The most talked-about race in the jumps calendar is fast approaching, with the countdown now well and truly on ahead of Saturday’s Grand National at Aintree.
There are sure to be plenty of betting moves between now and the weekend, but how are the contenders shaping up ahead of the most iconic steeplechase in the world?
The market is headed by the trio of Blaklion, Total Recall and Tiger Roll, all currently trading at 10/1 to win the big race. Each is entitled to fair claims whilst also having questions of one sort or another to answer.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Blaklion was a gallant fourth in the race last year behind One For Arthur and has been firmly in the mix for this renewal since he won the Becher Chase over the National fences in December.
Blaklion was touted for the National a year ago and travelled powerfully into contention under Gavin Sheehan, taking up the running after the fourth last fence. He looked to be holding the aces at that point but didn’t have as much in the tank as looked possible.
In his prep race for this he was dismissed readily by the mudlark Yala Enki in testing ground at Haydock so there must be concerns for his supporters that his stamina will give late in the piece. Seeing out the four-mile-plus journey around Aintree is no easy task and rates as a must for any would-be Grand National hero.
Total Recall was a fine winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury earlier this season and Willie Mullins’ charge will appeal to many as being amongst the well-handicapped horses in the Aintree line-up.
His recent effort in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham is a tough one to assess. He didn’t always jump as well as would be desired and that got him into some trouble. To his credit he was starting to move nicely again when his race was abruptly halted at the third-last fence.
Total Recall will certainly need to fence better to land this pot but his Newbury display in December would give him every hope. He was a well-backed favourite that afternoon and jumped without error. Given his connections it won’t be a major surprise if he shortens in the betting this week.
Similar sentiments can be attached to Cheltenham Cross Country winner Tiger Roll, as Gordon Elliott seeks to double-up after winning the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday with General Principle.
Tiger Roll is a fiercely likeable sort and was grabbing the third Cheltenham Festival win of his career last month. Elliott had voiced real concern over the soft ground in the Cotswolds and was even considering pulling Tiger Roll out on the morning of the race.
The Gigginstown team would love to get one over on Phil Smith in his final Grand National as handicapper and Tiger Roll is, according to his trainer, likely to relish the Aintree fences.
Anibale Fly finished a very credible third in the Gold Cup, essentially winning the race behind the dominant front pair of Native River and Might Bite.
Tony Martin’s runner had previously won a big handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and that Cheltenham form suggests a rating of 159 is not beyond the eight-year-old, who is available at 11/1 to win the National.
A horse guaranteed to stay and who has experience of the race is Raz De Maree. Gavin Cromwell’s runner was an impressive winner of the Welsh Grand National in attritional conditions and, if he’s in the same form, he could outrun his odds of 40/1.
With the rain that has fallen in the run-up to the meeting, he looks likely to get the sort of conditions underfoot that will help him thrive and isn’t one to underestimate.
At 13, age certainly isn’t on his side but there were no signs of him ailing in that win at Chepstow when last spotted. He’s completed the course before – in 2014 – and was luckless in the race last year when being badly hampered as he unseated his rider early on.
After an outstanding Cheltenham Festival, what chance of a first female jockey winning the Grand National this year?
Bryony Frost has been one of the sensations of the jumps season in Britain and has been booked to partner Milansbar on Saturday. Trainer Neil King makes no secret of the fact that he feels Milansbar is made for this race, something he has been happy to voice for a long time.
Frost was victorious on the 11-year-old in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January – her sole ride on the horse previously – while Milansbar ran a solid second in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter last month in his prep run and should prove popular at 33/1.
Frost isn’t alone in trying to become the first female winner in this race. Rachael Blackmore, last season’s Irish champion conditional jumps jockey, has been booked to partner the Mouse Morris-trained Alpha Des Obeaux as the trainer seeks a second win in three years.
Katie Walsh, who has already managed to finish third in the great race, will be on board Baie Des Iles, trained by her husband Ross O’Sullivan.
Meanwhile, Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Colin Tizzard has been bullish in his recent assessment of the chances of The Dutchman galloping to glory in the Grand National.
Tizzard scooped the blue riband with Native River and feels that The Dutchman, currently priced at 28/1, would be deserving of a place amongst the first five or six in the betting had he not underperformed last time out at Haydock. He was found to have blood in his nostrils after that run and has been given time to recover.
His previous effort was a 13-length victory over Captain Redbeard in the gruelling Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock in January and, on that form, he would merit the respect his trainer has called for.
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