|1. Auroras Encore||66-1||Ryan Mania||Sue Smith|
|2. Cappa Bleu||12-1||Paul Moloney||Evan Williams|
|3. Teaforthree||10-1||Nick Scholfield||Rebecca Curtis|
|4. Oscar Time||66-1||Mr S Waley-Cohen||M M Lynch|
|5. Rare Bob||16-1||Bryan Cooper||D T Hughes|
|6. Swing Bill||80-1||Conor O’Farrell||David Pipe|
|7. Soll||33-1||Mark Grant||Jo Hughes|
|8. Tarquinius||100-1||Wilson Renwick||Gordon Elliott|
|9. Saint Are||50-1||Dougie Costello||Tim Vaughan|
|10. Always Waining||33-1||Tom O’Brien||Peter Bowen|
|11. Major Malarkey||50-1||Tom Scudamore||Nigel Twiston-Davies|
|12. Join Together||25-1||Daryl Jacob||Paul Nicholls|
|13. Seabass||11-2F||Ms K Walsh||T M Walsh|
|14. Across The Bay||40-1||Henry Brooke||Donald McCain|
|15. Balthazar King||16-1||Richard Johnson||Philip Hobbs|
|16. Quiscover Fontaine||40-1||D J Casey||W P Mullins|
|17. Any Currency||100-1||Ian Popham||Martin Keighley|
The 2013 renewal of the Grand National could prove to be pivotal in the great race’s long and illustrious history.
The contest’s organisers were potentially in a no win situation as the 40 strong field headed to post on perfect jumping ground – any more equine casualties could well have spelt the end of the road for this great sporting institution, whilst the changes made to the course to try to combat that threat themselves threatened to take away the unique challenge that has made the race so compelling in the first place.
Mercifully, an almost impossible balance to achieve might just have been struck, with all of the horses coming home safe and sound after a thrilling race, which was won by a long shot to prove the National still retains its crucial X factor.
For the first time, all of the field was still intact after jumping Becher’s Brook on the first circuit and the first casualties came at the Canal Turn (fence 8) where three jockeys were unseated. However, the lack of incident over the opening obstacles was far from a negative and the race wasn’t emasculated as a result – in fact there can have been few more thrilling sights since the race was first run in 1829 than so many horses tackling the sport’s most legendary obstacles in unison.
The first horse to actually hit the deck was Tatenan at the 12th and the only other faller on the first circuit was the well backed Colbert Station who lost Tony McCoy at the Chair.
By the time the field crossed the Melling Road to head back out into the country for their second lap the eventual shock winner, AURORA’S ENCORE, who was allowed to go off at the mammoth price of 66/1 by punters, had crept on to the heels of the leaders. Indeed, Sue Smith’s charge was fourth jumping Becher’s for the second time and turning for home, and the second last obstacle, he had moved up to third. However, he didn’t look to be travelling quite as well as the two in front of him – Oscar Time and Teaforthree, but he responded to pressure the best of the trio and showed a decent turn of foot after nearly four miles to take it up at the last, from which point the result was never in doubt.
The ground was obviously the key to unlocking this level of performance from the winner, who has often run his best races in the spring (as evidenced by his fine second in the Scottish National last April) and with so many finishers he can hardly be called a lucky winner.
Teaforthree (3rd) and Oscar Time (4th), who had both been in the front line for much of the race, had nothing left to give in the closing stages and faded into third and fourth respectively, behind Cappa Bleu (2nd), who followed up last year’s fourth with another fine effort here, again doing his best work at the death.
His exploits, coupled with those of stablemate State Of Play, have led to a remarkable run in the race for Evan Williams and owners Mr & Mrs Trucker, with all three desperately deserving of a win in the great contest.
Presumably, Cappa Bleu will be back next year to try to achieve that elusive success, as will Teaforthree, who was giving plenty of weight to all those who finished the race around him. It is hard to conclude that his stamina gave way given his achievements over marathon trips previously, but he may be suited by a more patient ride in 2014.
Cappa Bleu and Oscar Time underlined again the worth of previous form over these fences, with the latter having shown little since being runner up to Ballybriggs in 2011. He clearly relished both the return here and the better underfoot conditions, leading to him running a mighty race at a mighty price.
Rare Bob (5th) was another to be staying on well at the end, but he could never quite land a blow and may have been given a bit too much to do – albeit that it is a fine line between preserving a horse’s stamina over this trip and keeping him in touch with the leaders.
He is another Irish challenger who seemed to enjoy the better ground than he usually races on in his homeland, although a repeat effort next season won’t be easy given that he’ll be 12 by then.
That said, he had a 12 year old, Oscar Time, immediately in front of him at the line and another 12 year old, Swing Bill (6th) immediately behind him.
The better ground here enabled Swing Bill’s stamina to last out longer into the race than it did last year and he travelled as well as anything on the run from Valentine’s to the third last. He is a really reliable sort over these fences and gave his young rider a tremendous spin.
The giant chaser Soll (7th) unsurprisingly negotiated the obstacles well to finish seventh. He is one who may have preferred some more give in the ground and he should be back for more next year, although he may need to climb the weights a bit to be sure of a run.
Anyone who believes the revamped National will become too predictable only need look at the starting prices of the first 10 horses home to be forced into a rethink. Those odds were 66/1, 12/1, 10/1, 66/1, 16/1, 80/1, 33/1, 100/1, 50/1 and 33/1.
The 100/1 shot was Tarquininus (8th) who had been in fine form at the turn of the year and suffered a hike in the weights as a result. His effort was particularly surprising given that most of his wins have been on heavy ground.
Saint Are (9th) was a never nearer 9th and there was a bit of a gap back to the remainder, with very few horses able to make up ground from the back on the final circuit.
By contrast, Across The Bay (14th) led the field from the 7th until about four out, when he weakened quickly to finished 14th. It was a brave effort for a yard that has such a great history in this race and just in front of him was Seabass (13th) who went off favourite in the end, but who also lost a lot of places over the final few fences and finished very tired. He doesn’t quite seem to have the stamina for this unique test.
Of those who failed to complete, former Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander seemed to enjoy himself for a while before fading into an honourable retirement – he was pulled up before Becher’s second time.
Well fancied Irish pair Chicago Grey and On His Own could never land a blow and both were well out of contention when bowing out on the second circuit. The latter took a particularly nasty looking fall, but was thankfully quickly on his feet.
The occasion failed to spark a revival from the enigmatic What A Friend, whilst former winner Ballybriggs and former runner up Sunnyhillboy never looked likely to recreate past glories here, with both tailed off when exiting the race.
Below is our 2013 Grand National race preview and selections, from which we managed to pick the 2nd (12-1), 5th (22-1) and 7th (33-1) placed horses.
2013 Preview and Tips
Imperial Commander: The 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner is undoubtedly the class horse in the line-up for the 2013 Grand National. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 12 year old has only run four times since that unforgettable success over Denman at Cheltenham, but he proved he is no back number by finishing runner up on his comeback on Trials Day at Cheltenham in January and he looked all set for another start in the Gold Cup until a bug swept his yard. He was apparently in flying form until that virus ruled him out of the race, but at least he’ll come here a fresh horse and the handicapper has given him a massive chance by allotting him a mark of just 158 (he was rated 185 at his peak). The drying ground should ensure he sees out the trip and he looks to have a very similar profile to last year’s winner, Neptune Collonges. He could be a big player.
What A Friend: Another regular in Gold Cups in recent seasons has been What A Friend and he managed to finish fourth to Long Run in 2011. However, he pulled up in this race a few weeks later and this notorious thinker may begrudge being asked to face these fearsome fences for a second time. In his favour is the fact that he has been trained for this race all year, but he hasn’t won since 2010 and he didn’t show a huge amount on his re-appearance in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton in February. Good ground suits him, but it is hard to see him giving Paul Nicholls back to back National triumphs.
Weird Al: Weird Al was pulled up in Long Run’s Gold Cup and suffered the same fate behind Synchronised last season. In fact, he has been pulled up in four of his last eight starts, including the last two, and he fell four out here behind Neptune Collonges when out of contention. The McCain’s have had unparalleled success in the National in the past, but it is hard to see even their magic being enough to give this horse a chance here as he seems to have fallen out of love with the game.
Quel Esprit: Willie Mullins enjoyed an incredible Cheltenham Festival and he has a number of horses in the field for this great race, each of whom has some sort of chance when it comes to giving the great Irish handler a second National winner. Quel Esprit is the highest of them in the handicap and he has always had the potential to be a very good horse. He went some way towards fulfilling that potential when winning the Irish Hennessy last season (ahead of Roberto Goldback and Treacle), but was slightly disappointing when fourth of four in the same race 8 weeks ago. He had some jumping issues in his younger days, and hasn’t faced a trip anything like this in the past so, on balance, he looks to have too many question marks. On the plus side, he does have form on most types of ground.
Big Fella Thanks: Many Aintree specialists have emerged down the years and one of the most recent is Big Fella Thanks who has run over these obstacles on no less than five occasions. He has completed on four of those, including when seventh in this race in 2011, fourth in 2010 and sixth in 2009. The common theme running through all of those National appearances is that he has failed to last home after travelling well for much of the contest and his lack of stamina was also exposed when he was third here in the Becher Chase in December (albeit on heavy ground). He should give his pilot another great spin over these unique fences but there is no obvious reason why he should stay this marathon distance any better this time around. Better ground would obviously help him to last home that bit longer.
Roberto Goldback: Roberto Goldback was a standing dish in all of the best chases in Ireland for a number of seasons before being purchased by Simon Munir and sent to Nicky Henderson at the start of this campaign, with the Grand National very much in mind. However, he won so easily on his first outing for his new yard – in the United House Gold Cup at Ascot in November – that his handicap mark took an immediate battering and he has struggled to cope since. Those struggles can also be put down to the ground, as he has run twice on unsuitably heavy going. He is very much a good ground performer and his new connections will be hoping that a return to a better surface and the longer trip may bring about some more improvement. However, on balance he looks fairly exposed and there should be better handicapped horses in the field. Henderson also has a surprisingly poor record in the race.
Seabass: Although Neptune Collonges has been retired since his narrow win in this race last season, the next three horses home in 2012 all look set to do battle again in 2013. Seabass was an excellent third behind Neptune Collonges, having looked to be travelling best of all between the last two fences. The question is whether or not his stamina will last out better this time around. He also has to carry an extra 5lbs. He has run two encouraging races this season to suggest his exertions last year have had no ill effects and Katie Walsh, who is seeking to come the first female rider to win the World’s most famous race, will need to settle him early and deliver him late if the partnership are to improve on that third place. On balance, though, the feeling is that he may have missed his big chance last year.
Ballabriggs: One horse who very much took his chance in this race is Ballabriggs, the winner two seasons ago. He hasn’t won a race since, but the handicapper hasn’t really relented and he remains two pounds higher than he was on that warm sunny day in 2011. He was a creditable, but never threatening, sixth last year and, although he could easily complete again, there must be doubts as to whether he retains all of his old ability now that he has reached 12 years of age. Perhaps softer ground would help him as it might slow the others down (he seemed to be outpaced when the race began in earnest 12 months ago).
Sunnyhillboy: There have been fewer more unlucky losers in the National than Sunnyhillboy who looked all over the winner on the run in, only to be headed in the final stride and lose the race by the narrowest of margins. Plenty of people would, therefore, love to see him go one better this time around and his campaign has been geared around achieving that result. However, it is slightly worrying that he hasn’t shown much on either start this season (albeit over hurdles) and a 10lbs hike in the weights won’t make life any easier for him. He is another who would need good ground to have a chance but, like Seabass, he may have his work cut out to repeat last year’s mammoth effort.
Teaforthree: If you had to name the two key characteristics for any potential National winner they would surely be sound jumping and plenty of stamina and they happen to be Teaforthree’s strongest attributes. He certainly proved his stamina when winning the four miler at last season’s Cheltenham Festival and he was unlucky to be thwarted by a vintage ride from Paul Carberry aboard Monbeg Dude who pounced late to rob Teaforthree of victory in the Welsh National at the turn of the year. He was disappointing in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February, but probably didn’t enjoy the very heavy ground that day and a return to a better surface could see him back to his best. His front running preference should see him stay out of trouble, and give his jockey a real thrill, and it is not hard to see him running well for a long way. It is worth bearing in mind that he hasn’t run on good ground since his Festival success and he will only be five pounds higher here.
Across The Bay: Few, if any, current trainers will have a better idea about what it takes to win this great race than Donald McCain and his best chance of success this year may lie with the least high profile of his three entries, Across The Bay. This horse was seventh under top weight in the Welsh National, but then put up a career best effort over hurdles next time out to claim the Rendlesham at Haydock. He had a wind operation before that win and it clearly did the trick. He was in fine form over the larger obstacles earlier in the season when his successes included a victory over Cappa Bleu (level weights) at Carlisle and it may be that better ground here will see him to greater effect over this trip. All in all, he could be an interesting outsider and, like Teaforthree, his one disappointing effort this season can be put down to him having to carry a big weight in desperate ground.
Join Together: Having finally broken his hoodoo in this race last season, champion trainer Paul Nicholls will be hoping that Grand National winners are like buses and Join Together certainly has a chance of giving the Somerset handler back to back successes. This horse deserves a change of luck having just failed to claw back Hello Bud over these fences in the Becher Chase in November and then been badly hampered in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster last time out (so the “P” in his form should be ignored). He was just below the best novice chasers last season when his victories included a defeat of Teaforthree (at level weights) at Cheltenham and he looks likely to be suited by this sort of stamina test. All of his best form has been on a good to soft surface and the only real question mark is his slight lack of experience.
Bob Lingo: JP McManus has a host of entries in the race as usual, but it would be a real surprise were Bob Lingo to end up the pick of his runners. He’s no mug, as victory in the Galway Plate in August testifies, but he has struggled to cope with the hike in the weights that followed that victory and he has been well behind a few of these on his last couple of starts. His stamina for this trip is also in question as he can often race keenly.
Colbert Station: A much more likely winner for JP is Colbert Station who has been in fine form over hurdles and fences recently. He took the very valuable and competitive Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting before following up in a Pertemps Qualifier over hurdles at Punchestown in February. Both wins were over three miles on heavy ground so you would have thought that stamina shouldn’t be an issue (although he had been doing his winning at 2½ miles and shorter before then) and we’ve seen with Seabass (and, of course, with Papillon in 2000) what an excellent trainer of National horses Ted Walsh is. The two issues with this horse are the ground (will he be as effective on a sounder surface?) and the fact that he has gone up 17lbs in the handicap since that Leopardstown win. He is also quite inexperienced over fences.
Forpadydeplasterer: One horse in respect of whom there are massive stamina doubts is former Arkle winner Forpadydeplasterer. He has tumbled in the weights since that success in 2009 and his victory in November was the only time he has got his head in front subsequently. He has also often been a chancy jumper (despite the fact that he has never fallen) so it is hard to make a case for him here.
On His Own: The history of the National is littered with examples of horses who fell in the race one year only to come back and win the race subsequently and if there was an unlucky loser amongst those who failed to complete in 2012 it was surely On His Own. He was travelling extremely well in third when coming down at Becher’s second time around and he still looks unexposed over fences. Indeed, he showed that he is very much on the upgrade by posting a career best effort over hurdles last time out when winning a Grade 2 at Navan, where his victims included Thousand Stars. Whatever happens here, he definitely has a big race in him and it seems odd that some people have put him down as a soft ground specialist given that he has won on both good and good to soft. With Ruby Walsh likely to be aboard, he looks a worthy favourite.
Joncol: The biggest horse in this year’s field will be Joncol by some margin and this decent Irish chaser will be hoping to replicate another equine giant in Party Politics who triumphed here in 1992. There is little doubt that Joncol has always had the ability to land a race of this nature and his connections hoped for a number of seasons that he would develop into a genuine Gold Cup horse. However, things haven’t always gone to plan for Paul Nolan’s ten year old, although he has won over £300,000 in win and place prize money. All of his best form has been on a very soft surface, which is a major worry given the forecast going, but he has at least dropped dramatically in the weights to a mark a stone lower than it was at his peak. He has also often looked as if a real test of stamina would play to his strengths so he may have more of a chance than his big price suggests.
Balthazar King: The ground has really come right for Balthazar King who is a real good ground specialist. Indeed, he won the Cross Country Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival on good to firm ground and this race has been his target ever since. That effort over the banks and ditches at Prestbury Park also showed what a nimble and accurate fencer he is so, with his stamina all but assured, he certainly ticks plenty of boxes. He has good from on park courses too and he runs particularly well when fresh so his absence from the track since November is a positive rather than a negative. In fact, the only negative is the fact that he will have to defy a career high mark to win here and his jockey, Richard Johnson, holds the record for the most losing rides in the race.
Cappa Bleu: Of the returning horses who finished the race last year, Cappa Bleu has arguably the strongest chance this time around and, as with Balthazar King, the ground has come in his favour. Now that connections know that he can cope with the unique demands of Aintree he can be ridden more positively this time around and nothing finished the race better in 2012. He was also slightly unlucky in running as he was badly hampered at the Foinavon fence on the first circuit and lost a prominent position as a result. His two starts so far this campaign have reinforced the view that he remains a well handicapped horse (he is actually on a 2lbs lower mark going into the contest this year) as he performed with real distinction on both occasions despite racing on totally unsuitable ground. His last start, when he chased home the in form Vino Griego, was particularly encouraging and he has to go on any shortlist.
Oscar Time: Not much has gone right for Oscar Time since he chased home Ballabriggs in the 2011 National. Indeed, he has only raced five times since and hasn’t bettered fourth place in the process. In fact, he has finished last on his latest two outings and the only hope for connections is that a return to Aintree, and to livelier ground, will rekindle his enthusiasm. He doesn’t even looked well handicapped, despite his poor recent form, and so he is hard to recommend.
Always Waning: Always Waning has also enjoyed his best days here and he has won the Topham Chase a remarkable three times. He had to run in that race last year simply because he didn’t qualify for the main event, but he has certainly served his apprenticeship and thoroughly deserves this crack at the big one. He hasn’t been in the best of form this season and, at 12 years old, is unlikely to be improving, so the handicapper doesn’t seem to have been overly generous in allocating him a mark of 144 (he was on 138 when winning last season’s Topham). The drying ground should help him see out the trip and his trainer, Peter Bowen, has been in better form of late, but there are likely to be better handicapped horses in the field and his love of the track may not be enough to enable him to overcome that.
Quinz: A horse that has pulled up three times in his last four starts can usually be dismissed as a no hoper in a race of this nature and his chance seems even more remote given that the first of those “Ps” was in this race in 2011. However, he was one of the favourites that day and was an up and coming chaser to follow at the time. That disappointment can be put down to the fact that he broke a blood vessel during the race and he did show some encouraging signs on his return to action in the Racing Plus Chase recently. He is also back to the mark that saw him win that Kempton handicap two seasons ago. So there are some reasons for his supporters to be hopeful, but he does look a risky proposition on balance.
Tatenen: Tatenen is another doubtful stayer in the line up and although he likes the ground, and the conditions should see his stamina last longer than might otherwise be the case, horses that are unproven over three miles, let alone four, don’t win the National.
Treacle: Treacle was one of the better backed Irish runners amongst the shrewd punters last season, but he came down at the tenth, which was too early to tell how he might have fared. He has dropped a couple of pounds in the handicap, but showed he is as good as ever with an easy win last time out at Down Royal on heavy ground. He actual prefers less give underfoot and so is likely to have his supporters again this time around and his level weights third to Quel Esprit in the 2012 Irish Hennessy suggests he is capable of running well of off this mark, so all in all he could outrun his big price.
Lost Glory: Lost Glory had a very fruitful first half of the season, with wins in June, July, September and October seeing him rise two stone in the weights. Three of those successes were over three miles or further, so he looks a decent young staying chaser in the making. However, he has never run in a race anything like this competitive and given that he also has to overcome a career high mark, he would appear to have plenty on his plate here. On the plus side is the fact that Jonjo O’Neill is the master when it comes to training horses for stamina tests, both over hurdles and fences.
Saint Are: The biggest win of Saint Are’s career so far actually came on Grand National day last season when he won the valuable John Smith’s Handicap Chase off of a mark of 137. The decent ground that day definitely brought about an improvement in Tim Vaughan’s seven year old, but he hasn’t always been the best of jumpers and his inexperience makes him a risky proposition here. He will do well to get round.
Swing Bill: By contrast, there is every chance of Swing Bill completing for the second successive year, but he was beaten out of sight by Neptune Collonges and Co last season and finished 55 lengths back in tenth. He negotiated these obstacles again in the Becher Chase, but he doesn’t seem to stay this trip and another safe passage is surely the best his connections can hope for.
Chicago Grey: Neptune Collonges proved last season that greys can win the National and the in form Gordon Elliott will be hoping that lightening strikes twice in the form of Chicago Grey. He was brought down in the race last season, but goes into this year’s race in much better form and he has form on all types of ground. He won the four miler at the Cheltenham Festival in 2011, so should see out the trip, but he will need luck in running as he is usually patiently ridden. He should be picking off plenty of rivals in the closing stages and at 10 years of age he could well be reaching his peak. All in all, he has to be respected and the heavy support for him in recent weeks looks well placed provided his jumping holds up.
Quiscover Fontaine: Quiscover Fontaine is another who returns to Aintree having failed to complete last year. He was an outsider on that occasion and will be again here, but you can make a case for him on some of his form as a novice chaser. He was also a very good novice hurdler, so there is plenty of ability there, but he has been lightly raced in recent times. He has also often been campaigned at much shorter trips. However, his best performance over the last couple of seasons actually came in the Irish National when he relished the step up in distance and finished an excellent fourth. A repeat of that effort here would give him some sort of chance.
Rare Bob: Rare Bob is also returning to Aintree after ending up on the floor in 2012 – he was actually brought down at the fifth. He has completed around these fences before though – he was a well beaten fifth to West End Rocker on heavy ground in the Becher Chase in 2011. He was also in contention in the John Smith’s Handicap Chase on National day the previous season when unseating his rider two out on the Mildmay course. Interestingly, he carried 11st 4lbs that day, whilst the winner, Prince De Beauchene, who was a major fancy for this race until being ruled out by injury but would have carried 11st 3lbs, ran off just 10st 5lbs. That is a good indication of the talent Rare Bob undoubtedly has and he has finished off his three races this campaign in the manner of a horse who should relish this trip. The handicapper has given him a chance with a rating of just 140 and he’s run well on a sound surface before. He is another interesting outsider, given that the Irish horses have been carrying all before them this season.
The Rainbow Hunter: Trainer Kim Bailey has enjoyed a real revival in his fortunes in recent seasons and a victory in the Grand National would be the icing on the cake for the man who was responsible for the winners of both the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle in 1995, and this race (with Mr Frisk) five years earlier. However, it is hard to see The Rainbow Hunter triumphing here. He has been in decent enough form over recent seasons, but he has been climbing the weights as a result and doesn’t looked well treated compared to a number of others close to him in the handicap.
Becauseicouldntsee: Becauseicouldntsee has fallen in the last two Nationals and, in terms of winning the great race, he is unlikely to make it third time lucky here. He certainly isn’t without ability, as close seconds to Poker De Sivola in the four miler at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010 and to Sunnyhillboy in the Kim Muir two years later testify. However, it is doubtful whether he could see out this marathon trip even if he does manage to stay on his feet and his form so far this season has been unpromising to say the least.
Harry The Viking: The least fancied and least experienced of Paul Nicholls’ runners is Harry The Viking. His form is a real mixed bag – in his 10 starts to date he was first or second in his first six outings but has been pulled up twice, ninth and tenth in the last four. Good ground is a must for him, and he was only beaten two lengths by Teaforthree in the four miler at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, but whilst the winner that day has continued to improve, Harry The Viking’s form has nose dived and it will take all of Nicholls’ skills to get him back to a level that will enable him to be competitive here.
Mr Moonshine: Mr Moonshine’s chances look equally remote. He has been badly out of form since winning his first two starts as a novice chaser and whilst this front runner may show up prominently for a while it would be a massive sock were he still to be in contention at the business end of the race.
Mumbles Head: Mumbles Head was another to contest the Becher Chase in November, but he got no further than the first. He would probably have hated the heavy ground that day anyway as he has done much of his winning on a sounder surface. We’ve seen with Always Waning that Peter Bowen is an expert when it comes to preparing a horse to meet Aintree’s unique challenge, but at 12 years of age this Perth specialist (he is 4-4 at the Scottish track) is likely to find plenty of younger rivals too good for him here.
Pearlysteps: It used to be the case that horses carrying 11st or more couldn’t win the National, but the last four winners have done just that and given that it is hard to be enthusiastic about the chances of many of the bottom weights this year it could be that trend towards horses carrying bigger weights could continue for some time to come. One of those at the lower end of the weights that might have a squeak, though, is Pearlysteps. He should relish the trip, if nothing else and he was in the process of running a cracker in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock at the back end of 2011 before coming down at the last. Were the rains to arrive, and this turn into a slog, his stamina would really come into play. On the forecast better ground, however, he may not have the toe to live with the principals.
Ninetieth Minute: Despite being good enough over hurdles to win the Coral Cup in 2009, Ninetieth Minute finds himself at the bottom end of the weights here, which is a reflection of the fact that his career over fences hasn’t really taken off in the way his connections would have hoped. The positive is that he is well handicapped based on his best form over the smaller obstacles, but he has been well beaten by both Treacle and Colbert Station so far this campaign. He has, though, shown signs in his races that a test of stamina may suit and that Festival success came on much better ground than he has encountered in Ireland recently.
Auroras Encore: Auroras Encore has been a fine servant to his connections down the year, amassing career earnings of nearly £180,000. One of the highlights was a win over hurdles at this meeting in 2008 and a second in the Scottish National on good ground last year. Given those efforts, he cannot be completely dismissed here but, as with stablemate Mr Moonshine, his recent efforts are uninspiring so even a marked drop in the weights probably won’t be enough to see him involved at the finish.
Tarquinius: Tarquinius was described as being “as slow as a hearse” by his trainer after his win at Fairyhouse in January so, whilst the trip will suit him, the ground certainly won’t and he looks likely to be run off his feet. Given that he won off a mark of just 109 as recently as 29th December, a mark of 136 for this contest may be too much for him to overcome as well.
Any Currency: Any Currency has been competing in some of the highest profile staying chases for a couple of seasons now, but his form during that period has been frustratingly inconsistent and he never runs well when you expect him to. Certainly his third to Tidal Bay in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on the last day of last season was a decent effort, but he ran poorly in the Scottish and Welsh Nationals prior to that. His effort in this year’s Welsh National was slightly more encouraging and he was still travelling okay when coming to grief at the Canal Turn in the Becher Chase in December. There’s a big race in him, but there is no telling when.
Poker De Sivola: Poker De Sivola’s last win came in that season finale at Sandown – the Bet365 Gold Cup – two season ago under an inspired ride from Timmy Murphy. The season before that he had won the four miler at the Cheltenham Festival under Katie Walsh (with Becauseicouldntsee 2¼ lengths back in second). Those two wins came on good to firm and good ground and the going is the key to this horse. He missed last seasons and his latest start was in the Becher Chase, where he was seventh on unsuitable ground, but he did prove he could jump around here that day and stamina shouldn’t be an issue either. His yard has had another quiet season, and his running style means he will need plenty of luck to secure a safe passage, but he certainly isn’t without a chance.
Major Malarkey: Major Malarkey’s form is littered with “Ps” (including his last start in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter) and he is another horse who is hard to predict. He does stay extreme distances, but doesn’t look especially well handicapped so a clear round is probably the height of his ambitions.
Soll: With a maximum of 40 allowed to line up for the great race, Soll may not get a run but, if he does, he would have a decent chance. He was lightly raced for Willie Mullins last year and was well fancied for the four miler at the Festival when coming to grief at the 12th. Since then, he has switched to Jo Hughes’ yard and, after a promising re-appearance in the Hennessy in December, ran out an easy winner of a handicap at Sandown last time out. He is well handicapped based on that effort and jumped really well on the day. He might prefer the ground a bit softer (although most Presenting’s like a sounder surface), but is unexposed over fences and will certainly rate much higher in the future so can’t be ignored. He and Poker De Sivola look to have just about the best chance of those at the foot of the handicap.
Backstage, Viking Blond, Cloudy Lane, Pentiffic, Gullible Gordon and Mortimers Cross seem unlikely to make the cut.
2013 Grand National Prediction
|1st – Rare Bob||22-1||LADBROKES|
|2nd – On His Own||10-1||LADBROKES|
|3rd – Imperial Commander||18-1||LADBROKES|
|4th – Chicago Grey||14-1||LADBROKES|
|5th – Cappa Bleu||12-1||LADBROKES|
|6th – Soll||40-1||LADBROKES|