Grand National favourites

Rambling Minster can walk it, while Offshore Account may prove a sound investment

After a brief flirtation with the idea of having Denman shouldering top weight in the big race, it is Cloudy Lane which tops the handicap this year and whilst we might have to wait another year for a bout of “Denmania” to grace the National, this year’s renewal promises to be as competitive as ever. The intriguing aspect to the market for this year’s event is that many of those prominent in the betting market will have to carry 11 stone or more, contradicting the modern theory that horses shouldered with this burden don’t win Grand Nationals. Indeed only Hedgehunter, who carried 11-1 to win in 2005, has overcome that statistic in recent years and he was arguably the best Aintree horse of the decade. The big exception in the 2009 line-up is Rambling Minster. He wouldn’t have been on many Aintree shortlists at the beginning of the season but his form has shown massive improvement as the season has gone on. His early season form was modest but it might just be that Keith Reveley has unlocked the secret to training him. He won a competitive Cheltenham handicap in January under a big weight and that form has since been franked by Character Building. His most impressive effort has to be when winning the Blue Square Gold Cup at Haydock. The trainer had stated before the race that the heavy going would be against him, so to see him bolt up must have filled connections with huge confidence. The Haydock race is one the best trials for the race and the flat galloping track there seemed to suit the horse, conditions he will once again encounter at Aintree. His weight of 10-9 seems fair, whilst his young jockey has already won a race over the unique fences earlier in the season. With the decent going sure to be in his favour and stamina assured, he has to be high on any shortlist.

So what of the other contenders? Current favourite My Will has the services of Ruby Walsh in the saddle and hails from the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls. His fifth place in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham a few weeks ago has propelled him to the top of the market and on the formbook looks well handicapped. He hasn’t won a race since November 2006 though and has never struck me as a National winner. French-bred horses have a shocking record in the race too, a stat which could also put pay to the chances of well-fancied Butlers Cabin. He looked to be going well when falling at Bechers on the second circuit in 2008 and since that day this has always been his target. He ran well last time at Cheltenham and is a previous Irish Grand National winner. Tony McCoy is yet to decide on his mount for this year however, suggesting his isn’t entirely convinced. He could prove us wrong but at the skinny price we are willing to take him on. Irish raiders have a great record in the race in recent years but Black Apalachi, Southern Vic and Priests Leap would all require monsoon-like conditions over the coming days to show their best. The first mentioned won the Becher Chase earlier this season, but the ground was much softer that day and he may get outpaced. Maljimar and Irish Invader surely will not have the stamina for such a test, whilst Hear the Echo has the profile of a winner, he would have to be very special to win the race off a weight of 11-5. The 2008 race is well represented with Comply Or Die (First), Snowy Morning (Third), Cloudy Lane (Sixth), Chelsea Harbour (Ninth), Mon Mome (Tenth), Cornish Sett (Twelfth) and Idle Talk (Fourteenth) all taking part once again. All however look worse off at the weights and none have shown improved form this season. Big Fella Thanks is an improving type but a novice hasn’t won the race since the 1950s and he doesn’t look exceptional, whilst L’ami has failed to get round on two previous attempts and is readily passed over. State of Play has been well-backed in recent days and has ticks in a lot of the right boxes. He is best when fresh on good ground; he also has a touch of class as he won the Hennessy in 2006. He isn’t the most consistent though and one gets the feeling his best days are behind him as he has never quite recaptured that Hennessy form. Offshore Account and Parsons Legacy may hold better chances, with the former representing tremendous value. He won a Grade 1 novice chase in April 2007 on good ground. He has suffered injuries and setbacks since then but has been nursed back by trainer Charlie Swan and a pleasing run over hurdles in March will have blown away any cobwebs. He looks a thorough stayer and looks well handicapped considering his potential ability. He represents excellent each-way value. Unfortunately big prices about Parsons Legacy have recently vanished but he still makes the shortlist. Good ground is what he needs and racing off 10-12 he will be getting weight from the majority of the main protagonists. He won a very good handicap earlier in the season; where the third horse Joe Lively went on to win a Grade 2 chase. He was then pulled up on bad ground but has been saved for this and deserves his chance. With conditions in his favour from a big stable with a top jockey on board, he has to be respected. The rest of the field may just lack the quality to challenge at the end.

All in all a fantastically competitive renewal of the great race where Rambling Minster is offered as the selection, with Offshore Account and Parsons Legacy also making the shortlist. All three look to have a decent weight, with carrying over 11 stone likely to be too much to ask for many of the leading players. The selection is in the form of his life and has conditions to suit. He looks sure to give his young jockey and the entire Reveley family a great day. Offshore Account is the real dark horse of the race and it is unlikely we have seen the best of him. It is asking a lot after such a lay-off but the preparation has gone well and his price could well tumble on the day.

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