In previous years second guessing who will carry top-weight in the John Smith’s Grand National has been a tricky puzzle to solve, but this year we know that last year’s winner Don’t Push It is on target for the race despite the steadier of 11st 10lbs as the horse bids to become the first since the great Red Rum in the early 1970s to win the race in successive years
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It is with the 2010 winner that we begin our preview of the greatest horserace in the world and it should be worth noting that the Jonjo O’Neill trained runner will only have an extra 5lbs to carry this year. Handicapper Phil Smith has certainly given the 11-y-o a chance and more of a concern will be the form of the stable as, at the time of writing, the yard have only had one horse finish in the first three in their last 20 runners and that was beaten 18 lengths at 2/1! Still Jonjo has a history of getting his horses right on the big day and a better barometer would be stable form at the Cheltenham Festival.
It was 15th time lucky for jockey AP McCoy who landed a day-of-the-race gamble (20s into 10/1 jt fav) last year and many believe Don’t Push It will go off market leader again in 2011 as he has been backed from 12s to 4/1 to be the favourite with Victor Chandler when the tapes rise on April 9th. The last horse to carry more than 11st 5lbs to victory was Red Rum back in 1977 and for this reason alone he is overlooked.
It is well documented that Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has yet to win the race and he has 10 of the 101 entries this year as he looks to break his National hoodoo. We at victorchandler.com bet 7/1 that 2011 is the year of the Ditcheat handler and he is likely to have a minimum of 6 of the 40 strong field come post time.
Niche Market has long been considered the stable number 1 and he is likely to go straight to the race. Off the track since finishing a running on 5th in the Hennessy back in November, the horse won the Irish National for former trainer Bob Buckler a couple of years ago but didn’t look a natural when pulled up behind Don’t Push It at Aintree last year.
Ballabriggs has won his last five starts including both over the smaller obstacles this season as connection look to preserve what they consider to be a decent handicap mark. My concern with the horse is that he isn’t slow (both hurdle wins over less than 3m) and he looked to be coming to the end of his tether when just holding on in the Kim Muir at last year’s Festival over an extended 3m.
The yard’s previous Kim Muir winner Cloudy Lane had a similar profile to Ballabriggs and he wasn’t able to land the Big One (lacked scope) and I just feel that Donald McCain’s runner will run of out of gas inside the final mile.
Silver By Nature sluiced through the Haydock mud to land their valuable trial last time carrying top-weight and he could even go off favourite for the race if the ground is soft or worse. The last National to be run in a bog was Red Marauder’s extraordinary victory ten years ago when only four finished and two of them were remounted!
State Of Play has won the Hennessy Gold Cup and Charlie Hall and finished 4th and 3rd in the last two renewals of the National for Evan Williams. The 11-y-o has not been seen on the track since last year’s renewal of the race and he will be 10lbs better off with Don’t Push It for the 25l he was beaten in 2010.
From a point of handicapping that gives him little chance of reversing the form, but the horse has made serious mistakes at a vital time in both Nationals’ and the reports emanating from the yard suggest he is ready to make a bold bid to make it third time lucky.
The Irish have won the race seven times in the last 12 years, but not since Silver Birch in 2007, and once again they have a very strong hand. Oscar Time has had a "typical" Irish preparation for the race in that he has had a quiet season over hurdles before the announcement of the weights.
He was also given a "quiet" ride back over fences in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse and although well beaten in third behind new National favourite The Midnight Club (10s from 14s) there will be many who believe that Sam Waley-Cohen’s mount can reverse the form at Aintree on 4lbs better terms with the likelihood of better ground.
If Waley-Cohen has ridden the winner of the Gold Cup courtesy of Long Run what price will Oscar Time go off for the National? That would be an improbable but certainly not impossible double for the dentist-cum-jockey. His is an extraordinary story and he still has the initials of his brother Thomas who was tragically lost to cancer at the age of 20 etched on his saddle.
Having backed The Midnight Club for the National when the weights were announced I must admit I was slightly disappointed with his jumping at Fairyhouse despite his success. There is no question he has an engine, however, and I am hoping dual-winning jockey Ruby Walsh will desert the Nicholls’ legions in favour of the selection.
Trainer Willie Mullins was thrilled with the horse after his Fairyhouse success and it is worth noting that the runner up Arbor Supreme, also saddled by Mullins’ would be 10bs better off if he gets a run at Aintree. He is currently 61st (maximum 40) in the weights back on 10st 3lbs but if he crept into the race he would surely be one for the short-list.
Backstage was still going well in the race when hampered and unseating Davy Condon at the 20th last year and is another to have been laid out for the race having won a point-to-point recently following a seven-month lay off. Trainer Gordon Elliot saddled the aforementioned Silver Birch who had a similar p-t-p preparation and he has been well supported in recent days.
Note we at victorchandler.com are betting ¼ odds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 places on the race and have a number of specials including who will go off favourite, Paul Nicholls to train the winner (7/1) and an Irish winner of the race 2/1 (from 5/2). Check out victorchandler.com for our National specials.
We all have our own favourites in the build up to what remains the greatest horse race in the world. Having backed State Of Play and The Midnight Club when the weights were announced I am now having second or indeed third thoughts.
Is the story of the 2011 Grand National that a hang-gliding, bungee-jumping dentist with a pilot’s licence rides the winner? Could he really be "the last of the Corinthians?" I think I’d better save on Oscar Time!
CharlieCharlie McCann is a senior sports commentator who runs the Media team at BetVictor