The Grand National:
There is no doubt that the Grand National has changed dramaticaly in the last decade from the helter skelter chaos of many previous years. Whilst there are still many horses running who have little or no chance the quality of entrant has improved greatly and this is reflected in the fact that since 1999 there have been 4 winners at 10-1 or under and only 3 at 20-1 or over. The two uncertain elements which make the National so compelling are what will the going be and what are the Irish up to! If the going comes up soft or, heaven forbid, heavy then a return to the crazy old slog days is on the cards as in 2001 when Red Marauder was one of only 4 finishers. The signs at present are that the springlike weather may still prevail on the 4th of April and that the ground will probably ride no softer than good.
The weather is arguably far easier to predict than the Irish challenge which, as in the past decade, will have been carefully plotted up by any number of wily Irish handlers, all of whom are well capable of securing a favourable handicap mark. After 6 Irish winners in the last 10 years the English handicapper is well aware of the Irish intention but is he as wily as they are? At the time of writing the Irish have only 6 horses prominent in the betting, one of which is the favourite BLACK APALACHI. He has won at Aintree and stays very well but he is extremely well suited by soft or heavy ground and on faster ground I could see him getting a long way behind. KING JOHN’S CASTLE, SNOWY MORNING AND WAR OF ATTRITION are all engaged but not certain runners. WAR OF ATTRITION is a class performer having won a Cheltenham Gold Cup but he is feeling his way back after a long injury break and has 11 stone 1lb to carry. At this stage the Irish horse which interests me the most is HEAR THE ECHO. This horse won the Irish National last year and is the ideal age at 8. However in his only run this season he fell at Gowran Park over 2 mile 4 furlongs which can not be said to be too encouraging in relation to his ability to jump round Aintree! Generally he is a sound jumper and has been allocated 10st 11 pounds in the National which seems a reasonable weight, and with the Irish factor and the fact that he is as low as 16-1 with a number of bookmakers this suggests that connections may have executed a “cunning plan” 20-1 is available in some places.
What of the home contingent? BUTLERS CABIN, MY WILL AND CHARACTER BUILDING all ran eye catching races at the Cheltenham Festival and BUTLERS CABIN will be backed to give Tony McCoy his first National winner. McCoy and Jonjo O’Neill always have misfortune in the National and they seem destined never to win it although they also have the option of running EXOTIC DANCER who finished third in last weeks gold cup but he would have to defy top weight of 11st 10 so may not run. Everything went perfectly for CHARACTER BUILDING and he cruised up to the leaders before quickening away. He is very classy on his day but I feel he would be unsuited by the hurly burly of the National. Last years winner COMPLY OR DIE has been completely out of form but Aintree rejuvenates some horses and he could still have a say in a defence of his crown. The Pipe stable however are not as dependable as they were under the auspices of Martin. CLOUDY LANE from the McCain stable jumps and stays but has a hefty weight to carry and that burden of 11st 2lbs will probably put paid to his chance. At this stage my idea of the winner is RAMBLING MINSTER for the Reveley stable. He has been allocated 10st 1lb and after carrying 11st to victory in the Blue Square Gold Cup at Haydock he will revel in a lower weight. He jumps well and stays and appears to act on any ground. Currently best priced at 20-1 he represents outstanding value although at the age of 11 he will not have another chance if he does not do it this year. Running plans are still uncertain for so many runners but clearly if BIG FELLA THANKS was to run from the all conquering Nicholls stable he would have a fine chance off 10 stone 7lbs. His style of racing whereby he hits a flat spot would worry me slightly as ideally you want a horse that travels kindly and can be hunted round before being asked for maximum effort.
Suggestions: Back RAMBLING MINSTER (non runner no bet)
Back HEAR THE ECHO (non runner no bet)
Back number of finishers to be less than 18 if good
Back number of finishers to be less than 10 if heavy