Now that the dust has settled on the Grand National weights and people have had the chance to absorb and digest the handicap in full, it is time to pick out one or two interesting outsiders and longshots for the April showpiece.
Since Aintree adjusted some of their fences on the Grand National course in 2012 there has been a strong form line coming through from horses that have performed well in the Scottish version at Ayr.
The Sue Smith trained Auroras Encore was a gallant runner-up in Scotland in 2012 then went on to take the Aintree spectacular the following season.
Sandy Thomson trains a horse of similar calibre in Seeyouatmidnight. The ten-year-old was a close third to Vicente in the 2016 Scottish National before things began to go slightly awry with the gelding.
The Grade Two winner has been off the track through injury since last March, when he finished second over hurdles at Kelso. Seeyouatmidnight had been struggling with a suspensory ligament problem but is now fully recovered. He has also undergone a wind operation and is expected to return on March 3rd with an entry at Thomson’s favoured track of Kelso.
Thomson said: “You can never tell how a horse will adapt to the fences, but with the prize money they put up you’ve nearly got to have a go if the opportunity arises. Winning would be life-changing in every way.”
Thomson’s wife Quona owns the horse and they clearly hold him in high regard. Considered not so long ago as a Gold Cup contender and the brightest hope on jump racing’s Northern and Scottish circuit, Seeyouatmidnight is not the craziest 33/1 bet you will see this side of April.
I Just Know (50/1)
Auroras Encore gave Sue Smith a Grand National winner in 2013 and the Yorkshire trainer has believes she has another contender this year with I Just Know.
The horse’s success in the long-distance North Yorkshire National at Catterick last time out gave connections the green light to have a tilt at the Aintree marathon this season with the eight-year-old.
Smith has indicated that the gelding will have a prep run next month at Kelso or will go for the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster.
The second season chaser finished fourth to the late Malcolm Jefferson’s highly-regarded Waiting Patiently at Carlisle last November and has always been regarded as a horse with huge potential.
I Just Know was part-owned by Ray Scholey, who died a week after the Catterick triumph at the age of 88. Ray’s widow, Margaret, and his eldest son, Michael, are hoping for what would be an emotional result in April. Perhaps something like the one they have already experienced since Mr Scholey’s passing when Wakanda dramatically snatched victory in the dying strides in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last month.
I Just Know is number 55 in the entry list with a low weight of 10st 4lb. He needs fifteen to come out before him to ensure a run but that is pretty much a certainty based upon prior years to this.
With the Smiths, and their longstanding assistant Ryan Clavin, being experts at producing long-distance staying chasers a 50/1 quote for this runner appears to be a very generous ante-post price at this stage.
Bless The Wings (50/1)
Bless The Wings, who defeated Cantlow in the Cross Country race at Cheltenham in December is a general 50-1 chance to become the first thirteen-year-old to win the National since Sergeant Murphy in 1923.
There is every chance that Phil Smith may have left some lucky owners attached to the Gordon Elliott stable a small parting gift with the 10st 2lb allocation awarded to the veteran.
Smith explained his reasoning behind one of his many quandaries: “Bless The Wings is rated 17lb higher on his Cheltenham cross-country form compared to his rating in Ireland, and the form of the cross-country races at Cheltenham has historically been very good in relation to Aintree, with the likes of Silver Birch, Balthazar King and Cause Of Causes.
“On the one hand, Bless The Wings’ rating of 137 in Ireland would not get him in the race, but 154, his cross-country rating, seemed to me to be too high compared to his form on park courses.
“In the end I settled on 143 as a compromise, which should hopefully get him in. He’s a very interesting horse – even though he’s 13. He is an absolutely super jumper and his cross-country form is very good indeed.”
At number 66 in the pecking order it will be touch and go whether the thirteen-year-old will make the final cut, but at 50/1 for a horse that has never fallen in his career, he is certainly worth an ante-post interest.