Road to Aintree; The Grand National Trials that matter
There are many trials for the Grand National, some official, others unofficial but still recognised.
The first trial is usually thought to be the Irish Grand National held at Fairyhouse 11 months earlier. Not since Numbersixvalverde who won at Fairyhouse in 2005 and at Aintree in 2006 has this double been completed, although many have run well in both.
2019 Irish National winner Burrows Saint would have to buck the trend of seven-year-olds in the National (no winner since 1940) but his impressive win last time out over hurdles marks him out as a genuine contender.
The Welsh and English National double hasn’t been done since Silver Birch who won at Chepstow in 2004 and Aintree in 2007. This year’s winner Potters Corner isn’t sure to get in but past Chepstow winners Elegant Escape and Native River would both have genuine chances if they turn up in April; both will likely take in the Cheltenham Gold Cup beforehand.
There are plenty of important trials still to come of course this season. Haydock’s Grand National Trial in February has proved a terrible trial in recent years with 1993 National winner Party Politics the last to do the double.
A much better trial in February has proved to be the Bobbyjo chase in Ireland. The race named after the 1999 National winner was won by 2005 National winner Hedgehunter en-route to his Aintree success. The last two National runners-up Pleasant Company and Rathvinden both won the Bobbyjo before going close in the big one.
Newcastle’s Eider Chase over 4m ought to be a good trial, although since 2008 winner Comply Or Die it has had little bearing on the Grand National with better and better horses now lining up at Aintree, leading to Eider winners now often struggling to get in.
The Skybet chase at Doncaster is another race considered a trial although winners of that have rarely even run in the National, let alone been competitive; last year’s winner Go Conquer was pulled up at Aintree.
The Cheltenham Festival has a host of races which often tend to throw up National clues.
Ante-post favourite Tiger Roll, who has won the last two Nationals, won the Cheltenham Cross Country Chase in his final prep; he is likely to follow that familiar route again in 2020.
The Kim Muir at Cheltenham has been an excellent trial; Ballabriggs won that and the National (a year apart) and both Sunnyhillboy and Cause Of Causes were second in the National after winning it.
The Festival Trophy on day one was an excellent trial in the 90s with Rough Quest and Seagram doing the double but it has been much less informative towards Aintree this century.
The Gold Cup has also been a poor race as far as runners attempting the follow up. The legendary Golden Miller is the only horse to do the double.
No horse has attempted the double since the ill-fated bid of Synchronised in 2012 but plenty have gone from the Gold Cup to National with mixed success. Anibale Fly has placed in both in each of the last two years and is being campaigned in a similar manner again this year.
The 4m National Hunt Challenge Cup at Cheltenham is for novices so rarely has any bearing on that year’s National but in recent times it’s winners have done really well the following year.
2017 winner Tiger Roll won the 2018 National and 2018 winner Rathvinden finished second in the 2019 National.
Le Breuil won the 2019 National Hunt Chase and appears to be being aimed at the National after running over the fences in the Becher Chase before Christmas.
In summary, the best trials are probably the Kim Muir at Cheltenham, the Bobbyjo at Fairyhouse and the previous season’s National Hunt Chase, although favourite Tiger Roll is single-handedly staking the claims of the Cross Country as a viable trial too.