The trend of big-priced winners may well continue today as most of market principals look vulnerable. Vieux Lion Rouge finished seventh in this race last year, looking a blatant non-stayer and while he’s undoubtedly improved in the past 12 months, the suspicion is the marathon trip will again prove his undoing.
Blaklion has run well several times this season before fading late on and that’s a big negative.
Cause Of Causes tends to be ridden nearer the back than the front in his races and that’s off-putting as it means a huge amount of luck in running will be required for him to prevail.
More Of That will have his supporters but he’s had a huge amount of physical issues and comes here on the back of hard races in the Irish Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
As an aside, while there may be lies, damned lies, and statistics, the fact 35 of the last 40 National winners didn’t run at the Cheltenham Festival the same year is a stat worth keeping in mind.
The Last Samuri ran a cracker to finish second in this race last year but he’s 12lb higher this time round and the suspicion is that rise will prove too much.
Of those towards the head of the market, the only one who holds any appeal is Definitly Red. The fact he has fallen twice in his six starts is an obvious worry but he does tick a lot of boxes. Brian Ellison’s charge is officially the best handicapped horse in the race having gone up 10lb for winning the Grimthorpe Chase in brilliant style after the weights were published.
Ellison hasn’t always been convinced Definitly Red is a stayer but he certainly didn’t look like he was coming to the end of his tether when annihilating The Last Samuri over 3m2f in the Grimthorpe. If his jumping holds up, he should go close and he’s one of three recommended each-way bets.
The second is Vicente. Last year’s Scottish National winner is trained by Paul Nicholls, a man who won this race courtesy of Neptune Collonges five years’ ago. That dramatic 2012 success essentially ensured Nicholls won the British trainers’ championship at the expense of Nicky Henderson and history might be repeated today.
Admittedly, Vicente’s recent form doesn’t encourage confidence but I’m happy to disregard that as this horse hasn’t had decent ground once this season and he needs it to be seen to best effect. Today’s conditions will be far more to his liking and can bring about significant improvement.
Further encouragement can be taken from his Scottish National win as the way he closed it out strongly suggests stamina won’t be a problem.
And if you’re an eternal optimist, there’s two positives to be found from his laboured efforts this season. The first, and most important one, is the price. Odds of 25/1 make him a terrific each-way bet. The second is the fact he’ll only carry 1lb more than his Scottish National win. This is a well-handicapped horse.
Then there’s the human angle and the National’s remarkable ability to throw up stories that warm the heart. Last month, Vicente was bought by Trevor Hemmings, a three-time National winning owner, to fill the void left after his much-loved Many Clouds died moments after beating Thistlecrack at Cheltenham in January. How fitting it would be if Vicente were to provide Hemmings with a fourth success.
The third suggested play is Rogue Angel, trained by last year’s winning handler Mouse Morris.
Like Vicente, he brings form over an extreme trip to the table having the Irish Grand National last March and the Kerry National in September 2015.
He struggled in the early part of this season but showed a little more when ninth in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and took another step in the right direction when fifth in the Thyestes on his most recent start.
The safest place for a horse to be in the National is towards the front and that was where Rogue Angel was throughout the Irish National. If similar tactics are applied today, he could prove hard to pass. He’s worth an each-way go at 25/1.
The chief supporting race at Aintree is the Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle where Yanworth looks set to go off a warm order.
However, the fact he comes here off a deplorable effort when fancied in the Champion Hurdle makes him opposable here and preference instead is for the Jessica Harrington-trained Supasundae.
The selection comes here in rude health having won the Coral Cup at Cheltenham last month and can take the step up in trip and in class in his stride.
The Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle can go the way of Finian’s Oscar. The selection missed Cheltenham after suffering a minor 11th hour setback and the expectation is that this talented young horse will gain compensation here.
Staying on the compensation theme, Charbel is the confident tip for the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase. He was giving the top-class Altior plenty to think about in the Arkle at Cheltenham last month before falling when narrowly in front at the second last.
To these eyes, Altior would still have won had Charbel not tipped up but Kim Bailey’s charge was certainly not a beaten docket when he exited the scene. There’s nothing close to Altior’s calibre in opposition today and, provided he has fully recovered from his Cheltenham fall, he should deliver.
Finian’s Oscar (NB)
Definitly Red (EW)
Rogue Angel (EW)