Our racing expert picks out the value in the Aintree highlight.
The obvious starting point when running the eye over this year’s renewal of the world’s greatest steeplechase has to be TIGER ROLL. Arriving here twelve months ago off the back of a victory in the X Country Chase, Gordon Elliot’s gelding took to the demanding fences in the style of a proper pro and even though he faltered slightly in the closing stages having looked likely to score with plenty in hand at the Elbow, he kept on gamely enough on unsuitably soft ground to land his biggest ever pot. Normally, winners of National tend to deteriorate in subsequent seasons, but on the evidence of his achievements since that memorable day last April, this amazing nine-year-old appears to be bucking the trend. A scintillating victory over some useful types in a Grade 2 Hurdle at Navan set up another tilt at the race over the banks at the Festival and in scoring in even more impressive fashion this time around, he sets himself up perfectly to write his name into immortality as being one of the few dual winner of this famous race (last to achieve same feat was Red Rum back in 1974). Likely to go off one of the shortest price runners in the race’s history, the son of Authorised is a must for any shortlist despite deteriorating ground being a slight concern.
Away from the obvious and most likely winner, ANIBALE FLY has to be a consideration following his brave effort in the Gold Cup 22 days ago. Third in the same race last year before finishing fourth behind Tiger Roll, Tony Martin’s adds a touch of class to the field and he should give another bold account despite top weight being a potential anchor in the ground.
Another quality performer likely to be a big player with a clear round is RATHVINDEN (best price 11-1). Winner of the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival two year’s ago, Willie Mullins’ gelding has been fairly lightly-raced since and following just the one outing which resulted in a smooth victory in The Grade 3 Bobbyjo Chase at Punchestown last time, he bids to follow the same path as Hedgehunter, a winner of this race for the same stable back in 2005. Obviously, the booking of Ruby Walsh is no bad thing and the recent rain wouldn’t be a worry to him either.
VINTAGE CLOUDS (best price 16-1) has always threatened to land a big staying handicap chase and hailing from a stable who took this race with a similar type in the shape of Aurora’s Encore several years ago, Sue Smith’s game grey is another who makes plenty of appeal. Third behind Joe Farrell in last season’s Scottish Grand National, the son of Cloudings (same sire as Many Clouds) comes here off the back of another cracking effort in a big-field handicap chase at Cheltenham, and providing the ground isn’t too soft, he should give a bold account with a clear round. If he has one Achilles Heel it’s his tendency every now and then just to put in an extra stride and jump carefully, but at the same time, that might not be a bad thing, as self-preservation is a dam sight better than going at these fences like a bull at a gate.
Finishing one place behind Vintage Clouds in the Ultima, LAKE VIEW LAD comes into the reckoning on not only that run, but his two previous victories in a competitive handicap chases. The way he stayed on at Cheltenham suggested he’d appreciate an even stiffer test and the more ease underfoot for him the better.
Experience over these demanding fences has to count for plenty, so with that in mind, WALK IN THE MILL (best price 28-1) is another worth considering down the foot of the weights. Taking to the course at the very first time of asking in the Becher Chase, Robert Walford’s gelding has been given a very modern-day National preparation since by shrewd connections, with two spins over hurdles in the interim, and it would come as no surprise if he was capable of punching above his weight.
Now JOE FARRELL has crept in as the last one on the list, Rebecca Curtis’ has the sort of profile that suggests he might be a strong contender. Relishing every yard of the four-mile trip at Ayr last April, the 10-year-old has had a campaign very much geared around landing another big staying chase this term and his latest effort at Newbury indicates he’s coming to the boil just at the right time.
Tiger Roll is hard to knock, but his current price offers very little in the way of value, so the best policy might be to look elsewhere.
VINTAGE CLOUDS has been placed in two regional Nationals and at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and that experience points towards him being a major factor. RATHVINDEN has been kept especially fresh for a tilt at this prize and he has stamina and class in equal measures, while WALK IN THE MILL looks underestimated in the market considering he’s one of the few in the field with experiences of the fences.