Aintree: Your pinsticker's guide to the Grand National
Saturday 14 April 2012
SYNCHRONISED (Trainer, Jonjo O'Neill)
No horse has won this great race after lifting the Cheltenham Gold Cup since Golden Miller in 1934, though Garrison Savannah went close in 1991. However, unlike most Gold Cup winners, Synchronised has already proven his liking for a serious test of stamina by winning the Welsh and Midlands Nationals. He has his own way of jumping but provided he takes to the place, he looks certain to make his presence felt. Ground looks ideal and 7lb well-in at the weights. Rating 10 (out of 10).
BALLABRIGGS (Donald McCain)
Red Rum was the last horse to win back-to-back renewals in 1973 and 1974 and it would be a dream come true for the trainer if he could emulate the feat of his late father, Ginger. Unlike many of his rivals, the 11-year-old has been campaigned with only this race in mind all season, finishing fourth at Kelso in the same race in which he placed second during the last campaign. Given how ably he navigated the course 12 months ago, he is expected to finish in the money at least. 9.
WEIRD AL (Donald McCain)
Talented but fragile chaser, who was pulled up in the Gold Cup when well fancied and was reported to have bled afterwards. There has to be question marks about him as that is not the first time he has bled, but he has a touch of class and some smart form in the book, notably when winning the Charlie Hall Chase. Rating 6.
NEPTUNE COLLONGES (Paul Nicholls)
It is 51 years since a grey (Nicolaus Silver) won the National, but this horse certainly has the ability to put up a good show. He has spent plenty of his career in the shadows of stablemates Denman and Kauto Star, placing in two Gold Cups behind that pair. He has lost a gear or two since then, but was only beaten a neck in the Grand National Trial at Haydock and could give punters a good run for their money. Rain this week has helped his cause. 8.
CALGARY BAY (Henrietta Knight)
Only got as far as the fourth fence last year, but returns for a second attempt on the back of good wins at Cheltenham and Doncaster. Has always looked the sort to do well in this race and the National has been the specific target this season. 8.
ALFA BEAT (John Hanlon)
The trainer has always wanted to have a Grand National runner and this grey has the right credentials having landed the last two runnings of the Kerry National at Listowel, a race won by Monty's Pass in his Aintree-winning season. He cannot be backed with confidence after failing to get round in both his runs since, but trainer feels his team are finally running into form after a largely disappointing season. Seemingly handles all ground. 5.
PLANET OF SOUND (Philip Hobbs)
Has been restricted to just four starts since winning the Punchestown Gold Cup nearly two years ago. Probably not quite as good as he was then but showed he can still mix it in good company by being placed in the Hennessy Gold Cup and Racing Plus Chase in just two runs this winter. Has plenty going for him, but softer ground would be a major concern. 6.
BLACK APALACHI (Dessie Hughes)
Second to Don't Push It two years ago but was off the track for a long time and missed the race in 2011. He is maybe getting on in years at the age of 13, but ran a most encouraging race on his comeback when second to the now sidelined Prince De Beauchene. Despite his long absence, the handicapper showed no leniency when handing him quite a big weight. 6.
DEEP PURPLE (Evan Williams)
A smart performer on park courses with several decent victories over the years and surprised his trainer when winning over three miles and five furlongs at Sandown in December. However, he is not an obvious choice to take to the National fences and fell at Kempton last time. 3.
JUNIOR (David Pipe)
The National has been his objective for a long time and he ran a fine trial when just beaten by Ikorodu Road in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster. The form has stood up well with the winner following up, and Junior appears to have strong claims of completing the quite incredible hat-trick of winning at Royal Ascot, the Cheltenham Festival and this race. The one serious worry is his jumping, as the quirky gelding could either love these fences or hate them. 7.
CHICAGO GREY (Gordon Elliott)
His trainer struck with Silver Birch in 2007, so he knows what it takes. Won the four-mile chase at Cheltenham last year but lost his way a little since. Has shown glimmers of old spark recently, however, and capable of a big run if back to his best. 7.
TATENEN (Richard Rowe)
Was a game winner of a decent handicap chase at Ascot in January, but well beaten back there behind Riverside Theatre last time in a much better race. May appeal to some as a credible long-shot. 5.
SEABASS (Ted Walsh)
Probably the most fascinating entry and definitely a 'dark horse' for trainer Ted Walsh. He has won his last seven starts, including a point-to-point, but has been running generally over much shorter distances. Still very much unexposed, he could be a blot on the handicap and his trainer was on target with the well-supported Papillon in 2000. The fact he was passed over by the trainer's son Ruby Walsh slightly tempers enthusiasm, although having his sister Katie in the saddle is not a negative. 7.
SHAKALAKABOOMBOOM (Nicky Henderson)
Seen by connections as a National horse for some time, the eight-year-old only had two runs over fences during the winter and only nine his life. After chasing home Calgary Bay at Doncaster in January, he shaped well in second spot on his prep run over hurdles at Warwick. Could run a big race and victory would surely secure the trainer's title for Nicky Henderson. 7.
WEST END ROCKER (Alan King)
Winner of the Becher Chase over the National fences in December and has not raced since. Was to have run at Doncaster in early March but was taken out just before the race as connections considered the ground too quick. Was brought down at Becher's first time round last year and fancied to get much further this time. The softening conditions will help him more than most. 8.
ACCORDING TO PETE (Malcolm Jefferson)
Has been in tremendous form this season, winning the Rowland Meyrick Chase and Peter Marsh Chase and was a good second to Master Of The Hall at Kelso when Ballabriggs was fourth. Would be no surprise to see him figure prominently, especially as the rain has arrived. 7.
ON HIS OWN (Willie Mullins)
Lightly-raced but very much on the upgrade. Formerly trained by Howard Johnson, the eight-year-old is enjoying the Irish air. He leapt to near the top of the ante-post betting with a convincing win in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran in January, a race won by previous National winners Hedgehunter and Numbersixvalverde. Will have the assistance of Ruby Walsh and could easily be the subject of a big gamble on the day. 8.
ALWAYS RIGHT (John Wade)
Inexplicably lost his form as he has been pulled up on his last two starts. Before that he had looked capable of winning a good race, having finished third in last year's Scottish National and winning decent contests at Doncaster and Kelso. His supporters are banking on a recent breathing operation turning his fortunes around. 5.
CAPPA BLEU (Evan Williams)
Has not had much racing winning the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham in 2009, but has come back as good as ever this season. Successful at Haydock in November, he was third in the Welsh National and filled the same position at Ascot last time. Sure to attract plenty of each-way money. 7.
RARE BOB (Dessie Hughes)
Was in the process of running a big race on the Mildmay Course in the race won by Prince De Beauchene 12 months ago when he unseated two out. Has shown precious little this season but is a spring horse and has won a Grade One. Could be worse outsiders. 7.
ORGANISEDCONFUSION (Arthur Moore)
Trained by a man who hails from a legendary Irish family and will be ridden by his niece Nina Carberry. It was no mean feat to win an Irish National as a six-year-old last season and has been campaigned solely with this race in mind. Stamina unlikely to be an issue and while it's a long time since a seven-year-old prevailed, he has been jumping fences since he was four. 8.
TREACLE (Tom Taaffe)
His last two runs have been career-best efforts, just failing to get up in a big handicap at Christmas and then not beaten far in the Irish Hennessy last time out. In the form of his life but a place might be the best he can hope for. 6.
THE MIDNIGHT CLUB (Willie Mullins)
Sent off favourite last year but could only finish sixth. He has been disappointing so far this season, but he would not be the first horse to have run respectably in this race and return a year later to take top honours. Interesting at current odds if he can rediscover his best form. 6.
MON MOME (Venetia Williams)
Famously won this in 2009 at 100-1. Has struggled since but showed signs of life at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Got stuck in the mud twice at Haydock since then but was disappointing at Cheltenham. Now 12, he is unlikely to become a dual winner, with the softer ground a negative 4.
ARBOR SUPREME (Jonjo O'Neill)
Stable obviously have stronger claims with Synchronised but never let that put you off one from this yard. Has only had two runs for O'Neill since joining from Ireland, both over hurdles. Has been considered a major player in this race for the last two years, but failed to get round on both occasions. Leap of faith needed. 5.
SUNNYHILLBOY (Jonjo O'Neill)
Another from the O'Neill stable worthy of serious consideration. Put a series of below-par efforts well behind him when staying on strongly to win the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. There has to be a chance that was his big day, but he was third in the Irish National last season and is 10lb well-in on official figures, so he cannot be left out of calculations. 7.
KILLYGLEN (Stuart Crawford)
Was still going well when falling four out last year. Loves a sound surface, which is a slight worry, but he was an easy winner of his last start at Down Royal in softer ground. He's 5lb lower this year and while he holds no secrets from anybody, not one to be discounted easily. 7.
QUISCOVER FONTAINE (Willie Mullins)
Has gone under the radar this season having had three runs in two-mile hurdle races, winning one, given that he finished fourth in the Irish National last term. This has presumably been the aim and enters calculations as a lively outsider. 8.
THARAWAAT (Gordon Elliott)
Has kept good company over both hurdles and fences and there was plenty to like about his comeback win at Galway at the start of the season. However, he has been well beaten the last twice and while the rain is in his favour, he is hard to fancy. 3.
BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE (Noel Glynn)
Thoroughly consistent handicap chaser who filled the runner-up spot at the Cheltenham Festival for the second time in his career in last month's Kim Muir. Tipped up at the second fence here last year, but he is essentially a good jumper and if he can get into a rhythm from the front end, it is easy to see him running a huge race this time off a light weight. 9.
STATE OF PLAY (Evan Williams)
Has not been seen since finishing fourth in this 12 months ago, before which he had also spent a year off having finished third in the 2010 renewal.
He was also fourth in 2009, will be tuned to the minute by his excellent trainer and has clear each-way potential. However, given he has not been good enough to win the race in three previous attempts, it is difficult to see why this should be his year and he is now a 12-year-old. 6.
SWING BILL (David Pipe)
Was fifth in last year's Topham and was a good winner at Cheltenham earlier this season. Form has been hit and miss since and it would be a major surprise if he is good enough to win a race like this. 2.
POSTMASTER (Tim Vaughan)
Decent enough chaser on his day, but he is a difficult horse to catch right. Won at Bangor last August and returned with a hunter chase win at Ludlow last month. He is now on a career-high mark and is surely not up to this level. 2.
GILES CROSS (Victor Dartnall)
Was second behind Le Beau Bai in the Welsh National, having filled the runner-up spot behind Synchronised in the same race 12 months earlier. Impressed with a bold round of jumping at Haydock latest and the change in the weather has come at just the right time for him, as give in the ground is essential. Now must be considered a major threat. 8.
MIDNIGHT HAZE (Kim Bailey)
His record of four wins from 10 starts over fences is not too shabby and he ran a decent race in defeat when sixth in the cross-country chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Could be the sort to take to the fences, but it would be a shock if he has the class to make an impact. 2.
VIC VENTURI (Dessie Hughes)
Another previous winner of the Becher and he was still in with a shout when unseating his rider at the 20th fence in this two years ago. He is much lower in the weights now, but you get the feeling his chance of Aintree glory has been and gone. 2.
IN COMPLIANCE (Dessie Hughes)
A one-time Gold Cup hope whose career never reached the heights it promised due to injury. He has successfully navigated this course in the past, but he is another who is surely past his best. 2.
VIKING BLOND (Nigel Twiston-Davies)
Ran with credit in top novice company earlier this season, but disappointed when favourite for the Welsh National and was again well beaten at Ascot in February. He could develop into a serious National contender one day as he is only seven, but he is hard to recommend having shown little of late and he has run just five times over fences. 3.
HELLO BUD (Nigel Twiston-Davies)
Won the Becher Chase over these fences in 2010, but failed to complete in last year's Grand National or in this season's Becher. He is an admirable sort but at the age of 14, it is hard to see him getting involved. 2.
NEPTUNE EQUESTER (Brian Ellison)
Started off the season in good form, but recent results have been less inspiring and it seems the handicapper possibly has his measure. Not out of the question he could improve over these fences, but he needs to in a big way. 2.
History suggests SYNCHRONISED has plenty on his plate as he bids to follow up his Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph by claiming Grand National glory, but Jonjo O'Neill's stayer has plenty going for him.
In fairness, very few Gold Cup heroes make the trip to Aintree these days, with the likes of Kauto Star and Denman considered too good for this test.
It is clear Synchronised does not have the class that pair did in their pomp, but that is no slight on this tough-as-teak nine-year-old, as he probably would not be running here if he did.
His victories in the Midlands and Welsh Nationals show he relishes a severe test of stamina and the rain that has fallen on Merseyside will not worry him.
Tony McCoy's main job will be keeping a horse that is notoriously lazy involved for the first half of the race, but if he can, he should be coming home as well as anything.
Plenty of horses have sound place claims, but the ones fancied to make the frame are Ballabriggs, Becauseicouldntsee and Quiscover Fontaine.
Ballabriggs looks bound to go well in his pursuit of back-to-back victories and, like a few National winners of recent years, he can return to run well.
Although he tipped up early last year, Becauseicouldntsee looks tailor-made for this race and he could keep out of trouble at the head of affairs before finding only a couple too good late on.
At a price, Quiscover Fontaine is the outsider thrown into the mix, as he has not run over fences since finishing fourth in last year's Irish Grand National and the soft ground will not inconvenience him.
4. Quiscover Fontaine (Henrietta Knight)
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