Crabbie’s Grand National 4m 3 1/2f Aintree Saturday – Our e.w. selection, Saint Are, gave us a great run for our money, finishing second in last year’s renewal of the great race, at the rewarding odds of 40/1, so let’s hope we can go one better this time.
The 2015 winner Many Clouds carried 11st 9lbs to victory, the highest since Red Rum in 1974, and this year heads up the weights with 11st 10lbs. His preparation last year had been geared towards the Gold Cup ( in which he finished a well beaten 6th ), and his participation at Aintree was something of an afterthought, so this time, with his programme aimed specifically at the National can we expect a repeat? Well he did win his prep race at Kelso, a contest he was fully entitled to collect, comfortably enough in early March, but interestingly the time gap between that race and Aintree is not much different than last year’s interval between the Gold Cup and the National. This years renewal of the Aintree Spectacular is reckoned to be one of the “classiest” of recent years, at least a 3lbs better race than last year, so arguably Many Clouds needs to improve again to carry top weight to victory. Having said that he does have a lot in his favour and deserves his place at the top of the market.
Many doubters had to eat their words when Paul Nicholls’ wonderful 10yo Silviniaco Conti hosed up in the Betfair Ascot Chase in Febuary, having previously been pulled up in the King George at Kempton. This marvellous racehorse who has won eight times at Grade 1 level and amassed over £1,000,000 in prize money is certainly not finished yet, and has to be on the short list.
Ucello Conti is a half brother to the above paragon, and in the hands of master trainer Gordon Elliott, responsible for the 2007 winner, Silver Birch, also has plenty to recommend him. Previously trained in France, and a winner of over £250,000 in prize money, he won at his first attempt over the larger obstacles as a 3yo way back in 2011, and has only come to grief once in his subsequent sixteen chases. His three runs for Elliott have included a 2nd in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown and a 3rd in the Thyestes at Gowran Park showing steady progress, and earning him a rating of 149, giving him an assured place in Saturday’s line up. His trainer thinks him a “natural” for Aintree so at current odds of 33/1 is worth considering.
It must seem an eternity to trainer Kim Bailey since the glory days of 1990 and 1995 when he won the National with Mr Frisk, the Champion Hurdle with Alderbrook, and the Gold Cup with Master Oats, but perhaps with the talented 8yo The Last Samurai the good times may be here again. He was no slouch when trained by Donald McCain last year winning three of his five starts, but in the care of Mr Bailey his form hit a new high when impressively winning The Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster last time out. The Doncaster race has been a good guide in the past with three winners, Ben Nevis, Corbiere,and Amberleigh House going on to victory at Aintree. With just 10st8lbs to carry The Last Samurai looks really well treated and is short listed.
There is something in the Merseyside air that brings out the best in Saint Are as he seems to reserve his best for Aintree. A winner of a Grade1 hurdle here as a 5yo, he has also won a Class1 chase over the Mildmay course, and last years second in the National itself was outstanding. His handler, Tom George says that he is a”Spring” horse, confirmed by his recent Doncaster success. Definitely worth considering!
For a horse with such an impressive C.V. the Willie Mullins trained Sir Des Champs looks well treated with just 10st13lbs on his back. He had a great season in 2013 winning the Grade1 Hennessy Gold Cup, coming second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and winning the Punchestown equivalent. Unfortunately he was injured in the same years Lexus, and was off the course for 700 days. He reappeared last November at Thurles and seemed to have retained plenty of enthusiasm when winning easily. He has been disappointing in his two subsequent runs on very holding ground in the Lexus and Hennessy at Leopardstown but he is a horse who probably needs decent ground to show his best and may well find his ideal conditions on Saturday.
Another who returned to action after a long break is P Fahy’s 9yo Morning Assembly. Off for 20 months he reappeared at Fairyhouse in January and finishing strongly he went down by a head. He was second again at Gowran Park in Febuary and ran his best race last time when finishing 4th of 23 at the Cheltenham festival to Un Temp Pour Tout. Ridden by the shrewd Davy Russell he is worth a second look.
By the same sire Dom Alco, and in the same ownership as the 2012 winner Neptune Collonges, the Paul Nicholls trained Unioniste has possibilities. Attempting last year to be the first 7yo since Bogskar won in 1940 to collect he fell, but, as he was probably attempting the impossible anyhow with 11st 6lbs in the plate, and as this was his only lapse in twenty races, he is easily forgiven. He did his prospects no harm when finishing second to Many Clouds at Kelso last time, and this year, he is much more realistically weighted with 10st8lbs. With another year on his back he looks set to run a big race and could well tie up this years trainers championship for P.Nicholls.
Selection : The Last Samurai
E.W. : Unioniste