Timing of National a factor punters must not ignore
There are 101 different angles one can look at for even the most mundane of races, so when you’re talking about a four-and-a-quarter mile chase over 30 unique fences with 40 runners involved, that can probably be doubled.
One factor few take into account is the gap between runs. With the Grand National and Cheltenham Festival just three weeks apart this year, rather than the conventional four, it could have a huge bearing on ‘The People’s Race’.
To win or even go close in a National, you simply have to be 100 per cent on the day and the small window space means some who run at Cheltenham won’t be that at Aintree.
Current ante-post second favourite Native River, a former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and fourth in the race last year, is again on target for the Blue Riband on the Friday of Cheltenham.
Many see this former Welsh National and Ladbrokes Trophy winner as an ideal sort for the National, with class, stamina, exceptional jumping and big handicap experience all boxes he can tick.
Even assistant trainer Joe Tizzard has spoken of how he thinks Aintree could suit although owner Garth Broom has warned it may not be this year.
“If he has a hard race, it’s only three weeks to the National, so I wouldn’t advise anyone to put any money on him because if he runs his race, I don’t know if he’d have enough recovery time. He goes well fresh,” he said.
“Maybe next season it could be more of a target when he’ll be 11 and the Gold Cup looks a little unrealistic – but if something happened and he couldn’t run in the Gold Cup, then we’d still have another option.”
Native River is far from the only National entry who could be inconvenienced by the quick turnaround. Fellow Gold Cup entries Bristol De Mai, Elegant Escape and Chris’s Dream will all have the same quandary.
Risking a horse of such class in the National is always a question mark and the shorter recovery time could make up connections’ minds.
Trying to second-guess which runners will take their places in the handicaps at the Festival is harder at this early stage. However, there is little doubt a whole raft of National entries will be off to Prestbury Park three weeks earlier and a few will probably leave their race behind at Cheltenham.
Of course, the short turnaround will likely affect favourite Tiger Roll, who is bound for the Cross Country Chase he has won for the last two years at Cheltenham before following up each time in the National.
Although following such a tried-and-tested route to glory is usually a positive, a week less of recovery time means it can’t quite be considered a racing certainty that the horse we see at Cheltenham this year is the same one we can expect at Aintree, despite that being the case in the last two years.
Horses that aren’t expected to rock up at Cheltenham include 2019 Irish National winner and current third favourite Burrows Saint.
Becher Chase winner Walk In The Mill and the horse second to him there before winning Warwick’s Classic Chase, Kimberlite Candy, are other leading fancies expected to swerve the Festival, with neither expected to run at all between now and April.
From a punting perspective, they appeal most as potential ante-post National wagers. Even horses that go to and run well at Cheltenham should be looked at with a degree of trepidation where the National is concerned. The fact that includes Tiger Roll makes things all the more pertinent.