With the 2015 Cheltenham Festival now behind us, focus now shifts towards the flat season with the Lincoln not far away and Aintree’s Grand National meeting in less than a month’s time. The Grand National, sponsored by Crabbie’s looks highly competitive as usual this year with 87 standing their ground after the first forfeit stage. With some uncertainty around the head of the weights after some of those disappointing in the Gold Cup, there is still the question of who will head the weights come April 11th.
The current antepost favourite and likely to start clear favourite on the day is last season’s Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor (8/1) who is most likely to be AP McCoy’s twentieth and last ride for his retainer JP McManus and trainer Jonjo O’Neill who all combined with Don’t Push It back in 2010 for a famous success. The son of Accordion has only been seen once this campaign in November when taking a graduation chase at Carlisle in taking fashion.
Due to the yard’s drop in form, he has been kept with a spring campaign in mind and it is hugely significant that connections withdrew him from the Gold Cup, highlighting Aintree as the main target. His price, even at this moment in time, is too skinny and it could be plausible that he could be sent off a similar price to what Red Rum was back in 1975 when runner up to L’Escargot when sent off 7/2f. This could come a year too early as he still lacks relative experience plus it is concerning that we haven’t seen him since his Carlisle win. Factor that into his current price and what he is likely to go off, it makes him worth opposing, even though he deserves plenty of respect.
Apart from Double Seven who is sidelined through injury, the placed horses from last year’s race reoppose. Pineau De Re (20/1) has had a fairly quiet season but has showed signs recently of a resurgence. He ran well enough in the Pertemps, staying on through beaten rivals and a bold bid should be expected as he tries to retain his crown.
Runner up Balthazar King (16/1) is just a model of consistency and adaptable between conventional handicaps and cross country races where he dominates the division. His win in November signified he is as good as ever and that win was made even more impressive considering how testing the ground was on that occasion. Connections have stated that they will miss the Festival and go straight to Aintree, a decision that looks negative as you tend to want a horse who is race-fit as opposed to an extremely fresh horse coming off a break. He should run his usual honest race but he will find it difficult off a career high mark.
Alvarado (33/1) was given a very patient ride when finishing fourth and you wonder would he have finished closer given a more forceful ride by Paul Moloney. He hasn’t run yet in this current season but a return to Aintree is number one on the agenda. His prep run at Doncaster was promising and the way he stayed on suggests if ridden closer, he would have a big say off the same mark as twelve months ago.
Last year’s fifth Rocky Creek (12/1) was listed as champion trainer Paul Nicholls best chance at the weights lunch. For a horse who lacked experience last year, he ran an excellent race and was the only horse carrying above eleven stone to finish in the top ten. He was also struggling to finish off his races last season and a wind operation should help him in that regard. He needed his first outing at Down Royal when runner up to Road To Riches before putting in a disappointing effort in the Hennessy Gold Cup where he never travelled. He did so however in the Betbright Chase at Kempton where he won really impressively, confirming the faith his trainer always had in him.
Potential Grand National newcomers include GODSMEJUDGE (20/1) and The Druid’s Nephew (14/1). The former won the 2013 Scottish National but missed last year’s race due to being a week behind in his work but ran two excellent races in the Scottish National when second to Al Co and in the Bet365 Gold Cup behind Hadrian’s Approach. The son of Witness Box has the right attributes to win a Grand National. He is a very sound jumper, is an uncomplicated ride and has a strong suit of stamina. He was an eye-catching fifth behind Rocky Creek in the Betbright Chase, staying on after getting outpaced. This looks one of Alan King’s strongest chances for Aintree success and for rider Wayne Hutchinson, who has an excellent association with the horse.
The latter has had a really consistent season including when taking the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase on the first day of the Festival in the manner of a well handicapped horse. Before that he had run well in November behind Sam Winner and also in the Hennessy behind Many Clouds. He would give a bold account but stamina would be the concern.
The main Irish challenge looks to be headed by Spring Heeled (10/13). Specifically trained for the race by an astute operator in Jim Culloty who rode Bindaree to success back in 2002. Winner of the Kim Muir at last year’s Festival, he then ran well enough in the Bet365 Gold Cup when fifth before getting outpaced in the Galway Plate when fourth to Road To Riches. He returned to action in the Bobbyjo Chase when fourth on unfavourable soft ground but the question mark that lingers over him is stamina. He is a strong traveller though and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was cantering all over the field crossing the Melling Road for the final time. What happens from thereon is another matter.
Of those at bigger prices, THEATRICAL STAR (10/2) is well worth a mention. He is unexposed over marathon distances and has shaped on his last two efforts at Warwick when second to Hawkes Point in the Classic Chase and Sandown when filling the same spot behind Le Reve that a test like the National could suit very well. At the right end of the handicap, he looks to have potential improvement, appeals more than most in the field and should just make it in the field being number 63 on the current list.