2017 Grand National – Main Runners Guide
It’s that time of year again folks when the ‘once-a-year’ punters come out of the woodwork and sweepstakes hit the workplace for the Aintree Grand National!
Plenty to get excited about, so to help you through the race we’ll take a look at the main runners and the horses that are sure to be popular with punters…………………….
GRAND NATIONAL TIPS – SEE OUR THREE MAIN FANCIES, PLUS THREE LIVELY OUTSIDERS
THE LAST SAMURI
Trainer: Kim Bailey
Ground: Wins on Good-to-Soft & Soft
The ‘once-a-year’ punters from last year are sure to latch onto this one as a horse they remember as running a cracker to be second in the race 12 months ago. He only got outstayed in the closing stages to go down by 6 lengths that day, but being another year older at 9 years-old then he will be a much stronger horse this time around. Of, course experience of these tricky fences, not to mention this busy meeting, are big pluses, while with just three outings this season has clearly been kept fresh for another tilt at this big prize. This season he’s run a cracker to be third to Vieux Lion Rouge here in the Becher Chase, plus was a running-on second to Definitly Red in the Grimthorpe Chase – a race he won 12 months ago before running here. So, another that ticks a lot of boxes and is sure to be popular in the betting, however, with a monster 11-10 to carry it’s going to be hard – no horse since Red Rum, who carried 12-0 in 1974, has won with such a burden. He’s also officially rated 12lbs higher than last year, so despite being a year older and potentially a stronger horse, you just feel he may have missed the boat when it comes to having such a big weight to lump round.
ONE FOR ARTHUR
Trainer: Lucinda Russell
Weight: 10-11 Ground: Wins on Soft, Good, Heavy,
This 8 year-old will be flying the flag for the north. Coming from the Perth-based Lucinda Russell yard this improving staying chaser shot to the forefront of the Grand National betting market after an eye-catching 6 lengths win in the Classic Chase at Warwick back in January. He’s been kept fresh by connections since and being that was his first try beyond 3 ½ miles there could be even more to come now upped in trip again. Another plus is that he’s already had a taster of these fences after finishing an excellent fifth behind Vieux Lion Rouge in the Becher Chase back in December. Yes, an 11lb hike up the ratings for that recent win means improvement is needed, but at 8 years-old, plus over this longer trip there should be a lot more to come. He’s been popular in the betting and once all the ‘Arthurs’ start backing him that price could drop further – he’s another of the leading fancies aged 8 though, so does have this negative age stat against him.
Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies
Age: 8 Weight: 11-1
Ground: Wins on Good, Heavy, Soft, Good-to-Soft
The Nigel Twiston-Davies camp love winning the Grand National – they’ve taken the top prize twice before with Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002) – so they certainly know what’s required. In Blaklion they’ve got a great chance of making it three. This 8 year-old is another that adds a bit of class to the race – don’t forget he landed the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016! He was also a close third in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at this meeting last season and fourth behind Thistlecrack in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle back in 2014. So, he’s got plenty of experience of this meeting, but one thing he does lack is a previous run over these fences. Having said that, he’s normally a safe jumper and since falling on just his second chase start has since completed on his next 9 runs. We recently saw him in an epic battle with another National fancy – Vieux Lion Rouge – up at Haydock in the Grand National Trial, when he eventually finished second. However, a 3lb weight pull with that horse for the 3 ¼ lengths gives him a chance of reversing that form, but does need to prove this step up again in trip is within range. On a plus, he looks to have a nice racing weight (11-0), while having won in heavy and good ground then he’s another that should be fine no matter what the underfoot conditions are. He’s sure to be a popular choice on the day, but with 23 of the last 26 winners aged 9 or older he’s got this age stat against him.
CAUSE OF CAUSES
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Ground: Wins on Good, Heavy, Good-to-Soft
This horse will be bidding to give both his owner, JP McManus, and his trainer, Gordon Elliott, their second victory in the race, and after a smooth win last time out in the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham Festival these fences should pose no threat. He’s also one of the few at the top of the betting that has previously run in this race after finishing 8th in the 2015 renewal. Yes, he was beaten 27 lengths that day, but at just 7 years-old that was a top effort – the last 7 year-old to win the Grand National was back in 1940! Now 9, he’s had two more years to strengthen-up and with 23 of the last 26 National winners aged 9 or older then he’s at the perfect age. Those against him will campaign that he seems to save his best for the Cheltenham Festival – after all, he has won at that meeting for the past three seasons. However, he’s rated just 4lbs higher than when he ran in the race in 2015, but being a stronger and wiser horse – that’s also at the top of his game – then he’d be foolish to write-off.
VIEUX LION ROUGE
Trainer: David Pipe
Ground: Wins on Good-to-Soft, Good, Soft & Heavy
The Pipe yard at Pond House have won the National twice before – once with Martin at the helm, and more recently in 2008 with son David in control. They look to have another great chance of adding to that record here with Vieux Lion Rouge, who we last saw winning the Grand National Trial up at Haydock back in February. He had Blaklion 3 ¼ lengths back in second that day, but with the runner-up having a 3lb pull then he’ll need a bit more again here. However, he seemed to have a bit up his sleeve there and relished the battle the two had up the long Haydock straight. Plus, of the pair he looks the most likely to improve again for the longer trip, while having won the Becher Chase over these fences back in December then he’s also got proven form over these tricky obstacles. He’s another that also has wins on a variety of ground, so no issues on that front. He’ll be looking to become the first horse to land both the Becher Chase and the National in the same season and with just two outings this season has clearly had this as a target all year. Looks a big player, but at 8 years-old is yet another of the leading players that will have to defy the key age trend.
Trainer: Brian Ellison
Ground: Wins on Good-to-Soft, Soft, Heavy
Another improving 8 year-old that has been popular in the ante-post market for the last few months – mainly after romping away with the Grimthorpe Chase up at Doncaster in early March. The weights for the National had already been published at that stage so you feel that, if he could, the handicapper would have hiked him up a fair bit for that victory. Therefore, with that in-mind, he looks very well-in and with just 10-11 to carry has an ideal racing weight for this gruelling test – did you know 20 of the last 26 winners had 10-12 or less in weight? He beat last year’s Grand National runner-up – The Last Samuri – that day by an easy 14 lengths and despite the second finishing strongly it could be more of the same here. Like he did last time out, Red still gets a stonking 12lbs off the Last Samuri, while the Kim Bailey-trained runner is also 12lbs higher than his second 12 months ago. Having won four of his 9 chase starts then this improving Brian Ellison-trained stayer is certainly one to consider and if he takes to the fences looks sure to play a leading role. Those willing to take him on, however, will say he’s never faced these fences before, while despite winning 4 of his 9 chase outings, he’s also unseated or fallen twice. Another of this year’s leading 8 year-olds, so has that negative trend to overcome, but once the novice punters see a lot of ‘1’s’ next to his name then there’s a strong chance he will challenge for favouritism come the big day.
MORE OF THAT
Trainer: Jonjo O’Neill
Ground: Wins on Good, Good-to-Soft, Soft
Won the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2014, but despite making a decent start to his chasing career – winning twice – hasn’t really gone onto fulfil his potential. Yes, he was also third to Blaklion in the 2016 RSA Chase at the Festival that season, however, considering he was once billed as a horse that would mop-up many a Gold Cup, he’s not one to totally give up on just yet. At 9 years-old he’s what many people see as the ideal National age, while his trainer – Jonjo O’Neill – knows a thing or two about this race, having trained the winner in 2010 (Don’t Push It). Things have, also been a lot more encouraging this season. He was in the process of running a massive race in the Irish Hennessy back in February before unseating at the last, while last time out he was beaten just under 10 lengths in sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – solid form, that certainly makes him a player. With just 8 runs over fences and 14 career outings in all, then he’s lightly-raced for a horse of his age, so there could be more to come. Those against him will look to the fact he’s yet to race over these fences, plus with 11-6 he’ll have to become only the third horse since Red Rum (1974) to win with such a burden.
SAPHIR DU RHEU
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Ground: Wins on Heavy, Good-to-Soft, Good,
Trained by the powerful Paul Nicholls camp, that took this race for the first and only time back in 2012, he adds a bit of class to the contest. It won’t be easy with 11-4 to carry, but he’s got that weight for a reason – he’s a useful chaser. With the weights coming out before his recent Cheltenham Gold Cup fifth then many will feel he’s well-in here. He’s a Grade One Novice Chase winner at Aintree back in 2015, so although he’s yet to tackle the National-style fences he’s at least experienced the hustle-and-bustle of this big meeting. Having won on ground ranging from heavy to good then he’s no issues on that front too. He’s certainly a big player and a decent each-way option around 20/1, but those against him might cling to the fact he’s fallen (or unseated) three times from his 13 starts over fences – which means he’ll have no room for error over these monster obstacles.
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Ground: Wins on Heavy, Soft and Good-to-Soft
At 9 years-old and with 10-12 in weight to carry then this Willie Mullins-trained runner certainly ticks a few of the key trends. The yard has taken the race once before when Hedgehunter did the business for them in 2005, while he heads here off the back of a solid win at Fairyhouse back in February. Yes, that recent victory camp in heavy ground, but he also has winning form in good-to-soft ground when trained by the Pipes. With just six career runs over fences (winning three), then there should be more to come from this lightly-raced chaser and with only two starts this season will head here a lot fresher than most. Those looking for a negative might cling to the trip as he was pulled up in the 4m race at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2016, but he made a few mistakes that day and wasn’t given a hard time after those errors. He also tackles these fences for the first time but on the whole, is a safe jumper and if he can keep out of trouble looks an interesting contender from a yard that know what’s required to win this race.
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Ground: Wins on Very Soft and Good-to-Firm
Hailing from the stable of the season so far, while 9 year-old is another of the Irish challengers that is sure to be popular. The Gordon Elliott team had a cracking Cheltenham Festival and will be hoping to carry that into Aintree and land this race for a second time. Their only win in the race came in 2007 with Silver Birch, but in this 9 year-old they look to have another decent chance. In fact, some will remember that this horse also ran in the race 12 months ago, and ran well. Yes, he was eventually beaten 37 lengths, but was actually sixth and with another year on his back should be a much stronger horse this time around. It goes without saying that previous experience is a huge plus and only has to carry 4lbs more this time. He’s also caught the eye this season with a close fourth (only beaten 2 ½ lengths) in the Becher Chase back in December so gained further experience of these fences and with Vieux Lion Rouge (1st), Highland Lodge (2nd), The Last Samuri (3rd) and One For Arthur (5th) in that race then he’s got the form with those leading lights to suggest he’s certainly one to consider.
THE YOUNG MASTER
Trainer: Neil Mulholland
Ground: Wins on Good, Good-to-Soft, Heavy,
A talented chaser that has won 4 of his 12 career outings over the bigger obstacles, including the Bet365 Gold Cup last April, and with 10-13 gets in with a nice weight. He is another, however, that is 8 years-old, so has that slightly negative age trend against him, while having fallen over these fences in the Becher Chase has a bit to prove on that score too. He’s a horse that’s won with some cut in the ground, but really as he’s got older his best form has been on quicker surfaces so any significant rain would be a slight worry. He was last seen running sixth in the Ultima Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival and despite 21 lengths back that day was staying on in the closing stages. Therefore, this longer trip (up from 3m1f last time) is a plus, while he’s also back down to the mark that saw him land the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last season – based on that must have a say, but might need to brush-up his jumping over these fences.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Ground: Wins on Good-to-Firm & Good-to-Soft,
Another that will be flying the flag for the powerful Paul Nicholls yard as with it tight between himself and Nicky Henderson in the trainers’ title then it’s easy to see why Nicholls is firing so many arrows at this race. In fact, he did a similar thing back in 2012 when Neptune Collonges gave him is only win in this race to date and in the process also landed enough prize money to leap-frog him to another trainers’ title. This horse is also owned by – Trevor Hemmings – who has landed this famous race a staggering three times – all with different horses too (Many Clouds, Ballabriggs & Hedgehunter)! Some racing fans will also know this horse is already a National winner – after landing the Scottish version last April and getting in here off the same mark the handicapper has certainly given him a chance of landing a famous double. Did you know 3 of the last 8 winner ran in the Scottish National the previous season? Those willing to take him on will notice that he’s rather lost his way since that Scottish National victory last year after falling in the Hennessy, plus finished well down the field Welsh National, SkyBet Chase and the Grand National Trial. Certainly capable, and if the rain stays away would be an interesting contender with winning form on good-to-firm – but would still need to bounce back to the form he showed a year ago.
Trainer: James Moffatt
Ground: Wins On Good-to-Soft, Heavy, Soft
Will be running in the same colours as Party Politics, who took the race in 1992, after their owners purchased this horse a few weeks ago. This 11 year-old might look a bit old, but we’ve actually seen three of the last 5 National winners aged 11 – proving that the older brigade and experience should not be overlooked in this race. This horse has plenty of experience of these fences too, after running three times in the Becher Chase – including winning the 2015 renewal. He was also runner-up in 2016, behind Vieux Lion Rouge so is yet another in the race that is closely-matched with the horses that finished in the top six in that race back in December. With just one run this season then he’ll be fresher than most and he’s a horse that tends to go well off a break so that’s not too much of a concern. However, if you do like your trends then he does fall down on quite a hefty one – ALL of the last 26 winners had raced within the last 55 days!
Trainer: Venetia Williams
Ground: Wins On Soft
The Venetia Williams yard caused one of the biggest National shocks in recent times when their Mon Mome landed the prize at a staggering 100/1 back in 2009, so they are another stable from the runners at the top half of the market that know what is needed to win this gruelling contest. We last saw this 10 year-old running second at Kelso last month, but before that was an easy 30 length winner at Ascot. He likes to lead from the front so if he’s to take this he might have to do it the hard way, but on a plus racing near the pace should keep him out of trouble. The big questions surrounding his chance would revolve around the trip and the ground. He’s yet to race beyond 3m1f, while all his wins to date have been in soft conditions. Therefore, a lot has to be taken on trust on that score, but he’s a consistent sort and could go well of those at bigger prices. His rating of 160 (last win came off 152) does, however, mean he’s got a bit more improvement to come, so can the extreme step up in trip eke that bit more out of him? We’ll see!
THUNDER AND ROSES
Trainer: Mouse Morris
Ground: All Wins On Soft/Heavy
Last year’s winning trainer – Mouse Morris – will be looking to land the race for a second time after taking the pot with Rule The World 12 months ago. Yes, Red Rum’s Ginger McCain was the last handler to win back-to-back Nationals in the 70’s, but the last stable to win two Nationals on the spin – with different horses – was Fred Winter back in 1965 and 1966. This 9 year-old gets in here with just 10-7 and is closely-matched with the Willie Mullins-trained Pleasant Company, after finishing a narrow second to that horse at Fairyhouse back in February. He’s since run down the field in the Leinster National, but is certainly worth a crack over this longer trip after winning the Irish National back in 2015 – beating none other than Rule The World! The Mouse Morris camp are a shrewd outfit so ignore this one at your peril. The only doubt at this stage would surround the ground as his best form has been with a bit of give underfoot, while despite running several solid races in defeat the fact his last win last 14 races ago and 2 years ago in that Irish National might also out some people off. All the same a lively outsider.
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