2008 Grand National This Saturday sees the latest running of the 2008 Grand National, the race is no longer the lottery it once was due to the modifications of the landing and takeoff sites that have been made over the last few years, but still provides a thorough test of horse and rider. Thirty fences need to be safely negotiated and stamina proven over the energy sapping four and a half mile journey.
The race is steeped in tradition and can be dated back to the very first winner, The Duke, who was victorious in 1837. Two years later the race moved to the site of its current home at Aintree. Over the years the race has caught the imagination of the public more than any other in the racing calendar, helped in no small part by the fact that the winner of this unique race is generally accompanied into the winners enclosure by his own heart warming tale of victory over adversity. Such as three time winner Red Rum whose lameness was cured by regular dips in the local sea water. Or last years winner, Silver Birch, who failed to finish in three of his last four starts for champion trainer Paul Nichols, but who was nursed back to form brilliantly by last years winning trainer Gordon Elliott. At 29, he was the youngest trainer in the race and just one year after receiving his license.
This years race looks as competitive as ever with a maximum of 40 runners due to go to post. The market is headed by Cloudy Lane who is trained by Donald McCain jnr, one of the most promising up and coming trainers in the country. Hoping to follow in his Fathersâ€™ footsteps by winning the National, something his Father managed on no less than four occasions (Red Rum 1973,74,77 and Amberleigh House 2004). Cloudy Lane could be sent off the shortest price favourite for 30 years as he enters the race a potential blot on the handicap. Since the weights were published on Feb 5th he has won both his races in emphatic style and, if he could, the handicapper would raise him another 20lb for those two wins. Although his running style suggests the trip should suit, he is unproven beyond 3m2f and any further softening of the ground may well be against him over this extended trip. Another negative is his lack of experience over the National fences. Simon also represents connections who hold a special place in the history of the race, he is owned by Mercy Rimell whose late husband Fred also trained the winner on four occasions. Simon is proven at up to 3m 5 Â½f and was travelling strongly and jumping well when falling six fences from home in last years race. He ran an excellent trial for this when finishing third in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton on his latest start, getting outpaced over the three mile trip before coming home strongly and will appreciate the step up in distance. His experience from last years race will also stand him in good stead, he looks to hold leading claims. Bewleys Berry has the Aintree factor firmly on his side having finished second in the last two runnings of the Beecher Chase over these fences, and was travelling and jumping well when falling at Beechers Brook second time around in last years National. The return to Aintree is firmly in his favour and he looks sure to put up an improved performance on his latest run when he was pulled up at Haydock (first run for three months). Proven at 3m2f he shapes as if he will stay further, but like Cloudy Lane would not want any further softening of the ground over this extreme trip. The Irish challenge is always to be hugely respected. Since the turn of this century they have won five of the eight races, including the last three. Their strongest chance of success in this years race would appear to be Slim Pickings, an excellent third in last years race travelling strongly and jumping well but just unable to find any extra on the run in, having made a mistake at the last going down by Â¾ and 1 Â¼ lengths to Silver Birch. He looks to have been campaigned with the National very much in mind, spending much of this season running over hurdles (a proven route for previous Irish trained winners of the National). He returned to fences with an encouraging running on fifth over an inadequate 2m5f trip at Leopardstown last time out. He looks to be peaking at just the right time. McKelvey is another who is proven over course and distance, having finished second in front of Slim Pickings in last years Grand National. Beaten just Â¾ of a length to Silver Birch, patiently ridden throughout he finished strongest of all but couldnâ€™t quite get to the winner. A remarkable performance considering he finished the race broken down. A return to Aintree could bring about a return to form but it will need to as McKelvey has only raced twice since last years race. Well beaten on both occasions he has to prove his current well being, and that of his stable, whose horses have been running inconsistently for the last few months.
VERDICT – As always, with a maximum field of 40 runners highly likely, luck in running will play a huge part. Cloudy Lane is a progressive chaser who is 20lb well in according to the handicapper, with a clear round he must surely go close but his lack of Aintree experience may well be his downfall and he represents no value at the likely odds. Therefore the call must be Simon (ew) at the likely double figure odds, a hugely genuine and reliable chaser who is a proven stayer and looked to be travelling better than most when falling six fences from home last year. With a clear round he will be very hard to keep out of the frame. The trio of Bewleys Berry, Slim Pickings and McKelvey are all proven round Aintree and look sure to give supporters a good run for their money.