Matt Tombs / Friday 4th April 2014 / 17:30
Regardless of what you think of the radical changes made to the National course, what’s not open to question is that it provides a completely different test. When looking for a Gold Cup or Champion Hurdle winner we know the qualities required – but this is effectively a new race and nobody really knows the combination of attributes needed. The flip side of that is that if we can guesstimate those requirements correctly, there ought to be some great value available.
The fences looked to have changed again in the autumn races and now resemble the brush through fences of cross-country chases, so jumping is less important. I think now that the jockeys know the revised layout, they may go even quicker this year. Whilst tactical speed to keep you in the race is needed, it may well be that the overwhelming requirement is now stamina. They used to hunt round for a circuit so it wasn’t that much of a test of stamina at the trip – now it might be that even some thorough stayers don’t get the trip and only one or two horses will really get home.
Last year’s renewal provides some evidence to back up that theory. Teaforthree (10/1f) had won the 4miler at Cheltenham and Oscar Time had been a close 2nd in the 2011 National. Both looked to get very tired on the run in and didn’t really see out the trip. Teaforthree was ridden quite aggressively last year and with more patient tactics he could emulate Hedgehunter who went off too quickly the year before his triumph. It’s possible though that he’ll find one or two too strong for him on the run in again, and with that doubt I couldn’t put him up at a short price.
Tidal Bay (18/1) and Long Run (14/1) are the class acts in the race. Both stay well but have 11-10 and 11-9 to carry. It’s a long time since any horse carried that sort of weight to victory and with the extreme test of stamina it may be getting harder, for all the weights have been compressed in their favour.
Of those at the front of the market the one I like best is Monbeg Dude (14/1). He won the Welsh National off 128 last season on just his 6th start over fences and then a good handicap at Cheltenham in December off 138. He is up to 146 now so he needs to keep improving, but that’s only 10-9 and Paul Carberry is the ideal man to track a path on the inner, saving valuable ground. He’s been well found in the market this week though and the value has gone.
The other interesting one of the market leaders is Burton Port (20/1). He was rated 166 after an 8l 4th in the Gold Cup and 3l 2nd in the Bowl here 2 years ago. A second 18 month spell on the side lines resulted in a switch to Jonjo O’Neill and, starting on 158 in November, he’s managed to get down to 145 for this. Even since the weights were announced he’d shown little until a decent 7l 2nd in a veterans race at Newbury off 141. If he’s anywhere near back to his best he has a great chance, but the fancy prices have gone now.
Given that nobody knows the right type for the new National, I’m keen to back my hunch and look for a horse suited by an extreme test of stamina. It’s not straightforward to pick out those who have the right credentials. The fact that Auroras Encore won at 66/1 last year might just be setting a precedent for long priced winners who have few other opportunities, on a sound surface, to exploit their extreme stamina.
The first I like is Alvarado (40/1) who won the extended 3m3f handicap at Cheltenham’s open meeting off 132. He looked a really strong finisher there and is in off 7lb higher. That’s 10-2 and a featherweight ought to be even more of an advantage the more it becomes a test of stamina. He got stuck in the mud on his only other run this season, but that Cheltenham form, from subsequent winners Knockara Beau, Bradley and Monbeg Dude, looks good. He’s refused to race a couple of times and there has to be a question mark how he’ll take to this, but if he does I think he has a big shout.
However, I’m going with Quito De La Roque (40/1). He’s been a class act in his time, (rated 169 last season and gets in off 151,) and 2 seasons ago he ran on from a seemingly impossible position to win a 3m Grade 1 at Down Royal, causing trainer Colm Murphy to say he would look for a five mile race for him.
Murphy has shown he knows how to handle top horses with the likes of Brave Inca, Big Zeb, and Fethard Lady. He’s lacked a high profile horse recently but is amongst the winners again, (4 in March, after being out of form over the winter with just 2 winners in the previous 4 months.) If he has Quito De La Roque back anywhere near his best he has a real chance. That’s obviously quite a big if, but Gigginstown had other options for this and he’s their sole representative, which suggests he’s in good form.
1pt Quito De La Roque to win the Grand National (4.15) @ 40/1
It’s a real shame that a dirty scope has ruled More Of That out of the Grade 1 3m hurdle. 3 of those who chased him home in the World Hurdle line up, including 6½l 3rd At Fishers Cross (13/8) and 8½l 4th Zarkandar (100/30). Both have sound chances but are priced up accordingly.
There are two interesting horses at bigger prices that might provide better value. Whisper (13/2) won the Coral Cup off 153, the highest mark a Festival handicap has been won off this century. To put it in context, Ilnamar won the Aintree Hurdle in 2002 having won the Coral Cup off 137. Top class handicap form is often underrated when compared to the also-rans in Grade 1s, (Diakali was a close 4th in the County off 154 and nearly won the Aintree Hurdle yesterday). I think that’s the case again here, especially if the extra 3f brings out some improvement.
The other is Salubrious (16/1) who patently failed to give his running in the World Hurdle – running far too keenly. He was only 2¼l behind More Of That over an inadequate 2m4½f in the Relkeel and should be much better served by this test. He obviously has something to prove now, but he has a hood on for the first time and if he relaxes, he could bounce back to his best, which should put him in the shake up. At the prices he has to be the selection.
1pt Salubrious to win the Stayers Hurdle (2.50) @ 16/1
The Grade 1 Maghull novice chase over 2m is an almost unique test. With no open Grade 1 at around this trip at the meeting, (the Melling is over 2m4f,) this is the only chance chasers really get in Britain to run at a sharp track on good, spring ground, in a 2m Grade 1. The emphasis is very much on jumping at speed - it’s generally paid to race up with the pace and making all is not unusual.
This is usually won by a horse that contested the Arkle, and Trifolium (3/1) is the obvious one having been a solid 4¼l 3rd. I was a bit disappointed with his run there and he’s short enough for a horse that doesn’t look a star.
I thought the clever bet would be Next Sensation who was given a cut throat ride in the Grand Annual but battled on really well to be 1¾l 4th. This track looks made for him and he doesn’t have that much to find on form. However, everyone seems to have noticed and he’s about the right price now at (9/2).
At the prices I’m sticking with old friend Ted Veale (16/1). He was going well when blundering 3 out in the Arkle and he then fell at the next. I think he’d have been in the shake up otherwise and if his jumping holds up here he can use his flat speed in the straight. He’s much too big a price.
1pt Ted Veale to win the Maghull Chase (2.05) @ 16/1
In the 3m1f handicap chase I fancy Saint Are (XX/1). He’s won only 3 out of his 26 races but the last two have been at this meeting in the 2011 Sefton Novices Hurdle and the 2012 renewal of this race off 137. He thrives here, at this time of year on decent ground, and I wouldn’t be too worried about his poor recent form, which is similar to that that preceded his last two wins here. It’s obviously possible he isn’t the same horse any more but in theory he should be in his prime at 8 and he stays this trip well. He was rated 145 after his win in this 2 years ago and is down to 129, which leaves him chucked in if in anything like the same form.
1pt Saint Are to win the Betfred Handicap Chase (3.25) @ 10/1