There are now just 17 days left until the world’s greatest steeplechase, the £1 million Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on April 14.
The unique sporting spectacular will attract around 100,000 racegoers to the iconic Merseyside racecourse, while the TV broadcast of the race run over an extended four-and-a-quarter miles and including 30 daunting spruce fences (see course map, above), is expected to be seen live by not less than 500 million people worldwide.
The result of the Grand National can make or break the season for many bookmakers with the volume of bets reaching staggering proportions. Not only regular racing fans, but millions of once-a-year punters select one or more of the 40 horses before sitting down for nearly 10 minutes of high octane sporting excitement. A well-backed winning favourite can leave the bookies weeping. In 2017, Scotland’s One For Arthur (14/1) attracted plenty of support before landing a famous success for trainer Lucinda Russell and jockey Derek Fox:
Last week, in our initial preview of the race, we highlighted a number of horses listed toward the top of the handicap weights – the horses who have the best form and are considered to have the most ability – while taking into account the likelihood of them performing at their best on the idiosyncratic Aintree Grand national course over such an extreme distance.
Who’s In And Who’s Out
There were 88 horses still listed as intended runners, but, as we explained, only the top 40 horses in the handicap will actually be allowed to take their chance. Since last week another declaration stage has passed and the number of contenders left in the race is down to 73. The weights have been raised 3lb as a result of the original top weights being scratched.
Among the horses taken out of the race were Definitly Red, Edwulf, and Outlander, as well as American, all of whom ran in the gruelling top-class Cheltenham Gold Cup earlier this month. Others to decline the challenge are: Sub Lieutenant, Mala Beach, Sizing Codelco, O O Seven, Traffic Fluide, Rock The Kasbah, Flying Angel Long House Hall, Carole’s Destrier, Third Intention, Wild West Wind, Morning Assembly, and Pairofbrowneyes.
If you have placed an ante-post bet on any of the above horses, unless your bookmaker was betting Non Runner-No Bet (NRNB), your bet will count as a loser.
Happily for followers of Betting.net, our three ante-post recommendations all remain in contention.
Fly Catching The Eye
Confirming our recommendations in our previous ante-post betting analysis, the shortest priced of our three Grand National horse tips today is Anibale Fly, trained in Ireland by Tony Martin and owned by legendary gambler, JP McManus. We recommended taking the 25/1 each-way on offer last week and the eight-year-old, a superb third behind Native River and Might Bite in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 16, is now a top-priced 16/1 shot with Bet365. Connections have intimated though that they are not certain to run at Aintree and are considering an alternative bid for the Irish National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday. Obviously, we hope he stays on course for the Grand National.
McManus, who won the race back in 2010 with the Sir Tony McCoy-ridden Don’t Push It, the subject of a colossal gamble, also plans to run Minella Rocco, Carlingford Lough and Regal Encore, but his Cause of Causes, runner-up to One For Arthur in last year’s Grand National, is a doubtful runner despite still featuring in the entries. He had a tough time of things in the cross country race at the Cheltenham Festival and is not expected to recover in time to take his chance.
Midnight Shines in National Prep Race
Our second selection was Scotland’s Seeyouatmidnight (recommended each-way at 33/1) who is now down to a best-priced 25/1 with Betfred. He hadn’t raced this season when we highlighted his chance, his intended return being scuppered four times due to the wintry weather. Eventually, as his horse would not qualify for Aintree without having had a prior run this season, Thomson sent Seeyouatmidnight on the long haul south to Newbury last weekend in a desperate bid to find a race for his stable star.
Although the two-mile-four-furlong Doom Bar Handicap Chase was short of his optimum trip and he was having his first start for 364 days (having undergone a breathing operation), the 10-year-old ran a fine Grand National trial. He travelled strongly close to the leaders until the fourth last fence when he began to be pushed along by Danny Cook, only fading from the second last fence due to ring rustiness. He kept on though to finish third to Tiquer, conceding the winner a massive 26lb in weight.
This was an ideal comeback and we remain very hopeful that Seeyouatmidnight will make a bold bid to become the second successive Scottish-trained Grand National winner.
Yorkshire Stayer Guaranteed a Run
Our third ante-post selection was big-race outsider I Just Know, recommended each-way at 66/1. He is now a top-priced 50/1 shot with Paddy Power. Prior to the latest declaration stage Sue Smith’s charge was No.47 in the Grand National list, but we were confident he would get a run. Following the latest scratchings, the Yorkshire-trained stayer is now up to No.34 so is guaranteed to be in the starting line-up barring any unforeseen setbacks.
Smith’s stable has gone through a relatively quiet spell over the last few weeks, although many of her horses are running creditably without managing to get their head in front. She knows exactly what it takes though to win the Grand National, her Aurora’s Encore having sprung a stunning 66/1 shock to win the 2013 Grand National under Ryan Mania.
I Just Know ran an eye-catching race over hurdles when runner-up at Uttoxeter recently and he is one of three entries for the Bingley-based veteran trainer. She may also be represented by Vintage Clouds, an excellent third in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this month, and Delusionofgrandeur, a distant fifth last time out in February’s Edinburgh National over an extended four miles. He is currently No.49 in the list, needing nine above him to come out of the race to get a run.
The three current Grand National ante-post market leaders are last year’s fourth, Blaklion, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, a top priced 12/1 with William Hill, Gordon Elliott’s Cheltenham Cross Country Chase winner Tiger Roll, a 14/1 shot with Bet365, and Willie Mullins’ Total Recall, generally a best priced 12/1, but still offered at 14/1 by Betfair.
Our next Grand National preview will be on April 9 when the five-day declarations are published, giving us a very good idea which horses will be in the final starting line up of 40 runners and the likely ground conditions.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.