Grand National 2011 Betting Guide, Preview & Tips
(race run April 9, 2011)

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We have done the hard bit, finding the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle double. Now for the easy bit, scouring the Grand National betting market and picking the eminently findable Aintree victor.

To some people this is a stampede straight into the slings and arrows of cruel misfortune not to mention monumental pile ups. Apparently no one with a brain ever stakes the entire mortgage payment on the Grand National, but hey you only live once.

Prices are inevitably distorted by a tsunami of random money placed by ‘once a year only’ punters who can at best be described as irrational. They often favour the only horses they have heard of – the ones that have run in the race before – and it is hard to see any of the past winners or many of the seasoned National stalwarts taking the top prize this year unless Aintree becomes a bottomless mire.

What A Friend is bound to be poor value by the day of the race simply because of his celebrity connections and his name. Despite being owned by that famous Scottish curmudgeon, Alex Ferguson, there are some positives about the horse.  Ferguson did own another good horse, Rock of Gibraltar, even if the exact nature of that ownership was disputed. So the old man with a hairdryer where his mouth should be, is not necessarily a jinx.

But, wait a minute, will he actually be that short a price on the day? I mean how many local Liverpool racegoers will back Sir Alex to win anything? The horse may be lucky to survive the paddock given how deep in enemy territory they will be.

What A Friend did run a very credible Grand National trial when a better-than-expected fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Grittar filled the same spot before landing his Grand National. So it was a run that understandably saw What A Friend’s Grand National betting odds contract. On paper, he does look a blot on the handicap as the gelding runs off a handicap mark of 156 at Aintree, yet his Gold Cup form has earned him a mark of 171 for future handicaps. That means What A Friend is carrying over a stone less weight in the National than he ought to be. The admirable Daryl Jacob, who rode the horse at Cheltenham, keeps the ride. Don’t be put off by this booking, Jacob has course form. He was fourth in the race four years ago.

It is surely an inevitability of future history that his trainer, Paul Nicholls, will win a Grand National and why not with this classy individual. He did train an Aintree Grand National winner once upon a time, anyone remember Silver Birch? Unfortunately Nicholls had outed the poor nag for a measly 20,000gns before the gelding landed the race in 2007 for talented Irish trainer Gordon Elliott.

Another Paul Nicholls’ hopeful is Niche Market, who pulled up last year but has been prepared for the race specifically this time around. Niche Market’s owner has been shouting his mouth off that his charge is the number one Grand National hope in the top trainer’s yard. He is one of the favourites in the betting, likes good ground and his chance is obvious.

Jockey Ruby Walsh’s mount in the race is always worth a look and not just because he has the choice of some of the best equine ammunition. Not only has he won the race twice but, most significantly, he also managed to get third on My Will in 2009. The following year My Will not only fell at the fourth under the perfectly competent Nick Scholfield but fell yet again, unpiloted. History suggests that the apparently unmoving Walsh, unlike many over active jump jockeys, must subtly do something that actually helps rather than hinders a horse over the National fences.

Walsh seems likely to partner Willie Mullins’ The Midnight Club, who figures very prominently in the Grand National betting. He has only ventured across from the Emerald Isle on a couple of occasions  and has done the majority of his racing on soft ground, winning his most recent start, a Grade 2 chase at Fairyhouse  on heavy. In his 17 starts over obstacles he has only fallen once – in his second run over regulation fences – and has never caused an unseat. There are never any guarantees when a horse encounters the National fences for the first time but his record suggests that he stands every chance of staying upright and staying on to the line. This ten year old has to be one for the shortlist, especially with Walsh aboard.

Don’t Push It, the mount that propelled AP McCoy to victory in the 2010 Grand National and 2011 Sports Personality of the Year, has gone up a lot in the weights.  Now an eleven year old, the J P McManus horse wasn’t impressive in his final prep run over hurdles at Cheltenham. Yes, he finished tenth rather than pulling up, as he had in the same race a year ago, but there has been little cause for optimism from his outings earlier in the season, even allowing for the fact that they were all over hurdles. In 2010 he had been placed in three of his four runs prior to the National – the three over fences – and didn’t start as joint favourite with the bookies purely because McCoy was on board.  Dont Push It lacks the class to become a dual-winner. However the record of horses that have previously performed well on the course is good.

Comply or Die should get round but is unlikely to sprout wings as a twelve year old, even though he carries just 10st 8lb this year. Hello Bud is more likely to make his jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies, happy than his followers in the Grand National betting. The oh so talented Tidal Bay is often labelled with such nomenclatures as “unreliable,” “inconsistent,” or even by the wholly ignorant, “dog.” These insults should be aimed at his trainer. Poor, abused Tidal Bay is in pain and connections should do something about it. He is so obviously uncomfortable over fences of any height that his very entry in the race should attract the attention of the animal rights brigade. It is also high time that former Welsh National winner, Dream Alliance, returned to the allotment of his youth.

McCoy certainly didn’t employ the same strategic approach when riding another JP McManus horse, Synchronised, in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter. This horse was subjected to the McCoy drive for well over a mile. Having started the 9/2 favourite in the race, he lost second place to Ballyfitz close to the finish. It was a particularly gruelling four mile contest on good to soft. Only four of the seventeen starters crossed the finishing line. Having depleted Synchronised’s reserves so thoroughly, AP dismounted immediately after the finish. Reports after the race claimed that the horse was extremely tired rather than damaged. Whatever the truth is, I would not touch Synchronised in the Grand National betting with a barge pole.

At seven years old Quinz is another horse with realistic Grand National hopes despite his relative youth. His impressive victory in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton in February suggests that he has stamina beyond his years. A French bred like Long Run, he has only fallen once in 14 starts over obstacles.

At nine years old Backstage, the French bred trained by Gordon Elliott is one of the more interesting runners.  Elliott was responsible for Silver Birch’s aforementioned 2007 win and Backstage was going well in last year’s National when he unseated his rider at the 20th, hampered by a loose horse.  He has also only fallen once and has to be a live contender, having won impressively in a couple of Irish point to points. He should also not be troubled by deeper going – what else is there in Ireland?

BIG FELLA THANKS, moved from Paul Nicholls’ yard to Ferdy Murphy and looks a serious prospect. The horse has crucial course form as he was sixth in the 2009 Grand National with Christian Williams and fourth in 2010 under Barry Geraghty. On that evidence he looks a banker for a place but with a campaign geared to the race, this might be the year he strikes.

Now a nine year old, Big Fella Thanks should have reached his prime for this race and his preparation has gone smoothly. He stayed on really well over an inadequate 2m4f at Newbury last time. That was the perfect prep race for the one that counts.

Conclusion: our Grand National betting advice

So to conclude, BIG FELLA THANKS is the tip in the Grand National betting. Back him each-way and the odds are you will enjoy a really good run for your money. BIG FELLA THANKS was sold by former-owner and general loudmouth Harry Findlay just two weeks before the National. We know fat Harry needs the money but the neurotic, pro-punting cockney might just miss out on what should have been the greatest day of his larger-than-life. Then he will really feel the world is out to get him.

See the latest Grand National Betting