After a comprehensive 19-9 spanking of the British by the Irish at the Cheltenham Festival, all eyes will shortly be focusing on the Grand National meeting at Aintree, but who will take the big one? With last year’s winner of the Grand National Rule The World retired, can any other Irish trained runners step up to the mantle or will the “home team” taste glory once again in the Aintree marathon?
Extra intrigue has been added to Grand National result this year as there is the small matter of the British trainer’s championship boiling up into an interesting climax. A victory for Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson in the race will all but seal the title.
The ten-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls could have five runners in next week’s Grand National as he attempts to put up a robust defence of his title. At the time of writing, Nicholls has narrowed down the prize money deficit behind Henderson to £75,000.
Nicky Henderson has never won the National despite having 37 previous attempts at it and his sole representative, Cocktails At Dawn is an 100/1 chance. The suspicion is that the trainer’s title will not be decided upon the outcome of the Grand National itself but by the supporting races at the Aintree meeting and the season ending finale at Sandown Park.
So who are the leading British and Irish runners this year then? Let’s take a look through those heading the market in the betting along with some interesting outsiders.
The British Hopefuls
Vieux Lion Rouge (10/1)
He further boosted his claims for Aintree glory when he outbattled Blaklion in a terrific duel in the Grand National Trial Handicap at Haydock Park. His last visit to Aintree was a successful one, when he beat Highland Lodge in the Becher Chase back in December and he was just ahead of the 2016 Grand National runner-up, The Last Samuri. Last year he was sent off a 66/1 chance for the race and faded on the second circuit to finish in seventh place.
Definitly Red (10/1)
An impressive winner of the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day before unseating jockey Danny Cook in the Peter Marsh at Haydock, Brian Ellison's charge was a wide-margin winner of the Grimthorpe Chase last time out putting himself right in the Grand National picture. He has been schooling over National-style fences at Ellison’s Malton stables.
Blaklion is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies who has two previous winners in Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002). Noel Fehily, who won the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase at the recent Cheltenham Festival, is a rare but astute booking for Twiston-Davies.
More Of That (12/1)
Jonjo O’Neill’s horse ran a steady yet uninspiring race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but O’Neill quietly fancies him for this. Write O’Neill and McManus off at your peril as both are keen to emulate Don’t Push It’s victory back in 2010.
One For Arthur (14/1)
Derek Fox was in the saddle for One For Arthur's wins this season at Kelso and most recently in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January and he will be aboard again on April 8th. There has only been one Scottish-trained winner of the Grand National, when Rubstic carried Maurice Barnes to victory in 1979. Lucinda Russell has a live chance of taking the prize back to north of the border.
The Last Samuri (16/1)
He was the runner-up in the race twelve months ago and is hoping to go one better a year later. Kim Bailey’s runner has had the perfect preparation going into this year’s showpiece and although he is much higher in the weights this time around he looks the sort to play a big part in the finish again.
Saphir Du Rheu (28/1)
Saphir Du Rheu is a class animal and probably Paul Nicholls’ best chance in the race. He was one of the outsiders in the field in the Gold Cup but ran a cracking sixth lengths fifth to Sizing John. He won the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at the 2015 Aintree Festival and appears to be back in love with jumping again.
Houblon Des Obeaux (50/1) & Tenor Nivernais (40/1)
Venetia Williams fields two runners in the iconic contest eight years on from her 100-1 success in the race with Mon Mome. Houblon Des Obeaux was fourth in the Midlands National and has always been viewed as a National horse by Williams. Tenor Nivernais is a fairly solid jumper who should take to the fences. Williams certainly has two interesting outsiders this year.
The Irish challengers
Cause Of Causes (14/1)
Won at the Festival for the third year in a row but they are his only wins in last four years. He ran 8th to Many Clouds in the 2015 renewal but his win to run ratio is a worry.
Pleasant Company (14/1)
Trainer Willie Mullins expressed the belief that there was more to come from the lightly raced nine-year-old after he won the Bobby Jo Chase at Fairyhouse. He will be partnered by Ruby Walsh again which will probably contract his price somewhat come the off.
Ucello Conti (16/1)
On paper he looks to be the best of the Irish hopes and is trained by the in-form Gordon Elliott, just like Cause Of Causes. Sixth in the race last year, he had a great run in the Becher, just tiring slightly after the last. He was second in the Thyestes and had another good run in the Leinster National. Elliott won the Grand National in 2007 with Silver Birch and would dearly love to mark that 10th anniversary with another victory in a season that everything he touches turns into gold.
Raz De Maree (25/1)
Raz De Maree is a two-time Cork National winner and a former Munster National winner. He ran Native River to a length and three-quarters second in the Welsh Grand National. Trainer Gavin Cromwell swerved the Eider Chase with him due to the heavy ground that day and he has been a very carefully plotted horse. Expect a big run from the twelve-year-old.
Stellar Notion (33/1)
The odds keep tumbling on this Henry De Bromhead trained runner. From 100/1 to 66/1 to now 33/1, Stellar Notion has gone overlooked as a serious contender but this season proves he can definitely keep up and finish better than some of the more well known runners. He faired better than cause of Causes, Ucello Conti and Rogue Angel at Leopardstown in the Paddy Power Chase, was second in the T McNamara Ladbrokes Munster National Handicap Chase and placed second last time out. His ability to go the distance may be in question but with last year's winning jockey, David Mullins, on board he's definitely in good hands.