GRAND NATIONAL: pinsticker's A-Z guide to all the runners at Aintree
It's the race where we all have a flutter and try to find the winner. Or, at the very least, where we all have a go via the sweep at work or at our local pub and club.
Yes, it’s time for the Grand National again on Saturday. Sponsored by Randox Health and worth £1 million in prize money. Forty horses, 30 unique fences, more than four miles and a breathtaking spectacle, to be shown live from Aintree on ITV at 5.15 pm.
To help you make your pick, or find out whether you’ve drawn one with a chance, here’s my A-Z pinsticker’s guide to all the runners declared on Monday, complete with best odds at the time of writing. Scroll down to the bottom, and you’ll also find my verdict and how my crystal ball reckons the race will pan out.
A smart chaser in his heyday when he regularly tackled top-class races and was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2014 before finishing a close second in a Grade One at Aintree the following year. However, David Pipe’s 11yo unseated his rider in last season’s National and although he’s rated a stone lower than his peak, he has been pulled up on his last three starts.
BISHOPS ROAD (66/1)
A 9yo cast-off from the top Gigginstown House Stud operation who has improved markedly for the handling of Kerry Lee, one of four women trainers set to be represented in this year’s race. A real mudlark, he won two big prizes last season, including a National Trial, but has struggled since shooting up the weights and unseated his jockey at the first when previously trying these fences.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who sent out Earth Summit to win the 1998 National and Bindaree four years later, is on record as saying this 8yo will make it a hat-trick. Very useful and very game, he landed the RSA Chase for novices at last season’s Cheltenham Festival and was a fine second in the key Grand National trial at Haydock last time out on which form he is conceivably well-handicapped, off 11st 2lb. Not the biggest but usually a safe jumper and although regular rider Ryan Hatch is out injured, his stand-in, Noel Fehily, has a good record around Aintree and enjoyed a terrific Festival last month.
BLESS THE WINGS (66/1)
As a hardened 12yo veteran of no fewer than six Cheltenham Festivals, Gordon Elliott’s 12yo is one of the most seasoned animals in the field. His huge odds are an insult to a horse who has been a runner-up at the last three Festivals and who also finished second in last season’s Irish Grand National. He struts his stuff mainly in cross-country races nowadays, but he does have previous experience of the Aintree fences.
CAUSE OF CAUSES (14/1)
A remarkable 9yo who has developed into something of a legend after winning at the last three Cheltenham Festivals in three different races, even though he’s actually bred to win a Derby and landed a big 2m handicap hurdle in his younger days. Trainer Gordon Elliott strongly fancies his chances, and it would be no surprise if he was backed into favourite on the day. But he’s on his highest-ever handicap mark and needs to be smuggled into his races from the rear, which didn’t work when he last tried the National two years ago and he got too far back, trailing in eighth. Don’t be concerned that he’s ridden by an amateur, however. Jamie Codd is one of the best in the business.
COCKTAILS AT DAWN (80/1)
The sole representative of champion-trainer-in-waiting Nicky Henderson, whose illustrious CV is still to be adorned by a Grand National triumph after 39 attempts. He’s a 9yo who was a smart prospect at one time but is unlikely to improve Henderson’s record. Not the most reliable of jumpers, he fell over these fences in the Topham Handicap Chase last season and was pulled up on his last outing at the Cheltenham Festival.
DEFINITLY RED (11/1)
Talented 8yo who has been well supported since an impressive win at Doncaster last time, days after the publication of the National weights, which means he is theoretically 10lb well in. His profile is in and out, with sparkling efforts sitting alongside disappointing ones on the biggest stage, most notably at the Cheltenham Festival. I am also not sure his jumping will hold up in such a cavalry-charge of a race, although excellent dual-purpose trainer Brian Ellison says he has schooled well over specially-made Aintree fences at home. Bids to become the latest in a band of well-known winners with ‘Red’ in their names (Rum, Alligator, Marauder)
DOCTOR HARPER (66/1)
One of four probable runners for David Pipe, who sent out Comply Or Die in these same colours to win the 2008 National. He’s a 9yo who won a big handicap hurdle at Aintree three years ago and has shown ability throughout his career, dating back to his Bumper days. However, he has developed into a frustrating enigma in recent times, often failing to put his best foot forward, including when fancied at the last two Cheltenham Festivals. If the best Doctor Harper turns up, he has a squeak.
DOUBLE SHUFFLE (40/1)
As a 7yo, Tom George’s handsome chaser is bidding to become the first National winner from that age group since Bogskar in 1940. However, he has had plenty of experience and is a fine jumper. He has also improved markedly since being stepped up to long-distance trips and since he was fitted with a hood to help his concentration in races. Appropriately for a contest of this nature, he is owned by the Crossed Fingers Partnership.
DROP OUT JOE (100/1)
Most National winners had raced in the previous 50 days, so Charlie Longsdon’s 9yo would need to be a real trends-buster to take the prize on his first start since last June. A thorough stayer, he prefers genuinely Good ground and finished a fair ninth in the Scottish Grand National of 2015. But he looks high in the handicap on 11st for what he has actually achieved.
GAS LINE BOY (100/1)
An ageing stayer who was with leading trainer Philip Hobbs when falling in the 2015 National won by Many Clouds. Now with Ian Williams, he is likely to be among the early leaders, but he must improve dramatically on his last two outings, which resulted in defeat in a race confined to veterans and a thrashing in the big Grand National trial at Haydock.
Don’t be surprised to see connections of Kerry Lee’s hardy 9yo doing a rain dance in the streets of Liverpool this week because his best form is unquestionably on deep, testing ground. Given such conditions, he wouldn’t be out of place in the race, especially as he has stamina to burn, and notwithstanding below-par efforts last time and in the Scottish National last year, he has been a sound and consistent performer. Interestingly, three of his five wins have come in cheekpieces or blinkers.
HIGHLAND LODGE (25/1)
A standing dish at Aintree, where he has run terrific races in the last three Becher Chases, winning it in 2015, this 11yo is flying the flag for the underdog trainers, given that he hails from the small Cumbrian yard of Jimmy Moffatt. He is one of two runners to have been bought in recent weeks by David and Patricia Thompson, who owned the 1992 National hero Party Politics, but he must somehow shrug off a handicap mark 11lb higher than when just touched off here in December.
HOUBLON DES OBEAUX (50/1)
Venetia Williams, who saddled Mon Mome to victory at odds of 100/1 in the 2009 National, is hoping to pull off a similar shock with this French-bred 10yo. He has won only once in his last 20 starts, dating back to 2013, but at his best, he was good enough to contest two Cheltenham Gold Cups and this term, he has finished third in the Welsh National and fourth in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter last month.
JUST A PAR (50/1)
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls’s 10yo reserves his best performances for the spring, having won one bet365 Gold Cup (formerly the Whitbread) at Sandown and coming within a short head of bagging another. But in between, he was a distant 15th in last season’s Aintree National when quietly fancied to make an impact, and his undoubted ability tends to be betrayed by his inconsistency and occasional recalcitrance.
KNOCK HOUSE (66/1)
The flagbearer of the legendary McCain operation responsible for the great Red Rum under Ginger and two more National winners, Amberleigh House (2004) and Ballabriggs (2011), under son Donald. The 8yo is not in the same league as that trio and is most unlikely to mark the 40th anniversary of Rummy’s record-breaking third triumph. He seems to have lost his way this season after emerging as a useful novice when trained by Mick Channon and twice running well in handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival.
LA VATICANE (100/1)
An 8yo owned by Russian art collector Maria Bukhtoyarova and aiming to become the first mare to win the Grand National since Nickel Coin way back in 1951. She has ability and handled the Aintree fences well enough when fifth in a race there in December. But she struggles to stay 3m, never mind 4m-plus, and did not distinguish herself on her last outing at Cheltenham last month.
LE MERCUREY (50/1)
One of three challengers gunning to become the first 7yo winner for 77 years and warrants his place in the line-up after getting within four lengths of Cheltenham Gold Cup third Native River and also ill-fated ex-National hero Many Clouds in a couple of runs this term. However, he has shown little indication that he will stay this marathon trip to provide second Aintree successes for his trainer, Paul Nicholls, and his owners, David and Patricia Thompson.
LORD WINDERMERE (50/1)
Not many winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup have started the National at such inflated odds. But this 11yo, trained by Jim Culloty, the jockey of the chasing superstar, Best Mate, has deteriorated drastically since his 2014 glory day at Prestbury Park, failing to win a race since. He also failed to complete in the National of two years ago and the only things going for him on Saturday are his handicap mark, which has plummetted 18lb, and his new partner in the saddle, Leighton Aspell, who has won two of the last three Nationals.
Burst on to the scene as a novice for Willie Mullins last season when just behind the subsequent Gold Cup second and third, Minella Rocco and Native River, in the four-miler at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. However, he took a tumble in the Scottish National a month later and has not been the same horse since for his new trainer, Noel Meade, including when returning to the Festival last month.
MORE OF THAT (16/1)
High-class but fragile 9yo who would be something to bet on if he could return to the form that earned him the Grade One Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham three years ago when he became the only horse to beat the wonderful Annie Power in a race the mare has completed. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill and owner JP McManus, the combination responsible for AP McCoy’s only National winner, Don’t Push It, in 2010, are exuding confidence. Undoubtedly, he has not been as effective over fences and has been prone to breaking blood vessels, but his efforts in Grade One company on his last two starts, including in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, offer encouragement that he might be well handicapped for Saturday’s race, even off 11st 6lb. He is also the mount of Barry Geraghty, who boasts a National record of one win, one third and three fourths from 16 rides.
O’FAOLAINS BOY (66/1)
If only Rebecca Curtis’s 10yo could rediscover his crack form as a novice in 2014 when he counted big guns Many Clouds and Smad Place among his scalps en route to victory in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Sadly, he has been plagued by injury since, including going lame of the morning of last year’s National, for which he was strongly fancied, and two runs this term have offered little hope for Saturday. The last throw of the dice by connections has been to give him a wind operation.
ONE FOR ARTHUR (14/1)
Aiming to become the first Scottish-trained winner since Rubstic in 1979, this 8yo is the pride and joy of the stable of Lucinda Russell, whose partner is Peter Scudamore, the eight-times champion jockey. Scudamore never rode a National winner, but his dad, Michael, did, on Oxo in 1959, and also holds the record for contesting 16 consecutive renewals. A classy, improving stayer, who jumped the Aintree fences with aplomb in the Becher Chase in December, the son of Milan has a golden chance of embroidering the family annals, even though he has gone up 11lb for bolting up with eyecatching elan at Warwick last time. It’s just a shade worrying that his jockey, Derek Fox, has only just been passed fit to ride after an injury lay-off, especially as he’s never ridden in the race before.
One of several runners for owner JP McManus, Charlie Longsdon’s 9yo was well beaten in both last year’s National, when the ground was too Soft, and the 2014 Irish equivalent, when it was all too much for a novice. But he has always been a highly regarded sort and arrives at Aintree this time round on a feasible handicap mark based on an excellent second off top weight on his seasonal re-appearance in one of the Cheltenham Festival’s competitive handicaps last month. Jockey Aidan Coleman is in the form of his life.
PERFECT CANDIDATE (50/1)
Solid, honest, consistent 10yo handicapper sure to do his under-rated trainer, Fergal O’Brien, proud. However, his progress, mainly in races at Cheltenham, which he handles particularly well, means he now tackles easily the biggest test of his life off a career-high handicap mark, and although he made all to land a veterans’ race at Exeter last time, it will be a surprise if he is able to to defy it.
PLEASANT COMPANY (16/1)
The word from Ireland is that the revered combination of jockey Ruby Walsh, who has two wins and four places from 12 National rides, and trainer Willie Mullins are ready to roll with this lightly-raced 9yo, who has improved considerably since flopping at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. After only six starts over fences, his lack of nous might be exposed, but he was a clever winner last time of the Bobbyjo Chase, which is a tried and tested prep race for previous Irish-trained winners of this race.
RAZ DE MAREE (40/1)
Admirable 12yo Irish-trained veteran who boasts more experience of Nationals than any other horse in the field, having won the Cork National twice and the Munster National at Limerick and chased home one of the stars of the Jumps season, Native River, in the Welsh National at Chepstow over Christmas. He also tried his luck in this race in 2014, staying on to finish a distant eighth, but he’s now 6lbs higher in the weights, as well as three years older.
ROI DES FRANCS (66/1)
A former smart staying novice hurdler and novice chaser who twice ran respectably at the Cheltenham Festival for his previous trainer, Willie Mullins. His progress appeared to have stalled after switching to Gordon Elliott’s yard until a convincing victory last time. One of several runners for last year’s winning owners, Gigginstown House Stud, the 8yo harbours definite ability in his locker, but he does appear to be handicapped to the hilt off 11st 3lb.
REGAL ENCORE (66/1)
The reputation of Anthony Honeyball’s stable star has always preceded reality, and the 9yo has the most curious, inconsistent, profile. He’s been pulled up six times in his last nine outings and yet he has performed very well on the other three, most notably when landing a big pot at Ascot just before Christmas. Unlike then, he won’t benefit on Saturday from the kid-glove assistance in the saddle of the brilliant Barry Geraghty, but Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning pilot, Robbie Power, is no mean replacement.
ROGUE ANGEL (33/1)
One of two horses to represent the same connections of trainer Mouse Morris and owners the Gigginstown House Stud as last year’s winner, Rule The World. He’s unlikely to stage a repeat on the evidence of his form this season, which includes a tame effort over the Aintree fences just before Christmas. But he did gamely make most of the running to land the Irish Grand National 12 months ago, off a handicap mark 8lbs lower than Saturday, having won the Kerry equivalent at Listowel earlier in the season. As the saying goes, he stays all day, and he will have the considerable assistance in the saddle of Gigginstown’s number one jockey, Bryan Cooper.
SAINT ARE (40/1)
A big staying race at Aintree wouldn’t be the same without Tom George’s 11yo. This is his fourth crack at the National, having finished runner-up to Many Clouds in 2015, the seventh time he has tackled the unique fences and his 12th run at the track in total. Age is catching up with him, but he has been running respectably in veterans’ races, and Irish shrewdie Davy Russell is an interesting jockey booking.
SAPHIR DU RHEU (20/1)
The leading hope of champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who saddled Neptune Collonges to the narrowest win (a nose) in National history five years ago. Has always been highly regarded, particularly as a top-notch staying hurdler a couple of seasons ago, and although he has struggled to fulfil his potential over fences, few could crab his fine fifth place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month. As a result of that, he looks well handicapped here, even off 11st 5lb, but a serious question-mark concerns his stamina for such a marathon test.
SHANTOU FLYER (66/1)
Emerged as a promising novice in Ireland last season, and has continued to make his mark since transferring to the yard of Rebecca Curtis, who is hoping to saddle the first Welsh-trained winner since 1905. But most of his best form has come at around 2m4f, including when he chased home the redoubtable Cue Card at Ascot last time, and both his lofty weight of 11st 5lb and age (seven) are further negatives.
STELLAR NOTION (66/1)
Scopy 9yo who has taken time to fill his sizeable frame and, therefore, remains lightly-raced for his age. But his last three runs, including when runner-up in the Munster National at Limerick, have underlined his ability and jumping prowess. It’s possible his keen-going manner will drain his stamina on the second circuit but trainer Henry De Bromhead, who is enjoying a marvellous season, is quietly confident he can outrun his odds for big-spending owner Roger Brookhouse and jockey David Mullins, who won last year’s National at the age of just 19.
TENOR NIVERNAIS (40/1)
Glamorous handler Venetia Williams, who is is the only woman to have trained a National winner and also ridden in the race, having fallen at Becher’s Brook in 1988, fires two bullets at this year’s National. This consistent 10yo has a touch of class and finds himself on the same handicap mark as when sluicing up by 30 lengths at Ascot in February. On the downside, he does prefer lots of juice in the ground and his front-running exuberance might not stretch to 4m, despite the efforts in the plate of Liam Treadwell, who guided Williams’s Mon Mome to 100/1 glory in 2009.
THE LAST SAMURI (16/1)
A bonny, bouncy jumper who was a revelatory runner-up as an inexperienced 8yo in last year’s race when fencing magnificently, and he confirmed his liking for the Aintree obstacles when third in December’s Becher Chase. However, he faces a very different test this time under top weight and the kind of welter burden (11st 10lb) that has not been carried since Red Rum in 1973. His prep run at Doncaster last month lacked its usual zip, so it’s debatable whether his trainer, Kim Bailey, can celebrate his second National success -- 27 years after his first (Mr Frisk).
THE YOUNG MASTER (20/1)
Not since Marcus Armytage on Mr Frisk in 1990 has an amateur rider basked in Grand National glory. But no pilots, even of a professional persuasion, have a better record over the Aintree fences than this 8yo’s partner, Sam Waley-Cohen. His track CV includes SIX victories and second, fourth and fifth placings in the big race itself. Neil Mulholland’s charge has been given a deliberately quiet season with this one target in mind, but he has been given a spin over the Aintree obstacles, he shaped nicely at the Cheltenham Festival last month and he is only 2lbs higher than when winning the bet365 Gold Cup (formerly the Whitbread) at Sandown a year ago.
THUNDER AND ROSES (40/1)
If lightning is to strike twice, then Thunder might be your horse to follow in the hoofsteps of Rule The World for trainer Mouse Morris and owners Gigginstown House Stud, fronted by Michael O’Leary of Ryanair fame. The 9yo actually beat last year’s Aintree hero when landing the Irish National of 2015 and although he’s not really built on that success, he did show definite signs of a return to form two starts ago, he’s sure to stay the trip and he also has experience of these fences.
UCELLO CONTI (20/1)
Amazingly, for a horse of his talent, he has yet to win in nine starts since arriving from France at the yard of Ireland’s current top trainer, Gordon Elliott. But the 9yo won eight from 21 in his native country and has run blinders over the Aintree fences when sixth in last year’s National and fourth in December’s Becher Chase. Elliott has carefully protected his handicap mark, which is somehow the same as 2016, and if his stamina holds out, he is certain to perform well for 2012-winning jockey Daryl Jacob and for high-ranking owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
Octogenarian owner Trevor Hemmings, who has overseen three National winners in the last 12 years, looked like missing out on this year’s race until buying this 8yo trained by Paul Nicholls. On his staying form as a novice last term, when winning the Scottish National at Ayr, he would have a shout, especially as his stamina is copper-bottomed. But his disappointing form this season falls some way short of what is required. In his last three appearances, he has been beaten a combined total of 105 lengths.
VIEUX LION ROUGE (11/1)
Only four 8yos in the last 33 years have won the National, but David Pipe’s ante-post favourite ran a stormer as a 7yo last year when fading into seventh, having previously caught the eye in a hot four-miler at the Cheltenham Festival. On both occasions, he appeared not to get home, but Pipe insists he is stronger and more mature this time round, and stamina has certainly not been lacking in two polished victories this term, back over the Aintree fences in December and in a National trial at Haydock six weeks ago. The handicapper has not been able to re-assess him since that last outing, so he is effectively carrying 6lb less than he should be and he boasts an outstanding chance of giving jockey Tom Scudamore his first National triumph, 58 years after his late grandfather, Michael, booted home Oxo.
WONDERFUL CHARM (40/1)
One of five arrows Paul Nicholls is throwing at this year’s National dartboard in a bid to win his 11th champion trainer’s title, and also the mount of Katie Walsh, sister of Ruby, who is the only female jockey to have been placed in the race, when third on Seabass in 2012. The 9yo looked sure to develop into a high-class chaser three years ago, but it never quite happened and since being tailed off in last year’s National, he has been plying his trade in hunter chases, powering home into second at the Cheltenham Festival last month.
WOUNDED WARRIOR (66/1)
Wind the clock back two years and Noel Meade’s strapping young chaser looked the ideal type to mature into an Aintree horse. He thrashed Rule The World who, of course, went on to take the 2016 National, and he chased home the high-class likes of Don Poli at Cheltenham and Valseur Lido at Punchestown. Meade has retained the faith, but the manner in which the 8yo has regressed this term is making it increasingly hard for the rest of us to do so.
1 ONE FOR ARTHUR
3 THE YOUNG MASTER
4 UCELLO CONTI
5 VIEUX LION ROUGE
Best Outsiders: THUNDER AND ROSES, PENDRA and DOCTOR HARPER.
Traditionally, the National is not the domain of younger staying chasers. But there are so many smart, progressive 8yos in this year’s line-up that it is inconceivable two or three of them won’t be involved in the finish. I keep coming back to The Young Master, who has clearly been plotted up for the race, and Blaklion, who should relish the demands of a race almost sure to be truly run at a relentless gallop. However, course form counts for plenty and it doesn’t come any warmer, or more convincingly franked, than the best-ever renewal of the Becher Chase, staged over the Aintree fences in December. The winner and the fourth, Vieux Lion Rouge and Ucello Conti, are primed to run well again, but I have nagging doubts about their stamina. In another half a furlong or so that day, both would have been swamped by the strong-finishing fifth, One For Arthur, who has since unleashed a mighty, career-best performance to take the Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick. The manner in which he scythed through the field at the Midlands track is etched on my mind, and providing he’s not too gassy over the first few fences after a near three-month break, One For Arthur is the one for me.