Our expert takes a look at the field for the upcoming Grand National and picks out an outstanding candidate for punters to keep a close eye on next month at Aintree.
The Cheltenham Festival has been and gone, providing racing enthusiasts with its usual levels of entertainment and sporting drama. The next big Festival on National Hunt racing’s horizon is the Aintree Festival at the start of next month and when you talk about Aintree, there is one race at the forefront of everyone’s thought – the Grand National.
Last season, Rule The World produced a stunning display to keep The Last Samuri at bay and land the biggest prize pot jumps racing has to offer. The champion was sent into retirement after winning that prestigious prize, but Kim Bailey will send his gallant runner-up back to Aintree, as he looks to go one better than the finish he managed twelve months ago.
However, recent history won’t be on The Last Samuri’s side, as he looks to put his Aintree rivals to the sword. Silver Birch won the National on his second attempt back in 2007, but since then, only one winner of this mammoth handicap wasn’t a Grand National debutant and that was 100/1 shot, Mon Mome in 2009.
There are other noteworthy trends we can use to our advantage, as we painstakingly search for a potential winner in 2017.
All of the past ten winners had run at least 6 times over three mile trips, with only last year’s winner, Rule The World failing to record a win over three miles before winning the big one at Aintree. Eight of the last ten champions had previously appeared at the Cheltenham Festival and all of the last ten winners had been aged between eight and eleven.
Eight of the last ten victors had previously run at Aintree during their career, with four of those eight recording a victory in Merseyside before returning to win the National. Only 3 of the past 10 winners were rated below 142 – infact, Alvarado is the only horse in the past five years to have run his way into the places with a rating below that lofty mark.
Six of the past 10 winners had brought winning form with them to Aintree. Rule The World had finished second in the Irish Grand National, Auroras Encore finished fifth in the Betfred Classic at Warwick, Don’t Push it came home second in the BetVictor Handicap at Cheltenham and Neptune Collonges finished second in the Grand National Trial at Haydock – so bringing good seasonal form to Aintree is also very important.
Taking everything into account, there are several candidates you could argue have an excellent chance of landing this iconic prize, but there is one who makes a little more noise than any of the others.
For many purists, the highlight of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival was the celebrations of Nigel Twiston-Davies and his team when Blaklion won the RSA Chase. He and Shaneshill broke away from a chasing pack - which included fellow Grand National entrants, More Of That and Vyta Du Roc. Jumping the last, you expected Willie Mullins charge to get the better of Blaklion, but he couldn’t reel in the leader, who went on to land a maiden Grade 1 title on the biggest stage of them all.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge followed up that Festival victory last year with a good performance in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase, when he came home third behind Native River. He has failed to land a victory so far this season, but the eight-year-old has finished fifth in the Hennessy Gold Cup, third in the Rowland Meyrick and a very close second in the Grand National Trial at Haydock.
He was beaten by Definitly Red at Wetherby and by Vieux Lion Rouge on his last appearance, who are both listed ahead of him in the current Grand National betting. However, the former RSA champion was giving away a stack of weight to his victors on both those occasions, a gap which will be much narrower when they approach the line in the Grand National.
Blaklion is a proven performer of the highest calibre. He has only fallen once during his career, he’s won graded titles on all kinds of ground and has performed admirably in three big Grand National trials during the course of this season. He’s never been the biggest of horses and he doesn’t stand out in the paddock, but he has a tremendous amount of heart, tenacity and never knows when he is beaten – every ingredient you need to be a potential Grand National champion.
Aintree selection – BLAKLION