Andy Holding assesses the leading contenders for the Grand National before arriving at a shortlist of three for next week’s Aintree showpiece.
Grand National 2022
Just over a week away from the Grand National 2022 and it’s fair to say, the great race has never had a more wide-open feel to it.
As ever, last year’s race has a good deal of influence regarding the market 12 months on and it comes as no surprise to see the first and third home towards the top of the list. ANY SECOND NOW was universally accepted as an extremely unlucky loser (badly hampered at the 12th) and his campaign in a bid to going two places better couldn’t have gone any smoother.
Two pipe-openers over hurdles were followed by a game victory in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last time out and with that Grade 3 at the Co Meath venue often seen as a good trial for the National itself, Ted Walsh’s gelding deserves a huge amount of respect.
Last year’s hero, MINELLA TIMES, hasn’t quite undergone the same preparation, failing to complete in his two starts, but it would be dangerous to write off any horse who displayed the sort of aptitude towards the fences as he did last season and with Rachel Blackmore likely to be on board again, anything can happen when the golden girl is in the plate.
Even without Tiger Roll, Gordon Elliott appears to have a strong team, with the pick of his entries according to the betting are DELTA WORK and ESCARIA TEN. The former got his mojo back in a big way when landing the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham Festival and it’s worth pointing out previous stable mate, Silver Birch, went down a similar route before he was victorious back in 2007.
The latter looked to have his latest encounter safely tucked away in the bag until Any Second Now picked his pocket late on, but it was still a performance which suggested that his connections have got his preparations just about right.
RUN WILD FRED is another who comes into the mix from his Cullentra base and we know he’s not going to fail through lack of stamina. Proven over extreme trips thanks to his efforts in last season’s Thyestes and Irish Grand National respectively, the son of Shantou has had a very productive second-season campaign at the very highest level and his latest performance in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham intimate he’s still remains in excellent shape.
Whether those exploits just over three weeks ago will count against him at Aintree only time will tell, but either way, the eight-year-old rates a must for any shortlist.
FARCLAS, fourth in last season’s renewal, is another who appears to have had his whole campaign geared around Aintree and he will arrive her fresher than most having not run since chasing home Run Wild Fred in the Troytown at Navan back in November.
Staying with the Irish raiders and two from the Emerald Isle who have solid-looking profiles for the race are ENJOY D’ALLEN and LONGHOUSE POET.
The former, similarly to last year’s hero Minella Times, finished placed in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown’s December meeting and since then, JP McManus saw fit to add to him to his ranks.
Completing his preparations with a gentle tootle around in a handicap hurdle back at the same venue a month ago – a tactic used by many previous winners of this race in the past – the son of Network could easily put his relatively small handler on the map.
The latter also has quite a few things in his favour, none more so than being housed by Martin Brassil, who won the National with Numbersixvalverde back in 2006. Similar to his previous stable mate, the son of Yeats landed the Thyestes Chase on-route to Aintree glory and the form of this season’s renewal at the Co Kenny venue couldn’t have worked out any better since.
A bit of a flop when sent off favourite back over hurdles last time out, in mitigation, the 2m4f journey was way short of his best, but if the ground were to come up soft on the day, this lightly-raced sort has all the hallmarks of being well-suited to the rigours of a proper stamina test.
Three straight victories for SNOW LEOPARDESS allied to her colour will ensure Charlie Longsdon’s grey is bound to be a popular choice, but it’s not just pure sentiment that may see her close to going off favourite come next weekend.
Classy enough to finish fourth at Grade 2 level over fences, she’s also proven over the National fences with her victory in the Becher Chase here earlier in the campaign, and her prominent run style suggests that she’s likely to evade early carnage in behind. All in all, she makes plenty of appeal on many fronts.
Another main contender from the home contingent is the consistent FIDDLERONTHEROOF, who looks to have many of the credentials befitting previous winners. Placed at Grades 1 and 2 level as a novice, his second season has seen him run tremendous races in two of the most competitive handicaps either side of the new year and if you look at how he was staying on in the latter stages of the first of those events at Newbury over 3m2f, you’d say he was crying out for further.
The fact that he operated really well in a big field, strongly-run environment where the fences come at you thick and fast at the Berkshire track strongly suggest he will cope admirably with the Aintree examination and having missed Cheltenham with a view to coming straight here after a gallant effort under top weight at Ascot back in February, everything about the composition of his challenge appears spot on.