We look at outsiders tips forÂ the Grand National that we recommend that you should bet each way.
There’s been a fair bit of Grand National coverage in this slot. Here you can read about what makes it so brilliant, while here is a bit about the surprisingly awful record of grey horses (not recommended reading for those of you who think the colour of a horse’s pelt is a subject undeserving of your attention). Last year, I wrote about some of the high-profile horses who have fallen at the first fence and gave some key stats.
Here’s a quick update on those stats. Don’t Push It had won over fences against 16 rivals before his National success, so 17 of the past 19 National winners have proven ability to cope with big fields (12 rivals or more). Paul Nicholls ran four more horses without success in last year’s race, taking his record to a most surprising 0/48.
Don’t Push It had also won beyond three miles, like the previous 20 winners, but he was carrying 11st 5lb, the most by any National winner since 1982. The last time a winner had more than that was 1977, when Red Rum carried 11st 8lb to his third success. It remains the case that no seven-year-old has won the National since 1940.
There are a few horses in Saturday’s race who may be thought to be up against it, judging by these stats, none more so than Quolibet. A seven-year-old, his only success (as recorded by the Racing Post) was over two miles and six furlongs and came against only eight rivals. He has fallen in three of his past six starts and was pulled up on his only run in Britain. Surely odds of 150-1 are very short indeed for such a runner.
I note that, among the market leaders, What A Friend has never beaten more than 10 rivals over fences while Quinz is a seven-year-old.
But I set no store by the Paul Nicholls stat, which is more of a curiosity than any kind of guide to what may happen in future Nationals. He campaigns his horses openly, which means they are not always well weighted when the big handicaps come along, but he will surely win it one day, especially if he keeps running three or four talented beasts each year.
By this stage, we all have fairly clear ideas about which horses we fancy to win. But it is worth taking the time to go through the final field, challenging your assumptions about each horse and asking yourself how surprising it would be, really, if it were to win.
If you find yourself newly impressed by the claims of a runner you had previously counted out, that may well be significant. You want to consider it now, rather than waiting until they’re running down to second Becher’s to find yourself thinking: “Actually, that thing has a real chance here …”
After all, your long-term views about the race are likely to centre on the market leaders, who have had this as their known target for months. There are other runners in the field whose claims have been wholly ignored by the media, horses who are sailing merrily along beneath the radar, preparing to drop a bomb on unsuspecting punters.
There are bound to be races that leave you baffled, wondering how on earth the winner has run so much better than his previous form. I never want to have that feeling after a National and to that end I have kicked around the chances of each outsider to see if, in fact, he should be among the more fancied runners.
Here’s the five at odds of 33-1 or bigger that I found most interesting.
1) Majestic Concorde 25/1 With Ladbrokes
I could see why this horse was available at 33-1 last weekend when connections were giving the impression that they might opt out of the race with this classy eight-year-old. Now that they have made their decision and he is a definite runner, I find it very surprising that a horse with such a sexy profile remains at those odds, though he is shortening with some firms.
There is no doubt about his basic speed, as he remains competitive at a high level on the Flat, being beaten just a length when fourth in the Chester Cup last May. Last summer he was third in the Galway Plate over a distance short of three miles on good ground.
Those efforts would make you worry about his stamina for four and a half miles but his latest run went a long way towards convincing me he is a Grand National type, when he won a 28-runner handicap chase over three miles on heavy going at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. He stayed on well that day, having hit the front at the fourth-last.
Yes, he has 11st 5lb, which is as much as any National winner since 1977, and he’s also younger than most winners of the race. But the going will be no worse than good to soft, it seems, meaning that his class should count and he has every chance of staying the trip.
He’s had only seven runs over fences, three of which were in the past two years, so there is the potential for that to let him down, but he appears now to be a capable jumper.
2) Grand Slam Hero 100/1 With Ladbrokes
So long as the ground isn’t watered tonight to the point where it becomes taxing, I see this 100-1 shot having some sort of chance. The winner of five of his 17 chases (and six of his 10 starts for Nigel Twiston-Davies), he is by no means a plodder and beat 15 rivals in Market Rasen’s Summer Plate last July. He won again at Ffos Las in August and is only 5lb higher in the handicap than he was that day, on a nice racing weight of 10st 7lb.
There have been hiccups, including on his recent return to Ffos Las, when he was pulled up. But that was his first start for five months and the yard were out of sorts at the time but have since returned to something like the form they were showing in the autumn.
He also managed to fall at the first in the Galway Plate and I know that even some of those close to the yard have doubts about his ability to jump round the National course. They do not, however, include the trainer, who told me the other day that the horse is a good jumper.
Well, we’ll see. He would, of course, have to put it all together in order to be competitive on Saturday but that is not beyond this talented handicapper who goes well on a decent surface. He is far from the most likely winner but he should not be counted out.
3) In Compliance 66/1 with Ladbrokes
A bit like Silver Birch, this could be a winner to which people will respond by going: “Ohhhh. He used to be really good, didn’t he?”
In Compliance is actually a Grade One winner, having won the John Durkan at the end of 2006, when he was six. Alas, injury problems restricted him to two runs, both defeats, in the next three years.
He was finally moved into handicaps last spring, running sixth in both the Byrne Group Plate at the Cheltenham Festival and in the Topham over the National fences. Both those efforts may be seen as encouraging in the context of this race if you believe that what he wanted was further than three miles.
After a gap of seven months, he returned in January and has put up four good efforts this year, all over two and a half miles or shorter. He actually managed to win at Thurles, when the going was heavy and he was wearing blinkers for the first time.
Dessie Hughes has left those off this time because, as he told me: “He’ll need to see.” He’ll wear cheekpieces, which he has worn twice before, unseating once and then finishing third over a short trip on fast ground.
He’s had such a low strike-rate in recent years that any kind of poor run would be no surprise at all. But he seems to retain enough of his ability to get involved if he turns up in good nick and takes to the race. He’s 66-1 but is also joint-fourth in Timeform’s ratings for the race.
4) Comply Or Die 50/1 With Ladbrokes
Speaking of low strike-rates, Comply Or Die has not won since the 2008 Grand National, when he beat King Johns Castle by four lengths. This is not completely surprising. He went flying up the ratings for that effort and he would hardly be the first horse to be uninspired by normal courses after running well around Aintree.
He was second to Mon Mome in the 2009 race under 11st 6lb, an excellent effort, but was stuffed in 12th place last year with one pound less to carry. That sort of decline would not normally be followed by a return to form.
But he has only 10st 8lb to carry this time, a manageable burden for the first time since he won the race. His form this season is hardly exciting but he showed enough at Warwick in January, when he led to the third-last, to suggest that he can still get involved when things fall right for him.
It’s hard to see him winning again but he’s 50-1 and that seems too big for a horse who has shown himself so suited to this test. It is not beyond him to get placed again.
5) Surface To Air 66/1 with Ladbrokes
You rarely get offered 66-1 about a horse who has won three of his past four races. The explanation is that Surface To Air has spent almost three years on the sidelines with injury since those wins, the most recent of which came in Uttoxeter’s Summer National in June 2008.
He finally made his comeback in a hurdle race at Market Rasen last month, when he finished tailed off. It was a disappointing effort, even for a prep run.
But if Chris Bealby has managed to get him to peak fitness, this 10-year-old has the ability to get involved off a rating only 8lb higher than the one from which he achieved his latest win. Backing him requires a total leap of faith on the issues of his fitness and how much ability he retains but my feeling is that 80-1 overstates the problems facing him.
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