Karl Hedley entered the Racing Post ‘Search for A Tipster’ competition in 2006 and beat 6000 others to win the title of Top Tipper. Below he gives us his thoughts on this year’s Grand National runners.
The Grand National is our annual horse race that stops the nation. It’s set apart from all other races because of the unique nature of the fences that the forty warriors and their brave jockeys encounter.
Becher’s Brook, Foinavon, The Canal Turn, Valentine’s Brook, and The Chair are just some of the well-known fences that require the focus and attention of horse and jockey for the best part of four-and-a-quarter miles.
The race has seen a lot of changes throughout its history. In previous years you would look for course specialists and stamina-laden runners who would ultimately see out the trip.
Nowadays though, younger and younger types are lining up to contest the world’s greatest steeplechase and may even improve for their experience of tackling the challenge.
What To Look For In A Runner
No seven-year-old has won since Bogskar landed the prize in 1940 and since 2004, every winner has been aged between eight and eleven years of age.
You certainly want a horse that can jump and is generally consistent. Any runner with more than three falls is usually one to avoid.
There are other races that tend to give a good guide to this contest and they include the; Scottish Grand National, Becher Chase, Premier Kelso Chase, Ladbrokes Trophy, Betfred Classic, Irish Grand National and the Cheltenham Cross Country Chase.
Five of the last ten winners of the Grand National had used Cheltenham as a stepping stone to glory. Eight of the last eleven winners had prior experience around Aintree to call upon.
The last three winners have all won last time out. Ideally, you want a horse that has built experience over the larger obstacles with seven of the last twelve winners having run between ten and fourteen times over fences.
Having dominated so many of the races at Cheltenham this year, I fully expect the Irish to continue their domination into this meeting.
Ireland have won three of the last four renewals of the race and it wouldn’t be earth-shattering news were they to do so once again.
Previous Winners of the Grand National
Below are selected runners who hold entries for the Grand National 2021. Karl Hedley will provide some recent form notes to help point you in the right direction of identifying the winner.
An ultra-impressive winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy back in the autumn and showed his wellbeing with a dominant display when winning the Premier Kelso Chase last month beating Aso by over seven lengths.
He jumped and travelled with some prowess and never looked in any danger.
If you were to be hyper-critical you could say he tended to jump left at some of his fences and that could be worrisome for his supporters especially in a forty-runner event at this track.
Ballabriggs and Auroras Encore won the Premier Kelso Chase before winning the Grand National.
He has had more than ten runs over fences and has only fallen once before in his life so has plenty in his favour.
ANY SECOND NOW
Came in for a lot of support following a wide-margin win at Navan in a Grade Two when beating Castlegrace Paddy by ten lengths and Ted Walsh has won this race before.
He has sparingly campaigned this season but drying ground would be a massive worry. His last two wins have come when the ground has been absolutely bottomless.
He is on a career-high mark and has had his fair share of spills in the past. Somewhat of a two-mile specialist these days so no cast-iron guarantee he will last home over this four and a quarter-mile trip.
Better value lies elsewhere.
Was far from disgraced when second to stablemate Acapella Bourgeois in a Grade Three race at Fairyhouse back in February.
He won the Irish Grand National back in 2019 and that has long served as a fantastic trial for this race.
With the ground turning in his favour and a relatively light weight on his back, the eight-year-old is certainly more than capable of giving Willie Mullins his first winner in this race since Hedgehunter back in 2005.
With plenty of experience in big fields likely to assist him, if he can stay out of trouble, he can certainly be involved in the finish. A major player here.
A remarkably consistent sort who has made the frame in nine of his sixteen runs over fences.
He was last seen prepping for this in the Becher Chase back in December where he was a gallant second to Vieux Lion Rouge and he races here off the same mark.
He is another that would appreciate plenty of rainfall, but he is no stranger to the course.
Has never fallen in his life and despite a career-high mark, he is well suited to these fences. He is well used to big fields and commands plenty of respect.
Henry De Bromhead
A runner-up on his two most recent starts at Leopardstown including when narrowly denied by Off You Go in a thriller last time out.
The form of the race was given a timely boost with Farclas running so well at Cheltenham.
His trainer can do no wrong at the minute and the eight-year-old son of Oscar has experience in abundance.
His stamina would be the biggest concern as he has never won a race beyond two-miles-and-six-furlongs.
If he can be nurtured into the race at the right time, he could well run a big race. Ideally would want a bit of rain to enhance his chances.
Despite winning the Welsh Grand National back in January this requires another step forward by the seven-year-old.
No horse as young as him has won this race in over eighty years so that is a heck of a stat to try and defy.
His lack of experience in this sphere could well prove his undoing and any further improvement in the ground would also seemingly count against him.
All of his wins have come at his beloved Chepstow and if this race was run there, he would be an obvious candidate. This is a different kettle of fish and better value lies elsewhere.
Hasn’t been seen since finishing a laboured fifth of six to Ramses De Teillee at Cheltenham back in November, but he has some excellent previous form in the book.
He was a solid second to Delta Work in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown two years ago and went close in the Amateur Rides race at Cheltenham over almost four miles in the same season.
If Paul Nolan has him back in good form, then he could be a force to be reckoned with.
He just has some questions to answer at present though and no previous experience of the track will count against him.
MAGIC OF LIGHT
A highly talented mare who was a gallant runner-up to Tiger Roll in this race back in 2019.
Flat tracks like this really seem to bring her to life and she proved that when beating Sensulano to win a mares’ listed race at Newbury back in December.
Ascot and Navan are another two tracks where she’s well in the past. A drop back into a handicap will suit her and she has plenty of decent form on good ground.
Her run at Cheltenham was likely to be just a stepping stone for another crack at this and she could be a forgotten horse that could go extremely close off just a pound higher mark than what she raced off a couple of years ago.
A highly talented chaser who was last seen beating stablemate Burrows Saint in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse back in February.
A winner of five chases to date, this eleven-year-old has also been previously placed in an Irish Grand National.
Looking back through his form he has fallen twice in his career so teeters on the brink of elimination from my thoughts but not quite.
Willie Mullins has managed to get a win into him in each of the last three seasons and whilst ideally suited by wet ground, he has solid form on better ground too.
He is no stable second string and could surprise a few.
BRISTOL DE MAI
A wonderful servant for connections down the years having won nine chases and been placed in a further thirteen of them.
His Aintree form is rather solid with three placings from four previous runs at the track. The enigmatic grey has won on good ground in the past and loves a flat track having scored wins at his beloved Haydock, Wetherby, Sandown and Leicester.
He has maintained his excellent form this year and if an English trained horse does win, I sincerely hope it is this fella.
Tough and genuine, he teams up with Daryl Jacob who is a previous Grand National winning jockey. A combination that could prove irresistible come race day.
LAKE VIEW LAD
Lake View Lad’s connections will be doing a rain-dance ahead of any potential tilt at this race.
The eleven-year-old won at this track back in December when getting the better of Santini in the Many Clouds Chase (although many faces were omitted due to the low sun).
Two lacklustre runs subsequently in top-class company have certainly found him out and it is possible that edge may just have come off him.
This looks extremely tough for him and he has it all to do in order to reverse a near two dozen length beating by Cloth Cap in the Kelso Premier Chase.
Others are in better form and he will seen to better effect after a break.
Looked progressive last season and started off this campaign with a solid placed effort in behind Kingswell Theatre at Cheltenham in a cross country race back in November.
Since then the wheels appear to have fallen off with him only seventh to Imperial Alcazar at Warwick and then he pulled up at Exeter in a handicap hurdle.
A return to the larger fences may spark a revival in his fortunes, but there are serious concerns lasting home.
His form shows he has been pulled up or fallen in 5 of his last dozen races and that means he should be avoided on that basis alone.
The Storyteller seems to have been around for an eternity but he is still only a ten-year-old.
He has made the frame in more than half of the twenty chases he has raced in.
He was far from disgraced when fifth to Flooring Porter in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and although lacking any previous experience at Aintree, the nature of the course could well bring about further improvement in him.
Won the Champion Chase at Down Royal back in October so is no forlorn hope and he also ran Kemboy close in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February.
A lot of weight to carry but has the class to do so. A live each-way prospect.
Anibale Fly certainly needs to come on from his seasonal reappearance to get involved on this occasion.
He finished last of five in the Bobbyjo Chase when beaten eighteen lengths by Acapella Bourgeois.
For an eleven-year-old though, there is not much mileage on the clock and he is somewhat of veteran in terms of this race.
He was a solid fourth in the 2018 renewal and fifth the following year. Chances are he will get around in his own time, but time is against him and he has had better opportunities in the past.
He has to be respected coming into this given the thrashing he handed out to Quoi De Neuf and Time To Get Up in a good handicap here back in November.
Since then he has proved to be a model of consistency by winning the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day and placing in another two races.
He clearly handles flat tracks well and as such, Aintree should hold no fears for him. Won’t mind any further drying of the ground and Alan King looks to have a potential winner on his hands.
He hasn’t been tried over this extreme distance before but his relative lightweight will help nullify that. An exciting prospect for owner JP McManus.
Class Conti is slowly but surely finding his stride this season and has progressed with each run.
It would be fair to say that he has never fulfilled his potential since joining Willie Mullins and has only won one race in nine appearances for the Closutton based handler.
He has been pulled up or fallen in another three of those races so temperament issues are there for all to see.
As with most French-bred horses, they are ususally better when there is plenty of rain around. If he can stay out of trouble he could well see out the trip but likely to find at least a few too good.
Farclas was unfortunate to bump into The Shunter at Cheltenham and narrowly missed out on a deserved first win of the campaign.
This is a monumental task for him given that he will be asked to go for almost two miles further that what he is used to.
He has all sorts of stats to defy in order for him to win this as a seven-year-old but he does act on a solid surface and has not fallen in any race for over three years.
I would like to see him come back for this next year with a little more experience under his belt before considering him as a candidate.
GIVE ME A COPPER
Give Me A Copper was last seen pulling up behind Takingrisks in a listed handicap chase at Doncaster back in January.
Prior to that, he had made a pleasing seasonal reappearance when second to Rocky’s Treasure going doing only by a half-length.
All of his best efforts have come on flat tracks such as Wincanton, Kempton and Ayr, so he should manage just fine around this circuit.
Being extremely lightly raced will count against him but off a featherweight, he cannot be totally discounted.
Provided he is over his setback from last time, I could easily see him running a huge race for Paul Nicholls.
LORD DU MESNIL
Bounced back to his best with an all the way success on his most recent outing at Haydock when beating Achille in the trial for this.
He will certainly be a pace angle for others to aim at as he only really has one way of going and that is from the front.
He had a prep for this race when ninth to Beau Bay in the Sefton Handicap here back in December.
Unfortunately for him, fences can get in his way and these fences in particular can be unforgiving. Others look better suited to them.
Ran a satisfactory race on what was his comeback following wind surgery when ninth of sixteen in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham last month.
He is likely to be much fitter for that run and this former winner of the Kim Muir may have gone under the radar as a result.
He has been given a chance by the handicapper as he is now three pounds lower than when winning a chase at Galway last October when he beat another of today’s likely rivals in Discorama.
Not out of this by any means.
Returned to form when getting the better of Aye Right in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster back in January and has not been seen on the track since.
He has stamina in abundance and is a former winner of the Scottish Grand National in 2019. The runner-up ran a solid race at Cheltenham where he was third to Vintage Clouds in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Drying ground would certainly be in his favour and he hasn’t fallen in eighteen starts. Despite being a twelve-year-old, he is still worthy of each-way consideration in this line-up, but could ultimately prove vulnerable to a younger rival.
Yala Enki is usually a reliable yardstick but doesn’t seem to like Aintree all that much. In his last two visits to this track, he has fallen and finished a well-beaten twenty-six lengths.
He has won races up to and including three-and-a-half miles on multiple occasions but he isn’t getting any younger.
He looks to have had a long hard season and that looked obvious when he was trounced by thirty lengths by Native River at Sandown in February.
Likely to complete but also not likely to trouble the judge.
BALKO DES FLOS
Henry De Bromhead
Balko Des Flos certainly needs to find another gear to get involved here. He has been bitterly disappointing in Graded company this season and just looked to have lost his way following a bright beginning to his career.
He was tried in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham and was travelling with enthusiasm during the race. Unfortunately for him he unseated Rachael Blackmore at a crucial part of his race.
Does have Aintree experience to fall back on though, but none in this race. He was fourth to Kemboy in the Betway Bowl in 2019 and also finished in the same position the year previous when he contested the Melling Chase that was won by Politilogue.
Others look better suited to the demands of this race.
Ballyoptic has shown utter disdain for this racecourse in his last three outings here. He has been beaten eighty-one lengths and fallen twice in those races.
It would take something of a minor miracle for him to sweep all of that under the carpet. He has also been out of form all year.
He is very hard to recommend to anyone and will be running for the bookmakers only should he do the unthinkable.
Henry De Bromhead
Undoubtedly talented on his day but now seems to have lost his way. Following a three-month break, he was pulled up behind Allaho in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
The last time he raced at Aintree he was thrashed twenty-six lengths by Lostintranslation. He has won over as far as three miles but not over any further.
Stamina is an obvious concern even if he is over whatever ailed him at Cheltenham. Hard to fancy on that basis.
Has taken a while to find his form this year but suggested at Kelso that he could be on the way back where he finished fourth to Cloth Cap.
He has some very good form on this track including when winning the Melling Chase in 2017 and 2018 and then when fourth in the Becher Chase the following year.
The handicapper is relenting and has given him a chance off his current mark. He is a lively outsider that could go well.
Was beaten a distance by Tiger Roll in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham last month and it would take a massive leap of faith to suggest he could win this on the back of that effort.
He has won at this track before in the past including when winning the Grand Sefton by sixteen lengths back in 2019.
His form since then has been one of a declining nature and he is readily passed over here.
Has been in relatively decent form this year and scooped a win in a handicap chase at Ascot back in January when getting the better of the ill-fated The Conditional.
He has subsequently undergone some surgery for his wind troubles and returned with a positive run at Kempton in February, where he was a solid third to Clondaw Castle.
Skipped Cheltenham in order to have a crack at this and it wouldn’t be the biggest of shocks should he run another big race.
He was runner-up in a Grade Three chase here back in 2019 when going down to Kildisart and could well give Colin Tizzard the ultimate retirement gift.
Not the most genuine type and ran no sort of race in the Ultima Handicap Chase won by Vintage Clouds.
A trip as far as this looks beyond him and whilst he seems to appreciate a flat track, this really would be a step into fantasyland.
He has pulled in two of his last five starts and is racing here off a career high mark. He would be a shock winner for me.
Another high-class mare on her day, but the best of those seem to be behind her now. She has been running fairly well against her own sex but this looks another step above.
She will not appreciate younger rivals lining up against her in what is usually a tough enough race for a mare to win anyway.
Was placed in a bumper at this track five years ago. She looks up against it here.
Has seemingly thrived since joining his new yard at the tail end of last year having left Willie Mullins.
He won a Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham in December before finishing another solid third over the same course and distance last month. This will be a completely new experience for him and he may well enjoy it.
He has made the frame in six of his fourteen starts over fences and some horses who go well in the Cross Country race are merely using that as a stepping stone to National Glory.
Remains on a competitive mark and is another who may well defy his price and run a big race.
THE LONG MILE
This race might come a year too soon for this son of Kayf Tara. All of his best form has come when there has been plenty of juice in the ground.
He has never won a race beyond two-and-a-half miles so a little more experience wouldn’t go amiss.
He wasn’t beaten too far by Acapella Bourgeois at Fairyhouse back in February, but this requires a significant step forward.
This will be a completely new experience for the seven-year-old and one he may not appreciate so early in his career.
VIEUX LION ROUGE
Two of his biggest career successes have come over these fences as he has won two renewals of the Becher Chase.
He is now a twelve-year-old though and since that success back in December, he has shown no hint of a return to anywhere near that level of form.
Unless the heavens opened he would be one to avoid as he really loves to get his toes in.
Whilst he will appreciate a return to this track, he has not managed to trouble the judge on three previous attempts in this race when age would have been very much on his side. Best to avoid.
Seems to have lost her way and was pulled up in a mares’ race won by Colreevy at Cheltenham last month.
She has looked a pale imitation of her former self in recent runs and something seems amiss.
She has endured a long hard season and unless the shock of seeing these fences sparks a revival in her, it seems that the flame may be starting to dim on what was a bright career.
A return to handicap company is in her favour, but this is a big ask.
Jett certainly does not look the force of old and has been beaten out of sight in each of his last four runs.
Despite finishing eighth over this course back in December behind Vieux Lion Rouge, he was still beaten by over a hundred lengths.
He will be better in smaller fields back in Ireland, where conditions would be better suited to his racing style.
Has been placed in six of his nine chases to date but was well out of his depth against Clondaw Castle at Kempton last time.
He has not looked the same horse since winning the Sandown Gold Cup in 2019 where he got the better of The Young Master.
This looks a race above his paygrade and he looks completely out of his depth.
ALPHA DES OBEAUX
Warmed up for this with a decent fourth to Tiger Roll in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham last month.
He just doesn’t seem to appreciate the nature of this track and has been well beaten on the four previous occasions he has run here.
He isn’t getting any younger and he fell in this race back in 2018.
It would take a massive slice of luck and a reversal of fortune in the biggest possible way to see him anywhere near the winners’ enclosure.
Up until his last three runs, he had been a decent yardstick. He has however pulled up in two of his last three races and was well beaten at Kempton when last seen.
He does have an affinity for this track though and has won here three times in the past.
Has had no luck in two other attempts on the Grand National course itself though and that is massively off-putting. This is unlikely to be his day.
TOUT EST PERMIS
A fall at Down Royal last month will not have done his confidence any good coming into a race of this magnitude or nature.
He is another that has endured a long, tough year and will certainly appreciate being sent out to the field for a well-deserved summer break.
He has not won any race since January 2019 and it is difficult to see that losing sequence coming to an end here.
Noel Meade has an uncanny knack of getting big outsiders to run well, but even this would be a monumental achievement by his standards.
Has run well in his latest two starts when finishing runner-up at both Kempton and Doncaster. He hasn’t won any race since 2017 and it is highly unlikely that the run will end here.
Nevertheless, he clearly handles a flatter track and is genuine enough having been won or been placed in nine of his seventeen chase starts.
He hasn’t been done any favours by the handicapper here though and best to look elsewhere.
Was purchased with this race in mind a couple of seasons ago but definitely not the force of old.
Now a twelve-year-old, he has competed and completed the track on quite a few occasions.
Likely to get around in his own time yet, but would need quite a few of the younger brigade to under-perform in order to make the frame.
Looking well handicapped on the best of his old form and he was twelfth in this race back in 2019.
He has shown some promise this year when he beat Ami Desbois, Beau Bay and Minellacelebration over three miles at Kempton in a fairly decent handicap.
He was no match for Clondaw Castle over the same course and distance next time carrying a five-pound penalty though.
Has loads of good form on flat tracks including at courses like Newbury, Ludlow and Doncaster.
No surprise if he were to put in a huge run for his price given that he has been off the track since February.
Ran as well as could be expected against Captain Chaos following a two month break in which he also finished fourth against Mister Malarkey having run a huge race for new trainer Georgie Howell.
He was a fantastic runner-up in the Topham Chase a couple of seasons ago over these fences and you cannot but that sort of experience.
He seems to have settled in well having left Henry De Bromhead and he could well outrun his likely massive odds.
Stamina is a major concern, but if he can settle into the race, he could potentially pick off beaten rivals.
Has been to Aintree twice in the past and never cut any mustard. He has been sparingly campaigned this year having received a bout of wind surgery back in the autumn.
He made a decent enough reappearance when fourth to Coole Cody in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, where he had the subsequent three-time winning handicapper Sky Pirate in behind.
A step up to this trip is a massive unknown but his form has certainly been well advertised and not one to wholeheartedly dismiss.
Ticking The Boxes
Cloth Cap is undoubtedly the in-form horse coming into this race.
However, a tendency to jump left and with the extra trip not guaranteed to suit him, he offers very little in the way of value.
Burrows Saint will love this drying ground and he was scintillating when winning the Irish Grand National a few seasons ago.
If he can recapture that sort of form, he will go very close.
Kimberlite Candy is a thorough stayer and will appreciate any further hardening of the surface and can go close for leading owner JP McManus.
The home-based trainers will be hoping that they can at least win this race in their very own backyard.
Bristol De Mai has been purposefully trained for this race and loves coming to Liverpool.
He is a multiple Graded winner and has gone well at this track in the past.
The stunning grey looks to still be very much in love with the game and he is the overall each-way selection.