*Odds subject to change.
Run on Saturday 14th April 2018, the build-up to the Merseyside marathon always starts months before the big day. However, not all 105 horses can run so from now until just a few days before the race we’ll see many horses drop out. For safety reasons the Grand National is always capped at 40 horses so between now and April 14th we are going to see 65 horses fall by the wayside. There are various declaration stages during February, March and April which also help whittle done the 105 entries to the 40 Grand National Runners.
Now in its 171st running, the weights for the Grand National were released on Tuesday February 13th by the British Horseracing Authority’s head of handicapping – Phil Smith.
Once each horse has been allocated a weight to carry this will give us a better idea which of the 105 current entries will be the actual Grand National Runners for 2018 – in the world’s richest and greatest steeplechase. Plus, the 2018 Grand National betting market normally has a shake-up after these weights are announced.
Blaklion currently heads the 105 entries for the 2018 Grand National and at this stage can be backed around 10/1* to win the race. This Nigel-Twiston-Davies-trained 9 year-old was fourth in the 2017 Grand National and has returned this season better than ever. We last saw him winning the Becher Chase – a race that is also run over the National fences at Aintree – in December. He carried 11-1 to be fourth 12 months ago off a mark of 152, so we can expect the handicapper to have his rating to a similar level this time. The horse’s next target is in the Haydock Grand National Trial (Feb 17th) before heading to the National as the favourite of the Grand National Runners – here’s what his trainer – Nigel Twiston-Davies – said after his Becher Chase victory:
“You want 7-4 to get round, don’t you? It’s a relief. It’s what we hoped for and what we expected. Blaklion didn’t quite get home in the National but we could see in the National that his fencing was superb. He’s got this Red Rum-type of way of getting over the fences, he’s small but very agile and accurate. I’m sorry to use his name but he reminds me of Red Rum, though he’s got a lot do to be anything like him! He was only beaten eight lengths last year (in the National) and he has another year under his belt. Other things will pop out of the woodwork I’m sure but he must have a very good chance if we ride him with more restraint like we did today. We have only got eight lengths to find. He will probably wait until the Grand National Trial at Haydock, then the National” – Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer. (Racing Post)
Twiston-Davies, who don’t forget has won the Grand National twice before, also has Bristol De Mai, Splash Of Ginge and Flying Angel amongst the 105 entries. Blaklion beat another Grand National stalwart in recent years – The Last Samuri – by 9 lengths in this season’s Becher Chase and is another that has the Merseyside marathon as his target. This Kim Bailey-trained runner was 16th in the 2017 National, but also runner-up in 2016 behind Rule The World. He continued his preparation for the Grand National with a fine fourth in the Cotswold Chase behind Definitly Red at Cheltenham on January 27th and at 20/1 in the betting he’s sure to be popular again on the day.
“That confirmed The Last Samuri not a Gold Cup horse and that’s why we came here. He was flat out but has still run a very good race. He’ll more than likely go straight to the Grand National now” – Kim Bailey, trainer (Racing Post)
Definitly Red is another big player ahead of the 2018 Grand National. He was well-fancied in the 2017 renewal, but was pulled before the 9th fence after being badly hampered in the race. This 9 year-old has certainly improved this season and was very impressive in winning the Grade Two Cotswold Chase in January. With around 4 weeks between the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the National this year he should have plenty of time to take in both races. He’s around 20/1* in the Grand National betting market, while his trainer – Brian Ellison feels he’s the best he’s ever trained.
“I thought the other horse (American) was going better, but Danny took a pull to lie a couple of lengths off him and when he gave him a kick in the belly he took off. Definitely Red just got better every year and the plan this year was to keep him fresh. Today would tell us if we went for the Gold Cup, so we’ll go now. He wants good ground, I think he’ll be better on it as he’s not short of speed. He just doesn’t like it tacky. It’s a good place to have a winner. You’ve got to have a good horse to come here and he’s the best I’ve ever trained” – Brian Ellison, trainer. (Racing Post)
The current British champion trainer – Nicky Henderson – is yet to win the Grand National but has three entries at this stage. Gold Present, who won well at Ascot in December, looks the best hope at around 25/1 in the betting. The form of that Ascot win has since been franked with the second – Frodon – winning easily at Cheltenham in January.
“Gold Present is a proper steeplechaser. He’s a very good jumper – that’s what he’s good at so you have to make sure you use it. He stays well but he’s not shy of a gear or two” – Nicky Henderson, trainer. (Racing Post)
Vyta Du Roc, who won well in the first-time cheekpieces at Cheltenham in January, and O O Seven are Henderson’s other entries.
The Irish Challenge – Grand National Runners
Of the 105 entries, Ireland’s champion trainer – Willie Mullins – is responsible for 10. In total, the Irish have 40 of the 105 entries, so Mullins-trained runners account for 25% of all the Irish horses.
Mullins has won the Grand National once before (Hedgehunter, 2005) so knows what’s required. Poldam and Rathvinden are two of his leading fancies, but the improving Total Recall looks his main player. This 9 year-old ticks a lot of boxes and it was interesting that connections ran him over hurdles last time at Leopardstown to keep his chase handicap mark down. They clearly wanted to get a run into him, but to save his chase mark running over hurdles could turn out to be a shrewd move. The horse dotted-up in that 3 mile Leopardstown race by 3 lengths and is generally second favourite in the Grand National Runners betting at 16/1*.
Don’t forget Total Recall also won the Ladbrokes Gold Trophy (Hennessy) this season at Newbury, beating the useful Whisper by a neck. He’s a big player at this stage, but he’s also entered in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, so a lot will depend on how he fares in that race.
Gordon Elliott, who won the Grand National in 2007 with Silver Birch, is the other main Irish trainer and also has 10 of the 105 entries. Mala Beach and Outlander, who ran a close second in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, look his main players – Mala Beach is around 40/1* and Outlander is 33/1*.
The 10 year-old Outlander is owned by Gigginstown House Stud, who took the Grand National in 2016 for the first time with Rule The World, and is one of 11 entries for these powerful owners.
Other leading owners to note are JP McManus, who won the race with Don’t Push It in 2010 wearing his famous green and gold colours. He’s got seven of the 105 entries, including the 2017 runner-up Cause Of Causes (25/1*), the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup second – Minella Rocco (20/1*) and Paddy Power Gold Cup hero Anibale Fly. Mouse Morris is another of the Irish yards to have had success in the race in recent times. He won the Grand National in 2016 with Rule The World and will be looking to follow-up with Rogue Angel and Thunder And Roses, who are his entries.
Back on the domestic front, trainer Paul Nicholls is another handler that’s won the race recently. He took the prize for the first time in 2012 with Neptune Collonges and has six entered. Vicente (33/1*), who already has a National to his name – the Scottish version – looks his main hope. He hopes to give owner Trevor Hemmings his fourth win in the race. His 9 year-old was well-fancied for the 2017 Grand National, but fell at the first. Hemmings also has Welsh National fourth – Vintage Clouds (50/1*) – entered.
The winner of that Welsh National – Raz De Maree (50/1*) – is another who holds an entry, but this 13 year-old will be looking to become the oldest Grand National winner since Sergeant Murphy landed the prize in 1923!
John Baker, Regional Director, The Jockey Club Racecourses North West, said: “We are delighted with the excellent quality of entries for the 2018 Randox Health Grand National, which once again offers a total prize fund of £1 million.
“It is also pleasing to break the 100-barrier for the fourth time in five years in terms of the number of entries and we continue to receive very strong support from Ireland.
“The 2018 Randox Health Grand National Festival offers record prize money of £3.21 million and preparations are well underway at Aintree for what will be an outstanding three days of racing.
“We are now eagerly anticipating the unveiling of the weights for the world’s greatest chase, with the surroundings of BAFTA in London providing a suitably prestigious backdrop.” (Jockey Club Racecourses)
*All odds at time of publishing. All subject to change.