Let’s just start off by saying that Cheltenham was decent enough in terms of horse racing tipping, I usually do have a decent festival because it’s simply a meeting where the best horses take part in the best races and so there’s a lot more consistency involved than looking at something like a Class 7 Maiden on the all weather. Although the latter doesn’t have the danger of falling at hurdles to contend with it’s surprising how much easier it is to find a winner when horses perform to their levels over jumps in the elite races.
Such is the reason why I probably couldn’t sustain a successful blog on horse racing over the course of 12 months. There’s far too many inconsistencies away from the big occasions (especially Cheltenham) which means that day in, day out, there’s a lot of dud races which can throw up winning unknowns from everywhere, or a less than impressive runner can suddenly find class 1 form in a class 3 race, so they are probably best left alone, and so we get down to the race which sees the most money spent on it during the calendar year, the one that every jockey wants to win, and allegedly the only one where all of them gather round at the start of the race and wish each other luck, yes my friends, it is of course the John Smith’s Grand National!
Such is the enormacity (is that even a word) of this race that it would be hard for me to ignore at least chucking my two cents (or 3 pennies at the current exchange rate) worth of information, and in good old fashion I have managed to whittle the field down (Tim Vine style) into a shorter list of runners which should outperform the rest, and then it’s simply a matter of picking out the best of these to go on and win the race. (Remember guys, it worked well enough for Cheltenham). My specially adapted method of finding those winners (believe me, it’s very much in depth) has given me a short list of 12, and for a race sponsored by one of the North’s finest, I can find no better nickname for them than “The Bitter Dozen”…
And so without further ado, here, in descending order in terms of strength, are the ones to watch for the Grand National.
12 – Chicago Grey (14/1) – (Trained by Gordon Elliott)
Last year Chicago Grey fell at the fifth fence in the Grand National, but trainer Gordon Elliott will be hoping the good form he has had over in Ireland this week will carry over to Aintree, however, Thursday was a difficult day for him as both entrants in Liverpool failed to place and 5/6 favourite Toner D’Oudairies only managed second in the opener at Thurles.
Chicago Grey has suffered from breathing problems over the past 12 months, but a 2 1/2 length victory at Navan when a 25/1 outsider in a four runner field in mid-February was a big win for him coming into this race and another decent run is expected from him here and thus he is expected to be Elliott’s shortest price of his four potential entrants in this year’s big race. Although the breathing difficulties does suggest that the 10 year old may be worth leaving out of bets given that his latest victory was his first since March 2011.
11 – Cappa Bleu (12/1) (Trained by Evan Williams & Ridden by Paul Moloney)
Last year Cappa Bleu managed to take 4th place in the Grand National and has been there or thereabouts in his last 5 outings since winning at Haydock back in November 2011. In fact he has finished 3rd or better in 7 of his 9 starts in chases and has at least placed in 7 of 8 times when Paul Moloney has taken to the saddle. It looks set to be yet another year where the 11 year old could be a challenger, and is definitely one to consider for at least a place claim, but there’s potentially stronger entrants in this year’s National. It could be interesting to see how Evan’s other two entrants prior to the National perform (Prima Porta 4:50 Friday & Mr Moss 3:25 Saturday) before deciding on whether or not Cappa Bleu has it in him to improve on his finish from last year
10 – Roberto Goldback (33/1) (Trained by Nicky Henderson & Ridden by Barry Geraghty)
I cannot lie here, despite my method making Roberto Goldback the 10th strongest entrant in the National, I really fancy the Henderson entrant to perform strongly in the National this year, and I also funny expect its SP to be a lot shorter than 33/1.
Last year Barry Geraghty took the mount on Shakalakaboomboom, who was 25/1 on the Friday morning before the race and eventually headed off as an 8/1 joint favourite, looked strong when leading 4 fences out, but quickly faded away to finish 9th. Henderson’s only entry in this year’s National is this Roberto Goldback and Barry Geraghty has once again headed into Aintree in decent enough form, winning the Arkle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham this year for Henderson, as well as winning the Novices’ Chase on the opening day of the festival on 6/5 favourite Captain Chris, and finishing 2nd on 20/1 shot Tanks For That. He is booked for 8 rides prior to the National, and should he manage to land a couple of winners then suddenly that 33/1 will fall once more as punters will be hoping the dream team can keep up their winning ways.
In truth, Roberto Goldback isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, only 2 wins from his last 23 outings since February 2010 would make him well worth opposing, but the Henderson factor could be just enough of an encouragement for a speculative punt prior to the big race day when his odds could drop pretty sharply before the race finally gets underway.
9 – Big Fella Thanks (40/1) (Trained by Tom George & Ridden by Denis O’Regan)
Tom George trained Big Fella Thanks is turning into somewhat of an Aintree veteran, he had three attempts at winning the National in 2009, 2010 & 2011 but didn’t manage to finish better than 4th, and following an absence from the festival last year the 11 year old returns for a fourth time to try and claim the spoils.
In fairness though his form has been pretty decent since his return from hiatus in October 2012, he managed to win at Wincanton at the start of the year, and also placed at Newbury last month and here in December, these followed on from him unseating rider Paddy Brennan on his return here in October where he was looking like he could have been a potential threat.
The real unknown here is how well Denis O’Regan will do on the saddle for the first time but one thing can’t be ignored and that is his price, 40/1 for an entrant that is pretty consistent looks to be far too high and he is definitely one to consider to at least match the performance of 2010 when Barry Geraghty guided him to his best finish in this race.
8 – Quel Esprit (50/1) (Trained by Willie Mullins & Ridden by Paul Townend)
Last year Quel Espirit managed to get the better of Roberto Goldback when winning at Leopardstown in February last year and he will be happy that he has managed to avoid falling since making a habit of hitting the floor a couple of years back, a period that saw him fall 3 times and get brought down in 6 outings. He pulled off a hat-trick over in Ireland last year, and has won 5 out of 7 times under the ride of Paul Townend and should he stay on his feet then there’s no reason why he cannot fight for a place in the winner’s enclosure here
7 – Rare Bob (22/1) (Trained by Dessie Hughes & Ridden by Bryan Cooper)
Rare Bob isn’t exactly the most convincing of entrants in this year’s National, but still has claims based if he can rediscover his best form from 2009 where he claimed three top level victories over in Ireland. He managed a decent third in Ireland last month amongst a 17 runner field which bodes him well going into the National, however, looking back on his better performances it is quite evident that he much prefers the softer ground and would require overnight rain in order to bolster any chance he has of winning the National. Jockey Bryan Cooper is yet to steer him to victory, but it is still difficult to discount him especially when at his best.
6 – Seabass (10/1) (Trained by T M Walsh & Ridden by Katie Walsh)
Last year Katie Walsh guided Seabass to an impressive third placed finish in the National, but it was nearly a whole different story as she almost succeeded in her bid to be the first female jockey to win the Grand National as she led coming over the last fence. Had Seabass maintained his stamina then it probably would have ended better for Katie and father Ted Walsh, but sadly Seabass faded away in the closing stages to leave her heartbroken.
This year Katie will be hoping to have learnt from that experience and will probably push her mount a lot less vigorously during the earlier part of the race to hopefully maintain some stamina during the closing stages. Form is difficult to ignore, falling in 2010 is the only time in 13 outings that Seabass has missed out on the top 3 placings in a race, and prior to the third placed finish in last year’s National he had won 7 straight outings, he has only been seen twice since then, finishing 2nd and 3rd over at Fairyhouse, but if he can find his winning form once more then it is hard to look past Katie Walsh making history, the only real problem being whether or not her horse can last the distance.
5 – Ballabriggs (20/1) (Trained by Donald McCain & Ridden by Jason Maguire)
It was back in 2011 when Ballabriggs brought jubilation to local connections by giving trainer Donald McCain his first Grand National winner, following in his father Ginger’s success who won the National four times as a trainer, picking up three of those successes with the legendary Red Rum. Ballabriggs is not the youngest of entrants at 12 years old, but Donald will be hoping that he can at least set himself up to emulate his father’s success by picking up a second winner for himself, jockey Jason Maguire, and Ballabriggs.
Last year he valiantly fought back to finish 6th after being hit with a pretty large penalty for his success the previous year, and this year he is back up to a decent weight of 11 stone 4, just 2 pounds lower than he was when he won in 2011 and at a similar mark to that which saw him win 5 out of 6 races in the build up to that success. Opposing his claims is the fact that he hasn’t been close to claiming success since that incredible day, but never count off a returning winner and if he can emulate the same performance of the last couple of years then, with weighting now back in his favour, there is every chance that he can give the locals something to cheer about once more.
4 – Joncol (50/1) (Trained by Paul Nolan & Ridden by Robbie Power)
Joncol definitely has the ability to win the National, he has won Class 1 races before now, and has won over this distance before now, but there are a few major concerns about his chances. Firstly he hasn’t raced in a field larger than 12 runners since 2008, and has never raced against more than 16 opponents, but on the other side he has won on all three of his races with 16 or more runners, which could suggest that he much prefers the larger fields and has the mentality to use that to his advantage here. Robbie Power is yet to taste success with him and it may prove too much of a challenge for him, especially as he has yet to race anywhere other than Ireland, he has had past jumping issues, but according to trainer Paul Nolan he has been checked over and is close enough to being at full health, if he really is set for better things than he has shown in the past then there’s definitely a chance we could see another decent priced winner in the Grand National.
3 – Forpaddydeplasterer (66/1) (Trained by Thomas Cooper & Ridden by Andrew McNamara)
On the subject of potential big priced winners, the largest priced of the ‘Bitter Dozen’ is 11 year old Forpaddydeplasterer. At 66/1 he is not expected to challenge for the honours, but it is hard to ignore the fact that despite his poor form of only winning 3 times over fences the Thomas Cooper trained entrant is a past winner of the Arkle, and if he can somehow dig deep and find that form once more then there is no reason why he cannot mount a major challenge, he has been a bridesmaid many times in the past, finishing 2nd a ridiculous number of times, and Andrew McNamara will be hoping that he can prove to be the talisman needed to give Forpaddydeplasterer the boost needed to go on and land the big one when he takes to the saddle for the first time, and 66/1 for him to do that seems to be very much overpriced here.
2 – What A Friend (50/1) (Trained by Paul Nicholls & Ridden by Sam Thomas)
Fans of Manchester United are sure to be keen to support this Paul Nicholls entry which is partly owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, and despite his poor form over the past 3 years he is definitely capable of better things, and jockey Sam Thomas will be hoping to prove to be the one to bring that form back as he takes to the saddle on What A Friend for the first time since leading him to fifth at Haydock back in 2010. Sam was the main jockey during the height of his career and it will be interesting to see if the choice to revert back to him makes the difference. Knowing that What A Friend has previously finished 4th in the Gold Cup, and that Sam was able to guide him to a decent 2nd behind “The Tank” Denman back in 2009 it is well worth taking a speculative punt on the change of jockey working wonders for the team and leading to at least a place finish.
1 – Imperial Commander (16/1) (Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies & Ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies)
Imperial Commander has shown that he has definitely got the ability to win when in his comfort zone as 3 years ago he claimed the Cheltenham Gold Cup ahead of both Kauto Star and Denman in impressive fashion. Since then however his only success came as a 10/11 favourite at Haydock in 2010, having only four outings in the three years since that success. His last appearance when finishing 2nd by half a length at Cheltenham in January this year was his first appearance on a course since March 2011, and despite there being doubts over whether or not he can stay the distance it is difficult to oppose a horse that was once at the top of the British horse racing pecking order, there are doubts over whether he can win as the top weight in the field, but it is the same 11 stone 10 mark from which he triumphed in the Gold Cup and has found most of his better form.
So there we have it, take your pick from those 12 or get your parrot to help you find the winner, or if you have an octopus called Paul you could always get him to help you pluck out the winner, but for what it’s worth, I cannot ignore the calling of Imperial Commander, Big Fella Thanks and especially Roberto Goldback