The Grand National Line Up : the peopleâ€™s race
The thundering hooves, the parade, that music from â€˜Championsâ€™ â€“ yes, itâ€™s Grand National time again and, from builders to bankers, millions across the nation will stop to watch the Aintree spectacular.
For many, itâ€™s also the only time of the year that they will step into a bookmakers â€“ whether youâ€™ve studied the form, gone with the favourite or simply stuck a pin in, the chances are youâ€™re having a bet.
To pick the winner requires a certain degreeâ€¦well, alright, a large degreeâ€¦of luck. And luck is what those 40-odd horses and jockeys will need as they gallop hell for leather towards the first fence. Along the way, theyâ€™ll have to negotiate some of the most testing jumps in the racing world â€“ Becherâ€™s Brook, The Chair and Valentineâ€™s to name but a few.
So what should you be looking for when you open your paper on Saturday morning. In a race like this, form can only help you so much, but there are some statistics that might help to sort the wheat from the chaff.
â€¢ Twenty five of the last 30 winners have carried less than 11st. On this occasion, that means 14 runners including likely favourite My Will.
â€¢ Only five favourites in the last 30 years have won. Yet again it looks like bad news for My Will but last yearâ€™s winner Comply Or Die was backed in to joint favouritism before the start.
â€¢ The Irish have an excellent record in the National, with six of the past 10 winners being Irish-trained. Black Apalachi, Southern Vic and Hear The Echo are all trained in Ireland and all will be hoping to add to the Irish tally.
But if all youâ€™re after is a few pointers, hereâ€™s the lowdown on some of the more fancied runners.
Ran a great race to finish 5th in the Gold Cup this year and with that only his prep for Aintree, he looks to have a nice weight for a horse with so much class. Heâ€™s been heavily gambled on and will be almost certain to start favourite. With champion trainer Paul Nicholls behind him and Ruby Walsh on board heâ€™s got an outstanding chance if he lasts the distance. Heavily gambled on heâ€™s almost certain to start favourite.
Unlucky in the National last year, heâ€™s one of the few horses in this yearâ€™s race that can boast a win over 4 miles. The roar in the winners enclosure will be deafening should Tony McCoy finally break his Grand National hoodoo.
11 years old, but has been in great form this year and the trip holds no fears for him. With only 10st 1lb on his back he could go close and Iâ€™d expect him to be a good each-way bet.
State of Play
Winner of the Hennessy in 2006, he goes well fresh so thatâ€™s on his side. However, his form since hasnâ€™t really lived up to expectations and there have to be doubts about the marathon trip.
Hear The Echo
Irish horses have a fantastic record in the National and Hear The Echo has already won an Irish National, so often a good pointer to the Aintree winner. However, trainer Mouse Morris is worried about the weight heâ€™s been given so hold your bets for the time being.
Comply Or Die
Last yearâ€™s winner who won comfortably and in the style of a classy horse. But this year he hasnâ€™t looked like the same animal and thereâ€™s certainly nothing like his Eider Chase win of 2008 to suggest heâ€™s in great form. Carrying more weight than last time it seems unlikely heâ€™ll be the first horse since Red Rum to retain the National.
With placed horses so often coming in at fairly big odds, there are others in the race which represent good each-way value.
There have been excellent noises coming from the stable of Kilbeggan Blade whoâ€™s had a good season, jumps well and looks like the trip may be right up his street. At around 22-1 he seems to be an excellent each-way bet.
The same can be said of Big Fella Thanks from the Paul Nicholls yard, who is fairly young but consequently quite unexposed and, though only third on his most recent run, he looks like an out-and-out stayer.
Snowy Morningâ€™s price (around 25-1) doesnâ€™t seem to really reflect his ability. Ok, so recent form isnâ€™t encouraging but he does come into his own in the spring and he was placed in the race last year.
Darkness could be the dark horse. Currently trading at around 20-1, heâ€™s had a few problems and does seem to be injury prone, but if he lines up he could be interesting.
Of the real outsiders, Niche Market looks like a progressive horse and seems to jump and gallop like a National type. Heâ€™s young but what a day it would be for the also young Harry Skelton if he won.
And remember, many bookmakers will be paying out on the first five horses home, so itâ€™s worth checking at your local betting office.
So whatâ€™s the conclusion?…If class was the only factor, then My Will must have a favouriteâ€™s chance but luck and pure stamina are of equal importance in this race and I fancy Kilbeggan Blade to put his slick jumping to good use with Rambling Minster, My Will and Butlerâ€™s Cabin all excellent each-way bets.
Whatever your choice, whatever the method and whatever the stake – thereâ€™s always a chance you could be quids in.