A later start, this year, gives punters a little longer to puzzle things out – but other recent innovations, in trims to both the fences and the distance, arguably make it harder than ever to find the winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase. In former times, the demands of Aintree were so extreme that you could rule out many runners lacking exceptional credentials in jumping and stamina. But an increasingly conventional challenge opens things right up, to the extent that the Crabbie’s Grand National could conceivably be won today by a 50-1 shot yet to win a race of any kind over fences.
RULE THE WORLD was not named with undue modesty and has perhaps paid the price for that hubris in various luckless escapades since a prolific novice career over hurdles. None was more flagrant than when he slipped up on the flat when putting in a strong challenge for the Galway Plate last summer, albeit the fact that he was running so well in one of the most competitive of all Irish handicaps at least confirmed how effective he is on better ground. Since then he has spent most of his time slogging through deep going, acquitting himself creditably enough in very good company even so, and it should be remembered what happened this time last year when tried over an extreme distance for the one and only time in his career – when finishing an excellent second of 28 starters in the Irish National. His trainer, the great ‘Mouse’ Morris, confirmed his flair in targeting a big prize when winning the latest running of that race, only last Monday, and can be relied on to have primed Rule The World for a career best off just 10st 7lbs on this drying, spring ground.
To the extent that the National does remain unique, the standard is set by MANY CLOUDS, bidding to become the first back-to-back winner since Red Rum in 1974 – and whose journeyman jockey, Leighton Aspell, seeks to become the first ever to win the race three times running. He proved equal to a big weight last year and, having showed undiminished appetite since, his consistency makes him a natural favourite.
Even Many Clouds cannot rival the claims of SILVINIACO CONTI as the class horse in the race, and the dual King George VI Chase winner looks well weighted after bouncing back to form at Ascot last time. He has an excellent record at this meeting, while his trainer is adamant he will last this longer distance. If he gets into a rhythm he could have an edge in quality, but it remains to be seen how he responds to a handicap stampede after a long career in small fields at level weights.
That is not an issue for HOLYWELL, who represents a peerless trainer of staying chasers in Jonjo O’Neill and has proved his calibre in all types of company. This is his time of year and he duly returned to peak form after a spell in the doldrums at Cheltenham last month, taking his career record at the Festival to two firsts, a second, and a Gold Cup fourth.
Another to have run well at the top level is O’FAOLAIN’S BOY, who was ultimately well beaten in the Gold Cup but only after being one of the last off the bridle. With his stable finally running into form after a trying season, odds of 25-1 look tempting.
THE LAST SAMURI is well in, having maintained his improvement since the weights were published, while SAINT ARE and THE DRUIDS NEPHEW have both been laid out for this after running well last year. Of the outsiders, GILGAMBOA and THE ROMFORD PELE also make the shortlist.
1 RULE THE WORLD 50-1
2 HOLYWELL 16-1
3 O’FAOLAIN’S BOY 33-1
4 MANY CLOUDS 8-1
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies