The first thing to say is the ground for The Grand National is going to be as testing as its been for many years, and as such, you’re going to need something that gets every yard. Following his excellent effort in last year’s race, BLAKLION would arguably be on most punters’ shortlists and he’s done little so far this campaign to create any great negativity. The son of Kayf Tara showed top-class form when recording a smart speed figure behind stable mate Bristol De Mai in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November before producing another excellent set of numbers in landing the Becher Chase over today’s fences a month later. Although he endured a harder race than ideal when last seen at Haydock, the nine-year-old has undergone a small wind procedure and had 56 days to get over those exertions and, providing this sound-jumping and keen-going sort can be delivered with a little more patience this time around, (hit front over five from home) he boasts every chance of bettering last year’s finishing position with a clear round. The one thing that slightly tempers enthusiasm rests with the fact he’s not an overly big horse and being asked to carry top weight in bad ground over 4m 2f might just find him out.
Based on his speed figures produced courtesy of his run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, ANIBALE FLY is a huge contender and he certainly brings a degree of class to the table. A high-quality novice chaser last year, this Grade 3 winner has taken his game to another level during his second season over fences and his victory in the ultra-competitive Paddy Power Chase displayed he boasts the appetite for a big-field and strongly-run affair. The way he stayed on up the hill in the blue riband at Prestbury Park last month also pointed towards a horse which should excel over an extreme distance of ground and, as he has form on a variety of surfaces, he looks a real player.
Daryl Jacob is riding on the crest of a wave at the moment and he looks to have been given a decent chance of riding his first National winner aboard UCELLO CONTI . Having proved disappointing in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran last time when the heavy conditions that day clearly undermined Gordon Elliott’s 10-year-old, he’s better judged on that previous effort at Leopardstown when he chased home Anibale Fly in a well-run Paddy Power Chase. Sixth in this race in the 2016 renewal behind Rule The World, he has also finished a creditable fourth in the Becher Chase the following season and he was going well enough in last year’s race to suggest he may have taken a hand in the finish if he had not unseated his rider at Bechers second time around (horse slightly unsighted). Having jumped 75 Aintree fences cleanly and proven he has the right attitude for this kind of examination, the lightly-raced son of Martaline rates a player providing the ground doesn’t get any worse in the lead up to the race.
SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT looked like he’d got the 2016 Scottish National in the bag until a mistake at the last and a whirlwind finish by Vincente sealed his fate, but that effort at least proved that he stays 4m and a repeat of that sort of performance clearly puts him in the mix. Having undergone wind surgery in the interim, Sandy Thomson’s lightly-raced gelding shaped as though the run would do him the world of good when third over an inadequate trip at Newbury after a 364-day layoff, but at least that display went some way to proving the operation had been a success. Third in Grade 1 hurdle over today’s course back in the day, the 10-year-old has a touch of class and with his main jockey, Brian Hughes, back on seen as a massive positive, the son of Midnight legend appears to have solid claims of providing Scotland with back-to-back National wins.
Another with a touch of class that shouldn’t be discounted is ALPHA DES OBEAUX and he has many similar qualities to his previous stable companion, Rule The World, who took this prize for Mouse Morris three years ago. A multiple Graded winner over hurdles and fences, the eight-year-old gelding arrives here relatively fresh having not run since finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown and prior to that commendable effort he’d also figured prominently in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran against the likes of Presenting Percy and Augusta Kate. Although he could have probably done with the recent rain staying away to be at his absolute best, at least he’s been used to running on sloppy ground for most of his life in his native land and having run a good deal better than his final finishing position suggested (very badly hampered by a faller early on) on his only try over a marathon trip in last year’s Irish National (great trial for this race over the years), it wouldn’t come as the biggest shock in the world if the talented eight-year-old were to run a big race if taking to the fences.