he has proved his aptitude for dealing with the perils of loose horses.
I could make a solid case for Hawkes Point (40/1) being a bit of value. His standout form was when a head second in heavy ground in the Welsh National (Tidal Bay third). He is the fourth of Paul Nicholls’ team and has somewhat slipped under the radar. There is no doubt he stays really well and his lack of experience suggests there is improvement to come. All Nicholls’ inmates are well schooled so despite the lack of runs over fences jumping is not the main concern. The suspicion he needs soft ground could be more problematic, however he has not raced on a sound surface often enough to make a solid case that he is disadvantaged by it.
Another longshot to have escaped much attention is the former superstar handicap chaser Hunt Ball (50/1). After a luckless attempt at a career in the USA he came back to the UK with his tale between his legs and joined Nicky Henderson’s yard. He was a multiple winner on his way to achieving a now possibly too high handicap mark of 158. He has been running in exalted Grade 1 company of late and a lot of his former fan club will be kicking themselves if the unique experience of this course wakes him up. The bookies’ betting odds of 50/1 look far too big.
Monbeg Dude (10/1) has solid claims in a frighteningly open race but his Royal connections – he is part owned by the husband to Zara Phillips & rugby player Mike Tindall – mean his price has contracted alarmingly. That fact won’t stop last year’s Welsh National hero from winning but it will not be at an attractive price.
Grand National Tips Advice
I could make a sound case for any of the horses I have mentioned as my Grand National tip. However I can only pick one and it will be BIG SHU (25/1). This admirable Irish-trained horse is only nine but a veteran of the long distance cross-country races. He easily won the 2013 cross country race at the Cheltenham Festival over 3m7f. That is just four and a half furlongs shy of this 4m3.5f marathon trip. He did that staying on strongly on good to soft ground. At this stage that is precisely the ground he is likely to encounter here. Sure, he has been raised in the handicap since but he carries just 10st 8lb here. That will feel like a featherweight compared to his La Touche Cup cross country victory at Punchestown last year when he shouldered 12st 3lb in heavy ground to a brilliant success.
Big Shu was third in the Cheltenham cross-country race off a mark of 147 last month. Again he was staying on strongly having been given a lot to do and he runs off a 2lb lower rating here. As that was only his second run of the season the trainer Peter Maher concedes that he will now strip a fair bit fitter. That form also entitles the progressive winner that day Balthazar King (20/1) to serious respect and if you want a second bet in the race then make it this one, though he has to be forgiven a poor run here last year. It would not surprise me to see both these horses coming to the fore on the final circuit at Aintree.
This spectacular showpiece event is a cross-country race in all but name. The Grand National horse race requires the intelligence and dexterity that Big Shu has proven time and again and unlike a lot who line up here I feel confident in this horse’s ability to truly see out the marathon trip on any going. BIG SHU represents outstanding each-way value at the current 25/1 with BetVictor, Betfred or Skybet.
To summarise my Grand National tips, and with some bookies betting each-way for the first five home, here is my predicted finishing order:
- Big Shu (25/1)
- Balthazar King (20/1)
- Hawkes Point (40/1)
- Rocky Creek (20/1)
- Hunt Ball (50/1)