If the main feature of last year’s Grand National was the modifications to the fences that resulted in every horse reaching Becher’s on the first circuit this year’s renewal is about the quality of the field and the prospect of a horse doing something that has not been achieved for almost forty years. Long Run won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011 and the last horse to win that race and the National was L’Escargot in 1975.
The two races are distinct in that the Gold Cup is a conditions race in which every horse carries the same weight while the National is a handicap. Each horse is allocated a weight based on its ability and form on the track and in theory all have the same chance of winning. Long Run has been given the second highest weight and only Tidal Bay will have a bigger burden.
Nicky Henderson, the trainer of Long Run, was a guest speaker in a marquee on the second day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival. He actually advised the audience not to back one of his horses which duly won at 20/1. That irritant was offset somewhat by some information he provided about Long Run in the context of the Grand National.
Henderson has realised that his horse will not win another Gold Cup or a third King George. However, the trainer believes the unique nature of the National in terms of the distance and fences will suit Long Run. The horse was precocious in running in France in chases as a four year old so despite a long career over fences is still in his prime in terms of running well in the National.
In addition to Long Run the two other horses at the head of the betting are also former winners at the Cheltenham Festival. The chase that Teaforthree won was not a Grade 1 race but Tidal Bay won the Arkle Chase in 2008. That horse is still something of an enigma but won at the highest level in Ireland as recently as December 2012 and is also proven in a staying handicap carrying a big weight.
Tidal Bay won the Bet365 Chase, formerly the Whitbread, in 2012 and ran a great trial for the National in the latest Welsh equivalent. Carrying top weight Tidal Bay finished third but was clearly the best horse in the race. The nature of handicaps means inferior horses can win, like Auroras Encore in last year National, but with Tidal Bay and Long Run prominent in the betting this year’s race could see one of the better horses winning.
Monbeg Dude could be the selection for the once a year punters as the horse is part owned by Mike Tindall, the husband of Zara Phillips, the Queen’s niece. Estimate became the first horse to win the Ascot Gold Cup owned by a reigning monarch last June. Monbeg Dude could complete a double of big race winners with a royal connection. However, Long Run has the class to spoil many bets placed because of the link to the Queen.
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