40-1 Earthmover can bury bookmakers

Greg Wood looks for the value in the National betting market

If the bookmakers are to be believed, there are punters who are prepared to bet on the Grand National several weeks before the weights have been published. That is madness, for sure, but even now, when the big-race burden for each of the runners is known, backers who take a price are still doing so without the benefit of vital information. You are not quite betting in the dark, but that light in the distance is probably a train.

If the bookmakers are to be believed, there are punters who are prepared to bet on the Grand National several weeks before the weights have been published. That is madness, for sure, but even now, when the big-race burden for each of the runners is known, backers who take a price are still doing so without the benefit of vital information. You are not quite betting in the dark, but that light in the distance is probably a train.

The most important factor will be the state of the going at Liverpool on 7 April. While the ground at Cheltenham in March always seems to ride good or faster these days, Nationals run on soft or heavy, when only a handful of the runners are likely to get home, are certainly not a thing of a past.

On a really testing surface, the race could easily turn into the lottery which so many once-a-year punters already suppose it to be.

If the going is not extreme, however, it seems likely that the winner will be a horse which is in, or very close to, the handicap proper. Thanks to the handicapper's decision to go easy on See More Business, that could include as many as three dozen runners, which does not appear to make the ante-post punter's task significantly easier, yet taken in conjunction with other statistics, a relatively manageable short list soon appears.

First, there is proven stamina. It may seem ridiculous even to mention that a prospective National winner needs to be able to see out the marathon trip, but every year someone trots out the old belief that two-and-a-half milers do well at Aintree.

It's nonsense, but that did not stop one of them - Dark Stranger - being backed down to favouritism on the day of the race last year, despite having no apparent chance of staying the four and a half miles. As it turned out, he fell at the third, but it would have made no difference, nor will it do so if he lines up again this time around. Along with horses like Red Ark and Village King, he can be safely ruled out.

Age is another important factor to consider. The last eight-year-old to win the National was Party Politics in 1992, and the last one before him was Red Rum, in 1973. No seven-year-old, meanwhile, has won in living memory. Yet representatives of both generations are prominent in the ante-post betting, among them Noble Lord and Beau (two of the co-favourites in Hills' betting), as well as the likes of Take Control, Alexander Banquet, Smarty and Foxchapel King. The lesson of history is that they have it all to do.

There are also those with a good racing weight who are still unlikely to run, including Commanche Court, last year's Irish National winner ("he's a super lepper but he's only eight and he's more likely to go to Cheltenham", Ted Walsh, his trainer, said yesterday).

Suddenly, the list of names with definite stamina, the ability to act on most surfaces, the right weight and age and the National as a definite target is down to low single figures.

Papillon, last year's winner, will surely go well again, and if the weights do not go up, he will actually be 1lb better off with Mely Moss, who finished second, beaten one-and-a-quarter lengths.

Given that he is relatively unexposed and goes well fresh, Mely Moss too must have a fine chance of going one better, although he is clearly a difficult horse to train, and may be backed more safely on the day of the race.

At current odds, though, the best each-way bet may be Earthmover, at the 40-1 offered by Hills and Ladbrokes, and Paul Nicholls, who also trains See More Business, certainly sees the 10-year-old as the type for Aintree.

"The one of ours that is a real National horse is Earthmover," he said yesterday. "He has been given a break to freshen him up and he might just have one run before the race, though he wouldn't run if it was soft. He fell last year but plenty of horses have done that and gone back and run well. His jumping is better now and he has been running well over hurdles and fences this season."

If Earthmover lines up at Liverpool, he will surely be shorter than 40-1. At this early stage, that is perhaps as much as punters can reasonably expect.

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