Aintree Grand National

Much was made of the battle at Cheltenham between those two foremost NH and recognisable jockeys Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh – despite McCoy’s action packed ride on Wichita Lineman it was Walsh who took the honours numerically and in terms of the ultimate prize the Gold Cup on Kauto Star.

Unsurprisingly, these two meet again on Saturday in the nation’s favourite and most famous race, the Aintree Grand National – and their records are as diverse in this race as they were at the recent Cheltenham Festival. Walsh has two wins, courtesy of Papillion in 2000 and Hedgehunter in 2005, whilst McCoy is still winless in fourteen attempts, the nearest he has finished is third on a trio of occasions.

On Saturday, they partner the front two in the betting where Walsh will be hoping to improve Champion trainer Paul Nicholls dreadful record in this race, 40 runners and no wins, and in fact only eight of those have completed the course. Gold Cup fifth My Will who Walsh partners on Saturday looks like he will start favourite on Saturday and he may have to overcome a hard race at Cheltenham and some doubts about his jumping.

Butlers Cabin who McCoy rides, has not won for two years, but he was tanking along disputing the lead last year when he fell at Becher’s second time round – he was staying on in pleasing style last time out and he runs off the same mark as last year, it may well be McCoy who has the better of his personal battle with Walsh this time around but I feel that the winner will come from elsewhere.

My usual starting point for whittling down the forty strong field are three of the stronger trends that have been maintained over the past few years, the first of these are not too support any horse aged eight or under (no winner for 69 years), secondly, cross out any competitor that has not won over three miles (no winner for 39 years) and last but not least, dismiss any horse which is carrying over 11st 5lbs, as just one horse has managed this in the past 50 years.

Those three trends will start to prune the field down and make our lives a little easier – 7 horses fail the weight statistic and the fancied Big Fella Thanks along with Can’t Buy Time are dismissed on account of their age, so those two stats alone cut our field by a quarter. Throw in another four which don’t fail the first two stats and we have got rid of thirteen horses so far in our quest for the National winner.

So that’s some which we can safely ignore but enough negatives, lets look for some positives and surely we have to include at least one Irish horse amongst our National selections – they have after all won six of the last ten renewals, registering a hat-trick of wins between 2005 & 2007. The team from the Emerald Isle numbers eleven on Saturday and it would be a surprise if they do not go close, although it may not be with one of the more obvious contenders – the two nearest the head of the market Hear The Echo and Black Apalachi both have plus points but the former will need to jump better and is dangerously near being above the weight trend and although the latter has sluiced up here over the fences in the Becher Chase in November that was on soft going and he is unlikely to get that on Saturday.

The two that did catch my eye from the Irish squad were at bigger prices and may provide a touch of value on Saturday – Himalayan Trail used to be trained this side of the Irish Sea by Sue Smith and having landed the Midlands Grand National in 2008 he was bought by Jimmy Mangan with this race as an obvious target, and the likely faster ground will suit him and his handler knows what it takes to win the race having landed this with Monty’s Pass in 2003. The other “Celtic tiger” is a talented chaser – Southern Vic – with only a few miles on the clock and one for a while who had the same profile as the 2000 winner Papillion – well he is trained by the same man but unfortunately won’t be ridden by the same jockey, his son Ruby – but in “Slippers” Madden has an excellent deputy – he has after all ridden a National winner himself. A little more cut might be required but the drift in the betting due to Ruby’s rejection is an overreaction.
On then to the home defence – last years winner Comply Or Die bids to defend his crown but would appear weighted out of this now and I would rather look elsewhere. The quartet which at first glance catch the eye are Rambling Minster, Parsons Legacy, Darkness and Brooklyn Brownie.

Rambling Minster has powered to victory in his past two races at Cheltenham and Haydock respectively and the change of tactics which have seen him ridden much closer to the pace of late will be ones which will work much better at Aintree on Saturday, extreme hold up horses do not have the greatest record of late in the big race and expect to see the Keith Reveley trained gelding nearer the front than back on Saturday. He may now be eleven but he has only had fifteen races over fences and the key factor is that he has never fallen and not many jumping errors appear on his CV. There are very few holes in his overall profile.

Darkness on some of his form is amongst the best handicapped in the race and although he has never fallen, his overall profile does contain some jumping blemishes but that old form looks seductive in the context of this race and some of the horses that he receives weight from.

Parsons Legacy has been the plunge horse of the week, a return to form is needed, but he goes well when fresh and he’ll enjoy the sounder surface, his price fall has been fuelled by positive comments from his normally cautious trainer and if he takes to these fences he will run a big race on Saturday.

A more speculative selection to complete the home foursome is the Malcolm Jefferson trained Brooklyn Brownie – he’s made steady progress and had showed aptitude over these very fences in the Grand Sefton in November. Stamina is a slight doubt but he shapes like a stayer and has an eye catching weight and aged ten is certainly the right age for the race.

So lots to digest before the race on Saturday, some trends to narrow the field down, the McCoy Walsh head to head and some classy chasers from both sides of the Irish Sea.

For my money – Rambling Minster, Parsons Legacy, Himalayan Trail and Southern Vic provide four with strong credentials to be the Aintree victor in 2009.

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