Preview of the Grand National 2009

Ruby Walsh was in unstoppable form at Cheltenham, eclipsing Tony McCoy by seven winners to one, but the 13-time champion jockey can get his own back in the upcoming John Smith’s Grand National on Butler’s Cabin.
The nine-year-old, available at 12-1 with Blue Square and Ladbrokes for the Aintree marathon on 4 April, was also in action at Cheltenham – running a race full of promise in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase, staying on after travelling well through the race under amateur jockey Alan Berry.
McCoy has the pick of the JP McManus contingent at Aintree but it will be a surprise if he passes on linking up with Butler’s Cabin, who looked destined to play a big hand in the finish when falling at Becher’s on the second circuit in last year’s renewal.
That run came off a mark of 147 and Butler’s Cabin gets in off the same rating 12 months on and, crucially looks set to carry below 11 stone.
Only Hedgehunter has shouldered in excess of 11 stone to victory in the four-and-a-half mile marathon since 1983 and, while the weights are set to go up, they won’t rise enough to take Butler’s Cabin past 11 stone.
Jonjo O’Neill’s gelding disappointed on his first two starts this season, but those runs came on ground with plenty of give and the trainer changed tack at Kempton on Boxing Day by running Butler’s Cabin over hurdles.
An eighth place finish, beaten just over 16 lengths, hinted that a return to form was imminent and the recent Cheltenham performance looks to have put Butler’s Cabin spot on for Aintree.
Walsh, who rode Hedgehunter to victory in 2005, looks set to team up with My Will, favourite for the Grand National with most bookmakers.
The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old filled fifth place behind Kauto Star in the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup and was running on better than most at the finish.
However, you have to go back three years to find the last time My Will won a race while all but one of his seven career wins have come with cut in the ground – conditions that are unlikely at Aintree.
Butler’s Cabin’s Cheltenham conqueror Character Building looks attractively weighted but will be tackling the famous Aintree fences for the first time and also performs better when the ground is on the soft side.
Dessie Hughes’s Black Apalachi fell at the second last year but is another who cannot be dismissed lightly after a powerful performance over the National fences in the Becher Chase in November.
But it is another contender from the Emerald Isle who catches the eye. Hedgehunter’s trainer Willie Mullins was keen for Irish Invader to get into the race when he spoke at the unveiling of the Grand National weights in February.
A subsequent impressive Thurles win was a third striaght success for the eight-year-old whose jumping has improved of late and looks sure to be suited by a stamina test.
However, the race could come a year too soon for Irish Invader – but that is one phrase that cannot be associated with Tony McCoy.
After 13 Grand National failures, the 33-year-old is running out of time to land the one big race to continue to elude him but the time looks right for Butler’s Cabin to serve up a win his undoubted talent warrants.

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