It is a hundred years since a French horse – the great champion Luteur III – won the Aintree Grand National. While there is nothing statistically magical about centuries, the French-bred contingent in 2009 under starter’s orders in this year’s race is an exceptionally strong pack which looks certain to confirm the recent exploits of Kauto Star and his compatriots at Cheltenham. A studious review of the Gallic forces is therefore imperative.
Firstly, there is a near G20-level of agreement concerning the chances of the Jonjo O’Neilltrained 9-year old, Butler’s Cabin (FR), who will be ridden by Tony McCoy, at the midweight of 10-13. By Poliglote out of the Bering mare Strictly Cool, the bay gelding has the size and jumping ability that his pedigree suggests. Fifth at Cheltenham last month, he comes sufficiently fresh to Saturday’s big race. Although McCoy has never won a National, his tally of over 3000 National Hunt wins is the supreme argument that silences every sceptic. The long trip will test the his mount’s stamina. The short odds on offer may dissuade the value-seeking punter, but should not deprive others of enjoyment.
My Will (FR), mounted by in-form top jumps jockey Ruby Walsh, carries more weight at 11-4 than one might enjoy in a 4m4f race. His handler Paul Nicholls is confident nevertheless. In the distant past, the bay gelding was trained by Guillaume Macaire, whose highly successful yard is a dominant force in France. My Will represents a tantalizing offer with a 20% strike rate over shorter distances, but the weight handicap will be very difficult over the distance. Golden Flight (FR) is another ex-Macaire horse, now handled by Nigel Henderson. Some support might be found in his ride under Barry Geraghty at Cheltenham last month. However, it is hard to see why the 10-year old can return to challenge seriously at this level, and even 66/1 looks expensive.
There is more to like with Mon MÃ´me (FR). Liam Treadwell rides the Venetia Williamstrained 9-year old, whose best performances at longer distances have been on much softer ground. However, barring accidents, he is a handy jumper who will get the trip. A place opportunity at 66/1 or better. The horses of French trainer FranÃ§ois-Marie Cottin are as industrious as their workaholic trainer. Under jockey Philippe Carberry, Musica Bella (FR) is a brave 9-year old mare that carries 10-10. She has not run since September 2008, an absence which probably should not be attributed to her owner’s racing policy. The big Aintree fences will be daunting for her,Â so only kind hearts will encourage her at 66/1 for a place. She is more likely to be pulled up.
The Enda Bolger-trained L’ami (FR) knows the course well enough from his last heroic escapade in the Grand National. The well-bred chesnut gelding came to Bolger from FranÃ§ois Doumen’s formidable raiding yard, and his preparation for the John Smith Grand National has been perfect and highly consistent. He has the stamina and the jumping ability. Carrying 10-11, under in-form Choc Thornton, at 25/1, L’ami is optimal E/W French value. The 11-year old ex-Doumen Kelami (FR) has not returned to his best. Cerium (FR) and he appear very long shots, despite the former’s 35% lifetime strike rate.
In conclusion, the difficulties facing French-trained horses in the John Smith’s Grand National are well-documented. Any race over 4m4f combined with 30 massive jumps, some of which have significant landing drops, requires special and exclusive preparation. No French trainer willingly surrenders the jumps racing prize money available in France, in order to campaign for the remote chance of a victory at Aintree. However, French-bred English and Irish trained runners have excellent credentials and stand good chances of figuring in the winners enclosure. Expect to see one or more from the trio Butler’s Cabin, L’ami, and Mon MÃ´me. Look for bookmakers paying out on the first five places.
The French-bred horses in the John Smith’s Grand National.Â