The Grand National (4.15pm, Aintree, Saturday) is the most famous steeplechase in the world and, undoubtedly, one of the most competitive events in the racing calendar. There are some quality horses lining up for this 2013 version and narrowing down the betting tips is not easy in a typically open affair.
Willie Mullins’ nine-year-old On His Own (7/1 in the latest Grand National odds) has been a leading fancy for the Grand National since the weights were announced in February and has strengthened his position at the head of the market since his stable companion Prince De Beauchene, who had been second favourite for the race, was ruled out through injury.
With just seven career starts over fences, On His Own is inexperienced when compared with a typical Grand National winner, but was still travelling well in third place when falling at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit in last year’s race. However, he’s never won beyond 3 miles 1 furlong and was pulled up on his only other attempt beyond that distance, in the National Hunt Chase, over 4 miles, at the Cheltenham Festival in 2011.
Ted Walsh’s 10-year-old Seabass (11/1) finished third, beaten 5 lengths, behind Neptune Collonges last year on his first attempt over the National fences. That experience should stand him in good stead and he ran respectably in his two preparatory races, over hurdles and fences, at Fairyhouse in February.
His jockey Katie Walsh again attempts to become the first female rider to win the National and must have reasonable prospects of doing so, although it’s worrying that she reported “he emptied a bit on the run-in” in last year’s race, run on good going. Seabass has never won beyond 2 miles 6 furlongs over regulation fences, although he has won two point to points over 3 miles, so the combination of a 5lb rise in the weights and softer going may make him vulnerable to something with greater reserves of stamina.
Evan Williams’ 11-year-old Cappa Bleu (12/1) is 7lb better off for the 7 lengths he finished behind Seabass in last year’s race, so there promises to be very little between them this time around. Indeed, Cappa Bleu ran an excellent trial for the Grand National when staying on well to finish second, beaten 2½ lengths, by Vino Griego in the Listed Wetherbys Hamilton Insurance Chase, over 3 miles, at Ascot in February.
Vino Griego went on to finish second, beaten 1½ lengths, in the Byrne Group Plate at the Cheltenham Festival and the front two in that race pulled 12 lengths clear of the third, so the form looks rock solid. Cappa Bleu is lightly raced for an 11-year-old, but has recorded both wins under Rules on good to soft going and looks the most convincing of the market leaders.
Champion jockey Tony McCoy is likely to ride either Ted Walsh’s nine-year-old Colbert Station (12/1) or Jonjo O’Neill’s 10-year-old Sunnyhillboy (16/1), both of whom are owned by J.P. McManus, but has yet to commit to one or the other. He’s ridden Colbert Station to his last two wins, at Leopardsstown in December and Fairyhouse in February, but was quoted at 4/6 by one leading bookmaker last week to ride Sunnyhillboy.
Colbert Station earned himself a 17lb rise in the weights for beating Romanesco by 5 ½ lengths in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, but Romanesco went on to finish third, beaten 3½ lengths, in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, so the form looks solid enough. However, the weight rise, his lack of experience over fences and an absence of 62 days are enough to suggest that, with or without A.P. McCoy, the bookmakers are giving little away at his current odds.
Sunnyhill Boy, of course, lead everywhere bar the winning post in last year’s National, going down by a nose to Neptune Collonges. He ran respectably over the fixed brush hurdles at Haydock in November on his seasonal debut, but wasn’t seen again until pulled up over hurdles at Warwick in January. The distance and going are no problem for him, but he’s 10lb higher in the weights this time around, has an absence of 84 days to overcome and appears out of form. Last year, he came into the National off the back of win in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.
Gordon Elliott’s 10-year-old Chicago Grey (14/1) was in rear when brought down at the fifth fence in last year’s National, but has stamina in abundance as he demonstrated when winning the National Hunt Chase, over 4 miles, at the Cheltenham Festival in 2011. He won his first race since when popping up at 25/1 in the Grade 2 Red Mills Steeplechase at Navan in February and looks well handicapped, off a mark of 141, for a horse who was rated 151 in his heyday. However, the main problem with him is his jumping ability. He fell at Down Royal in November and blundered away his chance, not for the first time, at Cheltenham later the same month, so it’s hard to envisage him negotiating the National Course without incident.
Our Grand National Tips Verdict
The Grand National is less of a lottery than it once was, but victories for Silver Birch at 33/1 in 2007, Mon Mome at 100/1 in 2009 and Neptune Collonges at 33/1 last year show that just about anything is still possible when looking for thos Grand National tips.
Nevertheless, the higher the quality of the runners the more compressed the handicap becomes and CAPPA BLEU looks attractively weighted off a mark 2lb lower than last year. If anything, he should be better suited to the forecast good to soft going than the good going he experienced last year and looks decent value at 12/1 to go three places better.