The 2018 Grand National is an extremely open renewal with many horses trying Aintree’s toughest obstacles and this distance for the first time (5.15pm Saturday live on ITV).
There are a couple of horses who have National form towards the top of the betting, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Blaklion is one of them at 11/1. This nine-year-old gelding was the 8/1 favourite last year and looked likely to reward his followers when he took the lead four fences from home but he weakened before the last and was beaten nine lengths into fourth by One For Arthur.
Will this son of Kayf Tara be able to get the job done this time? I don’t think so. Blaklion is big in heart but not in stature and has to carry 11 stone 9lb, 8lb more than last year. On the positive side Twiston-Davies has campaigned him uncharacteristically carefully this season. Blaklion finished a close second to his stablemate Bristol De Mai in the Charlie Hall Chase in November and went on to win the Becher here in December. Blaklion was the favourite in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February but found carrying topweight on the heavy ground too much. He was beaten over 50 lengths into second by Yala Enki and crawled over the line and has had a wind operation since. Blaklion will be partnered by the capable Sam Twiston-Davies but carrying extra weight on testing ground is a massive ask.
Kim Bailey’s The Last Samuri (16/1) was not emptying when he was robbed of victory by Rule The World in the 2016 National. The handicapper took note and raised him 10lb and he has not won a race since. The Last Samuri has performed well enough over shorter distances to maintain his mark but he was beaten over 60 lengths by One For Arthur, struggling to cope with 11 stone 10lb. This gallant little chestnut has only 3lb less to shoulder on Saturday so a placing would be an immense achievement.
In contrast Saint Are is friendless at 50/1 but finished third, ahead of Blaklion last year and was second to Many Clouds in 2016 for Tom George. Saint Are has pulled up in both his starts this term and the yard is woefully out of form. If anything from the stable runs well and only if the ground is no slower than good to soft he could be worth considering each-way.
The smallest horse in the race is Tiger Roll, the most popular of Gigginstown’s brigade of runners at 11/1. Trained by the extremely shrewd Gordon Elliott, Tiger Roll was last seen winning the cross country race at the Cheltenham Festival with The Last Samuri 13 lengths behind him (off level weights). That was over three miles six furlongs but Tiger Roll proved he could get four miles when he won the Challenge Cup for Amateurs at the Festival last year.
Elliott thinks that the National fences will enthuse this eight-year-old son of the Derby winner Authorized and that good ground will help his cause. He is unlikely to get it. Tiger Roll is a formidable force on a going day but he bombed in the Irish National after his Cheltenham win last year and cannot be relied upon. He tends to get low at some of his fences and, even with the wily Davy Russell on board, he does not offer much value at his current price.
Elliott also saddles the more conventionally proportioned Ucello Conti (20/1) who has been trained with this race in mind for his wealthy owners, Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. This French-bred ten-year-old kicked off his season in December by finishing a creditable second to Anibale Fly in a three mile handicap. In his only other run he was pulled up in the Thyestes Chase in January, not enjoying the heavy ground.
Ucello Conti will be one of the freshest horses in the field and his in-form jockey Daryl Jacob is very upbeat about his chances. Last year Ucello Conti was travelling well but stumbled after Bechers second time and unseated him. In 2016 he was beaten nearly 40 lengths by Rule The World after making some fencing errors but he is more appealing than his stablemate.
Prolific owner JP McManus is going into this race mob-handed. His number one jockey Barry Geraghty has understandably chosen to partner Anibale Fly (11/1). This typical son of Assessor loves cut in the ground and showed he is a class act by staying on well to take third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He finished eight lengths behind Native River having started as a 33/1 no-hoper.
This will be Anibale Fly’s first experience of Aintree’s largest fences and this distance but he seemed to relish a trip beyond three miles at Prestbury Park and has only fallen once in his 15 starts over obstacles. Carrying over 11 stone is statistically undesirable but this eight-year-old is a proper National Hunt type and is favourably treated by the handicapper. He is 9lb well-in and is saddled by the canny Tony Martin. If he has fully recovered from Cheltenham he should be a serious contender.
Minella Rocco (update: now a non-runner) is another fancied member of the McManus string. This horse is a giant, more capable than most of carrying topweight. Trained by Jonjo O’Neill, he has a good engine, finishing less than three lengths behind Sizing John in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup on his preferred good ground.
Minella Rocco has had a wind operation since his last run when he got tired and fell in the Irish Gold Cup in February. We will not know if it has worked until after the race but there is some cause for optimism. Minella Rocco won over four miles in the race for amateurs at Cheltenham in 2016 on good to soft beating the current Gold Cup titleholder, Native River. Noel Fehily, a master at smuggling a horse into a race, is booked to ride him but testing conditions are a concern.
McManus’ Regal Encore (25/1) is well-treated, 4lb lower than he will be next time. Saddled by Anthony Honeyball and ridden by Richie McLernon, this ten-year-old is interesting but he is a box of chocolates horse in that you never know what you are going to get. He finished eighth here, beaten nearly 30 lengths by One For Arthur, but comes into this on the back of a win at Ascot in February. That was over three miles on soft ground. You cannot be confident about Regal Encore but it is difficult to discount him too.
One For Arthur misses this race after sustaining an injury but there could be another Scottish-trained winner. Seeyouatmidnight (16/1) has been bought by the Thomsons of Cheveley Park stud in the hope that he can emulate Party Politics and carry their colours to victory. This ten-year-old finished third in the Scottish National over four miles in 2016 and can cope with mud.
He had a wind op after he was a beaten favourite over hurdles at Kelso in March 2017 and has only had one run since. He finished third in a two and a half mile chase at Newbury in March appearing to weaken but might have needed the run after a year’s absence. The positive side is that his mark is unchanged and he carries less than 11 stone. If his trainer Sandy Thomson has him spot on he could well play a part at the finish.
The Selkirk-based Captain Redbeard (25/1) also has claims, finishing second to The Dutchman (25/1) in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January and was last seen having a successful spin over hurdles at Ayr. Owned and trained by Stuart Coltherd and ridden by his son Sam, the ten-year-old Captain Redbeard would be a fairytale winner.
Captain Redbeard is not the most natural jumper but he managed a rather messy clear round in the Grand Sefton in December. He finished sixth, beaten 40 lengths by Gas Line Boy (33/1), but managed to stay upright after encountering an additional obstacle in the shape of a faller. This trip is unknown territory but Captain Redbeard would be a shorter price if saddled by a top yard and is interesting each-way.
The Dutchman is a more stylish jumper but he pulled up on his next run after breaking a blood vessel. His trainer Colin Tizzard is keen to point out that his horses were not running well at the time and is hoping for a decent performance even though The Dutchman was raised 13lb for that win. The Dutchman usually jumps well and acts on heavy ground but has stamina to prove.
The youngest rider in the race, James Bowen, thinks his mount Shantou Flyer (33/1) is in with a good chance. The partnership were last seen outrunning their odds of 14/1 to finish second at Cheltenham in the Ultima Handicap Chase. The eight-year-old Shantou Flyer has taken the runner-up spot in his past four runs for Richard Hobson but pulled up in the National last year when trained by Rebecca Curtis. Shantou Flyer is another with stamina questions but handles cut and has 4lb less to shoulder this time.
Sue Smith knows how to train staying chasers and won the 2013 National with Auroras Encore. I Just Know (25/1) took the North Yorkshire National over three miles six furlongs for her in January giving cause for optimism here. He has had one spin over hurdles since, finishing second in March. This eight-year-old jumps well and usually leads, the tactics may need to be tweaked in a field of this size but he has strong claims.
One horse that has already attracted a lot of money is the grey mare, Baie Des Iles (16/1). She was a 50/1 chance at the beginning of the week suggesting people in the know rather than random punters fancy her. Stamina is her strong suit and she should enjoy this marathon trip if she takes to the fences.
A French-bred seven-year-old, Baie Des Iles was last seen finishing third in a National trial at Punchestown in February after making the running and keeping on at the same pace. The quality of that form has been franked by the subsequent performances of the horses in front of her. Baie Des Iles was fifth in the Welsh National and sixth in the Irish National as a five-year-old suggesting stamina rather than speed was always her thing. More rain would aid her cause but she is likely to shorten in price whatever the weather as she is ridden by Katie Walsh for her trainer husband Ross O’Sullivan. Baie Des Iles bids to be the first mare to win since 1951 and the first seven-year-old since 1940 but French-breds tend to be precocious. She has each-way claims but does not offer great value at her current price.
A 13-year-old has not won here since 1923 but Raz De Maree (33/1) defied his age by winning the Welsh National on heavy ground in January under James Bowen and finished second in his two previous starts. He is clearly not feeling his age and has only fallen once in his long career but has unshipped a few jockeys.
Raz De Maree unseated Ger Fox early on here last year when veering right to avoid a horse on the ground. That can be seen as a positive as he looks where he is going unlike a lot of thoroughbreds. His trainer Gavin Cromwell has booked Robbie Power to partner him. Power is not only a great jockey, he won this race in 2007 and everything else on Sizing John last year, but an excellent horseman who scored at Hickstead showjumping on his sister’s eventer. His assistance is a massive positive for Raz De Maree’s chances.
The most fancied Irish raider is Willie Mullins’ Total Recall (11/1). This nine-year-old son of Westerner won three of his four starts this season including a valuable handicap over three miles two furlongs at Newbury in December. He narrowly beat Nicky Henderson’s Whisper and had Regal Encore nine lengths further back in third. His mark has been raised 9lb.
Most recently Total Recall tipped up at the downhill fence three out in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, possibly feeling the effects of the strong pace. That is not an ideal prep for a first tilt at the National and the final mile will be unknown territory stamina-wise if he stays upright.
Neil King’s Milansbar (33/1) is a decent price for an in-form horse with proven stamina who handles soft ground. He won a valuable handicap chase under Bryony Frost over three miles five furlongs in January at Warwick in first time blinkers and was second in the Midlands National over this distance last time out on heavy ground in March.
In both those races this 11-year-old benefitted from carrying a lower weight than the one dictated by his rating as he was ridden by relatively inexperienced jockeys who could claim an allowance. ‘Claimers’ cannot reduce the weight carried by their mounts in a handicap of this class but Milansbar has a very manageable 10 stone 5lb and the empathetic Frost on board. If he gets close to the front and finds his rhythm he could run well.
Our 2018 Grand National Preview’s Betting Tip Conclusion
As the Grand National betting market suggests this is a very open race. Anibale Fly is the most appealing prospect among the market leaders at 11/1, well-in with the handicapper and very capable on soft ground but this is such a competitive handicap that we have to look for better value elsewhere.
- The veteran Raz De Maree, I Just Know and Milansbar are very tempting each-way prospects but our Grand National betting tip is to back CAPTAIN REDBEARD each-way at 25/1, with most of the best UK bookies going ‘best odds’ guaranteed’. See our Grand National odds comparison table for the latest betting prices.