Horse racing expert Andy Holding has an in-depth look at this year's Grand National, providing two each-way selections for one of the nation's most beloved sporting events.
Grand National - Winner
Having missed a year due to Coronavirus, the eyes of the world are refocused on one of the most historic races in the calendar and in the shape of Cloth Cap, we potentially have the shortest price favourite to go to post in recent times (Tiger Roll 4-1 in 2019).
Brilliant in pretty much every department when totally dominating his field in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury back in November, Jonjo O’Neill’s gelding had the perfect preparation for his biggest assignment to date when scoring with a bit up his sleeve at Kelso last time out. A bold jumper who bounces off fast ground, the favourable forecast for next week also has every chance of working to his advantage and it’s only his price around the 4-1 mark which is the off-putting aspect at this stage.
Due to his rather prohibited odds – especially for a horse who has yet to face the famous fences – the wisest policy is to look beyond Cloth Cap for some remaining value and the one who stands out on that score is MINELLA TIMES (best price 14-1).
Housed in one of the most powerful stables either side of the Irish Sea who had an unforgettable Cheltenham Festival, Henry De Bromhead’s gelding brings strong recent handicap form to the party courtesy of solid performances in two of the most competitive, big-field contests run in Ireland so far this season and he fits the profile of many previous winners of the great race based on each run.
Firstly, his effort behind the well-ridden Castlebawn West in the 22-strong Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown back in December proved his suitability to the rough and tumble of races of that nature, and he followed that display up with another strong showing when dropped back half a mile on his return to the Dublin venue at the February fixture when last seen. On each occasion, the scopey son of Oscar impressed with his surefootedness over the stiff fences – getting back on hocks and measuring his obstacles proficiently – and that technique should stand him in good stead when it comes to tackling the demands of the National course.
Although he’s yet to prove himself beyond three miles, he shapes like he will improve for a stiffer test and having form on a variety of ground conditions, he also won’t mind the likely decent surface set fair for the weekend. Moreover, he’s going to be ridden by the girl of the moment, Rachel Blackmore, and it would be a fitting climax to a season which saw her claim the leading rider prize at the Cheltenham Festival, if she were to partner this talented gelding to victory on the biggest stage of all. At top price 12-1, his price can only go one way given the likely groundswell of media coverage in his rider’s direction during next the build-up, so now is the time to strike.
As we know, the Irish have done rather well in this race during the previous decade and having finished a brave runner-up to Tiger Roll in 2019, MAGIC OF LIGHT (best price 20-1) has to be a consideration to any discernible shortlist.
Heading into the big race two years ago following a creditable effort in the three-mile handicap at the Cheltenham Festival, the daughter of Flemensfirth went on to exceed all expectations by pushing the two-time winner all the way to the line and that performance was achieved despite a monumental blunder at the Chair, for which Paddy Kennedy did extremely well to survive.
Trained for last year’s race until the pandemic interfered, connections have once again geared the entire season around her going back to Liverpool for another tilt and her preparations have gone in a very similar fashion. Not quite good enough for Roksana in a Grade 2 over hurdles in January, Jessica Harrington’s mare shaped better than the bare result in the new Grade 2 Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival (stayed on strongly on the run-in after getting badly outpaced mid-race) and that effort – similar to her build-up two years ago - should have served the purpose of putting the final touches to her levels of fitness.
A sound jumper who has only fallen once in a 34-race career, she has the vital experience of knowing what to expect in this 40-runner field and with her being one of few to fit many of the historic stats befitting recent winners (set to carry 11st or less, ran in a previous Grand National, ran no more than 55 days ago, has won no more than six chase races, aged nine or older, trained in Ireland), she also makes plenty of appeal at her current quotes hailing from a yard who have come into form in the last fortnight.
Of the rest, Burrows Saint comes into the equation on his Irish Grand National victory two years ago and the drying conditions will suit better than the heavy ground which has hindered some of his performances of late. Kimberlite Candy has more experience of these fences than most, but faster ground than ideal could prove troublesome, while you’ve got to go back to 1941 to find the last seven-year-old winner, so that stat rather tempers enthusiasm for the well-fancied pair, Secret Reprieve and Farclas.