The 2021 Grand National will be a subdued affair without the crowds at Aintree on Saturday but the buzz around it as a betting proposition is undiminished by their absence (5.15pm; TV: Live on ITV).
Half the field at Aintree have some chance of success but Cloth Cap is the clear favourite in the Grand National betting odds and he ticks most of the boxes. Unlike the majority of his rivals, he has form over marathon distances and comes into the race after winning his last two starts impressively. As a nine-year-old he is the right age for this challenge and has been cleverly campaigned by trainer Jonjo O’Neill with this target in mind all season.
Cloth Cap is spectacularly well handicapped as a result and will carry only 10 stone 5 as his most recent win came after the National weights were allocated. He would be shouldering an additional stone if the handicapper could reassess him now.
Cloth Cap has never been to Aintree but the more forgiving fences these days make that less of an issue and he is usually a clean jumper. His tendency to jump to the left will be handy at the Canal Turn but some experts believe it might compromise his chances of landing safely over Bechers. They were searching for reasons to oppose him. Cloth Cap may well give his owner Trevor Hemmings a fourth National victory and enable his jockey Tom Scudamore to emulate his grandfather who won in the 1950s but even O’Neill thinks his price is ‘crackers’.
Veteran trainer Ted Walsh provided his son Ruby with a Grand National winning ride on Papillon and came close with his daughter Katy on Seabass who finished third. He saddles the strongly fancied Any Second Now (10/1), a nine-year-old son of Oscar owned and bred by JP McManus who will be partnered by Mark Walsh. Any Second Now was disappointing in the Thyestes Handicap Chase in late January but returned to form in the Grade 2 Webster Cup at Navan in mid March, winning by 10 lengths on heavy ground. It may be significant that there were only five runners as his previous win came in a field of the same size in a Grade 3 chase at Naas in February last year.
Any Second Now has come to grief more than once in very large fields but did manage to beat 22 rivals in the Kim Muir (for amateur riders) at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 under the inestimable Derek O’Connor. The win proved that he can sometimes handle plenty of company and three miles two furlongs on good to soft. He was subsequently tried in the Irish National over three furlongs further but fell early on under Mark Walsh. Ruby thinks that Any Second Now would be better suited by slowish ground and his completion rate in large fields makes him unappealing even though he is a feasible winner.
Burrows Saint was the favourite in the 2019 Irish National and won it well, ticking the stamina box and adding to his hopes at Aintree. He also has the ideal, economical jumping style for big fences and is usually relaxed and tractable in running. That will be a massive help in a cavalry charge. This eight-year-old French bred son of Saint Des Saints is saddled by the masterful Willie Mullins who won this race with Hedgehunter in 2005 for Hemmings and his stable has hit a rich vein of form recently.
Burrows Saint should enjoy decent ground for a change, he was last seen finishing second in the Grade 3 Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse in late February, beaten five lengths in the mud. He definitely deserves to be near the top of the Grand National betting market. He has stronger stamina claims than most and has never fallen or unseated. His intended jockey Paul Townend is injured but the amateur Patrick Mullins is a top spec replacement despite his non-professional status. His owners, the Riccis, have reason to hope for their first National win and at 10/1 he is a very feasible each-way prospect.
The winner of the Bobbyjo Chase was Acapella Bourgeois, another Willie Mullins horse, who is available at 28/1. He has proven stamina, finishing third in the 2019 Irish National but caution is advised when following this 11-year-old French bred son of Network. He is too exposed to be favourably handicapped and is a hood (a calming device) wearing stress head who likes to front run and usually takes a while to settle.
He will benefit from Aintree being at its quietest and ought to provide a run for any money on him but, even without the noise of the crowd, the occasion could get to him. Parading on the course for the television cameras could upset him. He might be one to follow at the last minute if he appears to keep his cool in the preliminaries.
Mullins also saddles Class Conti (50/1) for the investment bankers Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. This nine-year-old French bred was a creditable third in the Thyestes, only beaten five lengths, but lost second close to the finish in first time cheekpieces. That was the longest trip he has ever encountered. Less testing ground should help his cause but he looks more likely to achieve a minor placing than win.
If you want a horse with proven stamina Potters Corner fits the bill. Trained by the very capable Christian Williams, this 11-year-old has already won over the National distance, in heavy ground in the Midlands National in March 2019. He also took the Welsh National that December over a mere three miles six furlongs in what is arguably the most testing ‘heavy’ around.
Potters Corner was due to run in the Cross Country race at Cheltenham but was withdrawn after suffering an overreach injury, a mere training blip that should not affect his future performances. Williams reports that his laid-back legend is in good form and thinks it may be a good thing that he missed out on a battle with Tiger Roll, the absent National legend, who won it. Williams is wisely using all the tools in the box to help Potters Corner’s chances and has got the blinkers out for him. They will have to work well to prevent him from getting outpaced on decent ground.
Another horse who would probably prefer soft ground is Kimberlite Candy. This talented nine-year-old trained by Tom Lacey was last seen finishing second to the Aintree specialist Vieux Lion Rouge (50/1) in the Becher Chase, a three mile two furlong contest over the National fences in December. It was the second time he had filled that spot and both were on soft ground. He was tried in the 2019 Irish National but was slightly hampered and pulled up. Another concern is that Kimberlite Candy has not raced this year. Owned by JP McManus, he will be partnered by Richie McLernon.
Minella Times (10/1) will also carry McManus’ colours: they will be worn by Rachel Blackmore who was top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival. The partnership is on song this season and has finished second in two valuable handicaps for trainer Henry de Bromhead. Blackmore has ridden this eight-year-old son of Oscar four times and won their other two starts. His price seems short enough as Minella Times has never been asked to race beyond three miles or even left Ireland.
In contrast Jessie Harrington’s Magic Of Light (20/1) finished second behind Tiger Roll here in 2019 after making a couple of major fencing errors en route. This 10-year-old daughter of Flemensfirth has won races since and shoulders an additional 5lb this time. If you are prepared to forgive a lacklustre effort over an inadequate trip at the Festival, she seems very likely to put in another decent performance. Her chances will be helped by having Robbie Power on board this time. He has not only won this race but show-jumping competitions at Hickstead. They look a very solid each-way prospect.
A more fancied Irish raider is Paul Nolan’s eight-year-old Discorama (16/1) who has not run since he was a well beaten favourite at Cheltenham in November. He has had a wind operation during his time off and his popularity in the National betting suggests he is showing all the right signs at home. He does have proven stamina, finishing second over nearly four miles in the National Hunt Challenge Cup for amateurs at the Festival in 2019 but the lack of a recent run is a concern and they will not know if the wind op has worked until after the race.
Top weight is shouldered by Nigel Twiston-Davies’ class act, Bristol De Mai (25/1) who is owned by the same people as Class Conti. He is not only a grey but has plenty of other attributes in common with the last winner of the same colour, Neptune Collonges. This ten-year-old took a Grade 1 at Haydock in November and was most recently seen finishing second behind Native River in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase in February. He is untested at this distance but is usually a good jumper and has the class to win but is fragile and has never been at his best in the Spring.
Our Preview’s 2021 Grand National Betting Tip
Cloth Cap may well prove to be a worthy favourite but while some at longer odds such as Magic Of Light and Acapella Bourgeois are tempting each-way prospects, our 2021 Grand National betting tip for this preview has to be BURROWS SAINT. His jockey Patrick Mullins scored in the Topham Chase over these fences at this meeting and stands an excellent chance of doing so again in the big race in the same colours. Back him each way at 10/1.