Now that the Cheltenham Festival is done and dusted, the latest renewal of the Grand National is the next big feature event in the horse racing world, and the world's most famous steeplechase will go to post at 5.15pm on Saturday April 8th,.
A typically competitive field will assemble for the spectacle which stops a nation in its tracks, and everyone from seasoned punter to once-a-year bettor will have their favourite to win, whether that selection has come from hours of form-study or simply picked out of a hat during the office sweepstake.
Twelve months ago, Rule The World ran out a determined winner for trainer Mouse Morris and owner Gigginstown House Stud; but the defending champion won’t be in the line-up for this renewal, although The Last Samurai
(20/1, William Hill
) – who finished runner-up – will bid to go one better.
Kim Bailey’s charge however has more to do from a considerably higher mark than when beaten six lengths last year where he has to carry a full stone in weight more than he did there this time around; while the record of past Grand National runners returning for another crack hasn't usually cut the mustard despite the odd exception to the rule.
Rule The World won in 2016, with The Last Samurai filling the runner-up spot.
Gordon Elliott won the Grand National back in 2007 with Silver Birch, and the Irish trainer will be coming off the back of a maiden Champion Trainer crown at the Cheltenham Festival where the County Meath handler snapped the dominance of Willie Mullins in sending out seven winners across the four days.
One of those winners was Cause Of Causes, who demolished his field to win the Cross-country Chase, beating the likes of Bless The Wings and Cantlow to score by six lengths.
The nine-year old Dynaformer gelding will be hoping for good ground at Aintree come March, and the multiple Cheltenham Festival winner – he had won the Kim Muir at the 2016 Festival, and the National Hunt Chase in 2015 – looks well suited to the rigours of this race.
Sixth to Many Clouds in the 2015 Grand National, where he was arguably given too much to do behind Oliver Sherwood’s ill-fated star, that prior experience of these fearsome fences could prove invaluable, and having improved since that run he should go well if lining up in this contest.
Cheltenham Festival winners who come into this race have a poor record, but Gordon Elliott’s charge could be up to bucking that trend and he could go well in this year's renewal.
Cause Of Causes could bid to end the poor run of same-season Cheltenham winners in the Grand National.
James Moffat’s charge has completed the course on all three tries over these fences, although the Flemensfirth gelding has yet to compete in this race.
Formerly with Emma Lavelle, he has finished eighth to Oscar Time in the 2014 Becher Chase, and having moved to this current yard following a narrow defeat at Sedgefield, he came out to beat Dare To Endeavour in the 2015 renewal of that contest.
He has had just two starts since, pulled up in the Scottish Grand National behind Vicente; but he bounced back on his seasonal return to go down on his sword when beaten a short-head behind Vieux Lion Rouge.
Also a winner between the flags, he has shown bags of stamina when making most of the running prior to finishing sixth in the four-mile National Hunt Chase behind Back In Focus back in 2013; still lightly-raced for an eleven-year old, he remains one to keep onside over these obstacles, and a big run wouldn’t come as a shock despite being worse off at the weights with Vieux Lion Rouge.
Highland Lodge has completed on all three starts over the Grand National fences.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge looks an ideal sort for this race, and the 2016 RSA Chase winner has acquitted himself since that win although he’s yet to add to his tally.
The Kayf Tara gelding has been beaten on both prior starts at Aintree, and he is yet to tackle these fences; but he has shaped as if a thorough test of stamina would suit, and he produced arguably his best run since landing that Cheltenham Grade One when finding only Vieux Lion Rouge (12/1, Betfred
) too strong in the Grand National Trial at Haydock back in February.
He has also run well in the Hennessy at Newbury, finishing fifth, and that contest has usually been a good barometer for Grand National hopefuls in the past.
Having also finished third to Definitely Red (12/1, Bet365
) in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ star has a 3lbs pull at the allotted weights with his Haydock conquerer, and that may allow him to finish closer this time around if taking to this altogether different jumping test.
Second-season chasers have won the last two renewals of this contest, and on these terms he could be on the right side of the handicap to go close.
Nigel Twiston-Davies trains Blaklion, who could be a live Grand National hope.