Hadrian's Approach and Saint Are look like big prices for the 2015 Crabbie's Grand National
This year’s race could revolve around one horse; the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Shutthefrontdoor, who is the most likely mount of the retiring Tony McCoy. He’s been the springer in the ante post market – 25/1 into 8/1 currently – and he could be even shorter on the day as more punters slap their fivers and tenners on in the hope the horse can give AP the perfect send-off.
McCoy’s previous Grand National winner, Don’t Push It, was also heavily backed on the day into joint favouritism and, like Shutthefrontdoor, he was a strong stayer who had been trained for the one day. But he was far more experienced with his Aintree victory coming on his 13th chase start, whereas this year’s conveyance will be having just his seventh start over the bigger obstacles and his first look at the National fences. That’s not to say it can’t be done but it’s a serious negative and one you can do without when taking a single-figure price for what is effectively a lottery.
For evidence of that just look at the SP of the last three winners: 25/1 (last year), 66/1 and 33/1. Plus, you don’t have to go too far back to find 100/1 winner Mon Mome and it’s safe to say that none of the horses that make the final field of 40 should be discounted. Of course, certain horses will line up with better credentials than others and it’s hard to ignore the claims of the current second favourite Rocky Creek. The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old already looked a contender before winning the Betbright Chase at Kempton in February and, given the National weights had already been framed, he will effectively be 7lb well on 11st 3lb. Big chance.
The Druid’s Nephew is another to have enhanced his claims since the weight launch, winning the 3m handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and he now looks nicely treated with just 10s 9lb on his back, providing the weights don’t rise. The way he was staying on when second to Sam Winner over almost 3m4f at Cheltenham in November suggests he has the necessary stamina to go with that.
Last year’s runner-up Balthazar King is another whose claims are rather obvious and he will be a fresher horse this time around having not raced since winning over Cheltenham’s cross-country course in November. But they are both priced accordingly and, at this stage, it could be worth siding with a couple of longer-priced runners in the hope they will shorten between now and the race.
It’s hard to believe that Nicky Henderson has yet to win the race given he’s been at the top of his profession for so long, but in HADRIAN’S APPROACH he may have the horse to finally break his duck after several near-misses. The eight-year-old is capable of high class form at his very best, as he showed when winning last year’s bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last April, and his novice form behind the likes of Dynaste and Lord Windermere also looks pretty good.
Yes, most of his best form has been right-handed but he has won the other way round at Newbury and, more importantly, that Sandown win showed he stays 3m6f doing handsprings and he can handle big fields – two very useful attributes. He wants good ground ideally, which seems unlikely, but a bit of cut would be fine and if he makes it there in one piece, I can see him going off half his current odds of 40/1 with bet365, who are “non-runner no-bet.”
The other horse that needs backing now is SAINT ARE, who has always struck me as a horse who would take to the the unique challenge. His trainer Tom George shares that opinion, saying of the nine-year-old: “He’s easily the best chance I’ve had in the race and ticks a lot of boxes as he’s a Grade 1 winner and so has that touch of class, loves Aintree and is an out-and-out stayer. He’s got the perfect racing weight [10st 6lb) and the National has always been the plan.”
That’s a ringing endorsement and he’s not wrong about the horse loving Aintree as his form figures there read 1219F3. The unplaced effort came in the 2013 National won by Aurora’s Encore but he was a relative baby then aged just seven, and he encouragingly bounced back to winnings ways when hacking up at Catterick on his latest start. Again, I can’t believe he will be as big as 33/1 on the day.