Our racing expert has sharpened his pin to come up with his five leading fancies for this year's Grand National - don't bet without reading.
Is this is the most open Grand National ever? Certainly, bookmakers are struggling to find a favourite and most are going 12/1 ‘the field’, with the top end of the market crammed with horses who either ran badly on their latest start or, in the case of Blaklion, had a desperately hard race. And then there is the ground to consider. With plenty of rain falling in the last few days on already sodden ground, the race is set to go ahead on ‘heavy’ and that makes it even more of a lottery, in my mind.
We’ve had some big-priced winners in recent times – the last six winners were priced at 33/1, 66/1, 25/1, 25/1, 33/1 and 14/1 – and another bookmaker-friendly result wouldn’t surprise in the slightest. But nonetheless it’s hard to resist a crack at finding the winner and in whittling down the 40-runner field down to a more manageable size, I’ve put a tentative line through the 11 horses carrying 11st or more. That’s not to say they can’t win and five winners in the last decade have achieved the feat, but horses lower down the weights have a superior record and it’s worth noting that ten of the first 11 home last year were beneath 11st.
So, without further ago, here are my five leading fancies for this year’s race with best current prices included. Whether you decide to follow me in or not, do remember to take a price on your selection as those greedy bookmakers have a nasty habit of squeezing the prices near the off and the last thing you want is to be on at starting price.
I JUST KNOW (Sue Smith / Danny Cook) @ 22/1 Paddy Power (1/5 odds, 126.96.36.199.5.6)
The eight-year-old warmed up for this by getting beat in a four-runner hurdles contest at Uttoxeter, but that was over an inadequate trip and this has always been the plan since his victory in the North Yorkshire Grand National run over 3m6f on soft ground at Catterick in December. He beat nothing of note on that occasion and is now much higher in the weights. However, it was the manner of his success – earned the form comments ‘made all, jumped well, ridden clear after 2 out, stayed on well’ – that marked him down as a serious National candidate, and his trainer knows what it takes to win having saddled 2013 winner Auroras Encore.
SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT (Sandy Thomson / Brian Hughes) @ 14/1 Paddy Power (1/5 odds, 188.8.131.52.5.6)
Trained near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, the ten-year-old is bidding to give Scotland back-to-back wins following the success of One For Arthur 12 months ago. It could well happen as he looks to have the right blend of class – he was considered good enough to run in the RSA as a novice – and staying power, as he displayed when third in the 2016 Scottish National. He has been lightly-raced since due to injury but he lowered the colours of Bristol De Mai on his reappearance last season and showed his current well-being when third over an inadequate 2m4f on his belated comeback this term. He has plenty of winning form on heavy too.
BAIE DES ILES (Ross O’Sullivan / Katie Walsh) @ 18/1 Coral (1/4 odds, 184.108.40.206.5)
This horse cannot possibly win according to the trends as she’s a seven-year-old (it’s been 78 years since the last winner of that age), a mare (67 years) and is the mount of a lady jockey (never happened) in Katie Walsh, who is riding for her husband (definitely a first!). However, there are serious grounds for thinking she can buck those trends: she’s not short of experience being a French-bred who jumped a fence at three, not many mares have tried this century (just six in fact) and Walsh is right up there with the best. Her form commands plenty of respect too as she won the Grand National Trial at Punchestown last season on heavy ground and finished a good third in the same race last time.
REGAL ENCORE (Anthony Honeyball / Richie McLernon) @ 33/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 220.127.116.11.5)
The ten-year-old has been called some not so nice names in the past as he’s an enigmatic character who never seems to run two races alike – he has been pulled up in seven of of his last 13 runs, winning three of those, including at Ascot last time. As that came after the weights for this race were announced, he’s 4lb well in at the weights and while a few pounds here or there is not going to make a huge difference, it does mean he has less than 11st to carry. The fact he had a sighter of these fences in last year’s race – came home in eighth place after being hunted around the back and given a lot to do – is another thing in his favour.
CHASE THE SPUD (Fergal O’Brien / Paddy Brennan) @ 40/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 18.104.22.168.5)
He’s a big outsider largely down to his two previous pulled-up efforts this term. But I’m prepared to forgive him those as he’s had a nice break since and showed what he could do when faced with an extreme stamina test in muddy conditions when landing last season’s Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter (4m11/2f, soft). He opened this season by overcoming a 9lb higher mark at Haydock in November on heavy ground before losing his way, and it could be he his the sort to go well fresh. He’ll certainly be staying on better than most and while the fancy prices have gone (he was 66/1 when I started writing this), he’s still overpriced in my mind.
All odds were correct at time of posting.