Grand National Preview of Aintree 2009


No prep race for this contest is as significant than the day in early February when the official dinner including the announcement of the weights are made public. Many trainers know the importance that in this unique handicap success can be achieved by not showing your hand prior to this day. This fact is clearly shown in that only one of the last ten winners had won a chase that season prior to the announcement of the weights. Several had even been campaigned over hurdles inn a thinly veiled attempt to mask chasing ability.
Other significant trends stand out in searching for the winner of this unique race. The “it’s a lottery” and “anyone can win” brigade are clearly sitting in the uninformed section. Since the modification of the fences and levelling of some of the landing sides of certain fences the race is generally won by a well handicapped and fancied staying chaser.
In the last ten Grand National’s eight of the winners have returned at no greater than 16/1 on the day of the race suggesting that the winner generally does come from the main protagonists. Of the two other winners ( both priced at 33/1) Silver Birch had been ante post favourite the year before his success and Red Marauder won a sorry affair when all struggled to get round in barely raceable conditions. Indeed come the day really heavy ground will see a seismic shift in the market towards those horses proven on such terrain.
One statistic screaming out to be taken note of is that all winners were given an initial weight of 9:12 or more on weight announcement day and come day of the race nine of the ten winners carried less than 11:00 and ran off a mark between 136 and 142. Only Hedgehunter breaks the trend, winning carrying 11:00 and running off a mark of 144. In hindsight his winning chance was obvious as he had fallen at the last the previous year. The point being that to break the ratings band the only horse to do so had already shown a liking for the unique challenge that the National brings.
So with this years contest but a few weeks away lets look at who is likely to be having a nation cheer it home around the elbow and on that long and famous run in.
Currently Butlers Cabin, Black Apalachi and My Will all head the market at 12/1.
Butlers Cabin was travelling like a winner in last years contest until unshipping AP McCoy at Bechers on the second circuit. Butlers Cabin is a former Irish Grand National winner and without any rise in the weight will race of 10:6 this year, 11lb lower than last year. Prior to Cheltenham though Butlers Cabin had run poorly this season and even with the lower weight there was little to be enthused about. However a staying on fifth in the Kim Muir last week indicates that the stable have rekindled the horses enthusiasm. Make of this comment what you like but often horses improve after their allotted Grand National weight allocation. It seems connections have long held a plan for this fellow and no rider is more determined than AP McCoy to win this race and end his Grand National hoodoo. Butlers Cabin will go to post with as good a chance as any .
Black Apalachi has winning form over the Grand National fences evidenced when seen routing his rivals here in November. It’s a huge advantage to be with a horse you know will take to the obstacles but that win was on heavy ground, indeed all Black Apalachi’s best form has been on soft or heavy conditions. Without knowing the ground the current price on offer is poor value. I would much rather wait until the day and ground conditions are known. If the going is soft or heavy this horse will go off around 6 or 7/1 favourite and is a likely winner. I could not back it currently though as it’s chances I feel are so heavily ground dependant.
My Will was excellent ante post value at 25/1 on weight allocation day. In the past My Will has been placed in the Betfred Gold Cup and has been rated as high as 161 . He missed last season due to injury ( as the last two Grand National winners had done) and his rating has fallen to 152. Prior to last week his only run this season was a staying on fifth in the Hennessy , after which connections put him away, protecting a handicap mark for a later contest I would suggest being the plan. In last weeks Cheltenham Gold Cup My Will finished a running on fifth beaten just over twenty lengths by Kauto Star. Despite blundering the fourth last this piece of form stands out. Hon many other Grand National contenders this year could run respectably in the high class Gold Cup field ? Trainer P NIcholls who had an excellent Cheltenham has a dire Grand National record with only one placing from thirty two runners in the last ten years. However he did train Gwanako to win a Bechers Chase and My Will gives him an excellent chance of stamping his class all over this years event.
The next group in the market on 16/1 are Character Building. Big Fella Thanks and Rambling MInster.
Character Building was most impressive when winning last weeks Kim Muir at Cheltenham carrying 11:12 and has an allotted weight of 9: 12 for the National. He had shown mixed form up until last week but could be called the winner from a long way out. Young amateur pilot Jamie Codd rode a beautiful waiting race and won on the bridle. Whilst impressing it leaves me with a question. In the past this horse has appeared travelling well only to shirk the issue when the race became a battle. I cannot recall a Grand National winner winning on the bridle and I am unsure if this animal has the required fight and toughness to win a National. May well be a contender but I question his suitability to the long run in.
Big Fella Thanks is statistically wrong as a seven year old relatively inexperienced chaser but I could not fail to be impressed by his win in the Doncaster Chase. Doncaster is a flat track where jumping in a rhythm is key, not unlike Aintree. In the Racing Post Chase Big Fella Thanks ran an admirable staying on third and I do quite like his Aintree chance. Ladbrokes for the longest time were the biggest price on this horse and only recently joined the general industry price. This would concern me a little as it is seldom they are bold and yet incorrect in their view.
Rambling Minster was most impressive when winning the Haydock Gold Cup last time out and has an ideal racing weight. However as an eleven year old I cannot believe this is an improving unexposed horse. I feel that the day at Haydock may well have been his Grand National.
Other leading fancies include a host of players involved in last years finish. Comply or Die was a most impressive 2008 winner but has really struggled to show any form this season and unless a return to Aintree sparks life into the horse I cannot see a repeat or even anything close to one happening. Runner up King Johns Castle has been dropped a pound after last years valiant attempt. He is on the comeback trail after a long and quite serious injury and is one it may be worth keeping an eye on in the market as the day of the race nears. Snowy Morning seems to have lost the plot when jumping and the Grand National is not a race to go looking for it. Cloudy Lane was sent off close to favourite last year and finished a well beaten sixth. As a small sized animal the hurly burly and the big field may not be ideal race conditions for this McCain inmate.
Of the rest Hear The Echo is a former Irish National winner but connections were unhappy with his allocated weight and seem likely to pass on this years contest.
Garde Champetre has an ideal weight and rating and is a proven stayer as seen when winning last weeks cross county, a field Silver Birch the 2007 winner also excelled. As a JP McManus owned horse the market will advise if this one is fancied. If he takes to it Garde Champetre is a live contender.
Southern Vic has long been considered a National type by connections and they would know having previously handled Papillion. Recent form though has not been good enough to convince me and Southern Vic also failed get round on a previous visit to Aintree.
State Of Play is interesting off 10:8. Current form is clearly lacking but this horse was a one time Gold Cup second favourite. Always runs best after a break the freely available 25/1 holds some appeal.
My Will is my main fancy of the leading market fancies and having backed him at 25/1 I was thrilled with his Gold Cup run. He is the classiest runner in the contest set to carry less than 11:0.
My other bet struck at 40/1 and still freely available at 33/1 is Kilbeggan Blade. Tom George has been brilliant in his handling of several chasers this season and the National has long been the plan for this fellow. After winning impressively over 3m 5f at Sandown he ha since been campaigned over hurdles ( another classic Grand National indicator). Kilbeggan Blade is a much improved chaser according to connections and I feel they may be mapping out his plan for a big race assault.

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