The Grand National is the most watched horse race in the world and this year's renewal is as enthralling as ever with 40 horses set to go to post for the marathon over the famous fences at Aintree.
We take a look at the main contenders for the race.
On His Own (15/2 General) is the current favourite for the Grand National and he was unfortunate in last year’s race, falling when still in contention. He has had just the one run this season when he won a Grade 2 Hurdle at Navan and that should have put him spot on for this fitness wise. He hasn’t jumped a fence in public since his fall last season and that has to be of some concern given a clear round of jumping is no easy feat around this course. He had jumped well and was enjoying himself before coming down last year though and with Ruby Walsh on board this year his fall isn’t a massive concern. He races off an identical mark of 148 this season to last and judged on his hurdling victory he appears in good form. Plenty going for him other than his short price in a race of this nature. Katie Walsh will be bidding to become the first female jockey to win the National and after her third placed finish on Seabass (11/1 Sporting Bet) last season connections seem bullish of another good run. Stamina was the concern going into the race last season and although he ran a great race that must still be of some concern this season. Racing off 5lb higher than last year shouldn’t be too detrimental and the previous experience of these fences will stand him in good stead. He has run well in two starts last season and showed up well in the Bobbyjo last time out. Better ground will help and history may well beckon if Seabass can finish his races off strongly.
Ted Walsh has another strong contender in the form of the JP McManus owned Colbert Station (11/1 William Hill), who is the chosen mount of AP McCoy. He has only the 5 starts over fences so far but looks to be highly progressive, winning a competitive big field handicap at Leopardstown on his last chasing start. A further win over hurdles since then should set him up nicely for this and although his lack of big race experience is a concern he is one who could be ahead of the handicapper. Stamina should not be a problem for him and if he doesn’t get overwhelmed by the whole occasion and his jumping can stand up to this unique test there could be more improvement to come from him.
Previous positive experience of the National fences is never a bad thing to have and there are many horses in the field that have run well here in the past. Sunnyhillboy (16/1 General) looked the likely winner almost all the way to the line last year before he was just denied by a rallying Neptune Collonges. He has had some problems since then and pulled up on his latest start back in January. It is entirely possible that a return to Aintree will spark him back into life but he is likely to find it harder this year off a 10lb higher mark. CAPPA BLEU (12/1 Coral, William Hill) was back in 4th last year but caught the eye with a late surge staying on towards the finish. He stays this trip well and he actually has a 2lb lower mark than last year. He put in a fine effort when chasing home Vino Griego in a Listed event last time out and for an 11 year old he is still relatively lightly raced. Last years experience should stand him in good stead for this and there is every expectation he can at least match last years effort with a clear round. The 2010 winner Ballabriggs (20/1 General) ran very creditably last year off a 10lb higher mark than the previous season and is another who may well bounce back to form. He has been running averagely in testing ground throughout the winter but as a result he races off 8lb lower than last year and just 2lb higher than the mark he won off. He is a 12 year old now and it may be asking a little too much to expect him to win but another solid run is a distinct possibility. Donald McCain also saddles Across The Bay (40/1 Stan James, Coral) who has yet to experience the National fences. He won a Grade 2 Hurdle on his last start and although he was a well beaten 7th in the Welsh National this trip should be within his reach on better ground. He has some smart form to his name, including a 28L defeat of Cappa Bleu earlier in the season and if the blinkers which were reapplied last time out can help him maintain his concentration he could outrun his price.
Imperial Commander (16/1 General) will carry top weight in the race and is undeniably the best horse in the race. It seems strange to say he could be well handicapped given he will need to carry 11-10 for 4m+ if he is to win, but judged on his previous Gold Cup form and his run in the Argento Chase this season 158 sees him very well treated. He has had a setback which forced him to miss the Gold Cup and he will be without regular pilot Paddy Brennan. He has a more than adequate replacement in Sam Twiston-Davies and the good ground will help him carry a big weight. His jumping is solid on the whole and he is a good stayer, it would be a wonderful story to see him win this at the age of 12. It is a tough task to ask him to carry 11-10 but he is the class horse in the race and he can’t be ruled out. BALTHAZAR KING (20/1 Ladbrokes, Coral) is another who missed his intended engagement at Cheltenham as he was withdrawn from the Cross Country race because of the soft ground. He is a horse who will relish this better ground and as he has shown at Cheltenham he is a thorough stayer who runs very well fresh. His defeat of Galaxy Rock earlier in the season was very tenacious and he looks to have the right attitude for a race such as this. Most of his recent racing has been done at Cheltenham so he needs to be able to transfer that form here but his record fresh is fantastic and he should go well from a prominent position.
Join Together (18/1 PaddyPower, SkyBet, 888sport) represent last years winning trainer Paul Nicholls and has been targeted at this race all season. He shaped well here over the National fences earlier in the season when he finished 2nd to Hello Bud in the Becher Chase and although he was disappointing in his last start he was badly hampered that day. He has been crying out for a real stamina test and the better ground will suit him too and he is an interesting contender on just his 9th start over fences, with the lack of experience in a massive field like this his only major negative. Another horse who has ran well at Aintree before is ALWAYS WAINING (40/1 Ladbrokes, Coral) who has remarkably win the Topham chase for the last 3 seasons. He shows little form away from Aintree but comes alive around this course and at 12 years old he is finally being allowed his shot at the big prize. He has predictably not threatened the winner’s enclosure in two starts this season but he will undoubtedly be well prepared for this. His jumping around here is brilliant and on spring ground he will be given every chance of getting home over this extended trip. The stamina doubt is a worry given he has another circuit on top of what he would run over in the Topham but he knows his way around Aintree and he is another who provide a wonderful story in this years National.
Teaforthree (16/1 StanJames, Ladbrokes, William Hill) went close when 2nd in the Welsh National and will have no worries about stamina here. He disappointed at Haydock last time out but a thorough stamina test will suit him well. He is one who although not inconvenienced by better ground he may prefer a bit more of a slog and he will need to pull out more off this mark. Rare Bob (25/1 Ladbrokes, Coral) will be the mount of rising star Bryan Cooper and he was unfortunately brought down early on in last years renewal. He has run well on his last two starts and off a 6lb lower mark than last season he could be feasibly treated. He can make the odd mistake so his jumping will need to hold up but he looks one of the more interesting contenders near the bottom of the handicap. Chicago Grey (14/1 General) sprung a surprise on his most recent start when comfortably winning a Grade 2 event at Navan. He is another who was brought down early on last season and actually races off 9lb lower this year. A previous winner of the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham he stays well and a repeat of his latest effort could see him prove competitive with some luck in running.
The National can be a lottery with plenty of luck needed to get a clear round and it is advisable to have several horses running for you in case misfortune rules out some horses.
CAPPA BLEU (12/1 Coral, William Hill)
BALTHAZAR KING (20/1 Ladbrokes, Coral)
ALWAYS WAINING (40/1 Ladbrokes, Coral)
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