Grand National 2018 Preview
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Grand National 2018 is set to run at 17:15, Aintree, on Saturday 14th April.
The race which stops the nation where people stop what they are doing and tune into this gruelling race over 4m 2 1/2f.
It is a very exciting race with lots of drama and it is a race which is a great marketing tool to get people involved in the sport of kings.
Everyone says this race is a lottery but these days I have to disagree. Yes you need a little bit of luck but the same could be said about any jumps race.
If you go back a few years then I would agree that the race is a lottery, as the fences were really tough to jump and all the fences were bigger. The fences these days are not as big and the frame is a much softer material known as plastic birch. The plastic birch has replaced the wooden post and this makes the fences easier to jump. The fences are still covered in spruce but with recent changes the fences are easier to jump. I would go as far as to say fences at places like Cheltenham are harder to jump the only difference being at Aintree is they are bigger. You will find fallers actually happen on landing rather than from hitting the fence. More often than not if you hit the fence you will go straight through it.
Over the years they are constantly making the fences easier to jump and I imagine they will be easier this year than last year and this will keep happening into the future.
All of the above makes me think this race is no longer the lottery it once was. You still need a bit of luck in running granted, but for me it plays to the advantage of the classier type of horse these days.
It is actually a race which has been kind to us over the years. Since the website started in 2007 we have had 3 winners and multiple places. Those winners were Don’t Push It, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds.
With 40 horses in the race, if I was to offer advice it would be to choose an amount you wish to spend on the race and split your stake evenly over 3 or 4 horses. You need a few horses on your side. Nothing worse going into the race, excitement is building and your horse falls at the 1st fence or gets brought down when still travelling really well on the 2nd circuit.
How am I personally going to approach this race and things you can do to narrow down the field?
As mentioned above these days first I focus more on the classier type of horse. Since 2009 when Mon Mome won the race, their have been 5 winners from 9 starts who were carrying 11st or more. That is not say I won’t be looking for any well handicapped horses or horses carrying less than 11st, but my first focus will be with the classier type of horses.
I will concentrate on the jockeys. These are the ones doing the steering and the better the jockey, the better the horse will run. This race may not be as hard as it once was but it still needs a lot of skill from the saddle.
Some people like to use stats to analyse this race but I am all for keeping it simple. Next I will go through the field and potentially look for horses who have form at the course or in the race itself. You see it time and time again, horses return each year at Aintree as they absolutely love jumping the fences.
I then look for owners who have done well in this race. Using Trevor Hemmings as an example who loves this race. He will have his trainer target this race with some of his horses so you have to keep an eye on this. He has won the race 3 times since 2005.
Use general form study which is used on a day to day basis like ground, course and distance etc.
As you see I don’t over do it and don’t use any fancy formulas and statistics. I just have a method in my head fo this race and the boxes I want to tick to come up with my selections.
What is the ground likely to be?
At the time of writing this blog (5th April 2018), the forecast is relatively dry. A few showers are forecast but nothing drastic at this early stage. From next Wednesday 11th no rain is forecast so that is 4 days of dry weather before the race and with temperatures rising I think the ground will be good to soft which will be perfect jumping ground.
The course has not been used so the ground should dry out nicely. Obviously this is my opinion 9 days before the actual race but one thing for certain is I am sure it won’t be heavy and at worst will be soft, good to soft in places.
Let’s go through the race
I am going to start with the 10 horses who made my shortlist and then offer a conclusion at the end. I will start with at the top of the card and work my way down.
MINELLA ROCCO (NOW NON RUNNER)
Trainer – Jonjo O’Neill
Owner – JP McManus
MINELLA ROCCO will have to carry 11st 10lb if he is to win this race off a handicap mark of 162. Many Clouds won off 11st 9lb but you will have to go all the way back to Red Rum in 1974 who won carrying 12st. Is he capable of doing it? You can’t deny that he has a task on his hands with that weight but I have also thought he was the perfect Grand National horse after he won the 4 miler Novice Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016. He beat Native River that day and stayed every yard of the trip. In 2017 he finished 2nd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Sizing John and back in 3rd was 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River. This is a horse who clearly needs a test and the Grand National is the greatest test of all. MINELLA ROCCO will want the ground to dry and good in the description is a must. He was recently pulled out of the Gold Cup because the ground was too soft which tells us how important it is that he gets Good To Soft ground. Actually missing the Gold Cup could be a blessing in disguise as he will come into this race fresh. He also comes into the race on the back of wind surgery and no better race to have a wind op before than the Grand National. Jonjo O’Neill won this race with Don’t Push It in 2010 so he know the type of horse that is needed to win the race and has recently stated, MINELLA ROCCO is a better horse than Don’t Push It for the Grand National and only carries 5lb more in weight. With Barry Gerraghty likely to ride Gold Cup 3rd Anibale Fly I imagine Mark Walsh will be riding him.
MINELLA ROCCO is available at 16/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
Trainer – Nigel Twiston Davies
Owner – S Such & CG Paletta
BLAKLION finished 4th in this race last year and his season has been geared up to this race all year. When finishing 4th in the race last year it was his first start over the National Fences and he has since come back and demolished a field in the Becher Chase back in December. BLAKLION was well beaten last time out in the Grand National Trial at Haydock but you could put a line through that race as it was in terrible ground and he gave the field a stone and more in weight. As mentioned above his season has been geared at this one race so you could argue he wasn’t 100% fit for that race. Last year he finished 4th off a mark of 153. This year he is 8lb higher in the handicap. It is a tough ask but you know he jumps the fences and loves it around the course. From an E/W point of view, with a clear round and bookies offering up to 6 places he looks a safe E/W bet. I am not entirely convinced he will stay the trip as last year he was still travelling strong but emptied quickly. Nonetheless a must for anyones shortlist. Sam Twiston Davies will be riding.
BLAKLION is available at 12/1 with Paddy Power (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
Trainer – Tony Martin
Owner – JP McManus
ANIBALE FLY finished 3rd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and is now rated 168 by the handicapper. He gets in this race off 159 so according to handicapping he is 9lb well in. It depends how you want to take this information for some they will just trust Phil Smith and go with the 9lb well in but for others like myself, I can’t have him rated 168 just 4lb shy of Might Bite. I know Phil Smith would’ve had to rate him on the performance in the Gold Cup but any racing fan with knowledge of handicapping, will know this horse is not a 168 horse and the result flattered him. He is rated 159 in this race and for me that is the level he is at despite finishing 3rd in the Gold Cup. A lot of horses apart from the front two failed to turn up at best in the gold cup, which is why I think the result flatters him. Enough of handicapping now lets look at his chances. Barry Gerraghty is likely to ride but for he will surely feel the affects of a tough race in the Gold cup on heavy going. That alone is enough to put me off as he would’ve had to dig into his stamina reserves and finished a very tired horse. If he does win this race it will be some performance with the race he run in the gold cup and then winning this just 4 weeks later.
ANIBALE FLY is available at 12/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
THE LAST SAMURAI
Trainer – Kim Bailey
Owner – Paul & Clare Rooney
THE LAST SAMURAI was last seen when finishing 3rd to Tiger Roll in the Cross Country at the Cheltenham Festival 4 weeks ago. It was a decent performance as his trainer has always stated he needs better ground to be at his best. This is a horse who is having his 3rd run in a National after finishing 2nd in the race in 2016 and down the field in 16th last year. He does love the National fences though and his form over the fences reads 2302. Three places from his 4 races over the fences he has been placed so on that alone he has to be respected as he seems to come alive at the track, last year aside. He is now rated 159 by the handicapper which in my opinion is a bit high. Kim Bailey will looking to win the National for the 2nd time since Mr Frisk won it back in 1990. David Bass takes the ride who is an underrated jockey and like Blaklion is a solid E/W chance with bookies paying 6 places.
THE LAST SAMURAI is available at 16/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Owner – Slaneyville Syndicate
TOTAL RECALL has been a totally different horse since he joined Willie Mullins back in September and is actually unbeaten under the care of Willie Mullins, bar a fall. He joined Mullins rated a 130 by the handicapper and is now rated 156. Willie Mullins has done a fantastic job in getting the horse to improve by 26lbs. He has won £230k in prize money this season and was the winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup back in November off a handicap mark of 147. It was a very good performance which he got a rise of 9lb by the handicapper. He run over hurdles on his next start when winning at Leopardstown and his last start was in the Gold Cup where he unfortunately fell 3 fences out. TOTAL RECALL was making headway at the time and I don’t think he would’ve won but he was in a decent position to at least finish in the frame. Had he finished in the frame you would be looking at a 168 rated according to what Phil Smith done with Anibale Fly. His fall could actually be a blessing in disguise for this race as he didn’t have to fight it out at the end of the race in what was a very hard race. It has saved him something for this race in my opinion. TOTAL RECALL is a solid jumper and we know he handles the hustle and bustle as he won the Hennessy Gold Cup. Willie Mullins won this race back in 2005 and he will be eager to win it again. I imagine Paul Townend will be in the saddle who is one of the best jockeys around in handicaps.
TOTAL RECALL is available at 10/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
Trainer – Richard Hobson
Owner – Carl Hinchy
SHANTOU FLYER is a horse who has finished 2nd on his last 4 starts and was so close to winning at the Cheltenham Festival. He was pulled up in this race last year when trained by Rebecca Curtis but in my opinion is a much better horse under the care of Richard Hobson. After finishing 2nd at the Cheltenham Festival the handicapper rates him a 157 so is 4lb well in on his national rating of 153. On the whole he is a good jumper but the question is can he improve enough to be involved here. A huge plus for me is James Bowen in the saddle who is one of the best jockeys around even though he is still an amateur. He will give the horse a great spin around and the times he has rode the horse, he has finished 2nd. Being the capable jockey James Bowen is I imagine he will be keen to get a nice position early on tracking the leaders and will not be bullied by the more experienced jockeys. The next question is will he stay the trip and I think he will. He has obviously been thought of as a stayer since a young age as he run in the 4 miler at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016. He may not have the class but he does have a lovely riding weight of 11st 1lb and has E/W claims.
SHANTOU FLYER is available at 40/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Owner – Gigginstown
The Cross Country winner who has been all the rage the last few days. Gordon Elliott is pretty sweet on the horse and he has to be respected after his demolition job in the Cross Country. Gordon Elliott has form in the race after winning it with Silver Birch back in 2007, who came to the race after finishing 2nd in the cross country. The Cross Country has also proved a good form race for the national in the past. Horses who have run well in the race coming from the cross country are as mentioned Sliver Birch, Balthazar King and Cause Of Cause last season. This horse is a bit a freak in the National Hunt game as he is flat bred from both the Sire and Dam so the be jumping these fences is actually amazing especially over this extreme distance. Now on to my thoughts and my racing brain is telling me he was absolutely spot on for Cheltenham in March and surely can’t turn up exactly the same horse. He can still be in good form of course but I remember last season when he won the 4 miler at the Cheltenham Festival, his next start was the Irish National a month later and he flopped. I have a sneaky suspicion he is the type of horse who can only be peaked once and after that he goes off the boil. I could clearly be wrong but it is what my racing brain is telling me. I also think he is a small horse who may struggle over these big fences. Jack Kennedy looks sure to ride but I despite my respect for the horse I have some niggling doubts.
TIGER ROLL is available at 12/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
Trainer – Anthony Honeyball
Owner – JP McManus
REGAL ENCORE finished 8th in this race last year and returns off exactly the same handicap mark of 150. The handicapper actually rates him a 154 horse after winning the Keltbray Swinley Chase in February. so is 4lb well in. I thought it was a terrific performance from him who stayed on all the way to the line. It was a finish of a horse on soft ground who would relish the test of Aintree this time around. Despite finishing 8th in the race last year I thought it was a fine effort considering he was held up towards the rear before staying on at the end of the race. If he can get a better position this time around I am sure he can strike with a run late in the race. He is a solid jumper who has never fallen in his career and his trainer has been in top form this season. Seems a much mature horse this season. Richie Mclernon takes the ride and they have a good partnership together.
REGAL ENCORE is available at 33/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
GAS LINE BOY
Trainer – Ian Williams
Owner – The Three Graces
GAS LINE BOY is a horse who simply loves it around Aintree and for that reason he has made my shortlist. He finished 5th in the race last year and went and won the Sefton Chase here in December under a monster weight of 11st 10lb. Despite finishing 5th here last year he was badly hampered 2 fences out and at that late stage in the race it must’ve knocked the stuffing out of him. He still finished in 5th place after travelling into the race really well. He is 4lb higher this season which is not ideal but his campaign has been geared up to this race all season. His trainer Ian William is a shrewd trainer and he knows how to get a horse to peak for one day only. I am not sure who will ride the horse but I imagine it will be either Brian Hughes or Robbie Dunne.
GAS LINE BOY is available at 33/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
Trainer – Neil King
Owner – Robert Bothway
MILANSBAR needs 5 horses to come out of the race to get in so I imagine he will get in the race right at the bottom of the weights. Bryony Frost will take the ride and she is the trying to become the first women rider to win the national. She won on MILANSBAR back in January when winning the Betfred Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick over 3m 5f. That is the same race that One For Arthur won last year before winning the Grand National. When MILASNBAR won that race I immediately thought he was the perfect National horse. He jumps very well, likes to be prominent so will be trouble free. Bryony Frost is a great jockey when out in front and has shown this many times this season. MILANSBAR is now up to 142 in the handicap and his last start was a month ago when finishing 2nd to Regal Flow in the Midlands National. He stays all day long and if he can get into a nice rhythm he won’t be far away off a very lightweight.
MILANSBAR is available at 40/1 generally (Time of writing, 5th April 2018)
From the 10 I have shortlisted I have narrowed it down to 4 horses and one of those 4 horses will be left until the day before to bet so I can monitor the weather. Remember if you are betting now use a bookies that offer NON RUNNER NO BET.
I will start by listing the horses I HAVE LEFT OUT along with my reasons.
BLAKLION – I expect this horse to place but not win the race and at the price 12/1 he is best left alone if I don’t think he will win the race. My intuition tells me he won’t stay the trip as was the case last year and he will have a tougher job this year with a higher handicap mark.
ANIBALE FLY – Ran a great race in the Gold Cup but that was a tough race and he used up every last bit of energy. 4 weeks to recover from a heavy ground run in the gold cup is not long enough to prepare for a National in my opinion.
THE LAST SAMURAI – Been here twice and failed so see no reason why he will win it off a mark of 159. Has a huge chance of placing but 16/1 for a horse I think can only place is not for me.
SHANTOU FLYER – Had to think long and hard about this one and I may have a few quid on the day e/w but I have decided to leave him out on the back of his run in the race last year. He has also had a long season with 7 runs and it is sure to have taken its toll.
TIGER ROLL – I think he is the type of horse who peaks once and once he has peaked he goes off the boil. He is also a small horse and I think he may struggle over these big fences.
MILANSBAR – A tough call this one as I do think he could run a big race. I just think he will run well for a long way but potentially set it up for another horse.
WHO ARE MY FINAL FOUR HORSES FOR THE 2018 Grand National?
The four horses I am backing for the 2018 Grand National are GAS LINE BOY, REGAL ENCORE, TOTAL RECALL and MINELLA ROCCO (waiting until a few days before race so I can monitor the ground with this one). NOW NON RUNNER.
Minella Rocco replaced with SHANTOU FLYER.
In total I will spend a total of 3 points.
In no particular order here are by reasons:
GAS LINE BOY – Considering how well this horse was travelling last year before getting hampered, I think 33/1 is a huge price. He finished 5th in the race last year and then won over the same fences in the Sefton Chase, back in December. He simply loves the place and comes alive. He is 4lb higher in the handicap this year but has been trained specifically with this race in mind all season. Ian Williams is as shrewd as they come and a trainer I respect. I know GAS LINE BOY has the possibility of running over the shorter trip in the Topham Chase on the Friday but I find it hard to see how they can turn down a chance in the Grand National off 10st 10lb, after running so well last year. At 33/1 he is great value but if you bet him make sure you take Non Runner No Bet which most bookies are offering.
REGAL ENCORE – Another horse who has been aimed at this race all season since finishing 8th in the race last year. To actually finish 8th and was literally at the back of the field for 2/4 of the race shows the ground he made up in the last 1/4 of the race. If Richie McLernon can get a better position this year and get in a better rhythm, he will be much closer. REGAL ENCORE could not have had better preparation than winning at Ascot in February. He has had a full 8 weeks to get ready for this race and Anthony Honeyball has had a great season. At 33/1 another strong E/W chance.
TOTAL RECALL – Obviously you need a bit of luck but luck aside my strongest fancy is TOTAL RECALL. I have been impressed with him this season and I think he will get the perfect toe into the race. Paul Townend will sit just off the leaders and get cover allowing him to come into the race on the final circuit. He has had a terrific season winning the Hennessy Gold Cup and was running a great race in the Gold Cup before falling 3 fences out. He is an excellent jumper so I am not reading into the fall too much. I actually think the fall could be a blessing in disguise as he didn’t have to dig deep for reserved stamina which has obviously saved a bit of un-used energy for this race. He has shown in the Hennessy he does not mind the hustle and bustle of a big handicap race and I actually think this step up in distance will be no problem. He certainly stayed all the way to the line in the Hennessy and I think 11st 4lb is a decent weight to carry. Sure to be involved with a clear round of jumping. E/W.
I will be waiting until the day before…(NOW NON RUNNER AND REPLACED WITH SHANTOU FLYER.
To back MINELLA ROCCO. For me this is the perfect horse for a Grand National and I have thought this since he won the 4 miler 2 years ago. The only thing is he must have at least good to soft ground and that is the reason I will be waiting to see what the weather does. I think he will get that ground going by the long range forecast but we are still 9 days away. This horse stays forever, has the class and returns from a wind operation. He missed the Gold Cup because of the ground and that will only enhance his chances here as he comes in to the race a fresh horse. Guaranteed if this horse gets round he will be staying on better than anything and turning for the elbow he will take up the running. Do I think he is able to carry 11st 10lb? Ok it is worrying but on the other hand I have no problem with him beating Blaklion while giving away 1lb in weight. The same can be said about Anibale Fly who he gives 3lb and The Last Samurai. Ultimately his class could see him through the race if he is closer enough at the end and this horse would stay 6 miles if asked. A proper National horse who bids to be the first horse since Red Rum to carry top weight and win. At 16/1 a decent E/W shout if he gets his ground.
GAS LINE BOY 33/1 generally – 0.375 POINTS E/W
REGAL ENCORE 33/1 generally (6 PLACES) – 0.375 POINTS E/W (NON RUNNER) REPLACED WITH –
MILANSBAR 28/1 (6 PLACES) – 0.375 POINTS E/W
TOTAL RECALL 12/1 – 0.375 POINTS E/W
SHANTOU FLYER 28/1 – 0.375 POINTS E/W
FIND A BOOKMAKER PAYING 6 PLACES
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Good Luck all and remember this blog is just my opinion on the race and only bet what you can afford to lose.
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